(1) Fri Dec 08 2017 07:06 November Film Roundup:
Howdy, pardner. Time to round up some cinematic cows! Them's good eating.
- This is Spinal Tap (1984): My third viewing, and possibly the most fun I'll have watching this movie because my second viewing was like ten years ago before I had a lot of practice at watching movies. I remember all the big-ticket set pieces, but I forgot that this thing is full of comedy at all levels, from subtle character conflict to stupid puns to dick jokes, and it's all funny. Like a Monty Python movie, Spinal Tap just tosses out one classic bit after another, not realizing that entire cults are going to grow up around individual gags.
- Hellzapoppin' (1941): I've been wanting to see this film ever since learning about it in The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide in the nineties, and short story research finally provided the excuse I need. This is... uneven. The first, let's say, nine minutes is some of the funniest footage I've ever seen. Then it turns into a dull slog of a young-lovers weekend-party movie, livened up only by the occasional hilarious joke. It's worse than a Marx Brothers movie in this regard.
Olsen and Johnson seem to know they're heading in to trouble here. They throw up framing devices and lampshades to make light of the fact that they're squeezing their round Broadway show into a Hollywood square, and that this movie is no good when they're not on screen. But lampshading a fact doesn't make it go away. It's so bad that I questioned whether the Broadway show was also a big bait-and-switch, but no, according to this 2007 attempt to reverse-engineer the show, Hellzapoppin' was basically all like those first nine minutes, and it was the longest-running Broadway show until Oklahoma!. So, I guess I recommend going back in time (if only to 2007) and seeing it live.
Not a lot of films last month, and there wasn't even going to be a Television Spotlight, but it turns out the show we were watching, "The Good Place", doesn't have as many episodes as I'd assumed. We generally only start watching a show once the hype builds to a certain point, which usually gives us two or three seasons to catch up on, but "The Good Place" is so great (and the episodes are only 22 minutes) that the hype started early, we blew through it and we're stuck in the season two mid-season break with everyone else. So now I'm going to use my soapbox to add to the hype. It's really good—the characters change over time, individual episodes burn huge chunks of plot, and every episode ends with a cliffhanger. It's like a Greg Egan novel turned into a sitcom.
For comparison I'm going to bring in a show we watched and loved in the pre-Film Roundup days, "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin". In a sitcom every episode presents the same basic scenario, but "Perrin", along with "The Good Place" and "Arrested Development", create plot arcs by breaking the sitcom reset button and forcing the characters to deal with the consequences of previous revisions of the same basic joke. This also allows the writers to approach the premise of a given sitcom from all different angles. Sumana sums up these three shows as: "What if your karass were also your crab bucket?", which is the subtext of most sitcoms made explicit.
Sun Dec 24 2017 16:55 Christmas Movie Counterprogramming:
There are Christmas movies, movies that aspire to fill viewers with
the Christmas spirit. And then there are movies that are set
during Christmas but would rather do something else with your
time. The canonical example of the first type of movie is It's A
Wonderful Life (1946); the canonical example of the second is
Die Hard (1988).
If you're sick of watching It's A Wonderful Life every year,
then mixing it up with Die Hard might be nice, but once you
open that door you've got a lot of additional possibilities, and
watching Die Hard every year just to stick it to Capra fans is
silly. As a public service, I've used IMDB data to find the top-rated
'Christmas' movies for use in your holiday counterprogramming.
I used an IMDB data dump (see postscript) to find every movie
tagged with the christmas keyword, excluding documentaries,
movies with 'Christmas' or 'Holiday' in the title, and movies in
Christmas Films" category. I went through what remained and picked
out films that were set as a whole over the Christmas holidays or otherwise had a pervasive Christmas element—a
lot of top movies like Goodfellas and Full Metal Jacket and Citizen Kane seem to only have one memorable Christmas scene. Here are all the
matching films with an IMDB rating of 8.0 or higher.
- The Godfather (1972)
- The Apartment (1960)
- Pelísky (1999)
- Plácido (1961)
- Jagten (2012)
- The Thin Man (1934)
- The Lion in Winter (1968)
- Twelve Monkeys (1995)
- The King's Speech (2010)
- Ma nuit chez Maud (1969)
- In Bruges (2008)
- C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
- Brazil (1985)
I've seen seven of these movies and I'm pretty happy with these results. If I wanted to watch a movie that fits this niche it would
definitely be The Apartment, and The Godfather is kind
of a marginal case.
