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 Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018 
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I can't recommend Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy enough. It's a little long but just goes by so quick. It's a wonderful biopic that doesn't feel like a biopic. Seriously this film is really great. I don't think there's any Leigh on Netflix. We have Hungarian films but no Leigh. I know, sad.


Mon May 07, 2018 12:05 pm
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crumbsroom wrote:

Jaws 3 is just so awful I can't imagine anyone choosing to rewatch it. It's so bad that watching Jaws IV would be considerably preferable, and I fucking hate that movie too.


I'm pretty sure I must've seen Jaws IV, but I don't remember anything at all. Judging from reviews, it might be better that way.

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Mon May 07, 2018 10:03 pm
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ski petrol wrote:
I can't recommend Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy enough. It's a little long but just goes by so quick. It's a wonderful biopic that doesn't feel like a biopic. Seriously this film is really great. I don't think there's any Leigh on Netflix. We have Hungarian films but no Leigh. I know, sad.


I remember reading good/great things about this back in 1999, but then it sorta vanished off the radar. I hadn't read someone praising it in a while, but I'll keep an eye on it.

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Mon May 07, 2018 10:03 pm
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crumbsroom wrote:

Jaws 3 is just so awful I can't imagine anyone choosing to rewatch it. It's so bad that watching Jaws IV would be considerably preferable, and I fucking hate that movie too.

No, the two are not even close, Jaws 4 is infinitely worse.


Tue May 08, 2018 12:13 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

I haven't seen many of his movie. HOWEVER, I have a general benevolence toward Gerard Butler because when I was in college and feeling a lot of anxiety, I read an interview with Butler where he talked about anxiety he developed in his early 20s and he was literally describing what I was going through. So I have very positive feelings about him as a person, but I agree that his movies don't really call out to me. Skimming his IMDb page I've only seen Gamer, How to Train Your Dragon, and . . . . that's it.


Heh, I hadn't seen either one yet I've seen more:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Solid/good animated sequel where they don't sugarcoat things, but take them realistically)
300 (It's good for what it is, but I can see why some would be turned off by it)
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (It's watchable/decent timefiller)
Bounty Hunter (They get the hate part of the love-hate relationship down cold, but the other half proves to be much tougher)
Dracula 2000 (Kinda hammy take on the vampiric legend)
Ugly Truth (This might have poisoned my views on romcoms, Katherine Heigl, and morning talk shows. OK, probably not the latter)


Tue May 08, 2018 1:56 am
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crumbsroom wrote:

Jaws 3 is just so awful I can't imagine anyone choosing to rewatch it. It's so bad that watching Jaws IV would be considerably preferable, and I fucking hate that movie too.


That one 3D scene towards the end...yeah, I can't think of any way that film would be any good.


Tue May 08, 2018 1:57 am
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Apex Predator wrote:

That one 3D scene towards the end...yeah, I can't think of any way that film would be any good.
Just the way the shark moves...it's like they used the same special effects that sent Poochie back to his home planet.

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Tue May 08, 2018 2:25 am
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Wooley wrote:
No, the two are not even close, Jaws 4 is infinitely worse.


They are both so awful, it is really splitting hairs arguing which one is technically worse. But shark with a hit list will always win with me, just on concept alone.


Tue May 08, 2018 2:43 am
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crumbsroom wrote:

They are both so awful, it is really splitting hairs arguing which one is technically worse. But shark with a hit list will always win with me, just on concept alone.
You also can't undersell the premise of "Sheriff Brody's widow has a psychic bond with the shark that keeps eating her family who refuse to stop going in the goddamn ocean."

Apparently, the novelization explains that the shark is acting under a voodoo curse. I'm really tempted to read that.

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Tue May 08, 2018 3:02 am
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BL wrote:
You also can't undersell the premise of "Sheriff Brody's widow has a psychic bond with the shark that keeps eating her family who refuse to stop going in the goddamn ocean."

Apparently, the novelization explains that the shark is acting under a voodoo curse. I'm really tempted to read that.


That's the premise of the fourth one? :? Wow, now I'm tempted.

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Tue May 08, 2018 3:15 am
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Apex Predator wrote:

That one 3D scene towards the end...yeah, I can't think of any way that film would be any good.


Image

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Tue May 08, 2018 5:05 am
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crumbsroom wrote:

They are both so awful, it is really splitting hairs arguing which one is technically worse. But shark with a hit list will always win with me, just on concept alone.

For some reason, I always felt the third movie had a lot of charm to it. Maybe it's Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, and Lou Gossett giving it their all and not phoning it in, maybe it's the dolphins, I don't know, but I find it much, much more tolerable and even enjoyable in a campy B-movie way.


