Sunday, November 28, 2010

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The Book:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling, 2005.

I remember reserving this at Border's and literally flying through the pages when it first came out. When it ended, I could hardly believe how excited I was for the final novel; I never, ever stopped believing in Snape. And I did cry at the conclusion, both then and now. As a reader, just as with being a film-viewer, I bring a lot of sentimentality with me--I'm not hard to please, really, I just need to identify with characters, even slightly, and I'll be with them till the end. This is why LOST resonated so fully with me (and probably millions of others), I care about these people, even if they're fictional. I think Harry Potter in general gets lumped into fad-ish, unimportant,  Tiger Beat fodder, but there is more than meets the eye, especially in considering the books as well as the films. And people can dog Rowling all they want, obviously she's not infallible, but she's a great character writer and I'm glad she's here.

Pleasing British Vernacular: "prat," (enormous idiot) "Wotcher," (what you up to?) and "ruddy," (an intensive). "I'm a ruddy teacher, aren' I, yeh sneakin' Squib!" said Hagrid.

Draco feels the strain. . .
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2009, directed by David Yates.

I didn't love this, but I think it was well done. Mostly I enjoyed Slughorn's ridiculous ding-bat smiles throughout, they're really quite funny. I thought Malfoy (Tom Felton) was spectacular, he looked shifty and pained pretty much the entire film, and his crying scenes were right on. The scene with Dumbledore and the Inferi at the lake looked exactly as I had envisioned it would; Dumbledore's death as well. The one thing that really stops me from liking this film very much is the ending. After Dumbledore has been killed, McGonagal steps out onto the grounds with the nurse and all the other students and immediately points her wand at the Dark Mark that is hovering over the castle, blasting it away with bright light and everyone joins her. It's supposed to be emotional and tender, the score is sad, but it pisses me off every time. In the book, I don't think the Dark Mark could be removed, or it was much harder than just a bunch of kids playing lumos with their wands; in any event, (and I rarely say this) it was too sentimental. Fade to black, show Hagrid carrying Dumbledore's corpse away, show McGonagal in a panic with the former headmasters' portraits, but don't everyone point their wands in the air, that was just cheesy and weak.
Don't forget Slytherin!

Deathly Hallows, coming up next. And not a moment too soon, either; I've been  d y i n g  to talk about Tarantino, it's almost bursting out of me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

The Book:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling, 2003.

870 pages. (sigh). Some of my favorite things happen in this novel. I love the deeper insight into Sirius, James, and Snape; Weasley twins are always aces in my book. There are some topics that get a bit over-done, such as Quidditch, the house elves (again), and there is one thing at the near conclusion that is so ridiculous it literally makes me furious every time I read it (I've read this book a few times), and it's the stupid DANCING-LEGS curse that the Death Eater puts on Neville at the Ministry of Magic when all hell is breaking loose. I can't think of something less Death Eater-like than a curse that makes one's legs dance; how about simply removing the legs? Biggest critique of the entire series of novels is that. Ridiculous. Nonsense.

Moving on, pleasing literary bits?

1. British vernacular: rubbish, as in everything negative being described as, someone being "bang out of order," and "Jolly Good."

2. Descriptions of Dolores Umbridge's foulness were wonderful: ". . . they found Professor Umbridge already seated at the teacher's desk, wearing the fluffy pink cardigan of the night before and the black velvet bow on top of her head. Harry was again reminded forcibly of a large fly perched unwisely on top of an even larger toad," and Harry's statement to Sirius in a letter, Umbridge being "nearly as nice as your mum," (who is the screaming woman in the portrait, hurling insults to Mudbloods and Blood Traitors whenever they disturb her).

3. People are much crabbier in this novel. "'You know,' said Phineas Nigellus, even more loudly than Harry, 'this is precisely why I loathed being a teacher! Young people are so infernally convinced that they are absolutely right about everything. Has it not occurred to you, my poor, puffed-up popinjay, that there might be an excellent reason why the headmaster of Hogwarts is not confiding every tiny detail of his plans to you?'" (well said, mate).

I enjoyed it well enough. However, I think this book made for *the best* film adaptation, so when I think of the goings-on of The Order of the Phoenix, I prefer to really just think of the better, condensed, more cinematic version, if you want to read on.

The Film.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2007, directed by David Yates. 138 minutes.

A masterpiece, my favorite, favorite Potter. I find the entire film to be extraordinary, but as I'm a bit short on time, I'll spare you another drawn-out ramble and just say that this film has the best beginning and ending I've ever seen. The dry sun at the park quickly replaced by the storm clouds and darkness and THAT RUN DOWN THE FIELD BY HARRY AND DUDLEY? Beautifully thrilling, say nothing of the damned dementors just slinking into that tunnel.

And the entire sequence in the Ministry of Magic, starting with Sirius punching (my boy!) Lucius Malfoy right in the face? Dueling! The Aurors! Avada Kadavra! "You comin' to get me?" HBC as Bellatrix, killer!
OMFG. Right. On.

And Voldemort vs. Dumbledore? Utterly amazing, like a wizardy  Dooku vs. Yoda. The scene of Voldemort causing the power of Dumbledore's previous spell to ripple and build from his feet up to his chest and then flailing his arms out, BLASTING every surface in the Ministry to bits---this is my favorite scene from any film, ever. Hands down. It's fucking brilliant.

