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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Ninotchka

#20 Ninotchka

Ninotchka Movie Poster

“Garbo Laughs!”

That’s the big marketing phrase that sold this 1939 romantic comedy starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.  One of the few performers to successfully navigate the transition from silent film to “talkies”, Garbo had a reputation for doing serious dramas and “Ninotchka” was her big entry into comedy.  Sadly, she only made two more films after this.

Made at a time when the U.S. and Russia were still allies, modern audiences might be a little put off by the slightly sympathetic tone the film has toward Communist Russia.  The film does lampoon the more stodgy nature of Communists of the day, but it pulls it off in a good natured way.  As a child of the Cold War Era, I found it a little awkward.

Ninotchka screen grab

No stranger to screwball comedies, I went into Ninotchka  with a certain preconceived notion of what to expect;  I was pleasantly surprised to find a rather tender love story.  Comedy was still the order of the day, and I have a feeling it was even funnier in 1939.  The guys playing Garbo’s three eccentric Russian friends nearly steal the movie, but Melvyn Douglas is charming, if not a little unbelievable as a 36 year old lawyer who falls in love with Communist loyalist, Ninotchka, played by Garbo.  Fans of the horror classic Dracula (as well as b-movie classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space) will be amused to see Bela Lugosi turning a scene as Garbo’s superior.

If you want a light, entertaining movie that effectively uses the Nazi salute as a sight gag, this is probably a good film to catch.  Find out just what it is that gets Garbo laughing!

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2010 in Movie Challenge

 

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Fanmade Trailer

This fanmade trailer I found via digg has totally got me jonesing for the original Tron:

I may just have to work it into the challenge soon.

And just to sweeten the deal, here’s an exclusive first look at Jeff Bridges’ Flynn in the upcoming Tron: Legacy

Exclusive first look at Jeff Bridges as Flynn in Tron Legacy

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2010 in Movie Challenge

 

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An Empress and the Warriors

#19 An Empress and the Warriors

An Empress and the Warriors movie poster

Hollywood just doesn’t give us epics very much any more.  Thankfully, we have the Hong Kong movie industry to fill that void.  God bless them, they understand how to make an epic.  Over the top heroes, fancy costumes, and a metric buttload of guys with swords riding horses are the order of the day when making an epic, and our friends in the East have this firmly in hand.  An Empress and the Warriors is an example of the lighter end of this trend.

For all it’s pomp and circumstance, the movie just comes across as somehow, for lack of a better description, slightly silly.  I’m okay with that.  The movie is your standard Hong Kong fare, set in a time of divided kingdoms who are at constant war with each other.  The Emporer is killed in an underhanded way and the rightful heir to the throne is under massive pressure to prove their worth.  In this case, it’s a girl, played by a famous Hong Kong pop star.  She gets seperated from her army and befriends a nature loving doctor (with a secret) who heals her wounds and warms her heart, thinking her to be just some vagabond.  When he finds out that she is, in fact, an empress, the whole dynamic changes.

For some inexplicable reason, halfway through the movie, for a brief moment, everyone starts–to sound… like…William Shatner.  Then the story just starts getting silly and predictable–yet fun.  The action sequences just get more and more ridiculous as the story progresses, including a scene where the heroine’s brother, played by a Lou Diamond Phillips look-alike, takes on an army of a thousand men single handedly, and in true epic story fashion he is practically an unstoppable, unkillable machine.  Then there’s the hot air balloon.  In feudal Japan.  I’ll just have to let you watch that disaster unfold for yourself.

An Empress and the Warriors screenshot

While the movie is great fun, a few things should be noted.  Apparently, Hong Kong cinema is not encumbered by animal rights activists like American movies are.  There are a number of cringe inducing scenes involving horses being tripped and dropped into pits.  I really must say that those moments made me a little uneasy.  I hadn’t realized how much we’ve been sheltered from that kind of imagery until I watched this movie.

Make no mistake, though I paint the film as funny and silly, it is meant to be a tragedy.  In all fairness, the underlying story is a tragic one–it’s just that the presentation itself is ham-fisted, leading me to think that perhaps Hong Kong has an equivalent to Sam Raimi.  So pop up a bowl of popcorn, lower the lights, and prepare for a little mindless fun with bad dubbing.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Movie Challenge

 

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Ed Wood

#18 Ed Wood

Ed Wood poster

Once in awhile, Hollywood gives us a director who is astoundingly embraced by a cult following, an auteur who is misunderstood by his peers, and looked down upon by critics. With a unique vision, and a steadfast loyalty to a small band of actors with whom he always chooses to work, this filmmaker adheres to a visual style that is singularly his own, and eschews convention to make telling his story his primary goal.

Ed Wood Screenshot

Hangin' out...

It’s no wonder Tim Burton was the guy who brought to screen the story of the man generally considered to be “the worst director of all time,” Edward Wood, Jr.  If you aren’t familiar, Ed Wood is most famous for his film “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” a true masterpiece of bad movie making.  Ed Wood’s films, often looked down upon by his contemporaries, found a new lease on life in the form of VHS tapes and late nite movie channels.  His movies fall into the so-bad-it’s-good category, and serve as a true testament to Wood’s dedication to his craft, no matter how misguided he might have been.

Oh yeah, and he happened to like dressing up in women’s clothing.

