Setter’s ‘Spectives: Ah, ‘Commando,’ How I Missed Ya

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Sometimes being away from a movie for a long time inspires nostalgia. Sometimes it makes you like the movie more.

I kinda felt that way about Commando, the ridiculous, absurdly high-body-count 1985 “action” film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as human tank John Matrix. This is a junky picture, with all-too-quick editing, poor cinematography and a script that can euphemistically be said to need work. Plus, it’s bloody as all hell, with a ludicrous amount of violence as Matrix kills baddies while searching for his daughter.

Yet for some reason, despite all of these faults, I dig the movie. It’s a guilty pleasure. You can watch it while using your smartphone or doing the dishes. You can go to the bathroom without stopping it and not feel like you’ve missed anything. It’s the perfect thing to put on when you’re just casually viewing.

Which I was doing last night. I didn’t feel like seeing a quality picture. I wanted something crummy. And I hadn’t seen Commando in a long time, so yesterday was a good day to watch it. I know: This is coming from someone who loves Kurosawa and all kinds of high-falutin’ pictures, so what gives? All I can say is that sometimes I have to slum a little. I don’t do it all the time. It’s reserved for special occasions.

This was one of them. So Commando, thanks for the evening. And as John Matrix might say: “Grunt.”

Skip’s Quips: Je Refuse … to Watch ‘The Boxtrolls’

Blog Sketch 082813Gosh, The Boxtrolls looks horrible.

Saw a preview for it recently. Not funny. OK, maybe the funny bits were cut out of the trailer. But wait a second … aren’t the trailers supposed to include the funny bits? You know, to make people wanna see the movie?

The lack of humor in the preview suggests to me that the film is going to be a dud. Yes, I’ve been wrong plenty of times before. Yes, the trailers aren’t always a foolproof way of determining the worth of a picture. But for some reason, this rubs me the wrong way.

It has to do, to a certain extent, with the dearth of good children’s movies out there today. Kids’ fare is often loud, cartoony, with flashy visuals and little heart. The soul that is instilled into much of the pictures for tykes today is junky, flat, clichéd. I get the feeling that The Boxtrolls isn’t going to be any different. Its splashiness seems superficial. And it won’t hide the fact that the plot is ordinary.

So I’m not going to see it. I already know what it’s going to be like. Sure, you can say that I shouldn’t judge a picture before I see it, but I can tell I won’t enjoy this one. It’s a box I refuse to open. And I’m proud to say I’m doing just that.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Downgrading ‘Easy A’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613When good actors appear in bad movies, I sometimes want to scream at the TV, crying, “Why? Why? Why?”

So it was with Easy A, a horrid film about a high school girl pretending to be a tramp in order to become more popular. In this offense to lovers of quality celluloid everywhere were stalwart actors Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci and, yes, Malcolm McDowell (playing the principal of the school, no less). Directed by Will Gluck, the picture featured glib, unfunny dialogue masquerading as wit and a host of not credible situations that dragged the flick into a swamp of ludicrous plot developments.

Needless to say, the movie was hard to watch. And I stopped doing so after the first 30%. Once a film gets that far on the lousiness spectrum, it can’t come back, in my opinion. I’ll refrain from giving Easy A a chance to redeem itself, given such a probability level.

High school movies are not my cup of tea, anyway, but making a good one requires sincerity, not smugness. You can be tongue-in-cheek without featuring smarmy situations and self-conscious dialogue. Easy A, unfortunately, suffered from the latter issues. And that doesn’t make me want to watch more.

Meanwhile, I say unto the talented actors who participated in this mess: “Wherefore art thou making such films? You can do better.”

Alas, there’s no chance that they’ll listen to my pleas. Guess I’ll hafta continue to rant at the empty air, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Bad Puns and ‘Good Will Hunting’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I have five things to say about Good Will Hunting, which I just saw for the first time a couple of days ago.

I. Did. Not. Like. It.

Part of me knew this would happen. The bad pun in the title gave my future cinema verdict away. I couldn’t appreciate something that didn’t take itself seriously enough to give itself a sharper moniker.

But there were other problems that rubbed me the wrong way. A script that was both sappy and abrasive. An unlikable lead performance. Schmaltzy music. And a plodding pace. All of which undermined several good performances, notably by Robin Williams as a therapist helping the title character.

Direction was also problematic. The film moved so slowly it was unbearable. I’m not a big fan of Gus Van Sant’s other films, including the dreadful To Die For and the frustrating Elephant. GWH is just another movie in his canon that I don’t care for.

I realize GWH is very popular. Once again, I’m in the minority on this. I don’t know why, though. To me, it just didn’t work.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: When Bad Special Effects Attack

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Please don’t fault me for watching Conan the Destroyer.

It’s a horrible movie, I know. But it’s something of a guilty pleasure. And in watching it last night, I marveled at a quality I hadn’t really noticed before.

The special effects. They’re just plain awful.

Rubber suits galore. Bad animation. Welcome to the world of Conan. Where things are really cheesy.

Which is not to say that the effects are so much worse than, say, the acting, which is just as horrid. Still, you have to wonder how this stuff passed muster. It looked lousy then. It looks lousy now.

Yet I always find it on TV, for some reason. Maybe there’s a market for it.

One can always hope not.

