Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Second Age Reviews Backlog 11: Clue

A lot of comedy based movies are helped along by their lead actor having fun with their role. Robin Williams in particular, specializes in this. If he's having fun in a lead role, he can make a good movie great (Good Morning Vietnam) a solid enough movie good (Mrs. Doubtfire) a mediocre movie solid (Jumanji) or even a bad movie worth watching (Man of the Year). Hell, the first 2 Rush Hour films are fairly generic buddy cop movies directed by a largely talentless man pushed into worthiness almost entirely by they chemistry and fun the two lead actors are having.

But Tim Curry is a breed apart in this respect. Not only are his own performances buoyed by him having fun, but the entire production seems to feed on his energy, making the entire movie better than it might have been otherwise. Technically, the prime example of this is his star making performance as Dr. Frankenfurter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but there's also heavy evidence of it in his role as the Butler in Clue.

A quick note: As it stands there is TECHNICALLY a mystery to Clue. Since there are three endings wandering around (all of which you'll see if you get a DVD or even VHS) the mystery is clearly not the strongest in the world. But since I don't feel like giving anyone the opportunity to yell at me, consider this a SPOILER WARNING.

Anywho, the movie is, as the title suggests, a film version of the largely overrated board game, though the connection is essentially in-name-only. There's only one attempt to crack wise at the film's origins and while all the characters bear their in-game names, they are presented as alias', although the first victim is unironically named Mr. Body, so who the fuck knows? Moving on, the character's are presented as blackmail victims of the aforementioned Mr. Body. A quick bit of convoluted nonsense clearly designed to get the ball rolling happens in which the only way to prevent being exposed for the things they're being blackmailed for is to kill the Butler and Mr. Body hands them all weapons and flicks off the lights. Someone kills him instead and the plot, full of mystery, intrigue and cleavage begins.

I want to stress, regardless of the fact that I just made it out to be a mystery, the movie is a COMEDY and in that regard it succeeds in the most important aspect: It's funny. In fact it's damn near hysterical. The comedy is a solid mix of physical comedy, pitch dark gallows humor, political satire, mystery parody, and sexual innuendo. If all that sounds like it might be a difficult mix, it is but it pulls it off rather admirably. A few of the beats require an at least working knowledge of what's being riffed on and a couple jokes fall flat (including one which, unfortounately shows up in all 3 endings, once by force) but it never lags and is enjoyable throughout.

On the acting side, apart from the mentioned earlier performance by Tim Curry, the standout on the male side is Christopher Lloyd (who you should all recognize as Doc Brown from the Back to the Future trilogy) as Professor Plum, doing a solid mix of the lecherous and overly knowledgeable Professor stereotypes. On the female side the most notable is (Eileen Brennan) as Ms. Scarlet, who is clearly enjoying herself throughout. Special mention goes to (Madeline Kahn) as Mrs. White, who some of you might recognize from Blazing Saddles or maybe Young Frankenstein. Everyone else is doing fine, except for Mrs. Peacock, who never really manages to find a wheelhouse to stick to. Of course it's all moot since in the third act since Tim Curry jumps in to steal the show with over the top physical comedy and overacting, but to their credit, no one really tries to steal it back, content to sit back and act as comic foils.

I realllllly don't feel like going deep into technical details on this film since it's a comedy, so the soundtrack and music guys are doing the most to add to the film, rest of it is fine. There are flaws, mostly from the script side. The script is convoluted and clearly intended to leave room for the 3 filmed and 4 planned endings. And, as is par for the course for having so many different styles of humor running around, they occasionally grate against each, especially toward the end when the sex humor and political satire begin to combine.

At the end of the day, Clue is not a real world satire like Dr. Strangelove or Life of Brian nor an artistic triumph disguised as a comedy like O Brother, Where Art Thou?. It's not a high minded spoof like Airplane! or a genre commentary like Blazing SaddlesClue is not setting out to make you think, but it is setting out to make you laugh. And in that respect it succeeds admirably so you should probably give it a look.

Okay, quick couple notes before I'm off. A few (okay, 2) people have messaged me and asked why I so rarely do my more relevant Reviews of Gondor series, based on current movies. Well frankly, it's a bunch of factors the most of which is that well...I don't go to the theater for current movies as much as I'd like to. I'm anti-social, fairly broke and have a fear of crowds all of which tend to steer me away from movies I can usually catch on video. On the other hand going to my indie theater means smaller crowds, cheaper seats, supporting a nice small theater and I usually have a friend with me. I generally watch current movies after-the-fact on DVD and I dislike reviewing on DVD. So if you're wondering...you weren't? Okay sorry.