This film really just makes me happy. David Yates, you're aces. And there were wonderful high-quality images available for this, so enjoy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The Book:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000, by J. K. Rowling.

734 pages, this was. And truth be told, many of them got a little bit winded, but the action in the book's last four chapters makes the entire, if longish, experience worthwhile. A good editor maybe would have axed everything the screenwriter eventually did (house elves, Crouch family back story, Voldemort's rambling explanation to the Death-Eaters, Rita Skeeter as a (beetle) animagus, etc.) but if you love the series, you can probably handle all the extra business in this book, I did.

1. Pleasing British vernacular? "LOT." I love this and it just keeps popping up, for instance:

Arthur Weasley: "You lot---get into the woods and stick together!" and "I think I'll take my lot back to the tent, if nobody's got any objections."

Mad Eye Moody: "Look at that, you lot . . . Potter fought! He fought it, and he damn near beat it!"
(I also dig Moody's little paranoid actions throughout and the CONSTANT VIGILANCE! he's always harping at the students.)

2. Last rant I had a little go at everything always happening to Potter, and it comes up. . .

"'Look,' said Hermione patiently, 'it's always you who gets all the attention, you know it is. I know it's not your fault,' she added quickly, seeing Harry open his mouth furiously. 'I know you don't ask for it . . . but---well---you know, Ron's got all those brothers to compete against at home, and you're his best friend, and you're really famous---he's always shunted to one side whenever people see you, and he puts up with it, and he never mentions it, but I suppose this is just one time too many. . . .'"

3. Other completely random things that I dug were referring to Nagini (giant snake) as "some horrible travesty of a pet dog" as it curled up on the rotting hearth rug, and Dumbledore responding, "Quite Understandable. Continue." when Harry states that he had fallen asleep in Divination.

Fun book. Lotta ins, lotta outs. And someone somewhere would do good to write some sort of (scum) manifesto about explaining and defining the magical terms. As in, the differences between hexes, curses, and jinxes, as they seem interchangeable. And what differentiates a charm from an enchantment? Or a spell? A chart comparing Muggle remedies with Magical Potions. Firm perimeters of what can or cannot be summoned, reproduced, repaired, or transfigured. An entire outline devoted to means of travel, fireplace networks, apperating/disapperating, etc.


The Film:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, directed by Mike Newell, 2005.

157 minutes. I don't really have much on this. It's my second-least favorite film, I think it's everyone's hair. Moody's scenes are the best, notably the turning of Malfoy into the ferret, telling McGonagal he was "teaching." This film suffers horribly from too-little Snape.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The Book:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 1999, by J. K. Rowling.

One of my favorite books in the series, and one of the best film adaptations as well. So many creatures in this book! Dementors, Werewolves, Animaguses, and Hippogriffs? They made for a lovely story, my favorite parts were these. I won't touch the bit about time-turning, although it's quite a vital piece to the narrative. But in terms of polite criticisms, (I very much consider myself a huge fan, so don't get mad, I'm just bein' real) there comes a bit of exasperation in this novel, and onward through to the end, that everything, ever in existence at Hogwarts that will ever happen, must happen to Harry. No wonder Ron gets a bit moody in the next book. I mean, Harry has been through a lot, granted, and his life with the Dursley's was very unpleasant, but Harry gets to see the mirror of Erised, gets the Invisibility Cloak, finds the diary, gets to ride Buckbeak, gets to learn to make Patronuses, etc., etc., etc. Doesn't anyone else at Hogwarts ever do anything, EVER? Or are they just a bunch of clueless gits? I'd be feeling very cast aside if I was a student there. True some of these things could only have happened to Harry because of his history, but really. It seems as if he's favored quite a bit by all of the professors and exceedingly in the wrong place at the wrong time, every time. And don't get me wrong, I like the stories, but sometimes everything seems a little slanted, as if we, the reader, are just reading about a Harry Potter game that Harry alone is playing, everyone else is background.

But I do think it was written well, and the writing is much improved even from the first two. Maybe Rowling allowed herself to get a little more British with her verbiage after she'd gained herself a solid enough following, or the characters just took a while to get comfortable in their lines, but some of my favorite dialogues in this novel are these (British) utterances, rhetorical question asked as statement followed with affirmation question (there is probably a much nicer, more literary way to describe that):

Harry: What if I accidentally let something slip?
Uncle Vernon: You'll get the stuffing knocked out of you, won't you? She does this a few times, this phrasing, and I loved it.

Something else I liked: "It was Professor Trelawney, gliding toward them as though on wheels. She had put on a green sequined dress in honor of the occasion, making her look more than ever like a glittering, oversized dragonfly."

The Film:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, 2004.

Very much a favorite. The kids are getting older and are much less McGoo, and the events are getting darker. The actors are comfortable enough in their roles, new Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) = aces, and Snape is really killer in this one (storming into DADA class, slamming the window hangings closed, "PAGE THREE-HUNDRED-AND-NINETY-FOUR!")

