Thursday, January 29, 2009

Two Youtube Tidbits

First of all, if only there was some way to end our energy crisis by harnessing Rod Blagojevich's colossal, self-denying ego:

My favorite moment, at about 1:05, is when Blagojevich pretends that he's just another victim of unemployment.

Then there's this, which is just amusing:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Octuplets born in Bellflower

This is the best story so far that I've seen about the birth, yesterday, of eight babies to an unidentified mother in a Los Angeles suburb.

When you have that many babies, it should really be labelled as a litter. And there are few things that I would want to label as a 'perversion of science' but along with extreme plastic surgery, this is one of them. There's a reason why some species have large multiple births and humans don't: baby spiders and sea turtles are a lot easier for predators to eat than toddlers, and the human brain requires a lot of protection and attention to develop properly over our protracted childhoods. Having this many babies will almost certainly lower each individual child's health and standard of living for the rest of their lives.

Both of my parents came from large families (7 siblings on Mom's side, 9 or 10 - I forget - on Dad's) but at least those kids weren't getting orthodontics and going through puberty and applying to college all at the exact same time. Since this many births is almost certainly the result of fertility drugs, I can't help but think of it as a selfish decision on the part of the parents.

UPDATE 1/30/09:
It gets worse - this idiot already has six children. Fuck.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Muriels are Coming

I've been lucky enough (it certainly wasn't based on my prolific output) to be invited to participate in this year's Muriel Awards, which are organized by Paul Clark to honor the year's best films and filmmakers, by the most knowledgeable and opinionated people around: amateur movie bloggers (okay, there are some professionals in there too).

Among the awards given out are the 50th/25th/10th Anniversary Awards, for the best films released in 1958, 1983, and 1998 (based on New York release dates). Since those lists don't involve my frantically catching-up on 2008 titles before the deadline, here are my top-five lists for those respective years.

UPDATE 2/5/09:
Lists slightly revised to accomodate the actual rules of the Muriels - the movies are organized by actual release dates, not U.S. dates, so I'm removing Fanny and Alexander from my 1983 list since it's a 1982 film.

1. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock)
2. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles)
3. Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati)
4. I Bury the Living (Albert Band)
5. Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle)

1. Videodrome (David Cronenberg)
2. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio)
3. The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese)
4. A Christmas Story (Bob Clark)
5. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman)

1. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick)
2. Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg)
3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam)
4. The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)
5. Rushmore (Wes Anderson)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976) & Black Fist (1975)

This was my most recent double feature at the New Beverly theater, partially chosen in honor of Barack Obama's inauguration as the first black (and/or bi-racial) President.

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde gives us Bernie Casey (Under Siege, Revenge of the Nerds) as Dr. Henry Pride, a devoted scientist who researches experimental liver transplant techniques and volunteers at an inner-city clinic during his free time. He seems to be living the perfect life, but as one of his patient tells him via clumsy exposition, he almost seems to be more white man than black man (In the same scene, he tells a female patient, 'Your hepatitis is almost gone!' making it clear to the audience what occupation this patient works in).

While experimenting, Dr. Pride finds a serum that turns normal brown rats into hyper-vicious white rats, and then (of course) proceeds to take the serum himself, transforming into a powdered, made-up version of himself that every other character in the movie insists looks like a white man.

In reality he looks more like one of the zombies from The Omega Man, but who really cares? The movie proceeds to follow the standard Jekyll-and-Hyde formula as Dr. Pride lives his double life - upright and noble by day, frequenting the bars and prostitutes of South Central Los Angeles by night. Finally, it all ends with a King Kong-esque finale at the Watts Towers (literally - Casey climbs up them until he's shot down). It's not much of a movie, padded out with overlong scenes of Casey transforming and grimacing and moaning and so on, but it's at least passably entertaining for those who've seen Blacula and were left hungry for more.

Next was Black Fist, also known as Black Streetfighter. The biggest thing that I got out of this movie was the bizarre notion that, in the mid-70s, promoters could get huge multi-ethnic audiences of all ages to show up in junkyards to watch bare-knuckle street fights, no holds barred, in which at any moment a competitor might get tossed directly into you. The presence of so many middle-aged ladies and white couples in these scenes was highly amusing to me.

Otherwise, it's your standard action-revenge-template movie, in which Leroy Fisk involves himself in the corrupt street-fighting world and can only escape through extreme violence. Dabney Coleman shows up as a corrupt cop and steals just about every scene that he's in until being frozen in a meat-locker. Philip Michael Hall, of Miami Vice fame, is also in this movie playing two different characters, a loveable crackhead and a hapless informant.

Overall it's a much sloppier movie than Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde, but it's also less padded out, which means that we get a higher degree of hysteria and bloodlust. My two favorite moments of it come here - zoom forward to 4:10 for a scene of amazing overacting between Hall and the junkie girlfriend of a mob boss; and for this dialogue tidbit between a henchman and a crimelord (here at 4:00, but unfortunately split in two on Youtube):
"Mr. Ingo? Logan will not bother you any more. I wasted him for you. And I did it in a very sophisticated manner. I tricked him! I wined him, I dined him. I took him to a disco, we were having a lot of fun! Then I killed him."

Neither of these movies is good, per se, but both are amusing enough to be watchable, and Black Fist is marginally better by virtue of having more energy and narrative surprises.

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde: 3/10
Black Fist: 4/10

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nominations Aftermath

Okay, so there were some surprises. I underestimated the Academy's preference for WWII/Nazi-centered films, which partially accounts for The Reader getting nominations for Best Picture and Director. I disliked Stephen Daldry's last film (The Hours) and based on middling reviews, I've been ignoring The Reader, so now I guess I need to go see it.