Okay second, school starts up for me in a couple weeks. This means less time and fewer cult movies showing at my indie theater and I'll be less inclined to try to compete for attention on a forum. So as of right now I'm planning to do 2 more reviews on here and then move the whole of Arenor productions to a private blog (yeah yeah like it'll be easier to get attention there). As this is my private blog, I finally managed to do it, and as you've probably noticed there are something like 15 backlogged reviews and this is the last one. So if you're a new reader, welcome to my blog and enjoy.

Next on Second Age Reviews: National Lampoon's Animal House

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he was really sad that none of the characters tried to assume the Butler did it.

Second Age Review Backlog 10: Shogun Assassin

For essentially as long as they have existed, samurai films have had, shall we say a problem, namely that the single greatest one is also one of the earliest. Yes, Seven Samurai not only the greatest samurai film, but also the single greatest foreign film and the single greatest thing to come out of Japan, is a next to impossible standard to live up to. A genre with a similar problem, namely spoof comedies, works around this by making the style, setting and subject of it's spoofs different but with samurai films that's not really an option. The setting will always be feudal Japan, the style will always be a slow burning actioner and it's subjects will almost always relate to honor, strength and their application in daily life. Therefore, a samurai film will almost always have to rely on what new, or if not new than interesting, things it brings to the table.


But there's another problem, which is quite frankly a little bigger. The problem is that a lot of Americans are unaware of the rules the film, or rather the setting, is operating on. To be fair, a lot of foreign films have this problem, but samurai films have it the worst. The first thing to understand is that Japan has it's own film market, which is almost as strong as North America's and therefore feels no need to alter itself to meet the demands of the American film market. The second thing to understand is that samurai are not ancient history to Japan. Samurai in their proper form existed as recently as the 1890's and the culture of honor and strength that they burned into the psyche of Japan was still strong up until the end of World War II. Therefore Japanese people don't need to have the rules and setting explained to them. Just as in O Brother, Where Art Thou? we instinctively knew that the combination of time and setting (1930's and southern United States) meant that a combination of an economic meltdown and a drought had just destroyed most of the characters livelyhoods, Japanese people instinctively know the rules that are in play.

So with both of those things established, it comes down to the quality of the film. It is my sad duty to report that it is nowhere near as good as Seven Samurai. Nor is it a particularly deep intellectual exercise. What it IS however, is totally fucking awesome.

The plot is entirely concerned with a man who goes entirely unnamed who is a samurai in the service of the increasingly paranoid and violent shogun. In literally the first 2 minutes his wife is killed and he is left to both care for their infant son and avenge her death. To do this he outfits his baby carriage with a series of spears and blades, teaches his mostly pre-verbal son (who's level of intelligence and maturity strains credulity) how and when to activate them and wanders around the countryside looking serious and slitting up ninjas.

What's odd about this film is that the character who gets the most characterization is the son, who's name escapes me. What would otherwise be a series of loosely connected action scenes are held together almost entirely by his voiceover, whereas the father gets maybe 10 lines of dialogue in the entire movie. There are some other characters hanging around the margins, but none of them outside a ninja girl get more than 5 minutes on screen. Even the shogun does almost nothing besides stand there looking scary and yelling badguy dialogue that makes him sound like Zordon.

The action scenes are surprisingly well shot and inventive, the absolute peak of which is a scene where the main character's sword is stolen and he's forced to resort to the Baby Carriage of Death. No really, and believe it or not it's sooooo fucking cool. Some of the scenes are kind of confusing and the film has a bad case of exponential henchmen syndrome (the syndrome by which enemies get less effective the more of them there are) but neither of those damage just how fun they are.

The writing is solid and well delivered, despite being a rather obvious dub. The acting is a mixed bag, adding and subtracting to the film in equal measure. At the top is the shogun who, despite my sarcastic comments at the top, has some genuine screen presence and threat, whereas at the bottom is the ninja girl who at one point bursts into a high pitched cackle and then stops 3 seconds later. All of the dubbing is solid and is never so out of synch with the lip movements so as to detract from the dialogue.

All of this works despite, indeed because, the film takes itself deadly seriously. In an early scene the father offers his son a sword or a ball. If he chooses the sword he will follow him in gaining his revenge, if he chooses the ball he will... reunite him with his mother (yeahhhhh). The film never turns around to wink at the audience about how absurd it is to ask a 3 year old to make this choice. It just watches sagely as the child is obviously led toward the sword.