The filmmaking in this one is probably the best of any due to the imagery and sound. The opening scene where Marge gets inflated is funny subject matter on its own, but the constant cuts from her to Dudley getting pelted in the face with her beads as they pop to the random cuckoo clock opening and closing with a jaunty little orchestral score going? These things added so much; very, very well done. There is more of this technique-lending-a-hand-to-narrative when Lupin shows the class the boggert in the closet and Pavarti's clown bends back and forth, slowing down (slow motion) from a low POV into Harry's dementor; it's creepy and it's effective. We are jarred and taken aback just like Harry. Great scene on the Quidditch field as Harry falls from hundreds of feet up; Dumbledore rises in the stands, "ARRESTO MOMENTUM!" the voice sounds as if inside an echo chamber and everything goes black (my favorite scene from this film).

The coldness (ice, breath) that comes with the Dementors. And the close up on Lupin's eye and magnified heartbeat thumping when he sees the full moon. And Snape holding his arms out to shield Ron, Harry, and Hermione. And Gary Oldman as Sirius Black. Bravo, everyone.

One final note: I went last night, to The Deathly Hallows, and honestly loved every blasted minute of it. Cried for much of it. Wished it wouldn't end. Am considering going again. Will write it up in its proper slot in the chronology.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Book:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 1998, by J.K. Rowling.

I can't sugar-coat this at all; this one is my least favorite of the all the books and all the films. There are some good things about it, but I think in the novel, Dobby and Gilderoy Lockhart just take up too many pages. If you're going to write annoying characters, don't get carried away with them, because who wants to read about DOBBY AND LOCKHART?

That said, I think it's made quite clear early on, in this book, especially, that Harry is no ordinary wizard. I mean, yes, he's a bit dense about things, and seems to always make the wrong decisions, but most of the other wizards seem to have a bit of a superiority complex when it comes to other magical beings such as house elves, the Hogwart's ghosts, centaurs, goblins, etc. Harry seems to always take everyone at their word, and to extend the old golden rule, as it were. Good work, and good alliance-building for later, too! Isn't it Dobby that throws himself in front of Bellatrix's golden knife to save Harry in the last novel?

Some nice passages:

"When Filch wasn't guarding the scene of the crime, he was skulking red-eyed through the corridors, lunging out at unsuspecting students and trying to put them in detention for things like 'breathing loudly,' and 'looking happy.'"

"But Lockhart's disgusting cheeriness, his hints that he had always thought Hagrid was no good, his confidence that the whole business was not at an end, irritated Harry so much that he yearned to throw Gadding With Ghouls right into Lockhart's stupid face."

"The sides of the car were scratched and smeared with mud. Apparently it had taken to trundling around the forest on its own."

The Film:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 2002, directed by Chris Columbus.

161 minutes is way too long. What I said above about Dobby and Lockhart applies here, too. Cut every one of their scenes by at least half and this film is right back on track. They got it right by giving us more Weasleys, more Snape, and (hello, delicious) Lucius Malfoy. Wonderful, just wonderful. Dueling scene, good (close up on Snape when Harry reveals he's a parsel-mouth?!). The chamber scenes and Tom Riddle, good. Ron's contorted grimace all the time got a little tired, but still love him.

I debated going to the midnight showing of Deathly Hallows tonight but seriously cannot justify it, especially considering it'd probably be sold out, and it's a bit on the chilly side. I'm heading over to SLP tomorrow night. Anyone in?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The Book:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 1997, by J.K. Rowling.

As a book, especially a debut novel, I think it's quite good. It's quick, funny, and despite being classified as young adult fiction, clever enough to entertain most adult readers. I think it's a story well worth reading, or at least reading to your kids. Mine love these books, and the random details they remember from all of them is downright shocking. It's a fun time.

Most of my favorite passages are the slightly snappy-attitude bits:
". . . for Neville had been tugging on the sleeve of Harry's bathrobe for the last minute. 'What?'
Harry turned around--and saw quite clearly, what."

"Chess was the only thing Hermione ever lost at, something Harry and Ron thought was very good for her."

Something I think you really need the book to explain is how Ron's wand keeps misfiring and making all kinds of mistakes; I don't think they come right out and say in the film that it's second-hand, but the book does, it had belonged to one of his brothers. Useful information. The little poems and chants are funny enough but get a little long in a story like this where everyone really just wants to read what happens next. The only complaint I have is about the ending; I wanted a little more than "it was one of my more genius ideas," from Dumbledore about Harry being able to majestically "get" the stone simply because he wanted to obtain it but not use it. But it made a little more sense to me in the book than in the film, and the mirror of Erised seemed a lot less random considering what it ultimately got used for; so I'm easy, I can dig it.

Look how little and squeaky they were!
The Film:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 2001, directed by Chris Columbus.
152 minutes.

I mention the time only because I think it got a bit too long. As I run through the Potter series, I've learned one thing and it's the shorter the film, the better. My favorites have been the shortest in minutes, with no room for a lot of filler. This had a bit of filler, and was definitely McGoo, but the kids were pretty young yet, there's only so much darkness the target audience (or their parents) was going to be able to handle, although the ending probably made a few kids wet their pants a little.

Well done:
1. The Gringott's Bank scenes, especially the key system in the vaults.
2. Hogwarts as a structure and the mise en scene inside the castle.
3. The broom-flying.
4. Casting.

1. Clunky scenes between Harry and Hagrid in Diagon Alley showing their differences in size.
2. The randomness of the Sorting Hat's list.
3. The scene with McGonagal and Neville on the stairs.
4. The bit about Seamus needing another feather in Flitwick's charms class.
Speed it up; these scenes were duds and just ate up the clock. This is one of those films that was definitely better at having the events show what was going on rather than having the actors try to discuss or describe things, with one exception, of course, and that's Snape. Alan Rickman is spectacular in everything he does, but quite honestly, he's the main reason I like these films. Rule #2 in Harry Potter? The more Snape, the better. He's aces, all the way.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Scorpio rivals Bobby Peru in gross factor: Dirty Harry.

