Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Obit watch: July 29, 2014.

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

James Shigeta passed away yesterday. I wasn’t sure if I was going to note this, but the A/V Club ran an excellent obit for him that I believe deserves attention.

He was the lead in the film version of “Flower Drum Song”. If you look at his IMDB page, he had bit parts in basically everything during the 1970′s: the original “Mission: Impossible”, “Rockford”, “SWAT”, “Kung Fu”, “Emergency”, “Ironside”, the original “Hawaii 5-0″, etc.

He was perhaps best known (at least to my brother) as Joseph Takagi in the first “Die Hard”.

Also, the NYT is reporting the passing of Theodore VanKirk, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay.

Obit watch: July 22, 2014.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Novelist Thomas Berger.

For those who may not be aware, Berger’s most famous book was the Western Little Big Man, which in turn became the basis for the Dustin Hoffman movie.

Happy Bastille Day, everyone!

Monday, July 14th, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Obit Watch for June 25, 2014.

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Even though it has been widely reported (and I had a busy morning), I can’t let Eli Wallach pass without notice.

NYT. LAT. A/V Club.

This brought a smile to my face:

He graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn and attended the University of Texas at Austin (“because the tuition was $30 a year,” he once said), where he also learned to ride horses — a skill he would put to good use in westerns.

Edited to add: According to (I know, I know) Wikipedia, he graduated in 1936 with a history degree. Assuming he started in 1932, $30 then is about $520 now. If I’m reading this chart right, a history major today would be paying $4,673 a semester if they were a Texas resident.

Not that I’m grinding an axe or anything…

Hooray for Bollywood!

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

I haven’t paid much attention to Nate Silver or, but this story (by way of the Y Combinator Twitter) pushes a couple of buttons.

What’s the worst movie ever, according to IMDB? Not “Exterminator City“, Lawrence. IMDB’s bottom ranked movie is something called “Gunday“, which David Goldenberg describes as “a pretty silly, over-the-top Bollywood action flick about gun couriers that features a love triangle and lots of comical misunderstandings typical to the genre“.

Is it that bad? 1.4 bad? Worse than “The Hottie and the Nottie” bad?

“Gunday,” which came out of the huge Bollywood studio Yash Raj Films in February, isn’t that bad. There are a few large plot holes and unconvincing character motivations, but the dance sequences are top-notch, the costumes are fun, and Irrfan Khan’s portrayal of a world-weary policeman is as good as his fans have come to expect. In India, it’s the top-grossing February movie in Bollywood history. The New York Times’ Rachel Saltz ended her review of “Gunday” by calling it “downright enjoyable.” gave it three out of four stars. Variety called it “a boisterous and entertaining period crime drama.”

(The review was written by Danny Bowes, for what it may be worth.)

So, if mainstream critics don’t think “Gunday” is so bad, how did it end up at the bottom of the IMDB rankings?

One word: crowd-sourcing.

Two words: Gonojagoron Moncho.

What? Gonojagoron Moncho is a “Bangladeshi nationalist movement” (the name translates to “National Awakening Stage”) that got very offended by “Gunday”. Specifically, they object to “Gunday”‘s depiction of the “Bangladesh Liberation War”:

On Twitter, activists used the hashtag #GundayHumiliatedHistoryOfBangladesh to get the word out about the protests and to ask supporters to bury the film on IMDb. (By using a quarter of their character allotment on the hashtag alone, though, there wasn’t much room for the activists to elaborate.) Facebook groups were formed specifically to encourage irate Bangladeshis and others to down-vote the movie. (A sample call to action: “If you’re a Bangladeshi and care enough to not let some Indian crappy movie distort our history of independence, let’s unite and boycott this movie!!!”)

So “Gunday”‘s low ranking is the result of a concerted political campaign, not because it actually is a crappy movie. And what does IMDB say about this?

“Our approach is not to focus on individual titles or incidents, but to analyze this behavior whenever it occurs and to apply any new learnings to strengthen our voting mechanism, so that the resulting improvements affect all titles/votes in our system rather than just the ones specifically affected by these isolated situations.”

