Okay, seeing as how it's August now, I think it's the perfect time to tell you all about the stuff I watched in June (R=repeat viewing):
House of Cards (1990, 4 episodes)
British political satire thriller about Francis Urquhart, a ruthless Chief Whip. Sharper-edged than Yes, Minister and more serious than The New Statesman. Rather excellent. Co-stars Susannah Harker from Chancer (series 1 reviewed in 2007's Part 36, series 2 in May). Moral: The scum also rises.
To Play the King (1993, 4 episodes)
Urquhart continues his Reign of Terrificness. His adversary, The King, is coincidentally played by the villainous guy from season 2 of Chancer. British TV is a small world. Moral: Might makes right.
The Final Cut (1995, 4 episodes)
Third and last part of the House of Cards trilogy. Not as good as the previous ones, even sloppily written here and there. Moral: Even the longest, the most glittering reign must come to an end someday.
Tonari no Totoro / My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Conflictless Miyazaki. Speaking of which, here's an interesting tidbit about his upcoming Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea: "HM Queen Silvia of Sweden was granted a sneak preview of the film together with director Hayao Miyazaki during the King and Queen's state visit to Japan on 3 March 2007." Isn't that amazing? Moral: Morals are stupid, I think I'm done with them now.
The Simpsons: Season 19 (2007-2008, 20 episodes)
Maybe I should stop watching this before it erases the memories of all the old, excellent episodes. Remember when this was the best TV show ever? It seems like a hundred years ago, but really it's only 10 or so. I stand by what I said about the the 18th season in 2007, Part 23.
if.... (1968) (R)
You know what? This is a weird-ass film in which nothing much happens. How come I didn't notice that the last time I saw it? It's still cool, though.
Spider-Man 2 (2004) (R)
Excellent. Aside from Vern Schillinger and Daniel Desario, bit parts include Bill Maplewood, Dr Kim Briggs, Ash and Jin.
Pretty stupid but fairly watchable public domain film noir in which Frank Sinatra tried to assassinate the President and Sheriff Sterling Awesome Hayden and his fellow hostages try to stop him. Download it.
L.A. Law: The Movie (2002)
TV movie that reunites most of the cast of the TV show, eight years later. They used to make fun of Douglas Brackman because he has no hair, but now they're all bald or balding! (Except Aaron Echolls, of course.) The script is pretty weak, but for fans of the original TV series, it's still fun to see the characters come out and play for just 85 minutes more. Should probably have been a miniseries, though.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Kind of entertaining but also stupid and very, very messy. Thus completely unlike the very focused Spider-Man 2. A lot of the problems seem to stem from trying to compress plot points that could easily fill two or three movies into one. (I mean, three different villains, what does that remind you of? Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin, that's what.) As a result, none of the many different storylines and characters (Sandman, Eddie Brock, Venom, Green Goblin, Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy...) are very engaging.
Sexy Beast (2000) (R)
Retired gangster Ray Winstone is visited in Spain by wonderful psycho Ben Kingsley who wants him to do another job. Very enjoyable straightforward crime drama.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
This is probably the one Marvel movie franchise that has least lived up to its potential. The first movie was completely pedestrian, far from Fantastic (ha ha). But since the first one lowered my expectations so much, this sequel is almost a pleasant surprise. It's suitably cosmic, and it's short.
Ghost Rider (2007)
Nicolas Cage's skull is on fire in this yawn fest by Mark Steven Johnson, who also wrote and directed the lackluster Daredevil.
Diary of the Dead (2007)
I like most of Romero's old zombie movies (2007, Part 8: Zombies) and thought Land of the Dead was a worthy follow-up, but this one is a disappointment. The gory effects are fine, and there are some nice touches, like a zombie clown, and the last shot of the film, plus an Amish guy who is as awesome as the Amish usually are (i.e. very). But the story itself is weak and the social satire seems way too heavy-handed this time. Most importantly, the whole hand-held camera "documentary" thing gets very old very fast. Romero apparently didn't have much faith in the conceit anyway: All the footage has been professionally edited together, with multiple camera angles and added "scary music". I think this could have been a much better film if it had been told in a more conventional manner.