Dirty Harry, 1971, directed by Don Siegel. "A San Francisco cop with little regard for rules (but who always gets results) tries to track down a serial killer who snipes at random victims."

Back in about 1989, my dad took us to some old video store in Willmar that was going out of business. They sold beta tapes; we had a beta VCR. I think Charlie and I each got to pick out a few movies and my dad got himself a box full. Of course it was a fight once we got home over whose film was going in first, and having paid for all of them, Dewey won. He chose this film, and while I wasn't exactly excited about watching it, I did. And loved it. And begged to watch all the sequels (which were also purchased that night). My mother was less than thrilled about this. I think she hates Dirty Harry (or anything with Clint Eastwood) just slightly less than she hates The Blues Brothers, which was another one Dewey, Charlie, and I absolutely loved. . . I'll give my mother credit, we probably made her crazy with all the ridiculous stuff we watched over the years. She picked Sophie's Choice and Terms of Endearment for her choices in the beta box that evening, btw.

Anyway. There are really only two things I'm going to say about this film, other than how much I love it. 

1. When this film came up in school, it was in an American Studies class (not Folwell Hall, surprise, surprise) and it was held as the most definitive example of Right-wing politics invading Hollywood for its time (1971). I sat in that class completely mesmerized, thinking, Jesus H, how did I miss all this? I mean, are you sure? The mayor, yes, was a clueless douche. Overly liberal? I don't know. Scorpio's peace sign belt buckle? Whoopee. Obviously he was not a spokesperson for the San Francisco Hippy movement as HE WAS KILLING PEOPLE FROM ROOFTOPS. AND RAPING 15 YEAR OLD GIRLS. I think the hippies would have passed on him, honestly. Harry's big gun a symbol? Yeah, whatever. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And Scorpio was a goddamned criminal. End of story.

2. Speaking of Scorpio. Whoever they got to write this guy deserves an award for creating the most disgusting character, pretty much ever. It would be a good fifteen years before Lynch and Dafoe brought Bobby Peru into the running, but bloody hell, man! All the smiling and giggling and cackling . . .  "I just wanted you to know something, I've changed my mind! I'm going to let her die!" Said HAPPILY, about Ann Mary Deacon, rotting in the sewer, as if it's amusing! This guy was shittin' awful! It was almost painful how long it took for Harry to just finally end him. Like in 24, with some of those evil villains, the ones you're just praying will meet up with Bauer off the grid? It was fitting that Harry waited until Scorpio thought he had gotten the drop on him before pulling the trigger. Regrettably, it did not take his head "clean off." 
You tried to kill me! 

My favorite moments are Harry's first step onto the scene at the first murder (scowl, always the scowl), and the tossing of his badge into the river after he shoots Scorpio. And pretty much every line he utters during the whole film. . . 70s gold, man, 70s gold.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Quite Possibly The Best Film Ever Made

Paths of Glory, bitches! 1957, directed by a 29-year-old Stanley Kubrick!

If not the best film ever made, then definitely the best war film. I did a paper about this and La Grande Illusion, both World War I films, the title was, "No Band of Brothers in this Gentlemen's War." Everyone should see these films because I dare say that they're only secondarily about war, and primarily about humanity. That said, there is *no better sequence anywhere* than the dolly of Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) walking down those trenches as the rounds are exploding, smoke is billowing, cannons are wailing, etc. It is hands down the most impressive, bad-ass thing I've ever seen in my life; I get goose bumps every time.

I think the best way to see this is not knowing anything at all about it beforehand; just trust Stan the man to get it done, okay? So I'm not saying a word about it. When people ask me about films, AFI Top 100-type films, they usually ask me if Citizen Kane is really the best film ever made. I say, Citizen Kane is a very good film, but Paths of Glory is better. You should watch it. Tonight.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Favorite Thing from the 80s.

Beverly Hills Cop, 1984, directed by Martin Brest.

My brother and I used to watch this for all the swearing and gun fights; we both swore we'd live in a house just like Victor Maitland's someday. There's no real way for me to be eloquent about this, this is just a kick-ass fucking film. I love everything about it, the car chases, the writing, the soundtrack, the comedy, the physical jokes and acting, the ideology, ALL.

"What's the charge for getting thrown out of a moving vehicle,
Yes, (not to get too Folwell Hall about it) the ideology. Most of the theories I read in school about this sort of film were how in buddy/cop films, the black man could never achieve legitimacy without a white partner, but here it's definitely reversed. Axel Foley, a black police detective from Detroit, comes to Beverly Hills to investigate a friend's murder, and while obviously out of place, it's he who is bringing legitimacy to the white Beverly Hills Police officers, not the other way around. He has a sense of humor, they do not. His experience undercover has brought him knowledge of things that these guys wouldn't consider (drugs packed in coffee grounds, banana in the tailpipe, picking locks, posing as Maitland's scorned Herpes-infected lover at the Harrow club, etc.). He's clever! And they're not. It's not just a joke, either, he's the one getting the results while they stand around like fools. Noticing this time around that they really did a great job of showing scenes of Detroit later contrasted with scenes of Beverly Hills (the have nots vs. the haves), I appreciated it even more. Someone could remake this film here and just use content from North Minneapolis juxtaposed with the pumpkin latte-throwing Edina jerks. Yes, I have an Edina complex; that's another post.