The film is not without it's problems, due primarily to a problem with tone. The film may take itself deadly seriously, but it doesn't mean we do. Some of the worse dialogue or more absurd concepts got roars of laughs from the audience, and the product as a whole is rather difficult to take seriously. Apart from that, the editor or at the least the continuity editor, seems to have been on vacation the entire time. At one point it randomly becomes winter for no reason and then 20 minutes and one boat ride later, their in a desert for some reason.

At the end of the day Shogun Assassin is a B-Movie and I can't really recommend that you watch it unless you have a judo grip on the concept of ironic enjoyment. But for what it's worth I had an insanely good time at it and if you like samurai movies, then you should definitely track it down. So you make your own decision and I'll see you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Clue

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he is now going to forever cite this movie as "Kill Bill if it didn't suck."

Second Age Reviews Backlog 9: Rebel Without A Cause

That's right fans...fan...people who read my stuff. It's a bonus review. Why wasn't it mentioned in last weeks review? Because it wasn't showing at my normal indie theater, but one closer to my house that had previously shown Casablanca and Citizen Kane. So I got to go see Rebel Without A Cause and you get to read my review of it.

Anywho, the movie review vocabulary word of today is Year Zero. This is, at least in concept, a film or idea that has been redone, remade, reimagined and reverse engineered so many times that it's difficult to review properly. John Carpenter's Halloween is a good example of that.Rebel Without A Cause began the concept of gorgeous, angry, possibly violent but wounded and sensitive teenager concept that has been done more times than I care to count; Some of it's good, Danny from Grease coming instantly to mind, some of it's bad, Edward from Twilightbeing a perfect example of the bad, but most of it's repetitive, which is why Year Zero films are often difficult to review. Good thing this ones fantastic.

The plot is chiefly concerned with Jim, the Rebel of the title, an angry young man who has recently moved to a new town on the California coast and gets himself embroiled with the local teens and their inner politics. More than that I don't want to say because, despite feeling like you've seen this movie a dozen times, some of the character arcs will surprise you.
On the writing and story side, most of it's very well done. The characters are well rounded and interesting, the dialogue is MOSTLY well written (more on this later). Most notable is the humanity, as characters have real human emotions and problems and there's at least one amazing moment of gut wrenching horror and shock, comparable with that one scene in Crash (2004 one, you know the scene I mean). Just to get the rest of the technical stuff out of the way, the cinematography is rather excellent as well, with at least (at the time) revolutionary shot.

On the acting side, James Dean is, of course, the standout, one of a trio of films he acted amazingly before his untimely death, but the other actors do rather well too. Sal Mineo does a solid job as John (Plato as he is called in the movie), the disturbed and lonely friend of Jim and Natalie Wood does a good job as Judy (what is with all the J's?), a girlfriend to the local bully. Also, keep an eye out for a very young Dennis Hopper who would go on to, over a decade later, direct and appear in the unspeakably brilliant Easy Rider in a similar vein.

The film is not without it's flaws, most of them caused by it's age. The primary one, from my perspective, is some extremely dodgy editing throughout, but you won't notice that unless you're paying attention. One that is more notable is the film feels slightly rushed. In the first act one of the character's boyfriend is killed in an accident and not only does the girlfriend not feel sad, it's mostly forgotten by the midpoint and serves as thin character motivation for the villains. The final major problem can be plunked straight on it's age, in that the dialogue is deeply unsubtle. In an early scene Jim screams at his parents "YOU'RE TEARING ME APART!" which pretty much sets the tone for the dialogue.]

But somehow, it all stops mattering when it's so well done. The dialogue may be a bit clunky but it does the job rather exceptionally and you find yourself getting genuinely attached to characters. The primary 'point' of the film is about absent father figures. Again, don't want to spoil, especially due to a well timed character moment in the third act, but you'll see what I mean.

You know, most Year Zero films are hard to review because they've been copied so many times, but Rebel isn't. Maybe it's simply because unlike a good 90 percent of Year Zero films this is better than all it's copies. I HIGHLY recommend this one, so you go track it down and give it a watch and I'll see you next time.

Next time on Second Age Reviews (really this time): Shogun Assassin

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and you can beat me, but you'll never beat The Scorpions (kudos to everyone who gets this joke).