Random notes: May 1, 2014.

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Hooray, hooray, the first of May!

Happy Victims of Communism Day, everyone.

My first encounter with Bob Hoskins wasn’t “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” or “Super Mario Brothers”. I encountered him through Siskel, Ebert, and a low-budget crime film that nearly didn’t get a theatrical release:

I’m going to have to watch that again, soon. (The Criterion edition is out of print, but Amazon has two in stock. Just saying.)

NYT. LAT. A/V Club.

Also among the dead: Al Feldstein, who made Mad what it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

He hired many of the writers and artists whose work became Mad trademarks. Among them were Don Martin, whose cartoons featuring bizarre human figures and distinctive sound effects — Katoong! Sklortch! Zazik! — immortalized the eccentric and the screwy; Antonio Prohias, whose “Spy vs. Spy” was a sendup of the international politics of the Cold War; Dave Berg, whose “The Lighter Side of …” made gentle, arch fun of middlebrow behavior; Mort Drucker, whose caricatures satirized movies like Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” (“Henna and Her Sickos” in Mad’s retelling); and George Woodbridge, who illustrated a Mad signature article, written by Tom Koch: a prescient 1965 satire of college sports, criticizing their elitism and advocating the creation of a game that could be played by everyone. It was called 43-Man Squamish, “played on a five-sided field called a Flutney.” Position players, each equipped with a hooked stick called a frullip, included deep brooders, inside and outside grouches, overblats, underblats, quarter-frummerts, half-frummerts a full-frummert and a dummy.

Random notes: April 8, 2014.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

For the historical record, your Mickey Rooney obit roundup: NYT. LAT. A/V Club.

The author Peter Matthiessen has also passed away after an illness. The only work of Matthiessen’s that I’ve read so far is In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, which made a strong impression on me at the time. Further, I say not, as I’d sound too much like TJIC. Anyway: A/V Club. NYT. NYT Magazine article published shortly before Matthiessen’s death.

Thanks to “That Guy” for providing a Houston Press link with more details about the Damian Mandola story. There’s also an update in the Statesman: Austin Eater has a story which links to the Statesman, so this may let you get around the paywall.

…security researchers say that in most cases, attackers hardly need to go to such lengths when the management software of all sorts of devices connects directly to corporate networks. Heating and cooling providers can now monitor and adjust office temperatures remotely, and vending machine suppliers can see when their clients are out of Diet Cokes and Cheetos. Those vendors often don’t have the same security standards as their clients, but for business reasons they are allowed behind the firewall that protects a network.
Security experts say vendors are tempting targets for hackers because they tend to run older systems, like Microsoft’s Windows XP software. Also, security experts say these seemingly innocuous devices — videoconference equipment, thermostats, vending machines and printers — often are delivered with the security settings switched off by default. Once hackers have found a way in, the devices offer them a place to hide in plain sight.

Heh. Heh. Heh. (Also: remember some jerk saying “Titles like ‘Restaurant IT Guy’ or ‘SysAdmin for Daniel’ are going to become a thing, if they aren’t already.”? I didn’t even think about the “Hey, let’s put malware on the server for that Chinese place that everyone orders from! That’ll give us a back door into the Federal Reserve!” scenario.)

Al Sharpton: FBI informant.

Obit watch: March 5, 2014.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Noted French film director Alain Resnais. LAT. NYT.

Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, perhaps most famous for his book How We Die. I haven’t read that, but I did read (and was extremely impressed by) Doctors: The Biography of Medicine.

Obit roundup: February 24, 2014.

Monday, February 24th, 2014

There will be more to say about this tomorrow, but Harold Ramis is dead. I liked this line from the Chicago Tribune:

Ramis also left behind a reputation as a mensch and all-around good guy.

I didn’t post this yesterday, because I couldn’t find any obits I wanted to link to. While this has been well covered, I wanted to mention the passing of Maria von Trapp, last of the singing von Trapps.

