December 25, 2012

Retroview: Your Highness

A Retroview Review. (side note: I'd love to see how my opinion of this movie holds up now that I'm so far removed from my first and only viewing)

I hate Stoner Culture. There are probably a slew of different reasons, but the main one is that it holds its own ignorance and stupidity in high regards, and then chooses to highlight that quality. For the most part, this means I also hate stoner comedies. I feel like my time is being wasted on jokes that aren't funny unless you're stoned. I understand why the writers think their bad jokes work, the thing is they usually just aren't funny, and the only reason they get a reaction is because the target audience is high as balls. Movies you have to be stoned to enjoy, to me, seem like a waste, because if you just made a good movie to begin with, you'd be able to enjoy it regardless of your state of consciousness. So the idea that a "smart" movie that feeds into stoner culture seems kind of impossible. And it might've been had it not been for a few select entries. Half Baked and Pineapple Express are obvious ones, as is Harold and Kumar go to White Castle (My opinion there might be swayed by my penchant for the absurd, however) and maybe the Bill and Ted series (I think it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine them hitting a bong between scenes).

But the trailer for Your Highness just looked too funny to pass up, so I went with Ben and Beth last weekend and saw the dang thing. And while it was not perfect, it was darn good.

Not being the most intelligent thing I'd ever seen, it still had an awful lot of clever qualities that I enjoyed quite a bit. Your Highness is, at it's heart, a Fantasy farce. But what separates it from the farces we've suffered through in the past couple years is that it doesn't directly spoof any particular work (book, movie, etc), but instead takes the elements in the genre and highlights their ridiculous nature, without ever slighting the genre. In a sense, it honors the genre, though not to the extent that the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy does (/will hopefully do).

Examples of the bad: Vampires Suck, Scary Movie 4.
Examples of the good: Shaun of the Dead, Airplane, Your Highness

Our hero Thadeous, played by Danny McBride, seems painfully aware of the ridiculous pageantry that often plagues the traditionally melodramatic genre, which is what makes him instantly relatable. He brings a voice of reason, or, at least, an indispensable voice of someone a little more level headed than we normally get from typical Fantasy fare. This allows the viewer to relax a little, saving the need to suspend their disbelief for the more ridiculous parts (specifically near the end).

It should probably be mentioned that a lot of the laughs come from hearing a fantasy/medieval character say curse words and talk unabashedly about sex, but I think the humor stems from more than just humanity's penchant for potty jokes. Sure there have been comedies set in a medieval era, robin hood men in tights, holy grail, but this one is different in that our hero is the one who stands with us, at once critiquing the genre and playing a role in the genre. His uncertainty and often sarcastic attitude is relatable, his fun loving nature is admirable, his potential to be a good person is encouraging, and his undying love for his brother makes him someone who isn't hard to root for.

The other characters are mainly there to keep the story/quest going, and luckily the actors/actresses cast seemed perfect in every instance. James Franco plays Thadeous' dashing brother who would normally be the lead had this been a straight fantasy flick, and Natalie Portman plays the strong willed ass-kicking female warrior, with whom Thadeous becomes smitten with almost immediately. They play straight wo/man to McBride as he stumbles along, often being charmingly stereotypical fantasy characters. The way they believe in honor and justice is honestly very endearing.

(Zooey doesn't really have an amazing part in the movie, but her charm feels equally indespensible)

By the end of the movie I loved just about every character, and even felt a sort of pity for the antagonist, the evil sourcerer Leezar played by Justin Theroux, because of how sheltered and bizare his upbringing must have been to get him to the point where he would act in such a deplorable manner. I mean, by the end of it I definitely felt like he should be wiped from the planet, but there were a few minutes in the middle that he made me laugh.

After we saw Your Highness, we saw Hanna, which was by far a better movie. Ben has an awesome write up of that one here

I don't think anything else really needs to be said about that movie, but with a movie like Hanna to compete with, I felt like Your Highness may end up being forgotten. In the end, I'll probably go back and watch Your Highness more often then I'll re-watch Hanna, and I think there's something to be said about that.