Second Age Reviews Backlog 8: Deep Red

Yes, the title of this particular feature is Deep Red, not Blood Red. I goofed, I'm sorry, it won't happen again. Anywho, whenever I am forced, by virtue of being honest about my opinion, that a well regarded film is not that good, I generally piss people off. To wit, my review of Invasion of the Body Snatchers still has 0 comments, so it is my sad duty to report that this film, currently holding a 100 percent approval rating on Metacritic, is an almost unsalvagable piece of crap. I'm given to understand that George Romero is planning a remake and while I was initially apprehensive, I'm currently of the opinion that not even Eli Roth could fuck it up worse.

Oy. The plot, such as it is, initially concerns a supposed psychic who, while at a conference, reads the mind of one of her audience members and finds that s/he has murdered before and suggests that she could perhaps identify them. The murderer then kills her to protect his/her identity an act which launches an investigation by...a pianist, a reporter and one of the psychics colleges. The concept of psychic powers is dropped almost immediately and while the concept of ghosts and witchcraft are name dropped, nothing ever comes of them, leading to a straight ahead murder mystery.

Okay, so it's an inhumanly dopy premise, but no more so than a lot of horror films and one which some solid technical wizardry or screen writing could save. But on that count, no one on set seems to know what they're doing. Okay, the camera man knows his job, but the rest of the team cancels him out. Some solid zooms and good sets are put to waste by frantic fast paced editing leading us to suddenly, in the middle of a tension scene, get a random shot of a sink or an eye which breaks immersion slightly.

And as a horror film, it's not at all scary. The closest thing it comes to legit horror is a giant doll that comes running at a character in one scene, with no apparent connection to anything else in the plot. But it was creepy, if only because dolls are inherently creepy. Any attempt at slow building horror is destroyed because any scene that threatens some legitimate tension is killed by a well played by ludicrously inappropriate soundtrack. You won't find the screeching instruments of Psycho, the haunting minimalism of The Shining or even the creepy themes ofHalloween here. Replacing them are guitar riffs and drum beats that wouldn't sound out of place in a 80's action piece, and a recurring piano bit that, when first played over a character running up the stairs caused my viewing companions to suggest he was about to burst into song. It's all fine enough music on it's own, and it's more than possible that after this review goes up I'll be wandering The iTunes Store for the soundtrack, but it's so completely out of place in a horror film that it makes tense moments unintentionally hilarious.

The film then has only one scare tactic to fall back on, the leap-out-and-scare you technique and while there's no reason this shouldn't make it a solid piece (after all, Drag Me to Hell was solid and that's all it had) it has no idea how to execute this. Aside from the tension killing music, shots that threaten to jump out and scare us are telegraphed from a mile away, the absolute nadir being a scene near the middle, where the killer attacks a character from behind, but beforehand we are treated to a good solid 15 seconds of the killer standing directly behind her.

Okay, so the horror aspect is beyond saving, but it could always fall back on it's murder mystery. But that's even worse, because murder mystery's are dependent on the plot, and the plot is a fucking mess. Characters act without motivation, the murder's intentions are never properly explained and things happen for no reason. The scene mentioned before happens with a character we've never met in the middle of nowhere and is almost entirely irrelevant to the plot. At one point a troubled little girl is introduced, hangs around for a couple scenes, drops a piece of plot information for no reason and then disappears.

And the ending, oh the ending. A plot twist that I'd initially predicted is presented at one point in a perfectly logical ending, only for the plot to keep going and be informed that the killer is someone else an innocuous secondary character. After some explanation and a quick bit of info involving him, the plot keeps going and informs us it's someone else entirely, an even more innocuous tertiary character. The final ending and reveal is a head slappingly stupid twist that only serves to render 98 percent of the investigation and therefore plot completely irrelevant.

The final things the film could fall back on would be likeable, well acted characters or at least a couple interesting kills. But the characters completely lack sense or motivation and the actors all look completely lost. A good example is directly after the first kill, when the reporter character pops in and says such an out of place and cheerful "Hi everybody," (no really) that I half expected the entire cast to turn and respond "Hi, Dr. Nick." And as for the kills, don't make me laugh. Almost all of them are variations on "Sneak up and whack." The only mildly interesting deaths are at the tail, tail, tail, end of the film and are only bordering on creative.

I'm occasionally inclined to give bad, but well meaning, films a slight pass (see: Plan 9 From Outer Space), lumping them into the hilariously bad category, but I can't even say the film means well. The primary character drops some sexist remarks early on, which are never thrown in his face or proven wrong, and there is some slight homophobia lingering on the margins of the script.