And I missed this earlier in the week, but Richard Cabela, founder of the eponymous chain, passed away.

Mr. Cabela was a vocal supporter of the National Rifle Association. In a video posted on the group’s website this week, Mr. Cabela was asked what he would say to someone who identifies as a hunter but who does not belong to the N.R.A.
“How are you going to hunt without a gun?” he responded. “These guys protect your right to own a gun. That’s what it’s all about.”

Still here. Just quiet.

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Nothing really worth writing about. I don’t even have any interesting beef jerky and Michael Jackson fueled dreams to discuss.

(Possible addition to The Rules Of the Gunfight: Never bring beef jerky to a gunfight.)

Speaking of being quiet, is it just me, or did the NBA have their All-Star Game this past weekend…to massive public indifference? I don’t think there was even a FARK Sports tab thread.

Two random movie related notes:

  1. I’ve pretty much reached the limit of my tolerance for the trailer for “Cheap Thrills“, as well as the movie itself. I don’t care if it marks me as an old man; I’ve already fully embraced my old man status, and I’m just tired of movies about horrible people doing horrible things to other people.
  2. Dear Tim League: I totally get that you like Wes Anderson movies. I, personally, would not have made 4% of my desert island movie list Wes Anderson films; I’m not even sure a Wes Anderson film would be in my top 100. But de gustibus non est disputandum.
    And the trailer for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” does look interesting; it almost seems like Wes Anderson trying to do his own version of “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” It is possible that I’ll actually pay money to see this at the Drafthouse. (I’m not sure if it helps or hurts the cause that I accidentally stumbled across and read a complete plot synopsis online. Even after that, I’m still not sure what Harvey Keitel is doing in this movie.)
    But could we please lose your interminable introduction to the frigging trailer, for crying out loud? Hand to God, I think your introduction is as long as the trailer itself. Put it on YouTube or something, but don’t make me sit through it again. Let the trailer stand on its own.

Cahiers du cinéma: American Hustle

Monday, February 17th, 2014

This is why I love the Alamo Drafthouse so much. I was sitting in my seat watching the closing credits. The usher/waiter came over and asked me, “Was everything okay? Did you have any issues?” And I told him, kind of jokingly, “The only issue I had is that I can’t get these darn pens to write.” (There’s pens at each seat that you use to write down your order.)

And the guy smiles at me, says “Here. Go see a movie on me.” and hands me a free pass. When was the last time this happened to you?


I liked “American Hustle” a little better than “The Wolf of Wall Street” for two reasons. Namely, these two:

Sometimes, what is hidden is sexier than what is revealed.

Ms. Adams is wonderful. As are her costumes. I could stare at her all day long (or at least until she said “Stop staring at my cleavage”) and would happily take her out for the usual cheeseburger and house red.

Christian Bale completely disappears into the role of an overweight balding scam artist, and Bradley Cooper is fine as his FBI handler. “Hustle” is a perfectly fine way to spend a little over two hours. (At least it is fairly efficient in its storytelling, with no digressions about Quaaludes.) It even has a redemptive arc. So why don’t I have warmer feelings about the movie? Idiosyncratic personal reasons, which you can agree or disagree with.

There is a school of criticism that says you should judge the movie based on what’s on the screen, not the background or the subtext or even how closely it sticks to real events, even if it claims to be “based on a true story”. I mostly agree with this school of thought, but as I get older and Hollywood turns out more “based on a true story” movies, I start to think that it is fair to judge a movie that makes that claim, at least in part, on how closely it sticks to the facts. I don’t think that should be the only factor, but I do believe it is fair to say, “Look, the people behind this movie changed X, Y, and Z, their reasons for doing so aren’t convincing, and I think these changes make the movie weaker.”

“American Hustle”, to be fair, does not claim to be “based on a true story”. David O. Russell states up front that “Some of this actually happened”. And it is arguably fair for him and for the writers to deviate some from the real story behind Abscam.