Tue May 08, 2018 5:35 am
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Thief wrote:

Image

Funny thing is, for me that's the money-shot.


Tue May 08, 2018 5:36 am
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A science-fiction film


Escape from New York (1980)

Quote:
"I guess I go in one way or the other... doesn't mean shit to me. All right... I'll do it."


The 80's were an endless fountain of action films, most of which featured cool, unbeatable heroes saving the day while spewing one-liners. From Rambo to Bloodsport, Commando to Above the Law, big guys like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and later Van Damme and Seagal, who thrived in the genre during that decade and the early 90's. But one can argue that it was Kurt Russell who started it all in 1980 with John Carpenter film.

Set in a dystopic 1997, Escape from New York follows Snake Plissken (Russell), a former Special-Forces-soldier-turned-criminal who is recruited by the US government to rescue the President of the United States (Donald Pleasance), whose plane was hijacked and crashed inside Manhattan Island while carrying a top secret recording. The island, which now serves as a contained prison, is ruled by thieves and gang lords. Early in the film, Commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) presents Snake with the "opportunity" to help his country. He is reluctant, but accepts within a few seconds with the above quote. There is a simplicity with which he takes on his duty which pretty much gives you the idea of how the film unfolds. Get in and get out.

Plissken is a man of few words, a cynic with a certain code of honor. The film carries on in pretty much the same way. There is little explanation as to the background of this dystopic world, but director and co-writer John Carpenter doesn't care. Just like Plissken, he just throws you inside Manhattan and lets you find out your way. The result is a breezy and enjoyable action-fest that has no pretensions of being anything else. The film pairs Snake with a couple of colorful characters, most notably a resourceful cab driver (Ernest Borgnine) and a former partner (Harry Dean Stanton), while being pursued by a vicious gang lord called The Duke (Isaac Hayes). But the focus is always Snake, and Russell plays him with such a cool panache that you can't help but like him.

There are many elements from the film that might feel dated, but regardless of that, it ends up being effective. Growing up in the 80's, I can't believe I hadn't seen this, and if I had, I can't believe I didn't remember it. It had to come down to one of these monthly challenges for me to finally watch it, but I'm glad I got in one way or the other.

Grade: B+

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Tue May 08, 2018 5:53 am
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Thief wrote:
A science-fiction film


Escape from New York (1980)



The 80's were an endless fountain of action films, most of which featured cool, unbeatable heroes saving the day while spewing one-liners. From Rambo to Bloodsport, Commando to Above the Law, big guys like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and later Van Damme and Seagal, who thrived in the genre during that decade and the early 90's. But one can argue that it was Kurt Russell who started it all in 1980 with John Carpenter film.

Set in a dystopic 1997, Escape from New York follows Snake Plissken (Russell), a former Special-Forces-soldier-turned-criminal who is recruited by the US government to rescue the President of the United States (Donald Pleasance), whose plane was hijacked and crashed inside Manhattan Island while carrying a top secret recording. The island, which now serves as a contained prison, is ruled by thieves and gang lords. Early in the film, Commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) presents Snake with the "opportunity" to help his country. He is reluctant, but accepts within a few seconds with the above quote. There is a simplicity with which he takes on his duty which pretty much gives you the idea of how the film unfolds. Get in and get out.

Plissken is a man of few words, a cynic with a certain code of honor. The film carries on in pretty much the same way. There is little explanation as to the background of this dystopic world, but director and co-writer John Carpenter doesn't care. Just like Plissken, he just throws you inside Manhattan and lets you find out your way. The result is a breezy and enjoyable action-fest that has no pretensions of being anything else. The film pairs Snake with a couple of colorful characters, most notably a resourceful cab driver (Ernest Borgnine) and a former partner (Harry Dean Stanton), while being pursued by a vicious gang lord called The Duke (Isaac Hayes). But the focus is always Snake, and Russell plays him with such a cool panache that you can't help but like him.

There are many elements from the film that might feel dated, but regardless of that, it ends up being effective. Growing up in the 80's, I can't believe I hadn't seen this, and if I had, I can't believe I didn't remember it. It had to come down to one of these monthly challenges for me to finally watch it, but I'm glad I got in one way or the other.

Grade: B+

Oh wow, you lucky dog. I'd love to get to see it again for the first time. But then again, I suspect it packed a lot more punch back in '81 than it does today.


Tue May 08, 2018 7:15 am
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I don't think any of the original Jaws movies can be worse than the SyFy channel offerings of Ghost Shark and Zombie Shark. I'm a huge shark movie fan so I'm kind of a masochist when it comes to watching those movies.

As for Jaws 3 I saw it in the theater as a kid and I even remember being pretty disappointed.