For those of you keeping track at home, Deep Red is currently batting 0. The frantic editing, the incoherent plot, the useless cyphers that are the characters and the occasional references to psychics, ghosts and schizophrenia that never go anywhere paint the picture of a directorial vision cut off from the resulting product. This usually means there is a more coherent, and therefore better, director's cut floating around somewhere. If there is could someone tell me, I'd like to see it, if only to see if it's worthwhile. As for the regular cut, there is really no logical reason to see it, apart from maybe the "Hilariously bad," aspect. As it is, it's probably the worst film I've ever seen at this theater, and I saw Piranhas here last year (and before I catch any flak, I like the original Piranhas). Oh well. See you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Shogun Assassin

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and this movie was so awful that he can't even think of a sign off.

Second Age Reviews Backlog 7: Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers is a movie I regard sort of oddly. It is, on the most fundamental level, an adaptation of the book of the same name by one of my favorite sci-fi authors, Robert Heinlein. Although the book is not one of his best works (his best, for context, is The Cat That Walks Through Walls) it hardly matters, as the adaptation borrows the title, name of the main character and most basic premise (humans vs. bugs) and the rest is almost entirely unrelated. There is a half-assed attempt to incorporate Heinlein's philosophy of personal service into the movie, but it mostly falls flat. The fact that the films version of the character who essentially acted as the voice of Heinlen in the book gets killed near the end is rather telling of the adaptation as a whole.

Anywho, this movie comes to us courtesy of a man named Paul Verhoeven a Dutch director who's minor-to-moderate successes (Starship TroopersBasic InstinctRoboCopBlack Book etc.) are far outweighed, though not necessarily outnumbered by his disastrous failures (Hollow ManFlesh and BloodShowgirls...no really, fucking Showgirls).

The film itself is primarily concerned with a Cadian Imperial Guard Regiment called the Roughnecks. It is some centuries after the end of the Imperium's other enemies and the apparent final death of the Emperor and the Imperium has reached an uneasy truce with the Tyranids on the other end of the Galaxy. Soon enough though, they launch an attack at Holy Terra itself and the Imperium vows to take them on, despite the lack of any remaining Space Mari-...Oh wait, I'm thinking of something else.

Though I'm not far off. A good portion the first half of the film is devoted to the training of Johnny Rico as he joins the military infantry, essentially because his girlfriend is joining the Navy. At just about the half point, the only other race in the Galaxy (apparently) the Arachnids also known as Bugs in the same way Cylons are known as Toasters, sends an asteroid crashing into Earth and humanity declares war

Good details first. Verhoeven, despite having made some blatantly awful films, still has mastery of filmmaking techniques and styles and it shows. The cinematography is excellent, as is the CGI for a late-90's movie. The film also deftly avoids any questions about the science of it all by well...never addressing any of it. How any of the technology works, why any of the Bugs would evolve in the way they did or what the Bugs' motivation is never brought up. To be fair that's probably good because dragging science too far into certain sci-fi movies is often it's undoing; We can't all be Blade Runner.

The characters are a mixed bag, running from fairly interesting to stock characters. Of course it doesn't help that so many things have copied this or been copied by it that it looks deeply unoriginal to a modern viewer. Much of the character arcs are borrowed wholesale from Aliens, the primary form of the bugs looks a lot like the Antlions from Half-Life 2 and the infantry STILL reminds more than a little of the Imperial Guard.

The story is well written and paced and most of the dialogue is well done, which is odd because a lot of the other problems stem from the story and characters. One of the big problems with the film is that it's rather hard to take seriously sometimes. At least some of that can be chalked up to some extremely dodgy acting all around (nothing as bad as RoboCop though) but a large chunk is due to tone. The film is obviously a satire of several things at once, partially propaganda, partially solider mentality and probably at least 3 other things, which means that it flits back and forth between gritty death scenes, macho heroism and a running satire of propaganda and never settles on a tone.

Also to blame for this is the fact that the creators took their freedom from science as a blank check. The bugs defy any scientific logic even more so than the Tyranids. Also on hand are the mostly unaddressed Psychics. I guess they're Sanctioned Psykers, or maybe Inquisitor Lords based on their dress code...maybe they have some Sisters of Battle lying around. Sorry I'll stop this now.

