Monday, September 29, 2008

Temporary Hiatus

With the return of new programming on TV, I haven't had as much movie watching time the last week. I will return next week with a review of a series of musicals, so stay tuned!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

Cameron Diaz, Bernie Mac, Lucy Liu, Drew Berrymore, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
While I only recently purchased a copy of Charlie's Angels (2000) I had the good fortune to find a widescreen version of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle on DVD in the Wal-Mart $5 bin some time ago. Angels Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu return along with diretor McG in this action packed camp-fest. This movie combines visuals and soundtrack with such a gay sensibility that it comes as no surprise that the man in charge of the story and one of the main writers for this film, John August, was a gay man.1 I first saw this movie in theaters with my friend Kirk, and I still enjoy it on repeated viewings.

While most of the principal cast returns in this sequel, Bill Murry did not return as Bosley and was replaced by the late Bernie Mac. It is explained that Murry's character had been adopted by Mac's family. With the passing of Mac, should there be another sequel, the film may have set up for Shia Lebeouf to be the third Bosley.2 This movie also seeks to tie the film franchise in with the original television show. We learn that Charles Townsend has recruited women throughout the decades to work for his firm, and our current Angels are only the most recent. Demi Moore does a great job as a former Angel, and Jacyln Smith reprises her role as Kelly Garrett.

Lucy Liu, Drew Berrymore, Cameron Diaz, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

I think the thing that gives me the most joy in this movie is watching Cameron Diaz dance in the various scenes. She first dances to "Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer, and later does a great dance to "Last Dance" by Donna Summer. For some reason these scenes really make me smile, and I enjoy watching them.

It may be due to the fact that McG started out directing music videos, but Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle has always felt like a series of music videos strung together by a loose plot. Because of this the music in the film3 is very important not only to setting the mood, but also in framing some of the jokes. When the Angels are hanging from a tanker welding, "What a feeling" from Flashdance plays, or when they're dressed as nuns, "The Lonely Goatherd" from The Sound of Music plays. These sort of jokes add to the films camp appeal but also work to its detriment as without the soundtrack and music video-like nature of the film, one might notice that the movie lacks a tighter plot structure.

One final note is that usually when I do caps for my movies I have a hard time figuring out three shots that really capture the film and that I want to place here. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle was the opposite. There were so many shots and elements I wanted to capture but couldn't because I was limited to three. I had to use my friend Greg to help me narrow them down.

Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Drew Berrymore, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Notes:
1. This is only a guess since his IMDb profile mentions his partner Mike, and I'm assuming they mean romantic, not business.
2. I doubt there will be another sequel.
3. See the full soundtrack listing here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Charlie's Angels (2000)

Drew Barrymore, Bill Murray, Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Charlie's Angels
I had originally intended to simply write about Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle but it was eating away at me that owned the sequel but not the original Charlie's Angels on DVD. Fortunately for me, Newbury Comics had a copy in their used section.1 The movie is a "remake"2 of the original TV series and stars Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu as the titular Angels and Bill Murray as Bosley. The movie marked a feature film directing debut for McG, who prior to this time had largely worked on music videos.

Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Charlie's Angels
In a lot of ways, the Angels raise many of the same third-wave feminist questions as shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer do. The Angels are physically and mentally quite powerful. A lot of their power is based on their sex appeal. While this does a great deal towards showing women as both sexually empowered and capable, the movie does reinforce many ideologies about how women should embody femininity. We are supposed to believe that Barrymore, Diaz, and Liu are all capable of some pretty intense feats of strength, yet they all seem to lack some of the necessary musculature to actually accomplish these goals in real life. It's a dilema that faces third-wave feminist analysis, and one that I'm not sure can easily be decided in a blog post.

The only part of Charlie's Angels that I don't care for is the inclusion of Tom Green. I'm not certain if his ill-fated romance with Barrymore began before or during this film, but either way,I find his scenes remarkably unfunny. Fortunately, the comedy talents of Murray, Tim Curry, and even the Angels compensates for Green's lack.