Tue May 08, 2018 7:23 am
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Thief wrote:

I'm pretty sure I must've seen Jaws IV, but I don't remember anything at all. Judging from reviews, it might be better that way.
Heck, even Michael Caine (who couldn't accept his Oscar for Hannah And Her Sisters in person because he was filming it in the Bahamas) said "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific". Oh, you incredibly respected British thespians and your oddly slumming taste in film roles...
Thief wrote:
Escape from New York (1980)
I was never a fan of EFNY (I felt it wasted a great, high-concept B-movie premise in a surprisingly dull "action" film), but I have to note that it really came out in '81, when it became, at the very least, noteworthy for contributing to what is arguably the greatest single year in the history of action movies...

:shock:

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Tue May 08, 2018 12:59 pm
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Stu wrote:
Heck, even Michael Caine (who couldn't accept his Oscar for Hannah And Her Sisters in person because he was filming it in the Bahamas) said "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific". Oh, you incredibly respected British thespians and your oddly slumming taste in film roles...I was never a fan of EFNY (I felt it wasted a great, high-concept B-movie premise in a surprisingly dull "action" film), but I have to note that it really came out in '81, when it became, at the very least, noteworthy for contributing to what is arguably the greatest single year in the history of action movies...

:shock:


See Colin Firth in Gambit, Michael Sheen in a couple of Twilights and several Underworlds, and Bill Nighy in I Frankenstein and several Underworlds


Wed May 09, 2018 4:35 am
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Wooley wrote:
No, the two are not even close, Jaws 4 is infinitely worse.



Sharks can totally roar.

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Wed May 09, 2018 5:32 am
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Death Proof wrote:


Sharks can totally roar.
Also, depending on which home video format you see it in, the shark may or may not spontaneously combust.

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Wed May 09, 2018 5:37 am
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Death Proof wrote:


Sharks can totally roar.

That is actually probably the best moment of the movie, for all the wrong reasons.


Wed May 09, 2018 5:51 am
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BL wrote:
Also, depending on which home video format you see it in, the shark may or may not spontaneously combust.



Coincidentally, "Spontaneous Combusting Shark" comes out next week on SyFy Channel.

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Wed May 09, 2018 6:32 am
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A Biblical film: Samson (2014)

This movie was . . . everything.

One IMDb review described this as a "home movie", and this is the only time I feel like the sentiment is entirely accurate.

It's hard to know where to begin: the framing device, in which a man with an inexplicable British accent (the film's director AND the same person who stars as Samson) who gathers a household of small children to tell them a bedtime story? Who then later tells the children "it's going to get a bit dark" before going on to describe Samson's eyes being poked out?

Or maybe the acting. You can hear the echoes of "Ya know Phyllis who works over at the post office? Back in high school she was in a play or two. She could play the mother!" There's one scene where someone goes "Look, here he comes!" and the other actor is clearly standing waiting for the cue, and then begins walking toward the camera.

This really does feel like a high school project, or something a small town church decided to do as a project. At one point they talk about Samson burning the crops of the Philistines. Cut to three distinctly different stock footage reels of forest fires. Yes, forests, not crops. There was one decent shot of a blinded Samson turning a mill wheel or something, but everything else is startlingly amateurish.

Also, I am no Bible expert, but everyone in this story comes off as a major tool. Samson is abusive and stupid. Delilah whines and whines and then when that doesn't work . . . she whines. I thought there would be a sense of a moral to this story, but I'm not sure what that would be. "Don't tell someone your only weakness when they've already betrayed you twice"?

I'm obviously the furthest thing from the intended audience for this film. It was good for several laughs, and I bet the people who made it were pretty happy with it.


Wed May 09, 2018 9:13 am
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A thriller or suspenseful film: Allied

This is one of those movies where I remembered generally positive reviews for it, but aside from knowing the stars and the setting of WW2, I really had no idea what it was about.

The film follows Max and Marianne, two undercover operatives who fall in love while on a mission in French Morocco. As the two try to pursue a life after their mission, things become complicated as the world of spying isn't done with them quite yet.

I liked this one. I felt like the performances were good and the plot, while incredibly predictable in certain regards, managed a decent amount of tension and suspense. In many ways the movie traded in moments that were a bit too on the nose (shots of someone in a mirror or a ripped photograph to imply distrust, for example), but it was executed fairly well so I didn't mind so much. I thought that the movie got a little clunky at the very end, but it did keep me involved to that point.

It's a bit by-the-numbers, but it's done well enough on the various technical fronts that it makes for a good two hours of viewing.


Wed May 09, 2018 12:34 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:
I haven't worked up the courage to watch Room yet. I guess this is the time!