So, it's no secret that I really, really love Eddie Murphy (ROBBED OF AN OSCAR for DREAM GIRLS, still pissed. . . ) and mostly it's because of this film. The first time I saw it, I knew from the moment he grabbed that chain on the back of the cigarette truck that I was already in love with the film.
That stunt of the bus actually doing a 180 in the middle of the street? Genius! That semi-driver swerving to ram into the train of police cars following him and then their anticipation of the swerve and counter-swerving away? Glorious! I love smoke shows, car chases, things of this nature, and this film is full of them!

There are a million more things to say about this, mostly all dialogue-related ("Hey Axel, you got a cigarette?") And Inspector Todd is still my favorite. 11 F words in normal conversation under a minute. Legendary.

Beverly Hills Cop 2, 1987, directed by Tony Scott.

Also very, very good. The Europeans are taking over! This was much flashier, late 80s, more California, but I thought still had the same ring as the first film. Music stepped up a bit, bigger actors taking part, cameo by Hugh Heffner, etc. Nice.

So these films aren't that edgey, granted. But sometimes I just kind of do what I want, you know? To make up for shit-canning 8mm I'll make a deal with you: Inglourious Basterds.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I'm just going to go ahead and be blunt; I couldn't stomach this. I saw it in the theater when it came out in 1999 and was probably weirded out a little back then, but this time I wasn't weirded out as much as I was bored and annoyed. So I turned it off after about forty minutes and watched The Hangover instead, which while not exactly edgey is still a fine, fine film.

This was directed by Joel Schumacher. And while I give the guy credit for directing a boat load of good crappy films (I'll even argue that St. Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys are great films, no crap involved) I think he missed the mark with this, big time.

1. If you are going to try to convince me that this private detective is plunging deeper and deeper into this dark world of pornography, and this film is supposed to be all dark and the dark subject matter and the darkness and everything, then you'd do well to adjust the dialogues to not be so fricking RIDICULOUS! Something cannot be dark when it's so silly that it makes me shudder and laugh. The phone conversations, no matter who they were between, were the cheesiest, lamest things in America. I can't even believe Nic Cage agreed to do them. I've heard better exchanges on Saved by the Bell.

2. I have a hard time believing that any new father (of a baby girl) would be tromping off getting more and more involved in this stuff, especially when it becomes clear that his own life and safety are on the line. Yeah it's horrible that this disgusting thing happened to the runaway girl and all, but jeez, man, just get the hell out and find a new gig.

3. So the steel tycoon's wife wants verification that the film is fake so her husband's reputation won't suffer? He had a snuff film in his locked safe, one where a girl is murdered by stabbing, or simulated as such. If this is what it takes for your ancient old man to get his rocks off, I don't think real or fake is going to matter much either way, you were married to a sick freak. End of story. (or as we say around here, old people #!@%ing is gross)

I had no sympathy for anyone. I squeezed the disk as if to do it harm when I set it out in the mailbox this morning. Boo.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I'm finally catching up on season 5 missed episodes, and I hate to say it, but JOEY QUINN? With the Irish tattoos? Where do I sign up? Daaaaaaaaamn!

I might have to put Rescue Me on the old Netflix list if he's on it enough. . .

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Ugandan Tony Montana: The Last King of Scotland.

2006, directed by Kevin Macdonald.

"Based on the events of the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's regime as seen by his personal physician during the 1970s"

Yes, well. This film made a wonderful first for my "edge" list. I clenched a lot. And while it was just slightly less disturbing than Hotel Rwanda, there are a few images that I'll have trouble getting out of my head (third wife). 

Everything written about Forrest Whitaker is true; he stole every scene and was amazing throughout. Best Actor win, and well earned. "You're a child; that's what makes you so fucking scary," says Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McEvoy) to Amin (Whitaker), and it's true. Half the time President Amin is praising his physician, the other half either berating him or denying him the right to speak at all. What paranoia! I actually thought he might start setting his own cabinet up in these elaborate schemes to catch them lying to him, Tony Montana-style, with or without a large pile of cocaine on his desk.

I really liked this, although I have to say that the events were shown in a much more light-hearted way than I remember Hotel Rwanda doing or others films like this that deal with genocide or the general decline of a civilization not Mafia-related. But I suppose it's sly and valid, to a point, of course the people who are living in the President's favor are going to be jutting about to pool parties, listening to seventies music, drinking, and doing it while the less fortunate populous gets, you know, exterminated. Of course they're going to try to keep it under wraps! I felt a bit like Nicholas when it was revealed that this all had been going on though, like, what? When did they snatch that guy? And I didn't really hear any gunshots or anything, are you sure? That said, the signs were definitely all there; you knew Amin was unstable from the beginning.

