movie club

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With the passing of Labor Day, hundreds of thousands of children find themselves corralled back in school for another season of doodling, social awkwardness, and reading books where innocent animals die at the end. Many claim today’s schools are nothing more than the worst combination of babysitter and jail, a holding pen for sexed-up no-goodniks hell-bent on destroying everything good and decent their parents worked for.

Apparently this opinion’s been in vogue since the 1950s, as a teensploitation film catering to and shaking a finger at the target market comes out pretty much every 5 years. Most feature a well-meaning teacher entering a vortex of chaos. Some, like ‘Lean On Me’, ‘To Sir, With Love’, and that Coolio video for ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ show how with empathy and trust, even the violentest student can be won over. Others, such as this week’s Blackboard Jungle, focus more on beating the ever-living daylights out of the little punks:


(Still better than ‘Class of 1999′.)

But you needn’t spend 8 hours crammed in a desk next to gum snappers and kids who smell of sour milk to enjoy the benefits education confers! Why, in today’s modern, internet-based society, you can attend Youtubeniversity! Yes, that is a terrible word and I’m sorry. All the classes are covered! There’s Government:

“We needed weenies. Mr. Brown had weenies. It’s as simple as that!”

Math:

Science: “Would it work with real money?” Burning money?! SHE’S A COMMIE! Strap her down and make her watch the capitalism movie!

Art and Music:

English: “How many Eagles? Count them!” More people would pay attention to poetry if it was read by T.S. Eliot. I mean, Monty Python makes this seem like it’s a bad thing!

Shop Class:

Home Economics:

And, unfortunately, Gym:

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After great delay and much personal annoyance, I’ve decided this week’s movie will be 1989′s ‘Warlock’, in which a 17th century witch-hunter tracks an escaped witch to modern-day L.A., and with the help of a sassy young lady tries to stop him from gathering the Grand Grimoire, the evilest book ever that also contains the True Name Of God (go figure).

I’ll be honest, 40% of the interest was hearing Richard E. Grant, known for playing bitingly sarcastic Englishmen in ‘Withnail & I’ and ‘Hudson Hawk’, speak with a soft Scottish accent. It’s amazing how completely an accent changes a person’s entire mein. I first noticed the effect in ‘How Green Was My Valley’, the story of a Welsh mining community which, faced with financial difficulties and a mine collapse, constantly sound like they’re asking polite questions about tea. Here, the man who spit out ‘I’ll torture you so slowly you’ll think it’s A CAREER!’ to Hudson Hawk never once raises his voice trying to tie thumbscrews to an angry wizard.

The script was penned by the same fellow behind other enjoyable but uneven fantasy scripts like ‘Waterworld’ and ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ (directed by the same). This is the sort of movie my 12-year-old self would have loved watching some late afternoon on USA Network, which speaks to its charm, silly effects and fun details (Mennonite hex signs!), but also to its glossing over of logic and skimpy plot points. So, the demon needs the witch’s help getting the most evil book in the world together, and yet the witch is less powerful than and limited by the same stuff as the demon? Huh.

As an added bonus, the film features a cameo by Mary Woronov, aka Calamity Jane, as a fake spiritual healer that gets turned into Jocelyn Wildenstein.

While searching for the trailer, I found these delightful gems from the 70s, replete with gravelly histronic voice-over, the promise of nudity, and cheesy catchphrase (“It’ll take your breath away. All of it.”)

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After the weekend’s tropical storm debacle, I thought of the perfect movie for this week’s Movie Club – Peter Weir’s unsettling mystery ‘The Last Wave’. Eerie ambiance, indirect answers, a shallow but fascinating glimpse into Aboriginal life in modern times, plus Fortean weather!

Not available on instant view. Well, that’s ok, I have an ace up my sleeve for perfect Labor Day viewing – a classic comedy about the great suburban nightmare, starring America’s Most Likable Guy Tom Hanks! ‘The ‘Burbs!’

Not available on instant view. FINE. Well how about the live-action Fleisher Bros. cartoon ‘The Forbidden Zone?’

NO?! WELL THAT’S IT, I GUESS THIS WEEK’S MOVIE WILL HAVE TO BE ‘DEF BY TEMPTATION’ THEN, WON’T IT? WE’LL JUST HAVE TO SETTLE FOR DWAYNE-WAYNE IN A MOVIE DESCRIBED AS ‘An evil succubus is preying on libidinous black men in New York’, THEN, HUH?

