Rifftrax: Plan 9 From Outer Space

New from The Movie Snob

Rifftrax: Plan 9 From Outer Space. Well, you loyal readers may be getting a bit tired of seeing reviews about Mystery Science Theater: 3000 and MST3K spinoffs. Unfortunately, Rifftrax is just such a spin-off. Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy of MST3K have a business called Rifftrax that does exactly what MST3K used to do, and they have a website where you can download or order DVDs of their riffs on movies such as Reefer Madness and House on Haunted Hill. Recently they did one of those deals where they performed their show live in one venue (in Nashville, TN as it happened) and simulcast it to theaters across the country (including a few in Dallas) through fathomevents.com. I will say, it was much cheaper than seeing the Joel Robinson crew do their show live here in Dallas, but the immediacy in the live show did add something to the presentation. Anyway, the Rifftrax crew did the infamous Ed Wood movie Plan 9 From Outer Space, preceded by the short Flying Stewardess. They were very funny, and the evening was marred only by a few technical glitches during the short. If you liked MST3K and get the chance to see the Rifftrax crew in action, I do recommend it.

Beer review: 55 Select

From The Bleacher Bum

Budweiser 55 Select: The “King of Beers” is trying to position itself as the king of healthy drinking with the release of 55 Select. 55 represents the number of calories per 12 ounces. I picked up a six pack this weekend for a taste test. I truly liked it. The beer is smooth; tastes like beer; has no after-taste; not filling; and tastes better the colder it gets. Budweiser succeeded where MGD 64 didn’t.

Bleacher Bum Grading Scale: Homerun, Triple, Double, Single, Strikeout

Grade: Double

Drag Me to Hell

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Drag Me to Hell (B-). I enjoyed director Sam Raimi’s movies Evil Dead and Army of Darkness (especially the latter), so I gladly paid my $1.25 to see this movie at a local cheap cinema. I guess it was about what I should have expected, although I had no idea Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza (Babel) was in it. Young, fresh-faced Alison Lohman (Big Fish) plays Christine Brown, a loan officer who’s angling for a promotion. To show her toughness, she denies an extension to a hideous old gypsy woman whose home is being foreclosed upon. This sets a dire chain of events in motion as the gypsy attacks Christine in the parking garage after work and puts a terrible curse on her. The curse manifests itself in a series of creepy and disgusting supernatural assaults on the hapless Christine. Her bland boyfriend and a friendly psychic try to help her, but will she succeed in breaking the curse before she is . . . dragged to Hell??? It’s reasonably scary and unreasonably gross, so don’t say you weren’t warned!

28 Up

From The Movie Snob

28 Up (B+). The other night, the Borg Queen and I took advantage of her Netflix subscription to watch the next installment of this British documentary series. This one was filmed in the mid-1980s, and the 14 kids the director has been revisiting every seven years are now 28 — good and grown up. Two of them, including the Alex P. Keaton wanna-be, refused to participate this time around. Of those who did participate, almost all of them are married, and most of them seem to be pretty happy with their lives. Of course, director Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough) tries to provoke the ones who came from the lower classes by repeatedly asking if they’re satisfied or if they feel they’ve missed out on opportunities others have had. One of the girls from the lower classes bursts out, “Well, I never really think about it except when you come around every seven years!” or something like that. Anyway, it’s good to see that even the poorer kids seem to have pretty decent lives. There is one sad exception. A little boy who was very cute and happy at age seven and who seemed much sadder at age 14 is kind of a drifter at age 28, and he seems pretty clearly to suffer from some sort of mental illness. He is a sad case, and I hope he got suitable treatment after this installment was filmed.

District 9

Comic Book Guy contributes a movie review

District 9

For those of you who don’t know the plot outline, here’s the synopsis: aliens arrive on planet earth, not to conquer or eradicate the human race, but as refugees. The aliens, called “prawns,” are segregated into a ghetto (District 9), where they are kept separate from humans, ostensibly for the safety of both man and alien. A large multinational corporation is put in charge of policing the aliens and relocating them from District 9 to District 10. Mayhem ensues.