Also, Dr. Garrigan could have been a little bit wiser about many things. I think he made bad decision after bad decision, the queen mother of course being getting busy with Amin's third wife (Kerry Washington)! I don't care how much you had to drink, Bloody Hell, man! You're a doctor, for Christ's sake! Birth control, ever heard of it? Things end horribly for her. In fact, the one serious critique I have of the filmmaking was that it wasn't clear to me whether his walk down the hospital halls was actual or a dream sequence because of all the weird voices and lighting changes. Seeing what eventually happened to the woman was a complete and utter shock. I spent the next few scenes trying to figure out what exactly had been done to her. . . Shallow side note: Scully has never looked hotter. I had no idea Gillian Anderson was even in this until I read full credits on IMDB. Nice work!

The power or edge of a film like this is usually the exposure factor, as Americans who maybe don't read enough world news, we leave the theater thinking, My God, did these things really happen? There can be no catharsis for us, the viewers, because we know things either will never get better or have indeed gotten worse. It's just the knowing that we're left with, we become knowers of unpleasantness. 

In a closing monologue to "Death's Head Revisited," Rod Serling says (of Dachau, and why it must be kept standing) that "the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. . . " Kind of fitting for things of this nature. So watch this, if for no other reason than to appreciate how good you have it.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I vowed to take it easy this month; last month's events nearly ruined me.

And with the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part one, on November 19, I have decided that I'll devote this month to HP, review the books, review the films. Don't roll your eyes, now, there's more.

In order to not completely alienate myself or lead everyone to believe that I've gone soft, I am coupling the Harry Potter series with eight other films, films with an edge: (two sides, one is light, one is dark?)

1. Dirty Harry
2. Paths of Glory
3. Beverly Hills Cop
4. Beverly Hills Cop 2
5. Bad Lieutenant 
6. The Last King of Scotland
7. The Departed
8. 8mm

I think the playing field is even. Any suggestions for further edge-y films? Let me know.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Favorite Bates.

I know how ridiculous it is that this one is my favorite, but I am mostly ridiculous myself, so it works. Psycho 3, 1986, directed by none other than Anthony Perkins (Norman)! I saw this as soon as it came out on video and I was old enough to start noticing things like music, lighting, and continuity in film. This being a sequel and everything, continuity was kind of big, although the conflicting tales of what really happened to Norman's father wouldn't matter until Psycho 4 came out a few years later. What I remembered most was seeing the previews for this on television and probably begging my parents to take me to the theater, which they did not do. There are three specific things from the trailer that I remember: The nun falling down the bell tower chamber as the bell rings, Maureen (Diana Scarwid, Isabel from Hydra Island on LOST!) hugging the pillar of The Bates House and calling up to the window, and Norman standing over her body at the foot of the stairs, yelling, "Mother!!" Man, I wanted to see this!

So given the fact that this is probably the most entertaining horror film from my list (not the best, not the scariest, the most entertaining) I'm going to break it all down old school and give it a proper play-by-play. We might be here for a while. . .

I love quiet girls with no self-esteem . . .
The film opens with a Virgin Mary statue and a blond nun-in-training shouting, "There is no God!" Her name is Maureen Coyle and she accidentally causes the death of another nun who tries to stop her from jumping off the bell tower. The sisters send her packing, and who does she meet out in the middle of the California Desert? Jeff Fahey. ("My name's Dwayne Duke, friends just call me Duke.") in a beat up old clunker. He gives her a ride, he tries to get in her pants, and she nearly jumps out of his moving vehicle to get away from him. Too bad. I found him as always, extremely hot. Pretty trashy, but hot.

Norman's story begins with him at home, poisoning birds outside the house. He's quite a dedicated and talented taxidermist, as you'll remember from the first film; he's apparently so into his work he doesn't mind using the same utensil to both spoon sawdust into the birds and smear peanut butter on his Ritz crackers. Nice. On his work table lies a newspaper clipping with Emma Spool's picture, she's missing, you see. Just as Norman starts to hallucinate that it's an old, dead arm he's sewing up instead of the bird, the bag that he used to transport it starts to shake and scoot across the table on its own. When he finds a live bird inside it that apparently survived the poison, he calmly walks over to it, catches it in his hand, and sets it free outside. Are we to believe that he's harmless, "as harmless as one of these birds?" Ha.

Duke pulls up in the clunker and ends up taking a job from Norman. At the diner where Norman, Emma Spool, and Mary Loomis all worked together, the Sheriff and the owner meet Tracy Venable, a writer doing a piece on the insanity plea who happens to be very interested in interviewing Norman. Just as Norman shows up to take in some lunch (chicken fried steak and a glass of milk), Maureen steps down out of rig outside. Norman is immediately disturbed by her resemblance to Marion Crane, from the first film, and thrown for an even bigger loop when he sees her suitcase initials, M.C. There are black and white flashbacks from the first film, Maureen drops her suitcase and falls ala Marion with her cheek actually touching the floor. This is extremely cheesy and there's funny record-skipping chipmunk songs going on during all of this, so it's cheesy and funny. Norman flees the interview and runs home. When he relays this information to "Mother," (yes, Mother is back and very vocal) she says, "You killed her. The slut deserved it. She's dead. And the dead don't come back." (!!!)

She seems more Catholic than Marion. . .
Maureen shows up at the motel; Duke apologizes for his forwardness and checks her in, Cabin One. Norman sees this, gets giddy, and stammers. Duke takes off for a night on the town; Norman stays for the night shift and sneaks into the motel parlor to spy on Maureen through the infamous hole in the wall. Returning with wig, dress, shoes, and knife in place, he busts into the bathroom to find that she's halfway completed the job Mother demanded of Norman--she cut her wrists with a razor. Music is chanty and actually scary.