-Luke Hunter James-Erickson

December 18, 2012

Retroview: Rushmore (1998)

A Retroview Review. This one had been a part of a "favorite movies" series...

Introductory BS (writing about the movie starts below):
There are a few possibilities out there in regards to what our tastes say about us. I'll let your imagination do the hard work here. I subscribe to the newsletter "It Says a Lot," but that's me I guess. I think it speaks to how you grew up, how you ended up, how you see the world, how you'd like to see the world, what kind of values you hold, etc. However, The same can be said about every aspect of every person's life (meaning that our tastes in things is just as revealing as how organized our dresser tops are), so the relevance of the inherent truths behind our tastes is also in question. Luckily, It Says a Lot has a few talented editors behind it, one of which being Ms. Shut-The-Hell-Up-And-Get-On-With-Your-Life. While I find her articles enlightening, I can't deny the terrible truth that I can be a little vain sometimes, and fear what others will think of me when I express my opinions, partially because I know a lot of my friends also get the aforementioned weekly publication, and a my fear is that some of them favor Mr. I-Judge-You's articles. This is me being delusional, but I can't deny the fear.

Before I try to make that perfume sample last too long/stretch the analogy too far, let me get to my point: I am having trouble thinking of a movie to write about. Little Nemo? As Good As It Gets? The Phantom Tollbooth? Army of Darkness? Rushmore? The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (1979)? You've Got Mail?Borderline (1930)? An article about these movies, which is only a smattering of movies from my childhood/adolescence that I love, would seem either embarrassing, cliche, or an attempt at seeming cool (clearly referring to YGM). Some of the movies I love are admittedly awful/awesome (which I believe can exist on similar planes), but it's hard to add any relevance to the incredible amount written about pretty much every movie. All on top of the fact that writing about a movie that I love that basically everyone else loves seems a littleredundant. But whatever, I'll just pick a movie that is basically the top pick. I thought briefly of just talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender (the only TV show that has ever mattered), but Justin already did a bang up job of that, so, without further ado, here is a little piece of my mind:

Okay, now we talk about the movie I like a lot:
Yes, yes of course everyone loves Wes Anderson, and I don't care about that, because so do I. He quickly became the go-to cliche hipster Auteur after he released The Royal Tenenbaums, but right before that he released another widely known and deeply loved movie by the name of Rushmore. More than just being a launching pad for Jason Schwartzman's movie career and the reviving of Bill Murray's career, Rushmore was Anderson's first major release as a film maker, and, above all, it is my favorite movie.

Rushmore follows young Max Fischer (Jason , a scholarship student at the private Rushmore Academy We watch him fall hopelessly in love with professor Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), meet the parent of a pair of devil children Max attends school with, Herman Blume (Bill Murray), and get kicked out of school. Max proceeds to try and woo Ms. Cross with the help of the unhappily married, though financially successful, Mr. Blume, but when their attempts result in Max's expulsion from Rushmore, and Mr. Blume falls for Ms. Cross, things get a little complicated.

(hint: that's not Herman's bike)

An industrious, well-mannered, and all around delusional 15 year old, Max Fischer was Everything I Wanted To Be when I saw this as a kid. He, much like I was, is interested in all things, save for school work. I did not participate in extra-curricular activities with the amount of vigor and excitement that Max Fischer did, and I was no where near able to write moving pieces of theater, but his drive to learn what he pleased and do whatever the hell he wanted reminded me an awful lot of myself, or, at least, the myself I wished to be. But this is just what drew me in, not what kept me coming back to this movie.

Wes Anderson's movies center around one topic: Love. Okay, take it down a notch, what I mean by that is that they're all about all sorts of different types of love (friend, romantic, familial, etc). Throughout the years Anderson has been focusing more and more on Familial love, but he hadn't really hit his stride yet with Rushmore, and because of this the relationship between Max and his father doesn't take center stage. That said, the movie wouldn't have worked if it had solely on Max and Bert (Seymour Cassel).