Skip’s Quips: Condemning Flashy Filmmaking

Blog Sketch 082813What is it these days with cinema pyrotechnics?

I see it all the time, most recently in Darren Aronofsky’s nearly unwatchable Requiem for a Dream. Quick cuts, splashy close-ups of eyes and drug paraphernalia, sped-up photography and so on.

Couldn’t stand it. Had to turn it off.

No, I’m not going to blame this kind of filmmaking on MTV. Fast edits have been around for a long time. Rather, I think it’s a product of directors not trusting their audiences. It’s about adding flash to a recipe in the hopes of making it palatable.

I prefer a more traditional approach. That doesn’t necessarily mean I want to see more irises and wipes, though. Instead, I’d like to see a focus more on story, on telling a tale in a linear manner, without blatant showmanship. That just calls attention to the filmmaking process, and enjoyment of a movie should be organic. It should immerse you, not alienate you. Too many flicks today do the latter.

I like Aronofsky; I think he’s very talented. But I believe RfaD isn’t a success. Too much demonstration of cinematic prowess, not enough straightforward storytelling. Can we have a little more of that, please, in the future? Special request, from me.

Skip’s Quips: ‘Random Harvest’ and the Art of (De)crying

Blog Sketch 082813Caught Random Harvest on TCM last night.

What a weeper. I mean, wow is it a weeper. Not my cup of tears, either.

Oh, I like Ronald Colman, don’t get me wrong. And Greer Garson, too. I just didn’t care for this story, which has something to do with Colman’s “Uncle” Charles getting amnesia and forgetting about how much everyone, especially Greer Garson’s Paula, loves him.

Yecch. Nausea-inducing. And this is regarded as a classic, ya know?

I’d never seen it all these years until yesterday evening. And now, I feel quite strongly that I don’t have to see it again. I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but I feel I have to speak out. Sappy stuff. And I like crying at the movies. Just not this one.

Someone get me a tissue made of stone, please.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Just Say ‘Ewww’ to ‘The V.I.P.s’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Normally, I don’t care for movies with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. So I wasn’t surprised to find that The V.I.P.s, their 1963 film under Anthony Asquith’s direction, was awful. And I mean awful.

Soapy, too. In a bad way, not in an I, Claudius fun way. This was soap without a lot of bubbles. Deadly dull, unperfumed, lather-free soap.

And trashy. The tale of a group of high-end passengers who get stuck in a London airport due to fog, The V.I.P.s went from one dreary relationship to another, from Burton and Taylor’s married-couple-on-the-outs to Rod Taylor’s nice-guy businessman whose secretary, played by Maggie Smith, has fallen in love with him. I didn’t find any of these situations credible, and they just got more tedious as the film rolled along. Plus, the cinematography didn’t help, either. Strange compositions seemed to include lamps or some kind of bizarre light fixture in many shots, leading them to be jarring. And the score by the normally reliable Miklós Rózsa was awfully syrupy. Not good, Miklós. Not good.

So what are the takeaways from this? Well, I still don’t like Burton-Taylor movies. I also don’t like bad movies. And I love I, Claudius.

If you can find meaning in that, you’re a better man (or woman) than I.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: A Failing Grade for ‘At Middleton’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I want to tell you something about the movie At Middleton.

IT WAS HORRIBLE!!!!!!!!!! UGH!!!!!!!!!

OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s proceed to why this rom-com was so wretched. It had some talent in front of the camera, including Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga as parents visiting a college with their kids and finding romance in the process. Unfortunately, the script was dreadful, creating a host of unbelievable situations in the name of character development, including a completely unrealistic scene in which the duo crashes a campus acting class and provides a clinic in method theory.

Can you say, “Ludicrous?” I can.

Another problem: Many sequences went on for far too long, with the effect that they became tedious. The conversations between the two parents were so uninteresting that they didn’t foster any definition; instead, they removed it. What we, as viewers, were left with were skeletons of characters speaking poor dialogue and becoming more and more insufferable as the film went on.

Oh, and I really dislike forced quirkiness, which was broadcast through Farmiga’s free-spirit mom. Yuck.

Much of the blame for this nonsense could be put on the direction by Adam Rodgers, who co-wrote the film, too. But the script’s issues were really insurmountable. If only it were better paced. If only the characters were credible. If only … if only …

Can I watch something good now?

Skip’s Quips: Losing No Sleep Over My Guilty Pleasures

Blog Sketch 082813Don’t hate me because I watched Major League II on TV. Hate me because I kinda enjoyed it.

Yep. Just like Peter O’Toole’s character in Lawrence of Arabia. Except without all of the scary sadistic connotations.

Maybe it’s a masochistic enjoyment of sorts. After all, Major League II can’t be said to be a great movie. It isn’t even good. Actually, it’s rather bad. The script is blah. The cinematography is unimaginative. The performances are along the lines of “what am I doing in this picture? I should’ve tried out for Forrest Gump.”

Yet there are some humorous lines here and there. And I’m a sucker for baseball movies. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure; I’ll admit that freely.

There’s no shame in that, right? Or in watching Marked for Death whenever it’s on? All right, maybe there’s a little shame in that. But nothing to lose sleep over.

Kurosawa observed it rightly: The Bad Sleep Well. Or in this case, those who watch junky films and enjoy them as guilty pleasures.

I know I’m not alone.