FIIIIIIIIIINE. Unless, of course, anyone else has a suggestion.

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Welcome all once again to the gentle shambles that is the Instant Queue Movie Club. Upon finally, belatedly watching last week’s film. ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’, I instantly realized I should’ve watched it in theaters. Between the haloing, color glitches, frame jumps, moire effect and general compression, all that is crappy about streaming video was made glaringly obvious by the film’s deep, saturated blacks, slow movement in long-held still images, and lots of slightly moving leaves and grass.

Technical limitations aside, I was also perplexed by the story in a way that most likely speaks to cultural limitations. I get his son turned into a monkey ghost, really I do, even though as I type this the very thought of typing ‘I get his son turned into a monkey ghost’ seems screamingly ridiculous. But what of the end of the movie? Did the film crew just have an impromptu photo shoot with some soldiers, or was that the son’s ultimate fate, and if so, why? Or was that a past life of Boonmee, who mentioned in passing his regret at killing communists? Was the story of the princess and the fish a past life or just a larger cultural reference I’m missing completely? And why did the monk see himself at the end? Did they even go to karaoke?

None of which diminished my enjoyment of the natural beauty captured at leisurely pace, or the supernatural depicted in a frank and straightforward manner. If anything, questions are better than a solid ‘yep, that was a thing that happened there, alright’ reaction. It means the filmmaker trusted the audience to fill in their own gaps.

Since I’m still exuding so much mental effort over last week’s film and setting this up a mere day ahead of time, it seems only fair that this week’s film be a no-brainer. Something to enjoy even while inebriated, or perhaps while making a sandwich or crocheting; something where you can enjoy the company, but that doesn’t demand your total attention. That’s why this week’s movie is Mystery Science Theater 3000′s ‘Werewolf’, a personal favorite and an excellent example of the general stupidity that is MST3K. I’ll spare everyone the essay for now and go into why I so adore watching puppets watch a movie next week.

“Thass absoloooooly faaascinating.”

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Hey Everybody! I put off writing this movie up so I could do a well-thought-out, 50-cent word 10-page thesis, but clearly that didn’t work out, so it’s bullet-points instead. Let’s start with the obvious: this movie was fun! Not the deepest, most coherent comment on society, with a thin plot and plenty of loose ends, but still a genuinely enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. Why? Oh, perhaps it was the rare joy of two young, attractive female leads who are somehow capable of having both personalities and self-defense skills at the same time (Kate Beaton and pals did an excellent comic showcasing what passes for ‘strong female leads’ in the movies nowadays).

Sure, they talk about boys, especially potential last guy on earth Hector (more on him later), but it ties back into their sisterly dynamic! Speaking of which, these ladies enjoy/have sex without too much guilt! UNPRECEDENTED! They’re unapologetically sexy (the scene where Samantha coyly says ‘Hiii!’ before kneeing a mall jerk in the groin is a perfect example), but SEXY is not the beginning and ending of their character description. It seems silly to be so giddy about what is certainly a B-grade apocalyptic flick with serious retro charm, but THERE ARE THAT FEW EXAMPLES OF DECENT LADIES IN THE MOVIES.

And though this film already has more decent ladies in it than all 3 Transformer movies put together, IT ALSO HAS CALAMITY JANE! AKA Mary Woronov, former Warhol Factory model, writer, painter, and star of numerous excellent (or if you’re into irony, “excellent”) films including ‘Death Race 2000′. Here she’s a scientist AND the lone voice of morality in a group of amoral nerds who survived the apocalypse!

Back to Hector, this film has another rarity: Ethnics! And not as broad stereotypes or zany sidekicks, but AS NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS. Though they did sort of highlight the importance of family to many Hispanic people when Hector risked life and limb to see if they were ok, that’s a far cry from having him shout ‘AIII NO ME GUSTA!’ while getting chased by zombie cops, something I strongly suspect would happen if say, Michael Bay were at the helm (see, Talking JiveBots). Also, a Japanese girl because, why not? EXACTLY. The ethnic makeup of LA is not solely tall blond interchangeable women, despite what casting would have you believe.

And finally, this film may be the finest example of gradual color filter use EVER. Don’t forget to check out this week’s film, ‘Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives’. I only have a small idea what it’s about, but I’m already sold on the concept of ghosts haunting people, not real estate. Silly American ghosts, with their fixations on property values.

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