The depth of sadness all the characters feel because of the loss of a loved one is this incredible white elephant placed in a story about rebirth and revitalization in an unforgiving, unrelenting world. They search for something, Anything, to fill this unknowable void in their life, without really addressing the fact that something is desperately wrong until things start to go sour.

The encouraging thing is that when they hit bottom, they have the love of their friends and family to help them back up and on their way. There are so many things I find truly and earth-shatteringly moving about this movie. Rushmore is not as well choreographed and executed as Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic, but, to some degree, that makes it more endearing, because, like it's characters, the movie itself is not perfect.

Just remember, without Rushmore, we wouldn't have the careers of Jason, Wes, and Bill, and also this.

-Luke Hunter James-Erickson

December 17, 2012

SLM Mixtape #38: GETIT

Full Tracklist:
Killer - The KDMS
Leave MY Shadow - Craft Spells
Little Clique - Ghibli
I Know Where You Sleep - Lissy Trullie
You Don't Even Know Where It's At - Evan Voytas
Baby Come Home - Scissor Sisters
Back to Back - Wolf Gang
Then She Walks Away - Good Shoes

December 10, 2012

SLM Mixtape #37: Rig The Election

Times Are Changin' - Jimmy Sabater
Bajamar - Orquesta Antonio Latore
Tra La La - The 'Great' Deltas
Ain't No Sunshine - Original Tropicana Steel Band
2001 - Life
The Circle Of Karma - Kana TNT
Obstinancy - Orchestra Cometa
Chove Chuva - Elza Soares

December 4, 2012

Retroview: The Keep (1983)

A Retroview Review.
Luke here, talking about one of my new favorite movies, The Keep. Gotta be honest, I added it to my queue purely because of how badass the poster is.  I was not disappointed.

The Keep, adapted from an F. Paul Wilson novel, feels an awful lot like a book.  Several storylines are established, and we watch as they intertwine.  The basic plot outline is that some Nazi's come to a small Romanian town that happens to have a mysterious citadel (the titular "keep").  The Nazi's set up camp inside the citadel, and promptly start dying, mysteriously, after screwing around with the nickel crosses on the walls.  Higher-up Nazi's come to help figure out what's going on, just as cryptic writing appears on a wall in the citadel, also mysteriously, and a Jewish archaeologist/linguist (Ian McKellen) is called in to assist.  Also, a mysterious unnamed man is shown traveling toward the citadel from Greece (Scott Glenn as Glaeken Trismegestus).  A demon shows up (who is totally not Mephisto), and things get really messy for everyone.  I know it sounds like I'm making fun of this movie, and I kind of am, but I seriously loved it.  This movie packs a serious punch, with visuals that are more stimulating than a lot of things I've seen recently, and several meta-statements that I was absolutely blown away by.  Plus Tangerine Dream does the score, mysteriously.

The line that establishes what I believe to be the crux of the movie is spoken maybe 15, 20 minutes in, by Trismegestus while he is making his way towards the citadel.  A guard on the road stops him, and asks him where he is going, to which he responds "Into the past."  (let me just say I think the line is meant to convey some sort of "spooky," otherworldly task, or be a reference to the fact that he's going to an old citadel with an old demon in it, but there is so much more to it than just that, as I'll explain).

The people who made up the Greatest Generation went through hell.  World Wars, The Depression, the Suburbs [;)], you name it they suffered it.  But there is a reassuring and beautiful sense of hope and perseverance associated with the stories set in their era, one that is lacking from pieces both made in the common era, and those depicting the common era.  It's as though the only way they kept going was because of the idea that there had to be, there must be something better than what they were going through.  The Keep is as much a statement on war, and men(/Nazi's) playing god/pridefully thinking themselves worthy of the power of god, as it is a testament to man's tenacity in the face of adversity, as well as a criticism of man's many faults. But I find it to be key that The Keep is a statement about those statements being made in the 1940's, in a movie made in the 1980's. It's is a movie looking back ... into the past ... to make a statement about WWII from the point of view of someone in 1983.