This response is way late, but yeah check it out. I loved it while I was watching it but had some issues/questions after thinking about it days later. Would like to hear the opinion of someone that works with kids.

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Thu May 10, 2018 8:13 am
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A film from the 1960s: Attack of the Mushroom People (Matango)

A group of people on a yacht are swept away by a nasty storm, only to shipwreck on a mysterious island. They discover another boat, this one a large ship that they believe to be some sort of research vessel (confusingly the ship has technology from many different nations) researching the effects of radiation. The whole ship is covered with a strange fungus. As the castaways attempt to find food and repair their damaged yacht, tensions mount inside the group and a strange force from the island seems to haunt them.

The movie spends about equal time on the inner-group conflicts and the horror of the island. There is some class commentary as the men who were the big shots on the yacht are belittled by the "working class" man who, by virtue of his street smarts, tries to take over the group. There is also tension stemming from the fact that there are several men but only two women, and one of the women is involved in a love triangle with two of the men. (Amazing moment: one guy says he "Knows what kind of woman" one of the women is. She replies, "It's true. I was only with you for your money. You're gross." And he's like "Buh-whatttt??!!!" and seems genuinely to have hurt feelings, despite having just called her a slut).

The version I watched was dubbed into English by actors with strong English and/or Australian accents. The movie goes into a deeper kind of horror weirdness in the final act, where it is revealed that (moderate spoilers)
eating the mushrooms on the island actually turns you into a living mushroom. As the castaways face starvation, one of them muses "Maybe that's the only way to stay alive here." There are disturbing scenes of some of the castaways deliberately eating the mushrooms. The woods echo with the laughter of the giant mushrooms, presumably including the crew of the ship that the group found on the island.


The movie seems to half approach several weighty themes: radiation mutations, conformity, sexual jealousy, class conflicts, even the underlying brutality of "civilized" society. It never digs very deep into any of them, but then again this is a movie about giant mushroom people.

The movie sags at points, especially when it's just in-fighting between the group. The arguments rarely flare up into anything very interesting. At one point, the skipper threatens to sexually assault the women because none of the men would be brave enough to stop him. It's a really gross moment that feels like it should be a breaking point of some sort, but instead it just leads to a minor scuffle and then the film moves on. There are several moments like this that feel like they should get the plot moving or generate explosive moments, but instead just sort of fizzle out.

But there are also some surprisingly effective moments, especially in the surreal sequences with the mushrooms in the woods. One article I just read about it talked about the movie blending monster tropes with ghost tropes and I think that's a really good description of what makes this movie different and what gives it an otherworldly eerie vibe in several scenes.

While the film isn't perfect, it's a short 90 minutes and worth checking out for several of the sequences.


Thu May 10, 2018 10:55 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
A film from the 1960s: Attack of the Mushroom People (Matango)




I'm a fan... I remember seeing this as a "creature feature" one Saturday as a kid. Found the DVD on Ebay a few years ago. I was too young to appreciate some of the subtle aspects as well as the rather psychadelic mushroom forest. (was this produced with the intention of making it an "anti-magic mushroom" anti-drug movie?)

But what I mainly remember is
the reveal at the end when the last survivor reveals he ate some as well and now has mushrooms growing out of his face.


Good stuff. An early introduction to non-rubber suit Japanese monster movies. The Green Slime is another good one - you ever see that?

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Thu May 10, 2018 9:45 pm
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Death Proof wrote:

But what I mainly remember is
the reveal at the end when the last survivor reveals he ate some as well and now has mushrooms growing out of his face.


Good stuff. An early introduction to non-rubber suit Japanese monster movies. The Green Slime is another good one - you ever see that?


I haven't seen the Green Slime, but I'll keep an eye out for it.

The final reveal is memorable, but I'm not sure
it totally works because he heads for the boat so . . . where/when did he eat them?
. Yes, maybe it's silly to nitpick logic in this kind of movie, but that slightly bugged me.


Fri May 11, 2018 8:09 am
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A film starring an SNL regular (past or present): Nasty Baby

I really don't know how to feel about this one, and specifically its final act.

The film follows Polly (Kristen Wiig) and her friends, a gay couple, Freddy and Mo. The three have decided to have Polly carry a baby that they will all co-parent. Freddy, an artist, has turned to a strange project in which he pretends to be a baby on camera inspired by his anticipation of becoming a father. This is the main plot of the first act, as they find out that Freddy's sperm count is low, and that Mo may have to father the child. Mo is less enthusiastic than Freddy, and clearly Freddy and Polly are the closer pair. Polly has already been through several unsuccessful attempts at fertilization, and she is growing increasingly desperate.