Diabolik / Danger: Diabolik (1968) (R)
Stylish and very '60s comics adaptation featuring a simply supercool costumed criminal. Extra points to Diabolik for having a hotter girlfriend than any superhero I can think of.
I Am Legend (2007)
Mostly intelligent and extremely watchable for at least an hour (thanks to Will Smith's convincing performance). Stays good until the insulting and tacked-on ending. The originally intended ending, available in an "alternative" version of the movie, isn't all that satisfying either, but it's much more interesting than the theatrical version. Both are different from the ending to Richard Matheson's book. Commenters on the A.V. Club discuss:
Imma Legend, yo
So if they axed the ending, which in the book defines it's until-then-baffling title and provides an excellent mind-fuck moment.... why is it still called "I am Legend"?
RE: Imma Legend, yo
Test audiences were confused by the working title, "I'm Not Legend."
The Punisher (2004)
Forget what I said about Fantastic Four, THIS is the biggest fuck-up of the Marvel movies of the 2000s. My first thought was that at least five excellent movies could be constructed from comic book writer Garth Ennis' Max series. But on reflection, I don't think it's possible to make a movie that captures the essence of the Punisher, because he simply isn't a movie character - he could carry an TV series on HBO, though. The most important misunderstanding that should be corrected is this: The Punisher is not a tragic hero, he is an insane man who has devoted his life to killing criminals. Anyway, this movie, directed by Armageddon and Next screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh, gets almost everything wrong. I mean, Joan the Mouse played by Rebecca Romijn - that's just ridiculous casting. And Thomas Jane (as the Punisher) doesn't even KILL his first victim! I was also curious to see how the movie would let him dispatch the most evil character in the film, who happens to be a woman. Would he simply shoot her? No, the movie contrives a situation where he doesn't have to kill her himself at all! Plus: some truly shitty dialogue, some laughable moments (like the tombstone scene). Jane's fight with The Russian and a couple of other scenes are straight out of Welcome Back, Frank, but - of course - consistently dumbed down.
Generation X (1996)
Why do I subject myself to a poorly received low-budget made-for-TV Marvel adaptation when even most of the big-budget would-be-blockbusters suck ass?
This one, based on a spinoff of the X-Men comic, but made before the X-movies, is most likely a failed pilot, directed by Jack Sholder (The Hidden and 12:01 - both reviewed in 2007, Part 30). The scenes with the students interacting are okay, but the over-the-top villain is boring and his dream machine scheme is crap. Trivia: The mansion used for the Xavier Institute is the exact same one later used in X2: X-Men United and X-Men: The Last Stand,
Michael Clayton (2007)
Absorbing if a little slow-moving drama thriller starring George Clooney as a "fixer". Written and directed by Bourne movies writer Tony Gilroy. Especially excellent is Tilda Swinton's nuanced performance as a corporate "villain".
Black and white precursor to Memento, also written/directed by Christopher Nolan.
The Flintstones (1994) (R)
Critically loathed at the time of its release, but it's very true to the cartoon. Yes, there's too many computer animated critters and it's too reliant on sight gags, but, again, that's just like in the cartoon. Still charming, and John Goodman is of course perfect.
The premise is kind of brilliant: a monster movie in which the monster is barely glimpsed. Unlike Diary of the Dead, there is a strong sense of urgency. A stroke of brilliance is making the guy holding the camera mildly retarded. That way it makes sense to articulate things that wouldn't normally be spelled out.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Parody of musician biopic, specifically Walk the Line. Full of familiar faces from The Office, 30 rock, SNL, and Apatow regulars. (The Beatles is for example played by an all-star group of actors: Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman.)
Jenna Fischer is cute. Very quotable.
Strange mixture of horror, drama and black comedy, directed by Roy Lichtenstein's son. Slightly repetitive, but interesting all the way through. If you see just one movie about vagina dentata this year, make it this one.
Tense thriller about a haunted submarine during World War II. Eventually descends into silliness, but still pretty effective. Co-written by Darren Aronofsky.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
I've never been a big fan of the books but I think this generally successful adaptation (great casting!) may have made me see the light - I finally understand the charm. Probably almost impenetrable if you haven't read the book, though.