Bill Murray, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, Charlie's Angels
Notes:
1. Normally I don't like to buy used DVDs, but it was only $5.99 and I've had some success with Newbury Comics used DVDs in the past. I also picked up a copy of The Big Lebowski: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.
2. I'm not certain if remake is the correct term for a feature film based on a television series, whereas it may be appropriate for a "relaunched" TV series, like Battlestar Galactica.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Can't Hardly Wait (1998)

Every decade has a few teen movies that stand out. The 80s had The Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Pretty in Pink, and Sixteen Candles. The 90s had American Pie, Can't Hardly Wait, Clueless, and 10 Things I Hate About You.1 When I was in high school, Can't Hardly Wait was probably one of the most quoted of the teen films, particularly of the foreign exchange student.2 The movie follows an after-graduation party where Ethan Embry hopes to confess his love to Jennifer Love Hewitt. The movie also weaves in a good number of stories throughout which leads to a nonstop set of "Hey it's [insert name of now mildly famous person]!"

This movie works for many reasons. It manages to weave a large number of stories together, but never so many that we lose track of the main story. The fact that virtually the entire movie takes place in one night helps to keep the stories manageable. One of the most enjoyable parts of this movie, now that I've left high school behind me for quite some time, is the fickle nature of a lot of the drama that takes place in the movie. Relationships3 begin and end throughout the night. The strength of these relationships is only possible out of the youth of high school students.

Like Breakfast Club, Can't Hardly Wait seeks to use all the different high school clicks to flesh out its story. The relationship between these clicks is largely used to comic effect. Ethan Embry's character occupies a clique-less sect, but his crush is on the popular girl. Somehow by the end of the movie she realizes that he's who she should have loved all along, though it's too late now. Other battles exist between the nerds and the jocks. The pot heads are just along for the ride.

Watching this movie again, I still enjoy it, but I think it held a lot more water for me when I was still in high school. Those things that seemed important and plausible then seem far less so at this point in my life. But since this was one of my high school movies it will stick with me for a long time.

Stoner #1 [Brian Klugman]: Preston? I dunno, his hair's kinda, I dunno, brown?
Stoner #2 [Jason Segel]:
No, it's not really brown. Oh, he's tall.
Stoner #1: Yeah, he's kinda kinda tall. Sorta tall. And he's like always wearing like t-shirts.
Amanda: So, he's sort of tall?
Stoner #1: Kinda.
Amanda: With... hair?
Stoner #1: Yeah.
Amanda: And he wears t-shirts sometimes?
Stoner #1: Yeah.
Amanda: That's it?
Stoner #1: Well, I mean, he's Preston. Preston, you know?
Stoner #2: Preston, I like that guy.


Notes::
1. I suppose for the 00s we have Mean Girls, John Tucker Must Die and *shudder* the High School Musical series.
2. "Would you like to touch my penis?" Of course, it makes little sense that a person could study in the US for an entire year and not have learned enough English to know what he was being asked to say.
3. Romantic, sexual, and platonic.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Captain Ron (1992)

From the pits of the $5 bin at Wal-Mart comes Captain Ron. One of my weaknesses is for DVDs under $10, though increasingly I'll wait for a movie to make it to the $5 range. When I was a kid, I really liked this movie. It stars Martin Short as an up-tight father who inherits a sail boat from his uncle. He takes his family down to the Caribbean to sail the boat back to the US where he'll sell it. The boat is in considerably worse condition than he'd expected it to be, so the auction house sends the less-than-reputable Captain Ron Rico, played by Kurt Russell, to help the family sail the boat back. Along the way they realize that appearances can be deceiving and that quality time can be found even in the most dire of circumstances.

Kurt Russell's laid back crazy is paired perfectly with Martin Short's up-tight crazy. The two work well together. In a lot of ways there is a battle of masculinity at play in this movie. Russell represents a more primal version of masculinity. He is overtly sexual and has obviously seen a great deal of violence in his past (as his missing eye attests to). He is also a more desirable physical specimen than Short, often walking around in a bright orange Speedo. Martin on the other hand represents the modern corporate man. He gets ahead based on his mind, and less his physicality. Throughout the film, he fears that Russell's more hegemonic masculinity will usurp his own place as the head of his family. In the end, Short loosens up his thinking masculinity and adopts some of Russell's, even taking on an impression of Russell. Of course, Short's diminutive nature would prevent him from ever fully embodying the same hegemonic masculinity that Russell does, but with an attitude adjustment he may be partly there.