My problem is that I read Robert Greene’s The Sting Man: Inside Abscam last week (in addition to having lived through Abscam) so the real story is fresh in my mind. And I had problems with the choices Russell made.

Specifically, I didn’t buy into the whole love triangle between Richie DiMaso (the FBI agent), Irving Rosenfeld (the Bale character) Sydney Prosser (the Amy Adams character, who starts out as Rosenfeld’s mistress). Other than Sydney wearing dresses slit down to waist level, what is the reason for the engaged DiMaso to fall so hard for her, hard enough to endanger his career? (In the real world, the Rosenfeld character’s mistress was nowhere near as heavily involved in Abscam as “Prosser” was; the Rosenfeld character got her off the hook as a condition for participating in the operation.)

What happens between the three of them sets up a nice twist ending that gives us catharsis; but the catharsis wouldn’t have been needed without that peculiar choice, which seems to have been motivated primarily by the desire to show off Amy Adams’ cleavage. (I won’t give away the twist in case you haven’t seen the movie, but in reality? Nothing even remotely close to it happened.)

Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe I’m being unfair to the movie. But I think Russell could have made just as good a movie by sticking closer to the true story, while still working in Ms. Adams and her spectacular cleavage.

Cahiers du cinéma: The Wolf of Wall Street

Friday, February 14th, 2014

I went to see “The Wolf of Wall Street” last night.

I’m really not the best person to talk about Martin Scorsese’s work and how “Wolf” fits into the context of his career; I’m really spotty on Scorsese, though I’m working to fill in some gaps. But what I can do is take it in isolation as a movie, without the burden of trying to fit it into any other context.

If you like hookers and blow, this is your movie. There is plenty of nekked woman-flesh on display – and we’re not talking just topless; there’s a considerable amount of full-frontal female nudity. There’s also plenty of Bolivian marching powder, and quite a few scenes involving the snorting of same off of the neither regions of paid professionals, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

But even more prevalent than Peruvian E is Quaalude. In case you haven’t read any reviews of “Wolf”, the movie is also jam-packed with references to, and discourses upon, Quaaludes. Quaaludes drive several of the major plot points of the movie, including a funny sequence involving the titular “Wolf” (he he, he said “titular”) suddenly experiencing the effects of an old batch of tablets at precisely the worst possible moment.

Did I mention that “Wolf” is funny? I’ve seen it described as a “black comedy”, and I can’t really argue with that. I wouldn’t say it was as convulsively funny as “Sharknado” or “Spinal Tap”, but it had me smiling and quietly giggling during much of the three hour running time.

(In case you haven’t read any reviews II: this is a long movie. Not Larry of Araby long, but still pretty long.)

I wish Joanna Lumley had more screen time. She’s luminous in the few scenes she has. She’s especially good in the “is he hitting on me/is she hitting on me?” scene with DiCaprio; watching that scene…well, I wanted very much to take Ms. Lumley out for a cheeseburger and the amusing house red, and get her away from that sleezebag.

The problem I have with “Wolf”, though, is that it seems empty: Jordan Belfort, DiCaprio’s character, becomes a greedy bag of crap within the first five minutes of the movie, and doesn’t change at all. Even at the end of the movie, after he’s been sent to prison (for three! whole! years!), it is established that he’s still searching for another big score. There’s no redemptive arc to this story, just a horrible man doing horrible things.

Does a movie have to have a redemptive arc to be good? That’s a fair question. Is there a redemptive arc to Henry Hill’s character in “Goodfellas”? I honestly don’t know; I’ve watched about half of “Goodfellas” and need to watch the whole thing again. But it does seem to me that, redemptive arc or no, Henry Hill and his life as a low level underworld hustler is more interesting than Belfort and his hookers and blow and ludes.

I don’t think “Wolf” is a waste of time. But I don’t think it is that good or memorable of a movie, either; maybe three out of five stars, or slightly above average, and a “wait for the DVD” rating.

(I haven’t been able to make the timing work so far, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to see “American Hustle” either Sunday or Monday. If I have any thoughts on that, I’ll post them here.)