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Consider it a token of appreciation for all the books, movies, and television shows I've recommended. And the ones I've not recommended. Check out the rest of this post, you guys; I watched some bad Nicolas Cage movies so you don't have to. Isn't that worth a few dollars?
As usual, see if you can spot the themes in my viewing for this month!
The Killer: In this John Woo classic, Chow Yun-Fat is the titular killer, who accidentally injures a nightclub singer during a hit and takes on One Last Job to pay for her treatment. He's pursued by a cop who Doesn't Play by the Rules. There are some great scenes between the two of them, but holy crap, is this movie over-the-top. John Woo is a man who believes in not using one bullet when thirty will do. I mean, seriously, Ah Jong assassinates a man with a headshot and then SHOOTS HIM TWO MORE TIMES FOR GOOD MEASURE. I mean, come on. The movie suffers from both my being very tired and its being so influential that it's been copied and ripped off so many times in the last twenty years, so it doesn't feel as fresh and original as it may have in 1989. Regardless, it's an action-packed bloodbath full of men shooting two guns while doves fly around, so what more do you want? B/B+
Easy A: This endearingly self-aware teen sex comedy features no actual sex! Emma Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a smart but relatively unknown virgin whose notoriety shoots up when a rumor spreads about a (fake) sexual indiscretion. And since she can't quell the rumors, she embraces them, having fake sex with her classmates for reputation and profit. The movie is much better than it sounds! It touches on the tender line between truth and lies, between standing out and blending in, between fame and infamy. It's snarky but sweet, and Emma Stone sells it all. When she cries, you want to give her a hug and make her feel better. The supporting cast is solid, too. Thomas Haden Church is a strange and amusing English teacher, Lisa Kudrow is a high-strung guidance counselor, and Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are the kookiest parents I've seen in a while. Also, Malcolm McDowell is the principal for some reason. Easy A makes the Scarlet Letter comparisons blatant and wears its debt to eighties movies on its sleeve, but it's a refreshing example of its genre, which garners it an easy A-
Pontypool: Are you ready for another zombie movie that's not really a zombie movie? In this Canadian horror film, the action takes place entirely within a radio station underneath a church. Morning show host Grant Mazzy (played by HITG Stephen McHattie), producer Sydney Briar, and technician Laurel-Ann Drummond are pretty much the only characters. It's just another typical morning until their man on the outside begins describing the state of the world outside: hordes of people appear to be going mad. We don't see any of this. We just hear the horrible, terrible descriptions. It's no surprise that the writer drew inspiration from Orson Welles's War of the Worlds broadcast. This is horror being transmitted not by images but by words...and that, incidentally, is what this movie is all about. Although it doesn't become readily apparent until later, the hook of the film is that the way people become infected is through language itself. The movie builds and builds and becomes more and more unnerving and freaky, the claustrophobic feel enhancing the horror. It doesn't explain everything satisfactorily, and I'm not sure about the ending (there are two planned sequels?), but I have to give props for a low-budget movie this original and ambitious. B+/A-
Knowing: In honor of Season of the Witch, I watched this Bad Nicolas Cage Movie about a list of numbers in a time capsule that predict global disasters. Now, I totally dig movies about trying to avert prophecies and shit. And there is some good stuff about this movie, even if it's a half hour too long. The way the numbers work is pretty cool, if crazy contrived. The disaster scenes are pretty harrowing. Cage's relationship with his son is genuinely sweet; the movie tries really hard to be a family drama, which is both admirable and distracting. But. But. You guys, I am pretty easy to please. I am pretty forgiving. So I think this may be the first time I have ever actually laughed out loud at a ridiculous plot twist. Oh my God. I think I was laughing for most of the last twenty minutes. But even during that laughter, I was giving the movie props for something else, so it wasn't bad enough to make me hate the whole movie, but, seriously, what the hell. Also, there is a flaming moose. B-
Fast Times at Ridgemont High: This cult classic teen comedy is famous for several reasons, like Cameron Crowe's undercover high school year, Phoebe Cates's nude scene, and Sean Penn's surfer/stoner Jeff Spicoli. I can only assume it's not famous for being a great movie. It follows the lives of a few teenagers through one year at Ridgemont High, and...that's about it. While some of the characters do have what can be called a story (unsurprisingly, Rat and Stacy are my favorite part of the movie), mostly stuff just...happens. To characters I don't really care about. Especially Spicoli, who is just incredibly fucking annoying and I do not understand why he is so popular. Unless he originated the surfer/stoner stereotype that I've seen a million times, but even then, it's so overdone. It's not a bad movie, but it's not really exceptional in any way either. B