The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935)
Based on The Valley of Fear.
The Straight Story (1999) (R)
Old man drives a lawnmover 240 miles to make peace with his brother. Based on a true story, but in real life the brothers KILLED each other. Just kidding. Certainly David Lynch's least disturbing film but possibly one of his most affecting.
Ace in the Hole (1951)
Guy is trapped in a cave and cynical reporter Kirk Douglas milks it for all it's worth. By Billy Wilder.
All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)
Horror movie completely devoid of horror. I expected at least Stupid Fun, but it's both more ambitious and more boring than that. Someone called it the thinking man's slasher flick, but if that's the case I think I prefer regular slasher flicks. Amber Heard is very pretty, though. (Maybe that's why all the boys want to sleep with her?) One scene early on establishes that cell phones (well, a cell phone) don't work where the film takes place. I've been wondering if we should expect to see such scenes in pretty much every forthcoming slasher movie from now on. You know, since so many of them are dependent on the characters being "cut off" from the rest of the world and unable to contact anyone from help?
Twin Peaks: Season 1 (1990, 8 episodes) (R)
Twin Peaks: Season 2 (1990–1991, 22 episodes) (R)
More surreal than the first season, right from the get-go. I think it threw reality out the window when Dale Cooper got out of his hospital bed a few hours after being badly shot. But your mileage may vary. Twin Peaks lost a shitload of viewers in the middle of this season because (SPOILER!) the death of Leland Palmer leaves a gigantic void. There's no longer any real "hook". The Windom Earle storyline gets pretty good but it takes quite a few episodes to pick up steam and until then the show just seems to tread water (wow, that's not even mixed metaphors). In hindsight it's easy to see that this was clumsily handled. It was stupid to finish off the "A" storyline at a moment when none of the other storylines were sufficiently developed to take its place. In that way they made it way too easy for the viewers to stop watching. Apparently both Mark Frost and David Lynch were otherwise engaged at the time, which would account for the plenitude of ridiculous or misguided subplots. Such as: 1. Nadine thinking she's a teenager and gaining super-strength, 2. Ben Horne restaging the Civil War, 3. James fixing a car for a beautiful woman and getting tangled up in a pointless mystery, 4. Andy and Dick trying to find out if a little kid murdered his parents. Any one of these could have been acceptable, but all four at the same time? No way. Excellent ending, though, even if it is a cliffhanger (well, several).
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) (R)
Not entirely successful (too disjointed, for one thing), but very stylish and with quite a few fascinating revelations for fans of the show and its mythology. Very dark. Could perhaps have used some humor. And David Bowie should have had more to do.
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
Aggressively silly. Lots of jumping and fighting and driving, not a whole lot of logic or story. Crispin Glover in a much-too-small role. Justin Theroux sporting an outrageous Irish accent in a Cape Fear parody.
The Wind in the Willows (1996) (R)
Monty Python and Steve Coogan.
The Acid House (1998) (R)
Irvine Welsh. Great fun.
Winter Passing (2005)
Zooey Deschanel depressed. Some scenes early on, such as Deschanel purposefully hurting her hand, or drowning her sick kitten, are laugh-out-loud funny. The sad thing is, they're probably not meant to be. On the whole, the movie's not awful, but it's sometimes very close to awful. The characters never feel real, and when several unconvincing characters interact the results are just, I don't know, not very involving. Synchronicity: Zooey's mom, Mary Jo Deschanel, played Donna's mother on Twin Peaks. (And her dad directed several episodes.)
Lost Highway (1997)
Puzzling identity crime drama by David Lynch. Not quite as good as Mulholland Dr., but then, virtually nothing is. Moral: Do not tailgate.
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Quirky hitman comedy. Lightweight but charming.
Boxing Helena (1993)
Julian Sands and Sherilyn Fenn in an infamous amputee thriller, directed by Jennifer Lynch (David's daughter). Perhaps not as godawful as I'd been led to expect, but definitely Bad. It's pretty much a more grotesque (but less believable and interesting) version of The Collector. Cop-out ending.