The humor in this film derives largely from a fish out of water formula. As a result a lot of slap-stick exists throughout as Short fails to react in time to the dangers of the open ocean. There are also a lot of great lines throughout the movie. The film asks what happens when an average family is placed in extraordinary circumstances, and it answers with laughs. Check it out if you have the time.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Blazing Saddles (1974)

1974 was a busy year for writer/director Mel Brooks. He turned out not only Blazing Saddles, but also Young Frankenstein,1 arguably two of his greatest works. The movie stars Cleavon Little as a Black railroad worker who is sent to the gallows, but through the machinations of the antagonist, played brilliant by Harvey Korman, is placed as sheriff of the small inbred2 town of Rockridge, NV. With Gene Wilder at his side, he fights against the forces of intolerance and unfettered capitalism.

In a lot of ways, Blazing Saddles inhabits a world of meta. Brooks frequently breaks the fourth wall with the characters speaking directly to the audience. Additionally the characters are aware of the broader world outside of their film. Governor Lepetomane assures Hedley Lamarr that he'll be able to sue Hedy Lemarr for stealing his name because it's the 1800s. The movie also draws further attention to itself when the sheriff rides to Rockridge and passes the Count Bassie Orchestra who is playing the soundtrack we are hearing. This draws to a climax near the end when the action breaks free of the back lot and ransacks the studio bursting in on other films. The hero and antagonist even escape to the premier of the film. Even the final shots break the wall of film as the Little and Wilder dismount from their horses and get in the back of a car to be driven off into the sunset.

Blazing Saddles also expands its meta nature beyond simply breaking the fourth wall. It also draws on meta-comedy about racism and racial jokes. By and large the white people of the town of Rockridge and the railroad company are racist dullards. By contrast, most of the Black characters are highly intelligent and competent and use the racist assumptions of white people against them. The three white people who seem least phased by racism are Korman, Wilder, and Madeline Kahn's German singing sensation Lili von Shtupp.3 Importantly, Korman hopes to use the racism of others to achieve his own means and to distract them from his own nefarious plans. Fortunately in the end, the townsfolk learn their lesson about racial intolerance and realize that all people are worthwhile. Even the Irish.

While the film operates on many different levels, and I choose to interpret it as a film about racism, and not itself a racist film, one could easily argue the reverse. The film does draw on racial stereotypes throughout. It also heavily uses racially insensitive terms--notably the N-word.4 When we look at this movie we have to ask ourselves if the average audience would see it challenging the racial prejudices they hold, or if they have them reinforced. Unfortunately, I'd have to admit that while I may see this movie as a comedy about racism that turns it on its head, I can also see a large number of people watching it and simply laughing at the stereotypes of a group and walking away with the same views they always held. As a result it may feed into continued racial intolerance in our culture. That said, the movie was also written in part by Richard Pryor, so I think my interpretation is more in line with their intent.

While I've talked about the headier elements of this movie, its not to say it's necessarily a smart comedy. While one can focus on the meta-elements and the racial overtones, it's also a movie filled with bodily humor jokes and puns. From cowboys sitting around a fire eating beans and farting to bandits being turned back by a toll booth in the middle of nowhere, the movie delivers laughs that work on an immature level. This is the kind of comedy I enjoy. I can both laugh at its inanity but spend quite a bit of time discussing its larger social contexts and debating its merits.

Taggart: Lepetomane Through-Way? Now what'll that asshole think of next? Does anybody gotta dime? Somebody's gotta go back and get a shitload of dimes!

Notes:
1. I will be reviewing Young Frankenstein at a later date, along with The Producers (1968), Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Spaceballs.
2. I can only assume the town is inbred as almost every resident's last name is Johnson.
3. Kahn's characters name is one of many that is a joke in and of itself as "shtupp" is Yiddish slang for sex, and Kahn's character is a sexually loose woman.
4. Whenever I watch this film on TV, it appears that Standards and Practices hasn't decided whether this is acceptable or not. Sometimes it's bleeped, sometimes it isn't.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy (2000)

The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy is a fun romantic comedy that follows a group of gay friends in West Hollywood. Its filled with funny lines1 as well as some drama. It also has a semi-star cast with Zach Braff, Dean Cain, Andrew Keegan, John Mahoney and Timothy Olyphant, to name a few of the more famous stars.