This is classic science fiction fare, full of archetypical images and plot devices. Giant spaceships (think Independence Day – okay, maybe not a classic but you can trace it back to Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End”), one man and one alien’s journey of discovery together (think Enemy Mine – okay, that’s not a classic either but it’s an archetype nonetheless), cool alien bio-technology coveted by large evil corporation (think Alien and Aliens– now those are classics) and a healthy serving of the not so thinly veiled allegory (think half the Star Trek TOS you’ve ever seen). The list could go on. Despite the heavy use of these things, or perhaps because of them, the film works. Shot as part quasi-documentary, the plot unfolds quickly and engages the viewer. The use of unknown actors and the lack of “star” talent give the film a certain authenticity that it would certainly lack if say, Brad Pitt, was cast in the lead. Likewise, the use of special effects enhances the movie as opposed to being the reason for the movie. This is not Transformers II, although the film does shift into action adventure mode for the last 30 minutes or so. Don’t worry. It works.

The film does provide food for thought. It touches on a lot of issues: racism, illegal aliens (literally), civil rights, xenophobia, corporate malfeasance, medical experimentation, man’s inhumanity, and exploitation of the disadvantaged. It’s all there and more. Set in South Africa, the film obviously brings to mind the apartheid regime that once ruled that country but it also echoes our own segregated past and the horror of the Nazis’ Final Solution. It’s easy to mistreat the prawn – they aren’t human. But what does that say about us?

One word of warning. The R rating is well deserved. There’s some ugly, graphic violence and plenty of F-bombs. Even so, this movie is solid. I give it an “A.” Best sci-fi or action film of the season.

G.I. Joe

The Bleacher Bum makes the call

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra – First, this was my favorite cartoon as kid, and the only cartoon I really ever watched. Second, it is impossible to see the previews of this live-action version or read the reviews and go into the theater with high expectations.

This movie is another clear example of what the summer blockbuster has become – not a movie, but a marketable franchise. It rated PG-13, it is a trilogy, it has a video game, it has action figures, it will have some special DVD, and it has tons and tons of C.G.I. What it doesn’t have is a good script, good direction, or good acting. It does have its moments: the fight between Baroness (Sienna Miller, who is actually really good and smoking hot) and Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), the Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow fight, and it does stick to the comic book storyline. Don’t go see this.

Bleacher Bum Grading Scale: Homerun, Triple, Double, Single, Strikeout

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: Should be graded a Single, but Sienna Miller stretches it into a Double

The Hurt Locker

A new movie review from The Movie Snob

The Hurt Locker (A-). This is the first movie about the Iraq War that I have seen, and it is a good one. The setting is Baghdad, 2004. Our protagonist is Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), whose specialty is defusing bombs. He’s very good at his work, but he’s reckless and occasionally disregards protocol. This tends to make nuts the two other soldiers whose main job is to protect him from snipers as he goes about his deadly business. There’s no axe to grind on display here; the camera is “embedded” in the unit, and it simply shows what these men see and experience as they regularly risk death in a hostile and alien land. It plays like a very intense documentary, except in a small handful of scenes in which big-name actors unexpectedly show up and, truthfully, kind of break the mood. I like Ralph Fiennes (The Reader), Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential), and Evangeline Lilly (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) as much as the next person, but their appearances didn’t help the cinema verite feel.