Burton’s Ed Wood tells the story of Wood’s rise to mediocrity with an obvious admiration and a sincere touch of respect.  Where Wood was by no means a stickler for detail, Burton more than makes up for it by meticulously recreating the sets and even shooting some of the same scenes from Wood’s famous films with glaringly identical panache.  The casting in the movie is nothing short of phenomenal.  The actor portraying Tor Johnson is an uncanny carbon copy, while Burton favorite Johnny Depp almost channels the campy Ed Wood.  Lisa Marie as Vampira was an inspired choice, Jeffrey Jones is a passable Criswell, Vincent D’Onofrio looks just like a young Orson Welles, and I’ll forever be convinced that Martin Landau was born to portray an aged heroin addicted Bela Legosi.

If you are a fan of good movies, see this movie.  If you are a fan of bad movies, see this movie.  I guarantee, there’s something in it for you.  I should warn you though, swear words are bandied about with flare, and cross-dressing is featured fairly prominently.  If you are the sort that is easily offended, you might want to give this film a miss.  On the other hand, if you want to see Bill Murray as a flamboyant wannabe transgender, this is the movie for you.

You can watch the original Plan 9 online:

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2010 in Movie Challenge, Uncategorized

 

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Spring Break

#17 Spring Break

Spring Break Movie Poster

If you were a college student in the 80’s, it was practically a rite of passage to load up with your buddies and head to Ft. Lauderdale, get drunk, do drugs, have promiscuous sex, and watch wet t-shirt contests on the beach all in the name of Spring Break.

If you were a teenager in the 80’s, it was practically a rite of passage to sneak home vhs tapes of movies about college kids doing those things.  This movie really struck many nostalgic chords for me.  I never lived a life like the people in this debaucherous riot, but as a young gentlemanbeggar, I found myself envious of the great fun it seemed they were having.  Even as a more responsible adult, I see that the lifestyle depicted here is in no way enviable, but still, it looks like great fun.  There is a plot in this movie, albeit a thin one.  I won’t bother trying to explain what the major conflict is, because, really what matters is that it’s an ensemble cast of college kids enjoying spring break.  You’ve got your white-bread goody-two-shoes who’s rebelling for the first time, his slightly edgier best friend, the “professionally cool” guy from New York, and the secretly deep dumb guy who’s more loyal than your favorite dog.  Oh, and there’s plenty of gratuitous nudity.  Oh yeah, you’ve also got the girl next door who’s so pure that fresh snow looks dingy next to her.  Don’t forget the gratuitous nudity.

Spring Break Screenshot

Oh look! "The Man" wants to shut down the popular hot-spot!

Seriously though, even with all the questionable behavior and the T&A in this movie, there is a certain innocence in the film that is sadly lacking in more modern attempts to make “coming of age” movies.  So often, movie makers just don’t get it.  They rely too much on the notion that nudity=fun, not realizing that the true formula is fun=nudity.  There really is a difference.  On the cover of the DVD it says proudly “Mr. Skin is a big fan of this movie!”  Surprisingly, the nudity in this movie, while gratuitous, isn’t as prevelant as you might suspect.  In fact, this movie could easily be edited enough to show on network tv.  And I’d wager it’d still be as much fun.

Fans of 80’s music might especially enjoy this raucous romp which features music by NRBQ, .38 Special, Jack Mack & The Heart Attack, and Cheap Trick.

You can actually watch the entire movie online at crackle.com!

What a great way to finish up my Spring Break week!

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2010 in film, Movie Challenge

 

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Stringtown Yarn & Fiber

TWGW and I are on spring break, visiting beautiful, sunny Sallisaw, Oklahoma.  Spending our nights enjoying a comfy “kabin” at the Sallisaw KOA, we decided to venture out into the area and do a little wishing window shopping.  Well, we found a quaint little book store, visited a historic  bordello turned museum, and petted a friendly cat at another bookstore that harkens back to The Neverending Story.  But probably the highlight of my day was a visit to Stringtown Yarn & Fiber, a clean little shop with a veritable rainbow of colours and textures all at reasonable prices.  It’s one thing to look at some of the more exotic fibers online and another thing entirely to hold them in your hand.  The lady working in the shop was friendly, without being pushy, answering my questions and letting me marvel in peace.  Now, I’m a novice knitter and had no idea where to start.  That didn’t really matter, because my budget was too tight to let me walk out of there with any goodies today anyway, but boy was it hard to leave without picking up a pair of needles from their collection.  And some hand dyed alpaca.  And a swift.  And a ball-winder. And…

Follow up:  I went back today… I’m enjoying my new needles and yarn. 🙂

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2010 in better living, holiday

 

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21

#16 21

21 Movie Poster

I’m a big fan of heist movies.  There’s something about watching a plan come together, fall apart, and then come together again because of some unknown twist.  It might be trite.  It might be overplayed, but it’s almost always entertaining.  21 delivers on all counts.

21 movie screenshot

Do you kind of know what’s going to happen 5 minutes into the movie?  Sure.  Does that really matter?  Not in the least.  It’s fun watching a group of college kids take down the casino under the tutelage of their crooked college professor, played by the always entertaining Kevin Spacey.  Lawrence Fishburn turns in a solid performance as a menacing casino security boss being pushed out of his profession by facial recognition software and looking to prove the old ways will trump technology.  There’s an obligatory “nothing in life is free” message hidden somewhere in this movie, but ignore it.  It’s all about watching a bunch of kids take down “the man.”  When it comes to watching movies like this, I say, “hit me.”

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2010 in Movie Challenge, Uncategorized

 

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