At the end of the day none of those problems get in the way of the main plot which is enjoyable and well written or the action which is briskly paced and exciting. It's certainly much better than Verhoeven's other forays into Science Fiction (RoboCop and Total Recall). At this point it's such a film geek staple that I doubt anyone reading this hasn't seen it, but if you haven't you should. It'll hold you over until they decide to make the inevitably shitty Halo movie (or 40k movie, but as much as I love 40k I think I've exhausted that reference for now).

Oh, one quick note before I go. If you look down (go ahead, no spoilers) you'll see that my next listed movie is Blood Red, an Italian Horror film you've probably never heard of (no worries, I'd never heard of it either). While odds are that will turn out to be correct and myself and my friend will be going to see that next Thursday, there is a small but solid chance we'll decide to skip it. If we do, I apologize and the next retro film I'll be seeing at this theater will be Shogun Assassin on the 19th. Have a good one.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Blood Red

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born Cinephile and he'd like a show of hands; How many people got half my 40k references?

Second Age Reviews Backlog 6: Creature From the Black Lagoon

At what point does a movie become critic proof? At what point does it become actively presumptuous for me to review a movie? This movie is older than my parents; Can I approach it properly as what it is to the age it comes from? Am I allowed to review CasablancaCitizen Cane? At what point does a movie become culture, so well known and so important that it is beyond critcism. And more importantly, at what point does criticism become irrelevant? When does the culture collectively throw it's hands up and admit that is has nothing more to say on the subject of this movie? I don't know where all these lines are, but Creature From the Black Lagoon is almost certainly on the other side of them.

Creature From the Black Lagoon is a 1954 creature feature that is, based on this viewing, responsible for many of the cliches, not only of this genre but of the Slasher flick and general horror genres. It's deep in the cultural unconscious, so deep some people don't even recognize that it is. Something about it kept it from obscurity like so many forgotten movies, kept it from becoming a terrible cult film like Robot Monster but kept it sacred, so sacred that unlike it's spiritual sibling Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it has never been remade.

On the most basic level, the film is about a team of scientists who have made the remarkable discovery of a fossil connecting man with fish. They take a boat out into the lagoon of the title in search of more fossils and soon run afoul of a living breathing (sort of) monster they found the fossil of and find themselves fighting it off as it picks them off one by one. Taken purely on it's own merits, the films succeeds. It is a good enough story told at a brisk pace with a series of unique and relatable characters, and I could honestly end the review right there, if I didn't feel the need to indulge in pointless details and nitpicks.

Most of the technical details have to be taken in the context of it's age. The dialogue is often clunky and the action sequences awkward, but no more so than some episodes of classic Star Trek so I'm inclined to give it a pass. Most of the characters are well written and unique, again no more so than the crew of the Enterprise, but the movie itself is just about 80 minutes, so you do what you can with what you got.

The special effects and cinematography are admirable. The underwater scenes are, for it's age, rather remarkable and the Gillman himself is an extremely good creature suit job. No obvious zippers nor any second set of eyes. I'm also rather big on the attention paid to realism. An ignorant character (the captain of the boat) is artfully inserted to allow the characters to explain the science to the viewer and most of it holds up. Characters surfacing have to wait the required amount of time near the surface or are scolded when they do not.

There are problems, none of them deal breaking, but much of them showing it's age. The first and foremost tell us that while this movie kickstarted many of the formulas, it would be up to others to perfect them. For example, when the monster first shows up on screen in any given scene they always play the same shocking musical cue, often times when the monster doesn't actually do anything. They're also rather eager to show us the monster, as we first get a good look at him about 20 minutes in and it's another good solid 20-25 minutes of him on screen before he does anything. Finally, the film feels like something was cut, most likely a subplot. Not only does it's 80 minute length feel unfinished, but there is some act 1 attempts at humanizing the monster, but by the time the killing kicks in in act 2, they seem to forget about it.

It's also worth mentioning that I TECHNICALLY saw this film in 3D. Of course, the 3D glasses are extremely awkward for me with my actual glasses and the age of them means they're ultimately pointless for me, as I'm red-green colorblind. I gave them up about a half hour in and my viewing companion was not far behind. What this means for you without them, apart from a garish bright green color wash on the background (although that may just be the film) is that many of objects on screen have red doubles directly next to them. Of course, 3D is ultimately pointless to me anyway; I've maintained since I saw The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl that it was pointless and neither this, nor the other film I've seen in 3D since (Avatar) have convinced me otherwise. Actually Avatar went a long way toward convincing me I was right, as I also saw it in 2D and it was far more effective.

