Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sick Day Movie Marrathon

So I've been sick and useless all day. Actually, I was sick most of yesterday as well. Not feeling like writing or doing anything physical, I laid around with a quart of soup and watched a bunch of movies. Not particularly great films per se, but more sick day films, and not even necessarily perfect selections of sick day films, because I was just streaming things from netflix. Anyway, I figured I'd share my thoughts on what I watched.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

There is something about a good Ray Harryhausen that is simply perfect for starting a day. Maybe it's the Pirates of Dark Water fan in me, but films like Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts that just capture that magic of Saturday morning cartoons as a kid. Like Most of his Sinbad films, I had missed out on The Golden Voyage and boy was it a treat. Not a really a masterpiece on any level, it's just a fun sword and sandals on the high seas kind of adventure, but like most good Harryhausen films, it feels like something you would imagine as a kid in the best sense and not like most adventure films that only approximate that experience. It just a lot of fun, and made me want to go back and read all of Sinbad's adventures. Sinbad rules.

I should correct one thing though in saying that it isn't a masterpiece on any level. It is without question an essential for stop-motion animation and Harryhausen geeks alike for one simple thing: the Shiva duel. Anyone blown away by the Skeleton duel from Jason and the Argonauts
will be floored when Sinbad and his men take on a statue of the six-armed goddess. There's a cheat here and there where she is basically just using her front upper arms only, but there are at least two parts where she is dueling multiple men with all six that had my jaw on the floor. Keeping track of that many thing... if you are familiar with the process of stop-motion by itself, let alone having the puppets imposed such as to directly interact with real people, than it will simply blow you away.

The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick

Q: What's a good sign that your documentary is bad?

A: When it is on a subject that I'm intensely interested in and I still stop watching it fifteen minutes in.

I'm not even going to use the fact that I'm ill and wanted mindless entertainment as an excuse. This was not well crafted. Editing is the heart of documentary in all its forms. The documentarian has limited control over every element except how the element they have to work with are arranged, what is focused on and what is left on the cutting room floor. In one interview someone goes on and on trying to tell about how funny this one incident at a party with Dick was and keeps laughing the whole time as she tries to tell it, because she thinks its SO incredibly funny, and then when the joke is finally told, through all her laughing, it's rather mundane - all we learn from it is that Dick wouldn't say something funny he said earlier again - one wonders if anything was cut at all. It's just a really bloated moment that goes on past the good part. It begins as a conversation about smoking in Dick's novels, and should have cut to something else after the interviewee quotes what Dick had to say about the matter (that while his characters often smoke and she had never seen him smoke, his novels also often have a lot of sex--which she also probably hasn't SEEN him engage in). But no, it goes on and shows awkwardly past what feels very much like the moment.

Editing bits like the one above were annoying, but as I said before, I'm a Dick fan, so by themselves they wouldn't have made me quit. What really drove me bonkers was the damn animation segments. Either they didn't get the rights or there is apparently a limited amount of footage of Mr. Dick, because of what I watched I'm not sure I saw any. In place of images of the writer, what we get are poorly drawn animations of him that make Dr. Katz look like the work of Miyazaki. The opening credits are the most frustratingly slow process with each title page having to be a sheet of paper that he pulls from a stack, sets in his typewriter and then types. The process takes about ten seconds too long for each one. Opening credits should be a smooth transitional thing, not something laborious for the viewer to sit through. When they finally got to some recordings of Dick's voice and decided to have this terribly drawn cartoon Dick speak them. I said out loud to my computer "fuck it" and moved on. So congratulations Mark Steensland, you made a documentary on one of my all time favorite sci-fi writers, and I didn't last 15 minutes before turning it off (I just checked my netflix account and I only lasted for 14 minutes and 28 seconds).

1984

This is a movie I will blame being sick for my not finishing it. This was sometime later in the afternoon when I was getting tired and the pace of the movie was just too slow to keep me from falling asleep, so I cut it to avoid wasting free streaming time. It really does seem like the kind of movie I would love in the right mindset. It music is largely done by the Eurythmics and is strikingly good (I guess I haven't heard enough non-singles Eurythmics), ambient and surprisingly not dated sounding after all these years. Still, despite the great casting and wonderful dystopia, I found that slouching back in my chair, I couldn't help but expect the film to burst into a Pink Floyd number at anymoment, or for the the protagonist to dream that he is a birdman (yes, I know Brazil came afterwards, but I still was waiting for it). That's the problem with making a film out of Orwell's novel. It's been quoted and expanded upon in some many films since it was published that one can't help but feel something is absent when watching just the original story. So as good as it did seem, I suspect that when I do finish it I will leave the film with a sense that it doesn't quite retroactively hold up to the legacy it's created. Still, looked pretty top notch for what it is.

Men in Black

After that fun, fun downer that I wasn't in the mood for, I felt like watching something goofy, something I hadn't seen in a while and could probably finally laugh at again. Men in Black largely hit the spot. I forgot that Vincent D'Onofrio was Edgar, and enjoyed the character all over for how offbeat he was for him (kinda reminded me of Keaton as Beetlejuice in that you forget that its him). Not much to add other than how much I love bits like the Morgue scene. I always wish MIB had stayed small, eased off the saving the world scale missions. That was the biggest problem with the sequel and in many ways why I expect (and hope) we'll never see a third. I was the Bazooka goofy answer to X-files and before it was even finished with the first film it lost sight of that. Still, lots of fun.

Porky's

Bob Clark made three movies that make everything else he has turned out not matter. Black Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Porky's. Porky's is the birth of the raunchy teen movies, Meatballs was right there with it Porky's was operating on a whole other level. It's like someone took American Graffiti and gave those kids a stack of Playboy with maybe a Hustler or two to boot. It's foul-mouthed, sex-charged and full of sex and nudity. Seventeen years before American Pie, it still feels edgier. It has more nudity than most modern sex comedies, but there is something more to it than that which is why I can hate most of those films but actually love this one. Porky's has character's that feel real, exaggerated, but real. They are mostly interesting people. Even if they repulse you, there is something there that makes you care what happens to them. I never felt that with American Pie and what few of the other films of that generation I saw. The kids felt superficial and picked off of television shows and the plots felt completely contrived. Porky's has basically two major sex gags--a noisy orgasm, and the hole in the wall shower scene that is so symbolically potent (particularly but not exclusively considering Clark's background in slasher films) that it manages to elevate the film's academic value with its lewdest scene in ways molesting a pie will never touch. Sure, there is the giant condom bit, the killer husband gag and the hilarious "Tallywhacker" scene, but as far as visually lewd gags of the type that There's Something About Mary, American Pie and other films would later embrace, it isn't very jam packed.

A major subplot revolves around one of the member's of the gang being racist thanks to his abusive criminal father and the tensions between him and a new member of the gang that is Jewish. When the Jewish kid beats him in a fight, his father beats him up even worse. The character's arch to becoming friends with the Jewish kid isn't exactly ground breaking or unpredictable, but it's not something you are bound to get from modern sex comedies. At best you could probably hope for a character to quit smoking pot.

Porky's is a coming of age adult comedy for college students done right. I wasn't kidding when I said it is American Graffiti meets Playboy (old school Playboy, that is). It has that same kind of charm with its kids, just hornier.

Well, that's my movie-going experience for the day. Please pardon any typos (though feel free to point them out so I can correct them) as I'm still fairly sick and haven't thoroughly spell-checked this as much as I hope to in the future.

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