Postscript: unfortunately, IMDB changed their data format
recently to a format that is a lot easier to parse than what they had
before, but which is missing important pieces of information like
movie ratings and keywords, which makes a project like this impossible and renders the dataset as a whole nearly devoid of interest. It's been a fun ride, IMDB data
dumps. From Ghostbusters Past to Worst Best Picture to The MST3K-IMDB Effect to You Can't Be Serious to I Should Be In That Spoof to Where's that Golden Age? to Worst Episode Ever, the old, hacky, IMDB
dumps from an FTP site have provided me with quality data and my
readers with much entertainment.
But we all knew it was only a matter of time until someone at
Amazon said "Wait a minute..." and had a meeting with someone at
IMDB. So from this point on, all of my IMDB projects will use the last
full IMDB dump I got, for Ghostbusters Past in early 2015.
(2) Wed Dec 27 2017 08:14 It Was Twenty Years Ago Today:
Way back in the nineties, after it was clear that News You Can Bruise was an ongoing concern, I had the idea that on December 20, 2017, twenty years after the first "notebook entry" that could be called a blog post, I would write an entry with a Sgt. Pepper's reference in the title. This idea thrilled me, more for the glimpse it gave me of the future than anything else. But I was never so thrilled that I, say, set a reminder to make this post, or figured out anything to put in here besides the title and "wow, twenty years, huh?"
So, I missed the deadline by a week and I still don't really have anything to put in here apart from that title joke, which I now find corny, but I'm doing this anyway as a promise kept to my earlier self. This is the 7905th post to News You Can Bruise, and it's not even the least interesting one!
Sun Dec 31 2017 22:52 December Film Roundup:
Happy new year! I feel like my reviews for this month are kind of cranky. Anyway, back to wrestling with this giant whale. From hell's heart I stab at thee!
- Psych: The Movie (2017): Absolutely no reason you should watch this unless you're a big Psych fan, but it's pretty fun if you are. It was always going to be a big love letter to the TV show, but it could have also been a sharp parody of Hallmark Christmas movies. I feel like that's what they were going for. But after Timothy Omundson had a minor stroke, James Roday had to rewrite the entire screenplay at the last minute, which, good job doing that on such short notice, but it really shows and it threw a wrench into any larger ambitions this movie may have had. Kurt Fuller is funny as always.
- Timecode (2000): This is a formally impressive work that has some fun Easter eggs and improvised bits but doesn't offer much in the way of plot, or interesting characters. Instead it relies on there being so much information on the screen that you can't process it all. As we as a society get better at dividing our attention (albeit at the expense of other skills), the trick becomes less impressive. It's tough to make something under such an intense constraint and also have it tell a cool story, but that's the difference between an interesting movie and a great one.
I liked the 'cool' security guard who was also everyone's drug dealer, and Kyle MacLachlan is delightful. Also, I wonder whether this movie came out at a specific time: when the quality you could get from a digital camera was about 25% that of film, such that four tiled digital images would look like a regular film.
- Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017): Look, nothing will give you back the experience of being a kid and watching Star Wars for the first time. Chasing that feeling is a fool's errand. If you want a new Star Wars movie, one that engages with the material in an interesting way, then this is your film. Giving it to Rian Johnson was the right move.
If you just don't like Star Wars, this movie won't convince you. The franchise is still really slight, and they're giving it right back to Abrams for Episode IX. But The Last Jedi is the most fun I've had with a Star Wars movie since I was a kid.
- Coco (2017): Fun enough, but a reversion to the Pixar mean after the really innovative Inside Out. No complaints, though, I liked it the whole way through. Enjoyed all the antique tech.
This will have to suffice for a Television Spotlight: today I went to the museum and watched the solstice episode of "Fraggle Rock". I'd never seen "Fraggle Rock" before and I understand it's kinda didactic but I was not prepared for the sheer heaviness of the humanist message here. They're 'ringing' the Great Bell by using their own little bells to make a resonance chamber out of a bell-shaped empty space. Right? That seems like the correct read here. Unbelievable that they got away with that, but I'm all for it.
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