The Proposal

From the desk of The Move Snob

The Proposal (C). Good romantic comedy is hard to find, and this isn’t it. Sandra Bullock (The Heat) plays Margaret Tate, a high-powered editor who was probably Miranda Priestly’s classmate at the Cruella de Vil Finishing School for Young Women. Ryan Reynolds (Adventureland) plays Andrew Paxton, her long-suffering assistant who pines for an editorial position of his own. When Margaret, a Canadian, runs into immigration trouble, she blackmails Andrew into a marriage scheme. By a remarkable coincidence of timing, this means they have to travel to Alaska for his grandma’s 90th birthday party. Will the hydrochloric acid of familial love and togetherness dissolve the metallic hardness of Margaret’s heart? Hm. Well, you can’t diss a romantic comedy because it’s formulaic, only because it doesn’t breathe life into the formula, and this one doesn’t. Margaret is way way WAY too witchy for a believable transformation after a single weekend in Sarah Palin Land, or for Andrew to forgive her for three years of torment. Plus she’s just too old for him (Bullock is 12 years older than Reynolds, per imdb.com). I recommend that you turn down this Proposal.

Hello Again

DVD review by The Movie Snob

Hello Again (D). I was entirely unaware of this 1987 release before The Borg Queen suggested that we watch it. Blissfully unaware, I might add. Shelley Long (Night Shift) stars as a thirtysomething housewife married to an up-and-coming plastic surgeon (Corbin Bernsen, Major League). She dies in a freak accident, and a year later her dippy, new-agey sister somehow brings her back from the dead with a goofy incantation. Needless to say, her reappearance tends to startle a lot of folks. This is a weird movie — I guess it’s supposed to be a comedy, but it is not very funny at all. For long stretches, it almost seems to be a serious exploration of how people would really deal with such a bizarre situation, but it’s unconvincing in that regard. In short, seeing this movie did not enrich my life.

Knowing

The Borg Queen assimilates Nicolas Cage in Knowing

Knowing (D+). This movie made no sense. It is about a scientist (Nicolas Cage) whose son opened up a time capsule at school and received a piece of paper written by a girl named Lucinda 50 years earlier. It contains a series of numbers that predicted the date of major disasters and the number of those killed, and more to come. The father spends the remainder of the movie hunting down Lucinda’s now grown-up daughter and trying to find a way to avoid the next impending disaster. Meanwhile, his son is frequently visited by these mysterious men with black eyes who don’t speak but “whisper” to him–as well as to Lucinda’ granddaughter who is the same age. Sounds intriguing, right? It’s not. As is often the case, a good idea is lost in the seemingly hurried execution of a movie. The tone of the movie also kept changing-horror, thriller, sci fi. There was also a “twist” at the end that wasn’t so much of a twist as a dead end that made everything that happened earlier in the movie make no sense. The ending was unsatisfying and ridiculous. This movie was fine for a Netflix night with nothing on TV and a break from my Star Trek DVDs, but that’s about it.

G-Force

Movie Man Mike gives us the skinny on guinea pigs

G-Force (B-). I went to see this movie for free as part of Dallas CASA’s promotion of its annual Parade of Playhouses fundraising event. I wasn’t expecting much from it, but I have to say that I found myself laughing numerous times during the movie. Of course, it’s a film aimed at kids, but even as an adult, I could appreciate a lot of the jokes. The special effects were pretty good. I think my favorite character was the mole. Nicolas Cage (Trespass) did the voice for the mole and I wouldn’t have recognized it as him until I saw the credits. The storyline follows a group of highly-trained FBI guinea pigs who are trying to steal a secret computer program from an evil billionaire, Leonard Saber. There is also a trained fly and a bunch of trained cockroaches, which was kind of gross. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It’s a long ways from Academy material, but it was fun.  Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.