Americans are in love WWII, and have been since probably before it even started (j/k). We can't stop thinking about it, and Hitler. My friend Royce, library employee, once told me that the books that were checked out the most were books on WWII. This fascination/romanticization of this era may come from the fact that there was an actual "clear and present" danger/enemy, someone who, ironically, was a scapegoat for every problem in the world (and pretty reasonably so).

Which brings us back to the Keep, where the enemy for much of the movie is unclear; an invisible, unknowable darkness that had no known feature or desire, and may be an entity void of reason. At one point, SD Officer Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne), the head of the Nazi's who came to town to help the first team of Nazi's, starts shooting the townsfolk as a way to strike fear in their hearts, so as to stir them to rat out whoever is killing the Nazi's (this does not, of course, work). Captain Woermann (J├╝rgen Prochnow), head of the first team of Nazi's, knows it is not the doing of the towns people, and does not approve of the unabashed murdering of innocent people. After the first round of killing, Woermann compares Kaempffer to the entity he and his men fear is the cause of the deaths. When he does this, it is more than just an attempt to call out the futility of Kaempffer's actions, or an allusion to compare the then stifling power of Nazi Germany to an unknowable unnatural force.  It is to insert into the movie an enemy that the people of 1980 could relate to.  Yes there were warlords and dictators in 1980, but no one was Hitler's equal ... there was no one evil that could be pointed at and focused on, so it was as though evil was everywhere, all the time.  And when you put an omnipresent evil into your WWII horror movie, not only does it amp up the terror factor, it makes it a lot more relatable to audiences of the 1980's ... heck it still works to this day.

And all this is within the first half of the movie!

At almost exactly the half way point, the demon, Radu Molasar (Michael Carter), finally appears, and the movie makes a fairly dramatic left turn.  There is a huge Faustian(ish) style deal that goes down (adding to the whole "man's pride" and "man's faults" ideas), and a load of other things that you just have to see to really believe.  Admittedly, it has it's faults.  It doesn't really have any strong female characters, and the one female character that is in it is kind of just used as a plot device.  It's also kind of scattered, in that the crew may have bit off more than they could chew in adapting F. Paul Wilson's book.  Each scene feels like a new chapter, which makes sense considering the origin of the story, but it's an effect that could be repelling to some viewers.  On top of that, there is no real protagonist, which makes it hard for the characters to seem relatable ... though I think it serves a different purpose.  It makes it easier to get into the mood of the movie, as though you are just as much a foreigner to this world as the characters, alienated in an uncanny, mysterious world.

Bizarre, terrifying, mindblowingly ridiculous, The Keep has never seen a legit release on DVD, and there are currently no plans to see it.  You can only get it on Laserdisc, VHS, or Netflix Instant Watch.  Watch somehow, tell your friends, and ask them to do the same, so that one day we can get a Criterion Collection of this amazing movie.

---Luke Hunter James-Erickson

As a side note, Sir Ian Murray McKellen's role as the ancient language expert has him playing an old, wrinkled man ... in 1983 ... when he himself was a sprightly 44 years old.  Has this man never had a role where he isn't ancient?  He probably played Antonio in Much Ado About Nothing, his first major acting gig...

Also, this trailer looks like crap, and the rip that is currently on Youtube looks just as bad.  It is Crystal Clear on Netflix.  I can't stress this enough, this trailer makes it look like it was made with video camera intended to record America's Funniest Home Videos, but here it is anyway...

December 3, 2012

SLM Mixtape #36: Leash Lawz

One Way Spit - Debris
into the night - Vicious Fish
we are the kids - The Staff
meltdown - Lipstick Stains
Your Secret Is Safe With Me - Pukka Orchestra
who invited you anyway - Spangs
Untitled - Mecano
Long Black Cars - The Wave Pictures