This movie examines the many different levels of relationships and the life course. The characters show many different types of gay men, and their levels of outness as well as their relationship to other gay men. One scene of the film draws attention to the fact that this movie is attempting to represent a different kind of gay character than had previously been seen in movies. Howie, the gay psychology graduate student complains: "There isn't a movie in the cinema canon that depicts a gay character that we would aspire to be. What are our options... noble, suffering AIDS victims, the friends of noble suffering AIDS victims, sex addicts, common street hustlers and the newest addition to the lot, stylish confidantes to lovelorn women. Just once I would like to see someone who is not sick, hasn't been laid in about three months and is behind on his student loans." He has a point, and I think this movie is successful at expanding the available images of gay men in cinema.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie has Jennifer Coolidge as a hairdresser. As she cuts hair, the guys tell her about what's going in their lives in what they call gay therapy. Coolidge, never speaks except to tell them to sit up or ask how they want their hair. In the end, Olyphant says to her "You always know what to say." To which she deadpans, "It's a gift." This scene has a number of humorous elements, but I just like the fact that they all think they have a very close relationship with their hair stylist, but in fact she really doesn't seem to care.2

While I do enjoy this movie, and I think it's great that number of actors appeared in it without the same fanfare that accompanied Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger's roles in Brokeback Mountain--roles that fall into those unpleasant stereotypes listed earlier. For the most part, the actors seem to have fared okay after this movie. When Zach Braff wrote Garden State, his character had played a retarded person in a previous movie and everyone in his home town thought that he was retarded. The semi-autobiographical movie was referring to his role as a homosexual in Broken Hearts Club. I've always found this parallel a little troubling and it bothers me about Zach Braff.3 Aside from that though, I still like this movie.

Dennis/Kevin: A lot of people ask me when I first knew I was gay. Fact is, I don't know. But what I do remember, what I can recall, is when I first realized it was Okay: It was when I met these guys. My friends.

Notes:
1. Taylor: "I hear Kip Rodgers is a big fag." Dennis: "Kip Rodgers is not gay, he's married." Taylor: "Oh please, that's right up there with 'He's not gay, he's in a fraternity.'"
2. Another great line from this scene: Patrick: "Taylor's boyfriend broke up with him from Hawaii, Howie went home with Marshall... again, Cole slept with Benji's quasi-boyfriend, and my sister ends the evening with a plea for my sperm. It's like one big gay soap opera! I keep waiting for Sue Ellen to wander into my living room and tell me that she's secretly bought controlling interest in my oil company!"
3. See my previous post for Bill & Ted that discussed Scrubs use of guy love.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

Catht Moriarty, Eddie Cibrian, But I'm a Cheerleader
The third cheerleader movie I own beginning with the letter "B" asks the question, "What would happen if a cheerleader was a lesbian?" But I'm a Cheerleader explores that question with a great deal of humor, and a little bit of heart. The film stars Natasha Lyonne1 as a cheerleader who is the only person to not realize she is a lesbian. She is sent to True Directions, a camp run by Cathy Moriarty, her son, and her assistant.2 Despite the fact that the majority of the film is set in a gay-away camp, it manages to capture quite a bit of camp charm.

One of the most appealing things about But I'm a Cheerleader is the way color is used in the film. In the beginning, the outside world is done almost entirely in shades of brown and yellow, except for the main character who wears pink. When she is sent to straight camp, all the girls are placed in pink and the boys in blue in an effort to gender the campers. The film also draws on phallic and vaginal imagery throughout. At one point Lyonne is framed by two lams that appear to be ovaries and fallopian tubes. Were this any other movie, some of the imagery might pass as unintentional, but the careful care in planning color schemes and other devices allows for a rewarding time with careful viewing.

But I'm a Cheerleader, Natasha Lyonne
The film has a good time drawing attention to gender and sex norms that seem wildly outdated, but are still largely drawn upon in our society. In some ways it sort of removes some of the power of anti-gay movements since the campers are forced to carry signs with trite sayings that they don't seem to particularly believe. On the other hand, the movie also pokes fun at super-pride gays who have everything rainbow.

In the end the message of this movie is that people should accept who they are no matter what others may want of them. We also see that if you try to change but don't truly want it, you'll never be a full success. This is why the True Directions' director's son most continually go through training again to refresh his memory. It's a political message, but it's packaged in a way that should be palatable to most audiences, and though it may be slightly outdated in some areas, it's still a powerful one in more conservative places.