Metropolitan: After enjoying Barcelona, I went back to Whit Stillman's first movie, which follows a group of pretentious Manhattan socialites who spend their nights going out to fancy parties and then coming home to have intellectual conversations about philosophy and social strata. Tom Townsend ends up being adopted into the group even though he's morally opposed to everything they do, and one of the women takes a liking to him. Chris Eigeman plays the jerk he plays so well, and Taylor Nichols is fairly annoying and not as endearing as he is in Barcelona. It's hard to really like most of these rich, white people complaining about their lives, but that's okay because Stillman is poking fun at them a lot of the time. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments scattered throughout the movie. But most of it is just mildly amusing and almost pointedly dull. Regardless, it is generally entertaining. B/B+
Heathers: Finally, after having seen this cult classic, I understand the context for such lines as "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw" and "I love my dead gay son." Veronica Sawyer is not named Heather, but she's still part of the most popular clique in school, consisting of three girls named Heather. The Heathers are the original Plastics, and Winona Ryder is the original Lindsay Lohan. Or...something like that. She used to be such a nice girl, and she kind of wishes the Queen Heather was dead. And then she hooks up with new guy in town, Christian Slater, who helps make her wish come true. Heathers is a dark comedy about murder, teen suicide, and high school popularity, and it's kind of startling that it got made in 1989. The influences on later works are very clear; I can see a lot of Buffy in the language, for instance (Buffy even says, "What's your damage?"). But the original movie still feels fresh today, which is impressive. A-
Demolition Man: The writer of Heathers later wrote this Sylvester Stallone/Wesley Snipes comedic sci-fi action movie that I loved when I was a kid. Stallone and Snipes play badass characters with badass names like John Spartan and Simon Phoenix. The cop and criminal are cryogenically frozen in 1996 (which was THE FUTURE in 1993), and when Phoenix escapes in 2032, Spartan is thawed out to catch him. Los Angeles in 2032 is part of a utopian San Angeles society based on peace, love, and understanding. In a hilarious running gag, profanity results in fines dispensed by automated monitors. The satirical utopia is the best thing about the movie, but although it's very amusing, it's A) hard to imagine the world becoming like that so quickly and B) maddening when characters over 40 are sooooooo confused and disgusted by Spartan's behavior, as if they weren't fucking ALIVE during his time. Regardless, it's a very fun, cute movie with decent action scenes and Stallone being Stallone, Snipes being very crazy and beating people up, an adorable pre-Speed Sandra Bullock, a pre-Miss Congeniality Benjamin Braddock, Denis Leary as an underground rebel leader, and, well, Rob Schneider. B+
Hudson Hawk: This infamous Bruce Willis movie is supposed to be terrible, but it's also a reteaming of the writer and director of Heathers, so it seemed appropriate to watch. And, what the hell, it's actually a really fun movie! Hudson Hawk, cat burglar extraordinaire, is released from prison after ten years and is immediately forced to pull a job, even though he's trying to go straight. He and his partner, who sing songs during their heists to synchronize their timing, get caught up in a battle between various factions trying to get their hands on pieces to da Vinci's machine that turns lead into gold. What? Yeah. It's very silly, and David Caruso is hilarious. What? Yeah. I don't know why it's so well known as a "bad" movie. It has a very good sense of humor about itself. Also, there's opening and closing narration for no apparent reason, which makes it even more silly and fun. B+
Hackers: I have no idea why, but I have been wanting to see this movie for years. It just seemed so "cool" when I was a teenager. Hackers! Everyone loves hackers! Especially when they hack The Wrong System and uncover a Sinister Plot! That's totally original and hip! Check out these sweet techno beats, man. Look at young Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie, dude. Check out villainous Fisher Stevens, you guys. Hey, it's The Bunk! What is he doing in this movie? So this movie is hilariously dated (modems! pay phones!), absurdly depicted (I think the hacking scenes make even less sense than usual), and not nearly as kinetic and exciting as the trailers made it out to be. At least the rollerblading hackers are fairly entertaining. B-
Dazed and Confused: Like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, this Richard Linklater film follows a group of high schoolers as stuff just...happens, but Linklater, unlike Amy Heckerling, makes it all seem so much more real and meaningful. With familiar faces like Joey Lauren Adams, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Ben Affleck, and Matthew McConaughey, among others, and familiar tunes from the seventies, Linklater lets us in on the last day of school in 1976. The kids drive around, drink beer, smoke pot, break some mailboxes, make out, and basically...act like teenagers. Much of it has a documentary feel to it, as if Linklater isn't directing scenes but capturing them. I could barely keep track of anyone's name, but the characters are all fairly distinct, which is impressive. It's an important night for two characters in particular, an incoming freshman who gets to hang out with the cool kids for the first time and an incoming senior who has to decide whether or not to sign a no-drugs policy and remain on the football team. But this movie isn't about characters executing a plot; it's about plot happening to occur to characters. I can't really explain why I liked it, but I liked Slacker (and all other live-action Linklater films I've seen), so there's that. B+