Sitting alongside the plot about Polly's attempted pregnancy and the relationship between Freddy and Mo is an increasingly present subplot about a mentally ill, semi-homeless resident of the gay couple's block--a man named Bishop who harasses the couple and Polly with increasing hostility. The Bishop subplot begins almost as a comic aside to the main drama (Bishop wakes Freddy up using a leaf blower too early in the morning; Bishop has a "yard sale" and sells Polly an incredibly ugly lamp for $1), but by the second half of the film the scenes involving his character have turned very dark.

The middle third of the movie was the section I found most powerful. The movie is really able to dig into the way that everyone is just trying to survive, battling homophobia, aging, mental illness, xenophobia, fear of failure, etc.

My one issue with the film was a handful of character actions that didn't feel quite right. In one scene, the main characters decide to deliberately antagonize Bishop by throwing stink bombs into the building where he squats. I guess sometimes people make stupid choices, but a few moments in this film felt too forced and just for the sake of pushing the story to heightened drama. There are also a few moments where the movie can't quite decide if it's a drama or a very, very dark comedy. The film was written and directed by Sebastian Silva, who also stars as Freddy.

I don't know. I'm still thinking this one over.


Fri May 11, 2018 10:16 am
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I saw Nasty Baby because of Kristen Wiig. I was very disappointed by the last act and it just kind of threw me off the whole movie.


Fri May 11, 2018 10:58 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
The final reveal is memorable, but I'm not sure
it totally works because he heads for the boat so . . . where/when did he eat them?
. Yes, maybe it's silly to nitpick logic in this kind of movie, but that slightly bugged me.



I figured
he held off eating them at first and then ate them closer to civilization. Or it was just a delayed reaction... like the further from the island the longer it took to take hold. Honestly, that aspect of the movie never bothered me.

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Fri May 11, 2018 11:03 am
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Death Proof wrote:


I figured
he held off eating them at first and then ate them closer to civilization. Or it was just a delayed reaction... like the further from the island the longer it took to take hold. Honestly, that aspect of the movie never bothered me.


I guess that makes sense. It just seemed odd as there is so much discussion in the end about
the "mushroom life" not being worth living, and he leaves behind the woman he loves. For him to then eat the mushrooms anyway feels like an odd choice. I think that the final thing he says--about how people in civilization are also savage to one another--would actually be more powerful if he hadn't eaten the mushrooms. Does that make sense? Like he leaves his love behind only to come back to civilization and realize he would have been happier being a "monster"? I know that him turning around and being infected is the big, memorable moment from the movie.

Am I being too picky? I'm being too picky.


I do wish that the strong atmospheric stuff had been a larger part of the running time. The opening scene on the yacht with the storm takes up a whopping 20 minutes of the running time.


Fri May 11, 2018 11:10 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

I haven't seen the Green Slime, but I'll keep an eye out for it.

Best theme song ever:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwrhOd9Do2A


Fri May 11, 2018 11:26 am
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That was a good theme song.


Fri May 11, 2018 11:42 am
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Wooley wrote:


Ok, now I have to see this.

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Fri May 11, 2018 10:11 pm
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Wooley wrote:

SOLD

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Fri May 11, 2018 10:29 pm
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A film from the IMDb Top 250
A PG-rated film
A film nominated for Best Picture that didn't win
A drama film:
A film that's in B&W



The Elephant Man (1980)

Quote:
"Luck, my friend, luck. Who needs it more than we?"


The Elephant Man was David Lynch's second feature film. After the underground success of Eraserhead, the director started working on a script about an electricity-fueled dwarf who becomes a rock star. Alas, for some reason, he couldn't find funding for it so he went out looking for a script that he could direct. As luck had it, a producer came up with four scripts, but upon hearing the title of this one, Lynch chose it with little hesitation.

Set in 19th Century London, The Elephant Man follows the struggles of John Merrick (John Hurt), a severely deformed man who works at a freak show while being subjected to constant abuse by his owner, Mr. Bytes (Freddie Jones). Luckily for Merrick, Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), a local surgeon, finds him and takes him under the protection of the hospital he works at. As they treat him, they are surprised to see that not only can Merrick talk, but he is also intelligent and well-educated.

I feel like I probably saw this film, or at least parts of it, back in the 80's, but I really didn't remember anything. What I liked most about it s its heart. Whereas I was expecting something more of a bizarre/surreal tone, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself with a story that is both tragic and touching. Hurt plays the character of Merrick with a certain earnestness and naivete that is both charming and endearing, while also making it easier to connect with us. On the other hand, Hopkins neatly conveys the benevolence from Dr. Treves in a way that feels real.