But I'm a Cheerleader
Joel: Mrs. Brown, what about foreplay?
Mary: Foreplay is for sissies. Real men go in, unload, and pull out!
Rock: Mom!


Notes:
1. You may remember her from American Pie 1 & 2 or Blade: Trinity. We'll see her again in Modern Vampires. I may even own a few others that I'm not aware of at this time.
2. Played by Eddie Cibrian and RuPaul Charles, respectively.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bring it On (2000)

Bring It On
Bring It On is the movie that spawned a thousand sequels.1 It stars Kirsten Dunst as the captain of a cheerleading squad who discovers that all of their routines were ripped off of an inner city school's squad. She then sets out to prove that her team has what it takes to bring it on, and win the national cheerleading championship. This movie asks the question, "What would happen if you made a movie about cheerleaders?" The movie also stars Eliza Dushku and Jesse Bradford as a pair of siblings who just moved to the area and don't quite fit at Rancho Carne High School.2 This movie draws on some of the same tropes that made Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Clueless successful, and has enough witty dialogue to make you laugh throughout.

The movie is interesting in that it explores class and race relations, though with perhaps limited resources. The students at RCHS are all from affluent backgrounds and are college bound. They can afford to spend a great deal of time and resources on cheerleading. On the other hand, the students from East Compton do not have this sort of resource. Race and class are conflated in this story, as there is only one any student of color on the RCHS team (an Asian American), and the East Compton team is made up entirely of African American and Latin(o/a) cheerleaders. Interestingly, the East Compton team is the Clovers, possibly stemming from a time when it was a largely Irish area that underwent a population shift, though this is only conjuncture on my part.

Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Bradford, Bring It On
Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this movie places a great deal of its humor on the vapidity of cheerleaders and Valley girls. Dushku and Bradford offer a contrasting point of view to the oddity of the RCHS students. Yet, Dunst is the character we follow throughout. The fact that she befriends Dushku and falls in love with Bradford clues us into the fact that she is somehow different from here peers. At one point she gives an impassioned speech about the work that must be done to ensure that equality of opportunity can be reached, not just assumed.

This movie also has an odd mix of homophobia and tolerance. While the team accepted their gay member, played by Huntley Ritter, other still reacted quite defensively whenever they were accused of being gay or lesbian. Additionally, some of the cheerleaders want to turn away Dushku because she appears to be an "uber-dyke." There appears to be an odd mix of gender and sexuality politics at play throughout the movie, such that it's hard to tell if the movie falls on the favorable or unfavorable side.

One of the things I think that makes this movie most satisfying for me is that in the end, they main characters do not come in first. But that's okay for them, and it's okay for the audience as well. Too many movies have the main characters beating the odds or winning for no apparent reason. Or they have couples that should be together getting together. It's nice to see a movie where the expected outcome is not what takes place and is still perfectly acceptable, and even preferable. That said, I do think the routine done by the Toros was better than that done by the Clovers, but I wasn't the fake judges.

Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Huntley Ritter, Bring It On
Sparky Polastri: I'm a choreographer, that's what I do. You are cheerleaders. Cheerleaders are dancers who've gone retarded. What you do is a tiny pathetic subset of dancing. I will attempt to transform your robotic routines into poetry, written with the human body. Follow me, or perish sweater monkeys.

Notes:
1. Not really a thousand, but at least three so far: Bring It On Again, Bring It On: All or Nothing, and Bring It On: In It to Win It.
2. If I remember my Spanish correctly, they go to Meat Ranch HS. Now, this could be a statement on their meat-like qualities. Cheerleaders are often considered pieces of them... Or it could just be a joke, as their mascot is the Toros, or the bull.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Donald Sutherland, Kristy Swanson, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Before there was a show, there was a movie. And though Kristy Swanson never went on to star in Buffy the Vampire Slayer the TV series, she is quite a different slayer than the one we grow to love over seven seasons. This movie explores the question, what would happen if a valley girl was given supernatural powers to slay the undead.

Watching Buffy one sees a plethora of famous people in roles that range from important to so minor they went uncredited. Some of these actors went on to win academy awards, some to host talk shows, others to marry Courtney Cox.1 Though by far my favorite performance in the movie is by Paul Reubens as the main vampire's (Lothos, played by Rutger Hauer) number one flunky. Also intersting is that Donald Sutherland plays a slayer trainer while his son Kiefer Sutherland had five years earlier played a vampire.