But, as I hinted at the beginning, all of this is pointless. The film is old enough and important enough that it's bordering on culture. The fact that it's formula has been reverse engineered in so many sources means that it's extremely predictable, but I've given solid reviews to films that were predictable and didn't have it's excuse. So I guess Creature From the Black Lagoon gets a recommendation. It's not perfect, but so very few things are outside of Lord of the Rings. So you go check it out, and I'll see you later.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Starship Troopers

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he saw this movie referenced in Metal Gear Solid 3 not 3 days ago. Seriously.

Second Age Review Backlog 5: The Big Lebowski

Before I begin, I'd like to apologize for this taking so long. Normally, I write these on the train ride home and edit them the next morning. However this time, my laptop charger was broken and you know how that is. Alright, so let's get rolling.

The Big Lebowski is an odd film. For the vast majority of other directors, it would be their greatest work, their Blade Runner against which all other efforts must inevitably be compared. For the Coen brothers it doesn't even enter their top 3. Fargo still holds the top spot, No Country for Old Men takes an extraordinarily close second, with O Brother Where Art Thou taking a solid third. I suppose that's less a commentary on the film's quality itself and more a commentary on the vast skill of the Coen Brothers.

It's also odd in it's presentation. Unlike most films, and even books, where we are occasionally pulled out of the primary characters perspective to be given information they have yet to obtain in The Big Lebowski we remain stuck in the main characters perspective for the duration, with the exception of 2 tiny bits of information we gain in the last 20 minutes. We gain information as he does and, for the most part, remain as confused as he does, almost the entire film. It's one of the few examples in film form of what amounts to first person narration.

To the plot: Jeffery Lebowski (played by the always fantastic Jeff Bridges) is a perpetual slacker living in LA during the 90's, who goes by the name The Dude. In literally the first few moments of the film, he is mistaken for a billionaire of the same name, who's wife Bunny owes money all over time. While demanding the money back, one of the thugs urinates on his rug which "Really tied the room together." The Dude goes to visit the other Jeffery Lebowski (David Huddleston), demanding recompense for his rug. This act throws him into a huge and mostly nonsensical mystery, concerning the location of the possibly kidnapped Bunny Lebowski and who has the million dollars in ransom.

Other characters are odd and mostly swirl around The Dude, aiding or assisting him in his quest, ranging from the distant but sexual Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) to the The Dude's incompetent and easily angered advisor Walter Sobchak (played by Coen Brother favorite, John Goodman). The effect of switching from the high class art lofts to the lower class bowling alleys to the beach side estate of a pornographer gives the film a surreal quality, boosted by fantastic performances all around.

Of the technical details, the films soundtrack stands the most out. The songs are well chosen and eclectic, include a Gypsy King cover of Hotel California, an oddly chosen Creedence Clearwater Revival (No, not Bad Moon Rising) song and an amazingly used Kenny Rogers bit during a dream sequence.

Acting is all around fantastic. Jeff Bridges (he was in Tron, remember?) does a fantastic job as The Dude, but then despite being the main character, he has the easiest job. He is the rock, an emotional constant who treats all of this mystery as merely a distraction or something of mild interest. All he truly wants is his rug back.

No, all the hard acting work is shifted onto the supporting cast, who rise to the occasion admirably. Aside from the aforementioned amazing performances by Julianne Moore, John Goodman and David Huddleston there are several minor characters worthy of note. Phillp Seymour Hoffman, who would go on to win a well deserved Oscar for his performance as Truman Capote, does a memorable suck-up to Mr. Lebowski.John Turturro does a fan favorite performance as Jesus Quintana who is memorable all on his own, despite less than 10 minutes on screen.Tara Reid as Bunny (who's only other notable role was as Danni Sullivan in Scrubs) does a good job with even less time. Despite being the touch off point for the entire plot, Bunny has less than 2 minutes on screen total, and uses it for some quick characterization and symbolism. And who could get through a review of this movie without mentioning Donny, played by another Coen brother favorite, Steve Buscemi, the bowling buddy of Walter and The Dude, who is never quite caught up with the conversation.

The writing is given all the care and attention it usually is in a Coen Brother film. Both the dialogue and the visuals are full of symbolism and suggestion. I could literally go on for hours about the use of symbolism, but A) That's another article entirely and B) It's been done, better than I could do it. The characters are, of course, unique and engaging, and the story flows so perfectly it almost feels like it has to be a real event.

The only problems are minor. First and foremost, the film has a mild case of what one of my close friends labels as "Stanley Kubrick Syndrome." Directly after viewing the film you may find yourself turning to your fellow viewer and saying "That was amazing, what happened?" I never found the film exceptionally confusing, but several people I know have expressed bewilderment about the ending, so advance warning.

The cinematography is fine, but boring. With the exception of a couple of nice uses of light and camera angles during a dream sequence, the camera work never really bothers to rise up as high as the acting or screenplay. I dunno, maybe it's just because I'm more used to the fantastic use of bleak wasteland from Fargo, or the lush sepia altered landscapes from O Brother Where Art Thou, but LA has trouble being visually interesting to me.

But neither of those things really matter. This movie isn't about the visuals or the ending. It's about the story, about The Dude and the strange world that moves around and through him. It's about how when you roll a gutter, you need to grab your ball and roll again. And overall, it's completely brilliant. So you go seek it out, if you haven't already, and I'll see you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: The Creature From the Black Lagoon

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's actually not all that fond of bowling.

Second Age Review Backlog 4: Jaws

Oh what the hell are you doing here? You're reading a review of Jaws? Freaking JAWS? Is there any actual need to review this movie? Seriously, it's fucking Jaws. I know it's great, you know it's great, we all know it's great. You don't even need to see it to know it. This is a very rare specimen of a film that has never managed to top any critics top 10 films of all time list, but has still managed to sink so deep into our cultural collective unconscious, that we don't even need to see it to get references to it. It's also one of the prime examples of art from adversity. Is there anything I or any other critic could say that would remotely affect how this film is viewed. Oy. Anywho, this is the first review I'm using pictures, so feedback everyone.

Moving on to the plot, the setup is as simple as these things usually come. A big shark is attacking swimmers on a beach and the Sheriff wants to shut the beach. But the mayor doesn't believe the problem is as bad as everyone thinks, and wants the beaches to remain open for tourists on the 4th of July (hey, good timing on this review eh?), thus continuing to prove my thesis that 90 percent of horror films would not exist if a character in them was not breathtakingly stupid. 

Eventually even the mayor has to admit they have a problem and sends out a crack team to kill it. This team consists of an old fisherman who is perhaps just a tiny bit too manly for his own good, a rich and unexperienced shark expert and the hydrophobic sheriff. I feel it would be a little cruel to make the "Idiots in horror films" comment again, so let's move on to the technical details, shall we?

Of the technical details, music stands out the most, at least in popular culture. John Williams simple-but-effective score is one of his most famous and easily the most recognizable part of this film. The cinematography is given all the attention and care it's usually given whenever Stephen Spielberg directs. The dialogue is well written and aside from the aforementioned story driving idiocy, the plot flows. The characters are well rounded and imaginative, especially for a monster film. Overall, it's honestly one of the more technically brilliant films of it's age.

Before I finish this up I'd like to spend a few minutes on the special effects and more importantly the concept of art from adversity. What that concept means is that, when you're having trouble creating something, the techniques you use to get around it actually make your final product better. A good example of this from my favorite director is in The Shining. In the original book, after Jack attacks Halloran, Danny is startled from his hiding place by a group of living topiary animals. Unable to reproduce this with special effects at the time, Jack instead killed him and the psychic shock caused Danny to reveal his hiding place, in a much more effective moment.

This is the concept that I'm trying to get across, that limitations make it better. The original Star Wars trilogy could also be considered a study in this, but Jaws communicates it much better. The story goes that the shark was initially intended to be revealed much earlier in the film and get much more screen time, but they had trouble getting Bruce (the mechanical shark) to work. So Bruce's screen time was cut back and the film was reworked, making the movie a masterpiece in suspense. You'd think that Mr. Spielberg would have learned that it's often much scarier to not see the villain in his directorial debut, a highly underwatched film called The Duel but what are ya gonna do? Either way, the fact that the shark remains almost entirely offscreen for the first 3/4ths of the film made it far more effective.

But again, I must reiterate that most of this is pointless. Almost everyone has seen Jaws and even those that haven't know enough about it to know that it's good. It's almost disconcerting how much what amounts to a simple monster flick has dug itself into our culture. But it would be far more annoying if it wasn't an amazing film, setting an extraordinarily high standard for all monster films to live up to. So if you haven't seen it, I recommend you do, and I'll see you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: The Big Lebowski

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he found out last summer that screaming "GET OUT OF THE WATER" at an actual beach doesn't go over as well as you might think.