(500) Days of Summer

A second opinion from Movie Man Mike

(500) Days of Summer (B). This movie gives you a pretty good picture of the highs and lows of relationships. After watching it, I had to see if it was written by a male, and yes, it was (Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber). The movie definitely presents the point of view of Tom Hansen, a young 20-something guy who gave up his dream of being an architect and went to work for a greeting card company. There, he met Summer Finn and fell head-over-heels for her. The story is full of charm and wit. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) has great comic timing as Tom Hansen and Zooey Deschanel (Yes Man) plays an intriguing and mysterious Summer Finn. It’s this mysterious part that caused me to wonder if the film was written by a male. We never really see what it is that motivated Summer Finn and her actions seem almost too mysterious, as if the writers didn’t quite understand her themselves and didn’t know how to write her character. I have no doubt that some of the mystery is intentional on the writers’ part because there’s a convenient story overlay to explain it, but I also wonder if they based the character on someone they met and couldn’t ever figure out. In any event, it’s an entertaining film and worth the price of admission. If you’ve had a recent breakup, I am not sure this is the film for you, but then again, it might be just the ticket to help you move on.

Deadwood (Season One)

New from The Bleacher Bum

Deadwood. Season 1 (12 episodes). When it comes to television dramas, HBO has set the bar extremely high with The Sopranos and The Wire. Deadwood did not disappoint. It was not an instant classic like those two other shows, but the show was memorable, captivating, and entertaining. It was often shocking because of the violence and profanity, but it seemed very realistic, despite being a western.

The show is about a town in uncharted territory in the north midwest in 1876 after the Civil War and during a bonanza gold rush. The inhabitants of the camp range from businessmen from the east to prospectors to prostitutes to rustlers to criminals. The Town is at the crossroads of loving its freedoms with wanting to be annexed by the United States. There are over twenty characters, but the show focuses on two primary characters: virtuous Seth Bullock (played by Timothy Olyphant) and scheming, diabolical, maniacal, greedy, and nefarious Al Swearengen (exceptionally played by Ian McShane).

Reviewing a television show is not like reviewing a movie. A television drama is more like a novel with a series of story lines and many complex characters. A show can go in a thousand different directions with no end in sight. Deadwood is like that. It takes you on a journey that provides no inclination of where it might end or how its characters will turn out or even survive. Just be prepared to be shocked, entertained, infuriated, and overwhelmed along the way.

Bleacher Bum Grading Scale: Homerun, Triple, Double, Single, Strikeout

Deadwood, Season 1: Triple

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV

First up in this collection is The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy, coupled with an episode from the old serial “Commando Cody and the Radar Men from the Moon.” This was from the very first season of MST3K, which means that Josh Weinstein, not Kevin Murphy, was voicing Tom Servo. Anyway, the team hadn’t really hit its stride yet. There are a few good gags in this send-up of a Mexican mummy movie dubbed into English, but it doesn’t attain any true heights of hilarity. I was surprised to learn from the previews that three of the old MST3K crew–Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy–made a few MST3K-like DVDs a couple of years ago under the name “Film Crew.” I don’t know whether they started their gig first, or whether it was larger crew that makes the “Cinematic Titanic” DVDs. Is there bad blood between the two factions? Who knows? Anyway, The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy merits no better than a C-, I’m afraid.

The second episode is better, though still not one of the best. The film is The Girl in Lovers Lane, a 1950s movie that is really quite odd. A little weenie of a guy named Danny has run away from home. He hops a freight train, where a marginally less weenie-ish guy named Bix Dugan (or Big Stupid, as the SOLers christen him) inexplicably takes Danny under his wing instead of beating him up and taking his cash. They land in a small town called Sherman and get jobs at a cafe. The cafe owner’s daughter Carrie falls for Big Stupid, but he has serious commitment issues. Carrie herself has issues with a local creepy guy played creepily by creepy-eyed Jack Elam (Cannonball Run II). Joel and the robots get some decent riffs off, and their lyrics to the music that plays over the opening credits is very funny indeed. I give it a B-.

The third episode is Zombie Nightmare, a 1986 movie that is sort of a prelude to I Know What You Did Last Summer. Five teenaged punks run over and kill a beefy dude in a hit-and-run accident. Unfortunately for them, beefy’s mom knows a voodoo priestess, and she turns his corpse into a vengeful zombie. Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World) stars as one of the teens, and Adam West (TV’s “Batman”) headlines as a jaded police chief who doesn’t want to bother to investigate the teens’ murders. Some funny stuff, especially with a ripe target like Adam West, but not top-of-the-line MST3K. I say B-.