Meanwhile, Duke tries his hand at romancing Miss Venable but she only wants him to spy on Norman. Soon enough he hooks up with an unnamed young lady and brings her back to his room at the motel. There are several things that are hilarious about this whole situation and what unfolds.

1. Girl can't get the ice bin open and Norman (back from visiting Maureen in the hospital) helps her. She invites him to join the party down in Duke's cabin. The thought of this chick, Duke, and Norman in a three-way is probably the most ridiculous thing, ever, but I'm sure stranger combinations have happened.

2. In the short amount of time Duke has been at the motel, he has managed to decorate the walls with outlandish sex collages from porn magazines, which the unnamed girl seems to much appreciate. Seriously!

3. After their tryst has ended, things don't go well. The girl mentions that Duke made their encounter seem cheap. He tells her, "It is, but it beats a vibrator." She replies, "At least a vibrator gets me off!" and gives him the finger. Duke overreacts and throws her out. She meets her end in a phone booth.

Later, Norman escorts Maureen back to recover in Cabin One, F.O.C., of course. It's homecoming and the Bates Motel is a regular beehive of activity. Once Maureen gets settled, Norman tells her she'd look swell in the pink dress later and then hurries out of the room, giddy and blushing. They go on a date and get nice and liquored up. When they return, the homecoming party is still going strong but Norman tells Duke he can leave. Duke has been staring up at the house though, in a lightning storm, and something in the bedroom window has caught his eye. "Whatever you say, Boss," he says, sly as a fox. Norman and Maureen share an awkward makeout moment, and before anything bigger can happen, Maureen apparently passes out and then wakes up alone. Norman has fought off any sexual urges that might bring harm to Maureen, but then takes it out on an innocent girl from the Homecoming party, on the toilet! My favorite part of this whole encounter is the obviously male foot in Mother's black shoe and stocking, stepping over the threshold.

Miss Venable returns after doing her own sleuth work on Norman, Emma Spool, and family history, and decides to take Maureen out of harm's way. Maureen first alibis Norman when the sheriff shows up looking for toilet girl, but then leaves with Miss Venable, breaking Norman's heart. Norman is a little distracted through all this however, because Mother has gone missing. When he goes back up to the house to look for her, he finds a note that says, "Norman: I'm in cabin twelve (Duke's cabin). Come see me. Mother."

My friend Nik told me once that one of her favorite moments in film was in American Psycho, when Bateman exaggeratedly brings his arm up to take a drag from his cigar, just moments after whacking up Paul Allen with the axe. She didn't have to explain why she liked it, to me anyway, I thought it was cool, too. Certain scenes, certain moments just, I don't know, resonate. One of my favorites is in this film, when Norman, knowing full well that Mother could not have just walked herself down to Duke's cabin on her own, walks past each of the cabins, one by one, all the way to twelve. The music is right on, it's minor and kind of suspicious, the camera first dollies backwards off to his right, and then comes up behind him the closer he gets. The look on his face is half smile, half la-la land; the lighting is hazy and just odd. I love it every time.

So he gets to the room, and finds Mother placed in front of the television (Woody Woodpecker, of all things) and Duke is sweaty and huffy, with blackmail on his mind. And in case you, the viewer, perhaps missed the previous sequel or hadn't been paying attention, Duke presents Mother's face in all its glory so as to prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that she is indeed dead, and has been all this time. I love all the scenes in Duke's room because they're so random and ridiculous; Duke actually kisses Mother's corpse on the cheek. Norman easily overtakes Duke shouting, "No one must know about Mother or what she has done!" After a bit of a surprise rumble in the makeshift-coffin automobile, Norman again triumphs. So long, Duke.

Um . . .
Now. What happens next is really the only part of the film that I find scary. Oh, but before we get to that, Maureen shows up, professes her undying love, and Norman accidently kills her by dropping her down the stairs. That's where the "Mother!" shout that I saw in the preview comes in. After that, Miss Venable shows up, first at the motel and then the house. Everything is dark, and she's going into dark rooms with the camera right up behind, I literally felt like I was right there with her. Once she gets to the house and finds Maureen laid out in a shrine of candles, we finally get confirmation of Norman in Mother's clothing; it's both funny and gross because he's leering at her, just standing right behind her silently with an ear-to-ear psycho grin! "Why can't you leave my poor son, my Norman alone?" (in Mother's voice). They chase around the house and up the stairs, another one of my favorite moments is Norman-Mother straightening a framed picture that Miss Venable upset as he stalks after her, not missing a beat. Miss Venable flees into Mother's bedroom and sees Emma Spool, sewed and stuffed; Norman struggles with her a bit but eventually decides to throw in the towel. Sawdust spills everywhere at the hand of Norman's knife;  Mother is no more. . .

The sheriff comes to take Norman away, the film ends with Norman in the back of the squad car, stroking the corpse's hand that he managed to hide in his jacket, grinning, always grinning. (shudder).

I love it all. Not just because of my boy Jeff Fahey or the fact that I probably have some sick nostalgia at the character Dwayne Duke being a dead on representative for pretty much every douche I ever dated in my life before I got married, not really for any specific reason, I just dig it. A lot. It makes me smile. And if Anthony Perkins was still alive I would probably be his number one Twitter and Facebook stalker.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Yes, Norman, You Are Becoming Confused Again: Psycho 2

In one of my writing magazines there was a recent article about how to have a successful blog. Be useful and entertaining, it said. I wondered if I was either of those things, probably entertaining on my best days but useful? What is the use of this blog when there are millions of others like it?