Luke Perry, David Arquette, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy maintains a great deal of camp value, similar to The Lost Boys and launched Joss Whedon's career to new heights, much to the joy of nerds everywhere. Most people who have watched the show haven't seen this movie. This is an unfortunate fact. The two are wildly different from each other, but I think that it is important to recognize where the show came from, and to respect the movie for its own brilliance.

Vampires according to Buffy, The Vampire Slayer:
  1. Vampires have been around just as long as humans.
  2. Only the Slayer is truly able to consistently kill them.
  3. There is a group of Watchers who follow the slayer and know about vampires.
  4. Vampires do sleep in coffins. At least, the important ones do.
  5. Vampires cannot enter your home unless invited.
  6. The Slayer can detect vampires.
  7. A wooden stake through the heart kills vampires.
  8. Crosses seem to have no effect, though, they'll burst into flames in front of a vampire (a tribute to Bram Stoker's Dracula).
  9. Vampires can fly.
  10. Vampirism causes funky ears.
  11. If a vampire feeds on you, you become a vampire.
Paul Reubens, Rutger Hauer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Andy: They had fangs. They were biting people. They had this look in their eyes: totally cold, animal. I think they were young Republicans.

Notes:
1. Hilary Swank and Ben Affleck, Ricki Lake, and David Arquette, respectively.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bulletproof Monk (2003)

Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Bulletproof Monk
Bulletproof Monk opens with a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, an image that is symbollic through the film. We then see Chow Yun-Fat as a Tibetan monk fighting his master. It is revealed that he has completed his training and will now take on an ancient duty of protecting a scroll of that would give the reader knowledge to become the most powerful being. We then flash forward approximately 60 years (five times the year of the horse) and Chow Yun-Fat hasn't aged a day. He is following a young thief played by Seann William Scott who he believes will be the next person to guard the secret scroll, and who will eventually emerge from his own cocoon.

The movie offers a wide variety to offer the audience. It has humor, action, and even Nazis as the bad guys!1 Some of the special effects could have been directed a bit better. When I saw the trailer for this movie with a group of friends our response was "Matrix did it!" But if one looks past the fact that other action movies like The Matrix or Chow Yun-Fat's own Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have better special effects, then the film can still be enjoyable. It's a light action movie that's generally unoffensive.

Seann William Scott, Bulletproof Monk
This movie also contains the same sort of handsome comic relief that Blade: Trinity had with Ryan Reynolds. Seann William Scott also played a similar role in The Rundown which was also released in 2003 and that I will review later. The difference is that in this role he actually knows how to fight rather well, having learned from watching a great deal of Kung-fu movies at the movie theater where he works.

If you're in the mood for a light action movie that has some good effects and chuckle-able humor, then I'd suggest checking out Bulletproof Monk.

Seann William Scott, Jaime King, Chow Yun-Fat, Bulletproof Monk
Notes:
1. Man! I hate Nazis!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Batman Begins (2005)

Though I own a couple Batman films on VHS,1 to this point I only own Batman Begins on DVD. I loaned my copy to my coworker, so I've been unable to watch it in accordance to the rules laid out in the beginning of this blog.

Batman Begins is a brilliant relaunch of the Batman franchise. Christian Bale does a great job as the caped crusader. Though British, he manages to pull off the part of Bruce Wayne and the Bat with great finesse. This movie is also fun because we see a hero in the making, not just someone has already been established. There's an element of realism throughout the film.

Batman Begins Poster
Liam Neeson's portrayl as Ra's al Ghul is fairly good. With the failure of a "show the body" there's also the potential that he'll return in future films, just as al Ghul is frequently portrayed as an immortal. Sir Michael Caine also does a great job as Alfred Pennyworth, even though I do still enjoy Michael Gough's portrayal in the two Burton and two Schumacher films.

I've watched Batman Begins several times recently in anticipation of its sequel. It definitely lives up to repeated viewings and is a great action and superhero flick.

Notes:
1. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

Brotherhood of the Wolf
When the trailers for Le Pacte des Loups first hit theaters, they did everything they could to not reveal that this kick-ass action movie was, in fact, French. Crafty viewers, like me, saw through the lack of dialogue in the trailer and also read IMDb pages, and so were not fooled. The movie stars Samuel Le Bihan as a French naturalist who returns from the new world to the French countryside to dispose of a beat that is ransacking the peasantry and riling them up against the King. He is accompanied by his stoic "Native American" friend played by Mark Dacascos.1 In the end it turns out that incestuous pagan French noblemen2 are behind the plot in order to discredit the King and seize power themselves.