If anything, I think the film didn't handle well the dilemma of the duality of Treves and Bytes and how they both "use" Merrick, intentionally or not. There were some confrontational moments that I think could've been more effective, and other self-revelatory moments that I thought were unnecessary or too in-your-face. But the film manages to hold its own thanks to a dedicated cast that bring the characters to life. The scene where Merrick meets with Mrs. Kendal (Anne Bancroft) for the first time as they trade Shakespeare lines really brought tears to my eyes.

Scenes like that made me put in perspective what was seen on the film with what happens in real life. The film, which is based on the real-life Joseph Merrick, shows us how much Merrick's fate relied on luck. Unfortunately, back in those days and even today, so many deformed or handicapped people don't have the same luck and are subject to lives that are not the most ideal. In the film, the above quote comes from a dwarf that helps Merrick escape from Mr. Bytes, along with a group of "freaks". But for every Merrick that managed to escape, there were about a dozen other "freaks" that remained subject to Bytes' abuse and mistreatment, or more commonly, society's discrimination and general apathy. Let's hope for a world in which people with such impairments don't have to rely on luck, but rather on the goodwill of the people.

Grade: A-

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Sat May 12, 2018 12:06 am
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Wooley wrote:



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Sat May 12, 2018 12:17 am
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Thief wrote:

The Elephant Man (1980)

Let's hope for a world in which people with such impairments don't have to rely on luck, but rather on the goodwill of the people.

Grade: A-


I cried SO many times during this movie. I think it might be my favorite film of Lynch's--it resonates with me on so many emotional levels.

The so-so British TV series Ripper Street used Merrick as a character in several episodes, but in the end of his run on the show implied that he was (moderate spoilers)
actually murdered because he was a witness to a crime. This "altered" history made me so upset that I quit the show for like a year.


Sat May 12, 2018 7:24 am
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Film with non-human lead character

Born in China

Decent nature documentary about various animals native to China who are dealing with various family issues:

Daya, a snow leopard, tries to provide for her young
MeiMei, a panda, tries to raise her baby panda while trying to learn to let go
TauTau, a golden monkey, tries to find his place in his family while dealing with a younger sister who's getting all the attention.

Also, there are some cranes and a herd of chiru. There are some interesting facts mixed into the narrative by John Krasinski.

But the narrative proves to be too cutesy by about a third and on the nose at times. It distracts from the lovely scenes of rugged rural China and the various animal interactions.

There's also some hints of drama as animals have to deal with either being a predator or preyed on by such.

The end result is just touching enough and visually interesting enough that it gets a pass. But can't more than marginally recommend this one.


Sat May 12, 2018 8:30 am
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A cult classic film: Fire & Ice

I think that this movie is called "Fire & Ice" because "Racism & Amateur Gynecology" would be too long a title.

This is an animated film in a sword and sandal/fantasy adventure mode. An evil ice king named Nekron is taking over a land. His minions (under his mother's orders) capture a princess from the fire kingdom named Teegra. Along the way Teegra forms a bond with a warrior named Larn, whose village was destroyed by Nekron.

There were times that I really enjoyed the character design in this film, and the look of the animation (directed by Ralph Bakshi and apparently done with rotoscopping) is really distinct and one that I quite like.

Unfortunately, the plot is pretty by-the-numbers, and the racist and sexist elements venture too far past cheese.

On the "really?" front in terms of race, the main problem is a warrior tribe (given the title "subhumans") whose character design is like one big racist mish-mash. The clothing, adornment, and language is a mix of Native American, African, and Middle Eastern. The subhumans repeatedly manhandle Teegra (she manages to be captured/kidnapped--with no exaggeration--about six different times in the film) and ogle her. They are seen to be cannibalistic. The frequent tableau is a white (very white) woman surrounded by a group of dark-skinned men in a menacing context. Their look stands in stark contrast to the blonde, Nordic look of the hero. The hero is assisted by a mysterious Native American character. The villain is albino (I get it--ice, white). Just generally speaking I found the racial coding in this movie to be troubling.

The sexism is just . . . *weary sigh*. The whole movie features very scantily clad characters (including fire warriors who sail into the ice kingdom wearing loincloths and capes) of both genders. And I will say that one positive result of the rotoscoping is that the look of the bodies is more naturalistic in terms of musculature than what you usually see. But Teegra (one of only four female characters in the entire movie, none of the other three get more than a handful of lines) wears a string bikini for the entire movie. Girl's got curves (the IMDb notes that the filmmakers had trouble finding a woman "voluptuous" enough to meet their standards), and I'm not going to hate on that--she's not so over the top that it's annoying and she is solidly built in a way that makes sense for a woman with that size bust and booty. But when you look at a real photo from the live shoot (like this one) it's obvious that they did very little modification to the male actor's body but increased the female actress's cup size quite a bit. But even setting her body aside, what's creepy is the way her character is filmed. She is frequently shown from low angles (and she sure spends a lot of time on her back and/or scissoring her legs), including an odd early shot where she is hanging out with a friend and it looks like the cameraperson is approaching her to perform a pelvic exam. There are entire frames where her butt or body from the neck down is in view but not her face. She spends a lot of time with her barely covered rear end pointed at the camera as she is carried over a man's shoulder (again--she is kidnapped A LOT). The angles on her body frequently evoke porn angles and it made me very uncomfortable to see such intentional pervy shots. This is how she eats food!. And this is how she hangs out!. And this is how she sleeps!. And this is how she chats with a friend!.