And decided that I am useful, useful in that I will blather on forever about films that probably no one else cares about. If I can point out one or two things that will result in someone else's enjoyment of a ridiculous film, even if it's really only one person, ever, I'll be happy. And also I realized that I write this blog basically for myself and maybe my brother, and if there's a great beyond, my old man, so while being useful has its rewards, being nostalgic is infinitely more me.

Psycho 2, 1983, directed by Richard Franklin. IMDB says: After twenty-two years of psychiatric care, Norman Bates attempts to return to a life of solitude... but the specters of his crimes -- and his mother -- continue to haunt him

If you make the commitment to watch this, think of it as something completely different from the original, like a crazy Cousin Eddie, maybe, and appreciate the comedy. The script is not good, it's kind of atrocious, actually, but if you can forgive it these things, sit back and giggle a little, you'll probably have an okay time.

Things that make this a decent sequel: The characters are pretty well done; Lila Loomis (Lila Crane) from the original makes a return, played by the same actress, Vera Miles. She's quite bitchy. Mary (Meg Tilly), Doctor Raymond (Robert Loggia), and whoever that sheriff was were all stellar.

DENNIS FRANZ as replacement motel manager Warren Toomey. Gets his own paragraph, that's how much I liked him. Just trashy and gross, but well done. After Norman fires him and he comes to the diner and starts talking smack ("Last time I eat here!") and then shows up at the motel to pick up his things, shouting and kicking up dirt ("Hey, Psycho, I want you to know I'm movin' out!")? I thought he was a nice, sleazy, comic relief. Things don't end very well for him, however.

Good use of transitional items from Norman's past: His hand hovers over cabin one when Mary comes to the hotel, he opens the silverware drawer and a large butcher knife is laid right over the top, the special tea brew that he used on the old lady is still in the cupboard in a decorative tin, etc. These things are as obvious as a smack on the head with a shovel (ala Emma Spool) but I think they all work. Inserting black-and-white flashbacks together with the items would definitely have been pushing it, this is how they related random objects to the plot in The Ring and it sucked big time---they didn't do that here, thank God. Anthony Perkins's Norman is twitchy, stammering, and just sort of dingy most of the time, but I think it works as a mental patient's normal reaction to entering society after being in the clink for so long.

Norman plays the piano! The notes left about, signed, Mother! The glance he gives the butcher knife at the diner when Toomey berates him! "I'm starting to become confused again, aren't I, Mary?" Nice little random items. And the Bates house really never ceases to thrill me, I love how they still call it "the fruit cellar!" Why not just cellar, or basement?

Things that are kinda lame: Again, the script. Most of the dorky lines fall on Meg Tilly ("just because two people sleep under the same roof doesn't necessarily mean they've made love. . . ") 

Lila Loomis is really abrasive and reactionary, always stomping off and flying off the handle. Tone it down a little, Vera.

The ending is decidedly ridiculous. But you see it coming.

I probably saw this at way too early an age, like everything else on this list, but my most memorable viewing of this was with Charlie, my brother, and Erica, my best friend who lived across the lawn from us. We watched it on a summer night and then made poor Erica walk home ALONE in the dark (nice friends!). I didn't find out until later just how scared she had been, and for good reason. There are three scenes from this film that literally chill my bones: (honorable mention goes to faux-Mrs. Bates hovering in window).

1. The kid that gets offed in the fruit cellar. Two kids sneak into the house (to get high and do it) and someone dressed as Mother Bates surprises them. The sound of her clogs on the basement floor, the snappy way she looks over at them when she hears a noise (not to mention that disgusting, evil potato the girl picks up before they get busy) and of course the repeated plunges into the kid's back with the knife as seen outside the window---ugh. Why the hell would you sneak into someone's scary old house when there is a motel basically inches away? Yuck.

2. The Bloody Towel in the Toilet. This is memorable mostly because it just comes out of no where; Norman goes upstairs to wash his hands and all of a sudden, thick, dark blood comes bubbling out of the toilet and sink. When Mary comes up to find him this way, she tiptoes over to the toilet, plucks the towel out and then flings it into the sink, making a hilarious splat and then snarls, "Je-SUS!" This was another scene that Charlie rewound probably eighty times each time we watched it. So creepy but funny, too.

3. The Near Conclusion, Where Norman Smiles into the Phone. After he starts to go a bit looney again, Norman starts actually talking to a caller he believes to be his mother. Usually he answers the phone, hears who it is, SWITCHES HANDS, and starts telling her how happy he is to talk to her. The creepy smiling happens toward the end, and more than once, I believe. Maybe it's meant to be a tribute to the original conclusion, Norman's creepy smile in the police room, but it gives me goose bumps. Yuck.

So it's campy. Definitely eighties, and definitely something that would make Hitchcock roll over in his grave, but it's not all bad. I had to watch this on VHS (thanks, Nik) in broad daylight, but it was still a good time. There's not nearly as much comedy as Psycho 3, COMING UP NEXT, and regrettably there's no Jeff Fahey, but if you like scary movies, you could do a lot worse.