In some ways the film is steeped in colonialism. The main character brings a Native American from the French colonies. The beast was purloined from the African continent presumably also from a French colony. But we see that while creatures3 are quite powerful, they aren't quite so powerful as a white man, who always has the strength to defeat them. We also see that sickly and somewhat-effeminate males are also easily defeated by these strong men. The only person who could potentially defeat him appears to be a femme fatale,4 however, because of his extreme masculinity and power she seems to fall in love with him and refuses to actually kill him.

Brotherhood of the Wolf
This movie is told through a flashback of one of the lesser characters. While the populace remain outside his palace ready to behead him during the French revolution, he tells the story of a true nobleman and in the end boldly faces his own death rather than running from the torch-bearing peasants. The message seems to be that the aristocracy wasn't actually that bad, though there were a few bad apples, and they actively worked to save the people from terrors.

While there are troubling racial, colonial, classed, and gendered problems throughout the movie, it nevertheless has some pretty awesome action sequences. It also maintains a bit of a fairy-tale like quality. The Big Bad Wolf is slain by the lumberjack and everyone rejoices. The political intrigue also makes it a fun story to plot as you try to figure out who is working for whom, and what their ultimate goals are.

The DVD contains both a subtitled and a dubbed version. Dubbing should be illegal. But if you're too dumb to read, you shouldn't worry, you can still enjoy this movie.

Brotherhood of the Wolf
Notes:
1. Dacascos was born in Hawaii and is actually of Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Irish descent. Which I suppose somewhat justifies his casting as The Chairman of Kitchen Stadium on Iron Chef: America.
2. Redundant, I know.
3. I use this term on purpose, because Dacascos character in many ways is treated simply as a noble savage by those who like him, and as a beast by those who do not.
4. In this case, a papal assasin and prostitute played by Monica Bellucci.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Blade: Trinity (2004)

Jessica Biel, Wesely Snipes, Ryan Reynolds, Blade: Trinity
Blade: Trinity is the end to the Blade trilogy. It's not entirely bad, however, it varies greatly from the previous two films. Wesley Snipes reprises his role yet again, as does Kris Kristofferson whose character is killed, yet again. With his second (or third) death, Kristofferson is replaced by a team vampire slayers. Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Patton Oswalt, Natasha Lyonne, and some other people. This time they are up against Dracula himself, as well as a group of vampires (led by Parker Posey) who hope the first vampire can turn them into day walkers too.

The film begins with a group of vampires unearthing Dominic Purcell who plays dracula. At the same time, the vampires also set up Blade to get him arrested by the human authorities. This leads to Whilster's death, and Blade meeting up with the Nightstalkers. Together they battle against Dracula and his ilk. In the end they're successful at creating a virus to destroy all vampires, though it seems uncertain that it spreads beyond the confines of the building it was originally dispersed in. Dracula also states that Blade is the future of the vampire race even though they don't seem to know it.

Dominic Purcell, Blade: Trinity
The real star of this movie is Ryan Reynolds as Hannibal King. He plays a wisecracking smart ass ex-vampire who works with Blade. He offers the opening and closing narration. He also is involved in most of the major plot-points. Reynolds is really the only reason to watch this movie, and I think could successfully run his own spin-off franchise. Fortunately, I think that this will be the last Blade movie, unless Wesley Snipe's tax evasion woes lead him to desperation.

Things we learn about vampires in this movie:
  1. Dracula was the first vampire.
  2. Dracula was from ancient Samaria, approximately 6,000 years ago.
  3. Dracula can go in the sun even though other vampires cannot.
  4. Dracula can shape-shift.
  5. Vampires can make Pomeranian into vampires too.
  6. When a vampire gets a virus he immediately expunges a cloud of it into the air like smoke from a factory.
Ryan Reynolds, Paul 'Triple H' Levesque, Parker Posey, Blade: Trinity

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blade II (2002)

Blade 2, CGI
Though Blade II isn't as good as the first one, it still is rather enjoyable. It contains less character development and is just an action/vampire slaying flick. Wesley Snipes returns as the titular character, and somehow manages to bring his mentor Kris Kristoffersen back from the dead. We also have the introduction of Ron Pearlman playing a jerk,1 and Leonor Varela playing a character that is almost exactly Kate Beckinsale's character in the 2003 Underworld.2

This movie continues the scientific analysis of vampire culture. In order to create a more perfect vampire, a very old vampire messes with the genetic code. Rather than creating a day walker, he creates a vampire that feeds on both people and vampires and is nearly immortal, immune to silver and garlic, but not daylight. As the vampires are unable to take care of this threat on their own, they enlist the services of Blade.