I know that both the format and the genre and the era of this film incline it toward such lazy racism and sexism. But even with the "but that was then!" mentality, I still found it to be too much. The story of the film itself (basically one long mission to save Teegra) is never particularly interesting, and certainly not interesting enough to sufficiently distract from the weird or off-putting stuff happening. There are some cool moments of fantasy creatures (like a crazy giant insect that latches onto a creature's arm at one point), but these moments are pretty fleeting and the world of the film doesn't feel coherent. I found myself comparing this one to the Dark Crystal, another 80s fantasy film with a thin plot, but in the case of that movie I think that the power of the character and setting design gives it power beyond its narrative.

This is a movie whose VHS cover always fascinated me as a child when I'd see it in the video store. I'm glad I finally checked it out, but I'm disappointed by the lack of overall coherence and creativity on display.


Sat May 12, 2018 9:27 am
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A Biblical Film
A Film rated PG


David and Goliath

First of all, I have no idea how Takoma got a hold of Samson. Second of all, I had no idea that 1200 theaters were hoodwinked into giving that film a shot (came out the same week as Black Panther).

Well, I had to make do with David and Goliath. A 2015 film that did manage to make its way to 30 theaters (if it had the same amount of theaters as Samson, it would have opened to $6 million).

But one thing both films had in common: it was basically amateur hour.

In this mostly faithful $50 million budgeted retelling of the Biblical legend, David (Miles Sloman) is a shepherd boy who is originally there to give his soldier brothers something from their father. But they are in the middle of a siege being held by the evil Philistines. And in particular, one giant named Goliath (Jerry Sokolosky, who in real life is 7 foot 8. Well, you can't teach size).

When the Israelite army is more or less quaking by the constantly croaked insults from the giant and nobody will step up to face him, David offers his services. Despite his slight figure and the fact he isn't in the military, he gets rejected. Until suddenly, he isn't.

This story probably could have taken 10-15 minutes if shot in a relatively fast paced manner. So what do they do to take up the time?

Good question:
More shots of the sky than an average episode of Survivor
Speeches by the head of the army so lame/tame that DJ Qualls in the New Guy sounded more intimidating
Lots of chatter that David is too weak/small to kill the giant.
Bellowing that is supposed to sound intimidating, but sounds more squeaky.
Lots of moments of David praying.
Lots of talk about what David will be using once they accept the fact he will take on the giant.
Sounds of various storms and rain although we don't see a drop onscreen
Discussion in the Philistine camp where they talk about various prisoners/who will take on the giant/etc.
A peace offering which seems vaguely like political commentary.

Of course there are other unanswered questions. Why did we get references to both 300 and Raiders of the Lost Ark? Why are the villains wearing eye shadow? Why is the hero the only person that speaks with a British accent?

Incompetently directed (can I get a closeup or a shot with an animal that didn't take place in one take) and poorly written, it's clear that being faithful to the source isn't always a complement.


Sun May 13, 2018 5:03 am
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A comedy made before 1970: The Thin Man

I've mostly tried to watch movies for these challenges that I've never seen before. I was looking at the sequels to The Thin Man, but quickly realized that I didn't remember much about the original.

I've seen the film years ago, and I've also listened to an audiobook of the novel (I'm a big Dashiell Hammett fan). It's a light, charming mystery-comedy.

The story follows Nick Charles, a former detective who has moved to New York with his new wife, Nora. Nick gets pulled into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of an old client of his and the subsequent murder of the man's secretary/mistress.

Along the way there's a lot of banter between Nick and Nora. Despite his protests that he is retired, Nick keeps getting pulled into the murder mystery, encouraged by Nora who is excited at the idea of solving a crime. William Powell and Myrna Loy have great chemistry as the lead couple, and their dog Asta is also a fun character. The mystery itself is chock full of characters (including the absurd family of the missing man), and the plot crackles along at a good clip until the final Agatha Christie-like scene where all of the characters from the entire movie are gathered at a dinner table where Nick untangles the mystery. ("Serve the nuts," Nora tells the waiter. Catching a look from Nick she amends that to, "I mean, serve the guests the nuts.").