Finally we have Racket Girls, coupled with the short “Are You Ready for Marriage?” The feature is a terrible 1951 movie about professional women’s wrestling and the seedy underworld of racketeering that sprouts alongside it. It is truly awful, with l-o-n-g scenes of women wrestling altogether too seriously. The feature is a C+ at best, but the short “Are You Ready for Marriage?” is an instant classic. A teenaged couple itching to get married after just 3 months together visit a marriage counselor, and he gently opens their eyes to lots of issues they had never thought of before. Although there’s undoubtedly some good advice going on in the clip, you’ll never notice it amidst the hilarious riffing. The short gets a solid A.

So overall, not the best collection in the world.

In the Loop

Movie Review from The Movie Snob

In the Loop (B). I enjoyed this political satire of the furious machinations of a bunch of American and British politicos in the run-up to a fictitious war that America plans to launch against an unnamed country in the Middle East. When the movie begins, some spineless British minister has caused a minor uproar with a seemingly innocuous talk-show comment that war was “unforeseeable.” Another British pol, who is a hilariously profane and rather cadaverous-looking weasel of a guy, rips the hapless minister apart–and shortly thereafter the poor sap puts his foot in his mouth again during a interview on the street. From there, we jet-set back and forth across the pond as a small group of oppositionists tries to throw some roadblocks up against the impeding war. Tom Hollander, who was perfect as the weenie Mr. Collins in the Keira Knightley-driven Pride & Prejudice, is also perfect as weak-willed Brit Simon Foster. James Gandolfini (All the King’s Men) is also good as an American general who is opposed to the war in principle, but whose principles only go so far. And could this be the beginning of a big comeback by Anna Chlumsky, who charmed our socks off as a kid in My Girl and My Girl 2? Well, I never saw My Girl 2, but the first one was tolerable. Anyway, the movie is laugh-out-loud funny in many places as all sorts of scoundrels and fiends do their best to advance or thwart the war effort. Check it out.

From Here to Eternity

DVD review from The Movie Snob

From Here to Eternity (B). Even though this movie was nominated for 13 Oscars in 1954 and won 8, I knew only one thing about it going in: the famous scene of Burt Lancaster (Local Hero) and Deborah Kerr (An Affair to Remember) making out in the surf on the beach. That scene — the smooching part anyway — was surprisingly brief. Anyway, the movie is really just a soapy slice of army life on Hawaii in the few months leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Considering that the movie was released just eight years after the end of WWII, it is a surprisingly negative portrayal of the army. Montgomery Clift (Red River) plays Private Prewitt, a sensitive sort who is tormented by his company for refusing to box in an upcoming tournament. Frank Sinatra (The Man with the Golden Arm) plays his buddy, who is victimized himself by a sadistic sergeant possessed of a strong anti-Italian prejudice. The company commander is a hack who does almost nothing except cheat on his beautiful wife (Kerr) and encourage the hazing of Private Prewitt. The commander’s wife, in turn, cheats on him with Lancaster’s Sergeant Warden, who basically runs the company and has more integrity than most of the other characters (well, except for the adultery part). Donna Reed (It’s a Wonderful Life) plays against type as a lady of the evening who falls for Prewitt. Anyhoo, it’s a pretty good movie, if a touch melodramatic by today’s standards. The film looks great on this DVD, maybe because of something called “superbit” technology, but there are no bonus features to speak of. Definitely worth seeing.

P.S. I actually noticed a continuity error, which I almost never do. There’s a scene with Lancaster and Kerr in which he tosses a sheaf of tightly rolled-up papers onto a table. The papers are shown on the table, still curled up tightly. The point of view changes, and when Kerr picks the papers up, they are lying perfectly flat. Woo-hoo! Yay for me!