Throughout the movie we see a question about the enemy of my enemy being my friend, and yet the question of who truly is Blade's enemy is never really resolved. However we seem to get the impression that Blade is a master tactician and is able to defeat his enemies through clever planning, playing each against the other while they think they're using him.

Thomas Kretschmann, Blade 2
In some places this movie is a bit gross for me. The ├╝ber-vamps have a lower mandible that splits open when they feed. There are also a few scenes of autopsying the new vamps. And with the use of swords as a weapon of choice there is a lot of dismemberment, disemboweling and generally gross cutting. This movie also has a few places where they used CGI characters for the special effects, and it's a bit jarring.3

Finally, this movie modifies our vampire lore a little bit:
  1. When vampires get really old, they start to change to look more like demons.
  2. Vampires have cloning technology.
  3. Vampires don't know that throwing a vampire into a vat of blood will make him stronger.
  4. Vampires have vats of blood.
  5. Some vampires are very wealthy and have cool castles with very advanced technology in the dungeon.
  6. Vampire slayers are a little psychotic in their persecution of vampires, who, admittedly aren't very nice either.
  7. Though vampires aren't really "dead" they do have a body temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
I'm still not certain how vampires reproduce because we never seen any child vampires. There is a Brave New World-esque assembly line in this movie, but I have to assume that it's for those vampires that are being genetically modified and not the usual way that vampires reproduce.

Wesley Snipes, Leonor Varela, Blade 2
Notes:
1. Basically the same character he played in Alien: Resurrection... amongst other roles.
2. Look for a review of both Underworld and Underworld: Evolution in about a year.
3. The first screen cap on this post is an example of a scene that was largely done with CGI.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Blade (1998)

Wesley Snipes, Blade
I really like vampire movies. I also like movies that are based on comic books. The Blade series fits both. In fairness though, I was never really aware that Blade was also a comic book, that's just what I've been told. This movie offers fast paced action and an interesting storyline as Wesley Snipes fights against a slew of vampires, mainly Stephen Dorff, with the aid of Kris Kristofferson and N'Bushe Wright.

This does a lot of character explanation. Blade's mother was bitten by a vampire while she was pregnant, thus turning her unborn child into a vampire who could walk in the day, eat garlic and not be affected by silver, but still craved blood. We also learn that Whistler (Kristofferson) once had a family who was killed by vampires, and adopted Blade.

Stephen Dorff, Blade
I always like to see how different movies interpret the creatures of the night. Things we learn about vampires in this movie.
  1. Vampires cannot go out in the sun. Unless they wear sunscreen. Just like redheads.
  2. Vampires can reproduce sexually or via biting people.
  3. This bifurcation of origin creates a caste system within vampire society.
  4. Vampires are super fast and super strong.
  5. A lot of vampires are also super dumb.
  6. Weaknesses include: sunlight, silver, and garlic. They do not include crosses.
  7. You can cure vampirism in those who converted via bites.
  8. Vampires may not live forever because they have an ancient language and lore that they are unable to translate or understand.
  9. Vampires are a well kept secret that many people seem to know about.
  10. Even though vampires are a genetic mutation or virus, magic still exists.
  11. Udo Kier is a vampire.
Of course, some of this seems to change later, but we can discuss that in subsequent films. As I was watching this movie I remembered an article I'd read years ago stating that vampires scientifically cannot exist. One vampire who only fed once a month and created a vampire from that feeding would geometrically grow the vampire population to a point that humanity would be destroyed within a few years. I tried to find this article for this post, and instead I found this: [link]. What's most interesting about that is not the philosophical exercise of whether or not vampires can exist but the seemingly large group of people who actually seem to believe that they do, and are quite angry that somebody would try to prove they do not. I would like to clarify that I personally do not believe in them, I just think movies about them are cool.

Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Blade