Wet Hot American Summer: I didn't know very much about this movie, but it seemed to be fairly popular among my friends. Like Dazed and Confused, it is about a last day: the last day at a Jewish summer camp in 1981. The fact that the camp is called Camp Firewood should give you a hint about what kind of movie this is. We follow the camp counselors, who are generally pretty terrible at their jobs, as they try to make that last day count, mostly by having sex with each other. While there are times when the movie seems to be an emotionally honest nostalgia piece about summer camp, it's...not. It's a spoof, and it becomes more and more hilariously absurd as the movie goes on. The stuff in this movie, I don't even know. It made much more sense when I discovered that it was made by people from The State, a sketch comedy show. Even if it doesn't always work and the tonal shifts are confusing, it made me laugh out loud a lot. In conclusion, here are some of the people who are in this movie. Paul Rudd. Janeane Garofalo. David Hyde Pierce. Amy Poehler. Ken Marino. Bradley Cooper. Molly Shannon. Christopher Meloni. Elizabeth Banks. Michael Ian Black. With cameos by Judah Friedlander and LITTLE KYLE GALLNER. B+
Family Plot: Hitchcock's final film is a lighthearted thriller about two conniving couples. A phony psychic and her cabbie boyfriend are trying to track down a missing heir, and a couple of serial kidnappers are collecting precious diamonds as ransom. Waiting for their paths to intersect, and once they do, things become quite dangerous! Although most of the film is pretty serious, Barbara Harris's phony psychic act provides much of the humor, making this funnier than the usual Hitchcock film. There's a good mystery, an exciting car scene, and fun characters, making this a very entertaining movie worth checking out. B+
Frenzy: Hitchcock's penultimate film is also his only R-rated movie, as it's about a London serial killer/rapist known as the Necktie Killer. As per usual, a man is wrongly accused, and he must evade Scotland Yard and clear his name as more and more circumstantial evidence stacks up against him. Meanwhile, the audience knows who the real killer is, and he must also evade Scotland Yard by any means necessary. Also, a Scotland Yard inspector must endure his wife's gourmet cooking. It's a solid film and quite tense, but I felt like there was something missing, perhaps because it was the sort of movie Hitchcock had made many times before, just a little more lurid and disturbing. But, hey, Bernard Cribbins! B/B+
Psycho Beach Party: Lauren Ambrose is a schizophrenic surfer chick, Thomas Gibson is a surfing legend, Nicholas Brendon is a college-dropout surfer dude, Amy Adams is a bitchy popular girl, and Matt Keeslar is a Swedish exchange student in this campy parody of '50s beach party movies, with added murder. It's based on a play, which explains why everyone turns their acting up to 11, but it works quite well as a movie. Especially the super-cheesy fake surfing shots. Lauren Ambrose is totally adorable as Florence, but she can switch to her sexually aggressive, (murderously?) angry alter-ego on a dime. It's a pretty fun movie, even if the jokes don't always work and the pacing sometimes lags. Also, there's a gratuitous dance sequence at a luau. B/B+
Next: It's another movie where Nicolas Cage has information about the future! In this one, he's a magician who can see two minutes into his own future. For whatever reason. The way his ability works is crazy inconsistent, and he generally uses it to avoid FBI agents, terrorists, and bad special effects. Julianne Moore is in this movie for some reason, and she wants him to help the FBI stop a nuclear attack. Because a two-minute headstart would be SO useful. Jessica Biel is pretty. Why is this movie so dull? It's really dull. Even Nicolas Cage looks bored. More bored than usual, I mean. I say this as a Nicolas Cage fan. Although I am reconsidering my status after these last two movies. C+/B-
The Last Days of Disco: The conclusion of Whit Stillman's "yuppie trilogy" has a star-studded cast that includes Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, and, hey, Matt Keeslar! Plus the always-reliable Chris Eigeman, of course. Unlike Metropolitan and Barcelona, this movie is more female-centric, focused on two college friends who are both assistant editors at a publishing company. They spend their nights at a disco club and hook up with various men who are more or less interchangeable. In the movie's defense, I watched it when I was really tired and fell asleep halfway through, but even for the forty minutes I was fully conscious, I wasn't really engaged, and when I watched the second half tonight, I still didn't care too much about the characters and what they were doing, except maybe when the movie unexpectedly develops a plot. There's a lot of music and dancing, and the music often overpowers the dialogue. There were no laugh-out-loud moments as hilarious as any in the first two movies, although that could be mood-dependent. I was really looking forward to this one, and, sadly, it just didn't do much for me at all. B
Next up: Oscar prep!