Everybody figured The Dark Knight would get a Best Picture nomination, and we were all surprised, but I'm also glad that the throngs of rabid nerds who were expecting the Academy to validate their latest fetish object have been denied. That said, I think The Dark Knight is better than any of the three nominated films that I've seen, which means that, unusually, there isn't a single nominated film this year that I'm strongly in favor of, as has been the case in ever year for this last decade.

Otherwise, nominations that made me happy:

Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke for Best Actor (tough call here - but since Penn already has an Oscar, I'm rooting for Rourke).

Melissa Leo for Best Actress - a good performance in a film I figured would be overlooked.

Josh Brolin and Robert Downey Jr. for Supporting Actor - neither will win, but both are terrific performances that the Academy could have easily snubbed.

Penelope Cruz and Marisa Tomei for Supporting Actress - Now that Tomei has gotten her third Oscar nomination, we can probably retire the idea that her My Cousin Vinny win was a mistake.

In Bruges and Happy-Go-Lucky for Best Original Screenplay.

Encounters at the End of the World and Man on Wire for Best Documentary.

Alexandre Desplat for Best Score, and Wally Pfister for Cinematography.

My biggest disappointments: no nominations for Sally Hawkins, Rosemarie DeWitt, or Bruce Springsteen.

As for my predictions, I got 33 right out of 45 predictions (73% right).

Oscar Predictions

It's so close to the announcement that the only real purpose of this will be to make me look wrong, but whatever:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

These five have been locked in for a while. Possible upset: Doubt bumps out The Dark Knight.

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Another locked-in group. Possible upset: Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino.

Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

A lot of people are pulling for Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, but I just don't think he has the juice or starpower - if there's an upset it's Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road bumping out Brad Pitt.

Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

Again, some people think Melissa Leo has a chance her, but I figure her reward is in the Indie Spirit Awards - but if she bumps someone, it'll be Blanchett. One upset I hope I don't see here: Angelina Jolie.

Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

I'd love to see James Franco here for Pineapple Express, but it's more likely that he could bump out Shannon, for his Milk performance.

Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

A big part of me doesn't really think that both Adams and Davis from Doubt will get nominations - Davis gives the stronger performance, but Adams has her budding starpower and cuteness (and a prior nomination) on her side. If either goes, it'll be Davis, ejected by Kate Winslet for The Reader. Some say Debra Winger could squeeze in here, but I find that unlikely as her role isn't showy enough, and she's not considered to be a real Hollywood insider with a lot of connections.

Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
David Hare, The Reader
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt

The Dark Knight could pop up here and replace The Reader, but I don't see Academy voters voting so directly for comic book source material.

Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married
Andrew Stanton, Wall-E
J. Michael Straczynski, Changeling

I figure that the Academy will want to toss Changeling something, somewhere, so why not this category. I'd love it if the Coens or Mike Leigh could squeeze in here, but neither seems likely.

Roger Deakins, Revolutionary Road
Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire
Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight
Harris Savides, Milk

After this point I start to get bored - I haven't seen any of the films on the Foreign shortlist, and only three on the Documentary shortlist, so they get a big who-knows.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This Camera Covers the Waterfront

Finally, someone digs up video footage of the USAir emergency landing in the Hudson from last Thursday.

I'm actually surprised that there weren't any amateur or cell-phone video clips of this thing happening - I would have guessed that the noise of the flight coming down would have been pretty noticeable, and aren't New Yorkers attuned to that kind of event?

Hats off again to Captain Sullenberger and the crew of the plane and the rescue ships.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Blood Beach (1981)

I'm a fan of irrational, inexplicable, unresolved things happening in movies - mainstream American filmgoing gets so sedate and predictable that it's nice to have something bizarre happen every so often, and besides, isn't that the way life works? Which is all why I enjoyed the '80s horror movie Blood Beach, which I picked up thanks to the abrupt closing of a Video Hut in my neighborhood.

Blood Beach opens, simply enough, on a Venice beach with a Harbor Patrol officer swimming to work (apparently Venice was scuzzy enough twenty-plus years ago that a working-class guy could live right on the waterfront) and suddenly hearing a neighbor screaming because - well, because she's getting pulled down a sinkhole and disappears.

Now from here, the movie could go into any number of directions, but the filmmakers, probably unintentionally, chose the surrealist route; for the next hour, several other people, plus a dog, are going to be going about their business on the beach and then suddenly sucked under, or decapitated, or (in the case of an unfortunate beach rapist) castrated through mere contact with the sand. The police investigate, they dig up the beach, geologists take a look, and nobody finds anything: a complete blank, as if the mere particles of sand themselves are rebelling against humankind.

Of course, eventually some kind of rational explanation is required and the movie's main characters (the Harbor Patrol guy and his ex-girlfriend) for no particular reason find themselves investigating an old broken-down resort building, where they discover a bunch of rotting body parts and what looks like a nest of some kind, leading to a climax that involves a big, rubbery monster - but thankfully, the movie still resists a tidy explanation. Nowhere do the characters make sense of it all by referring to toxic waste or nuclear power plants or any other reason - it's just a big inexplicable, irrational monster out of an H.P. Lovecraft story, which I appreciated very much.

Of course, the human characters in this one are pretty vacant, with the exception of old pros John Saxon and Burt Young, and the movie is fairly dull in the down moments in between the sand attacks. Still, for creating a strange mood in an otherwise drab, realistic, scuzzy 1981 Venice, I enjoyed this one.

Here's a trailer that manages to give away major plot points, as if anyone cares:


Monday, January 12, 2009

Dead Snow (2009)

Not a movie I've seen, but a Norwegian Nazi-zombie film that's screening at this year's Sundance and which I hope to see sometime later down the road. Yeah, it's the umpteenth zombie-parody-pastiche that's been made, but this one looks pretty solidly made. Here's a clip: