Thursday, September 18, 2014

Staying Alive - Sweaty Hair and Glitter Shorts

Movie: Staying Alive
My Rating: 4 stars

This movie is an intoxicating explosion of spandex, headbands, thong bodysuits and layered, feathered mullets.  And, that’s just John Travolta’s wardrobe!   It really doesn’t get better than this.  But, what else would you expect from a Stallone, Stallone, Travolta production?  This movie is the insane, sparkling, fever dream of a sequel to Saturday Night Fever, written by Sylvester Stallone, scored by Frank Stallone.  And, you know whose butt is shaking in those tight jeans in the final frame of the movie.  That’s right, the King of Disco, himself.  I watched this film at the prompting of the “How Did This Get Made?” podcast. They’re always good for some pretty great suggestions, but this is easily the best one to date.
This movie has everything.  There’s passion, love triangles, tiny, glittery shorts!  I only regret that I didn’t have a pastel pink and mint green cat-suit for my photo shoot.  In this story John Travolta isn’t a dance hall rat anymore.  Now he’s a fancy Broadway star!  Or at least he’d like to be.  At the moment he’s still waiting tables and living at the YMCA.  It’s his rebellious attitude that’s getting in the way.  Directors just don’t like his improvisations or his angry energy.
But, this guy has ambition.  He just knows he’s going to make it!  And, he’s going to be encouraged the whole way by Stallone’s super tough, rock ballads.  It’s totally nuts.  Of course, he’s going to disrespect and trample over the hearts of as many women as necessary to make it happen.  He’s cheating on his girlfriend.  And, he tries to play head games with the female lead of the show to “put her in her place.”  Because, John Travolta is still playing the same jerk that he was in the last film.  He’s not going to let some broad slow him down.  And, the best part is that not one lesson is learned in this movie . . . unless it’s the women that learn that they should really steer clear of this narcissist if they know what’s good for them.

You have no excuse not to go out and see this movie immediately.  It’s just that perfect.  There’s just too much gyrating, sweaty hair flips, and amusing 80s jargon to miss.  Plus it’s one of the few movies where we get to see John Travolta really working it out on the dance floor again.  I’m not quite sure why he ever gave it up.  Maybe that beer belly just got the better of him.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Death Race 2000 vs. Death Race

Movie: Death Race 2000 vs. Death Race
My Rating: 4 Bombs

So, I’ll be rolling out a new rating system for movies that are just too bad not to love.  And, for those treasures, I’ll be handing out bombs.  Think of them as stars.  The more bombs the better.  But, they’re reserved for movies that are just so trashy, poorly written, and offensively wonderful, that you can’t help but cheering for them.  And, that rating system definitely applies to the Death Race series—both the old classic, and the new film with its terrible sequels.
I had a marathon viewing session over the weekend where I screened all the Death Race movies back to back.  That included the original Death Race 2000 from 1975, as well as all the modern re-makes.  And, the two eras couldn’t be more different from each other.  For one thing, Death Race 2000 is a comedy, whereas the films from the actual 2000s are only unintentionally funny.  But, there’s always a good time to be had with that kind of thing.  You can always count on Jason Statham to glower into the camera, do a few greased-up, shower pull-ups, and stand stock-still during heated argument scenes because he can’t move from the apple box he’s standing on.  It’s adorable.
But 2000 is an unapologetic good time.  The 70s fashions and hairdos are glorious.  The dystopian politics in the story are hilarious.  And, this movie never runs out of excuses for the ladies to get their tits out.  Sure, they’re floppy, 70s tits, but it’s still fun.  It’s a wacky race across the country with drivers scoring points for all the pedestrians they mow down.  Extra points for babies, clergy, and the elderly!  It’s a riot.  David Carradine stars as the famous, disfigured "Frankenstein."  And, despite this movie coming out about forty years prior to the modern movies, the writing is surprisingly more progressive when it comes to race, politics and gender roles.  That’s probably because the original was written for the fun of it, while the remake was probably written by a committee of the most cynical Hollywood executives, pandering to the masses—an audience with the taste and intellect of a twelve-year-old boy.
The original has both male and female drivers, whereas the 2008 version only casts women as the eye-candy navigators.  The drivers are incarcerated inmates, and these sexy navigators are shipped over from the ladies prison to provide a little “motivation” for the inmates.  Of course, each driver is specifically assigned a sexy lady of his own race.  (Middle America isn’t ready for no racial mingling—‘merica!).  And, you can’t cut between scenes without a few hard rock riffs, and a helicopter shot of an industrial shipping yard.  It’s offensively bad.  But, you can’t help wallowing in all that garbage.  It’s magically bad, and, totally irresistible.  I’m really a sucker for punishment.

I think you should definitely watch the original Death Race 2000.  That film is great.  It’s quirky, and sexy, and totally subversive.  And, I think I’d even recommend watching the train-wreck that is the 2008 “remake.”  (Really, the only thing these movies have in common is that the characters are involved in a state-sponsored car race).  It’s trashy, and stupid, (and even pretty insulting), but also very gratifying to you inner teenage boy.  Steer clear of the two modern sequels.  Those are awful.  They’re really just a cold grab for cash.  (Although, the third does feature Danny Trejo, and he can be pretty funny).  You’ll enjoy these movies for totally different reasons, but they’re both a good time.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

CJ7 - Fluffy Aliens and Bratty Kids

Movie: CJ7
My Rating: 2 stars

I wasn’t wild about this movie.  And unfortunately, part of that is a case of unmet expectations.  I seem to be experiencing that a lot these days.  I really need to be more careful.  But, it took me so long to get around to watching this movie that I had plenty of time to read write-ups and think about them.  Other critics billed this movie as a “modern E.T.” and that’s troublesome for several reasons.  For starters, I really didn’t like E.T. very much.  I was a kid when I saw it, and the movie really scared me.  Something about that clammy, little body with its raw chicken skin terrified me.  And then, this movie really isn’t the classic that E.T. was.
This film is really very tonally different from that film.  Sure, this story is also about a kid’s relationship with a perky, little alien that he finds.  But, this movie is a goofy romp.  It’s about a poor boy who just can’t seem to get his act together.  He isn’t very stylish, smart, or coordinated, and he’s kind of scrawny.  He lives in a trailer at the dump with his father (played by Stephen Chow).  But, he’s sure that his new alien friend has just got to have some special powers that will help him out.  He’ll finally be able to compete with the rich, smart, and athletic kids!  It’s heartbreaking, yes.  But unlike E.T., it’s not a very dark, thinly-veiled metaphor for the soul-killing melancholy of living in the suburbs.  CJ7 is a lot more optimistic.
But, I have other reasons for not liking this movie very much.  I think it was because the tone just feels really troubling to me.  Perhaps it’s the little boy’s attitude.   His character is really flaky and unmotivated.  He has no interest in becoming a better person at all.  He just wants his new buddy to help him cheat his way to the top.  And, the movie doesn’t seem to suggest that there is anything wrong with this life philosophy.  And, it rubs me the wrong way.  I want my children’s movies to be idealistic, dammit!  This one feels very grasping and shortsighted.  What’s that kid going to do when he finally gets to the top and discovers that he has no life skills to sustain it?  But, perhaps I’m overthinking this.  This movie is intended for children after all.
My third disappointment was this film’s poor use of Stephen Chow.  I love Chow, and his wacky sense of humor!  But, I had come to know him in the context of his silly Kung-Fu movies.  He really isn’t used to his full advantage in this one.  Of course, he’s not really the star of this movie.  That would be the little boy (Jiao Xu).  Chow is known for playing surly, downtrodden characters to comedic effect.  But then, there’s usually a payoff when he exhibits his sweet fighting skills.    In this one, he just stays kind of sad.  Although he does make a few passes at his son’s sexy teacher.  But, I didn’t like it.

I don’t think I’d recommend this movie to you.  There really isn’t enough good material to make it worth sitting through the whole thing.  The special effects and production value do look pretty good.  The movie looks great visually.  But, I just couldn’t enjoy the story at all.  It’s about a bratty kid acting irresponsibly, hurting his alien friend in the process, and he doesn’t ever learn the lesson he’s supposed to.  The whole experience was very unsatisfying.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ruby Sparks - Your Hipster Dream Girl

Movie: Ruby Sparks
My Rating: 3 stars

Ugh.  This is the kind of movie that gives hipsters a bad name.  I generally feel pretty charitably toward these aggressively coifed kids.  I actually think there’s a certain charm to a man dressed like a lumberjack, or an old-timey car mechanic.  And, I’ve been known to rock the oversized glasses, librarian look myself from time to time.  
But, this movie made me feel like tracking down a hipster at his local, outdoor, BBQ, picnic-table bar, and slapping the Miller Highlife out of his hand.  The story highlights the insecure, self-absorbed, whiny side of these delicate creatures, rather than the whimsical, electric aspect of their personality.  And, these are the protagonists that we’re supposed to be identifying with!
The story is about a precocious author, Calvin (played by Paul Dano).  Calvin has had early success right out of college with his debut novel, but he’s had writer’s block for the past ten years.  And, on top of that, his personal life is practically non-existent—no friends, no romance, no one but his brother to talk to.  Even his new dog isn’t helping him meet chicks at the park.  So, as a writing exercise to get the creative juices flowing, Calvin pulls out his typewriter (of course), and begins outlining all the aspects of his ideal girlfriend.  It feels good to finally get some words on paper, and he considers this little mental workout to be a success.  But, then through some mystery of the universe, Calvin wakes up the next morning to discover that this ideal woman, Ruby, is real, is living in his house, and that according to her, they’ve been a relationship for quite some time now.
This is a lot of information for Calvin to process.  But, it’s gold for the creative writing process!  Especially once Calvin discovers that every new detail or personality trait that he writes about Ruby seems to be magically coming true.  That’s a lot of power, and it raises many moral dilemmas.  Should Ruby be an excellent cook?  Should she speak French?  Should she have bigger tits?  It’s all up to the author.  But, it also leads Calvin to examine the philosophical question of what it really means to get everything you think you want.  If literature has taught us anything, we all know that this is a trap.  Especially when we learn that Calvin is kind of a sniveling, little crybaby.  I’m not really on his side.  And, I don’t really think I want him to craft the woman of his dreams.  At least he seems to be learning a lesson from the whole exercise.

This movie is fine.  It’s entertaining enough.  I hated most of the characters in it, but the actors are cute, and the story is moderately interesting.  And, the movie depicts some of the more picturesque neighborhoods in LA, and since I’m from there I thought that was pretty fun.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek out this film, but it’s ok if it happens to fall into your lap, or if you’re stuck on an airplane . . . or if you have a thing for girls in sundresses and wildly colored tights.