This one's a classic for a reason, and if anyone in here hasn't seen it, I highly recommend it.


Sun May 13, 2018 8:33 am
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A film you swore you'd never watch: The Number 23

I wrote earlier about how most movies I strongly feel I won't ever watch are for moral/ethical qualms about the people involved in them. Especially with some issues my students are dealing with right now, I have zero interest in sitting down for a movie made by or starring a sex offender. My problem with animal cruelty is a standing issue, and it's not one I plan to budge on any time soon. So what to do?

Apex posting about watching I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry evoked a visceral response in me. This movie is one that I had sworn never to watch. Why? Well, friends, back in 2007 I worked the counter at a local Family Video. For hours at a time I supervised the store while wall-mounted televisions played a "screener" DVD on loop. Over. And over. And over. The screener lasted about 50 minutes, so on a typical shift I would hear the same trailers about 5 or 6 times. Every day. For a month. Thus there is a whole list of probably-not-awful-just-mediocre movies that make me almost sick to think about them: Perfect Stranger, Mr. Magorium's Emporium, Are We There Yet?, and so on.

Looking through a list of movies released that year (and I do love 2007 for giving me one of my favorite ever comedies, Hot Fuzz along with several amazing thrillers like Zodiac), one title that stood out was The Number 23.

Why is it the movie I'd least want to watch?
1) As mentioned, I watched the trailer to this movie so many times. As I watched it today, certain lines triggered a disgust reaction because I recognized them from the trailer.
2) Jim Carey's promotion of the anti-vaccination movement really made it hard for me to want to watch him in anything. There are literally people who are dead because of that movement (and anti-vaccination movements, often led by wealthy parents, have a disproportionate impact on low-income children because of their lack of access to regular medical care).
3) As a mathematician, I hate dumb presentations of mathematical phenomena.
4) One time I saw a minute or two of this movie through the seats on an airplane because the person in front of me was watching it. I don't like flying, so this movie also triggers some vague residual anxiety about air travel.

The biggest crime of this movie, however, is that it is really bad. The film follows a man named Walter who begins reading a book in which the main character bears a remarkable resemblance to Walter. A character in the book becomes obsessed with the number 23, and soon both the number 23 and events from the book begin to crop up in Walter's own life. The whole affair connects to the years-earlier murder/disappearance of a young college student. The movie switches back and forth between the "real" world and the world of the book (in which the main character is also played by Carey).

The thing that bothered me the most in this movie was the math. It's not that hard to use a string of digits to make a target number (especially if you have almost no rules about how to use those digits). For fun I took the numbers on the front of a drink I had (16 oz, 473 mL) and made 23 with them two different ways (4 - 3 = 1, 1 x 7 = 7, 7 + 16 = 23) or (16 - 7 = 9, 9 x 3 = 27, 27 - 4 = 23). Characters in the movie repeatedly say that it's easy to do this, but the movie still has scene after scene of characters "discovering" 23 hidden in names or dates, all with dramatic music in the score behind them. Also, I sometimes find the "value" of words (yeah, I'm that kind of math nerd), and so it bothered me to watch Carey's character counting out the number values of letters just for the sake of an audience. When you compulsively turn words into numbers (*shifty eyes*), you just start to know those values. I don't know the value of every letter in the alphabet, but a =1, e =5, m=13 are some really common ones (m=13 is a basic because it is the halfway point of the alphabet). So watching him count out the values of n, e, and d at one point was just dumb.

Also (super math nerd rant) there ARE some really interesting applications of digital roots, which are frequently featured in the movie. A digital root is what you get when you add up the digits of a number repeatedly until you get a single digit (so 2,989 = 2 + 9 + 8 + 9 = 28, and 2 + 8 = 10, and 1 + 0 = 1, so the digital root of 2,989 is 1). For example, every multiple of 9 had a digital root of 9. Every multiple of 3 has a digital root of 3, 6, or 9. If a movie is going to have someone be obsessed with a number, there are interesting places it could have gone. Instead it all remains very superficial. I get that the movie is portraying paranoia, but the movie also wants us to believe that there is something deeper going on (and there is), so why not do something more interesting with the number stuff?

This movie has moments where I think it tries (and actually succeeds) at being gloriously campy and over the top (I'm thinking of one very dramatic zoom in on the face of a dog). But for most of the film it seems to take itself seriously, and so the attempts at humor just feel out of place, and then I'd question if they were even intentional at all (but that zoom, tho!).

I watched a good chunk of this one during the intermissions of the Jets/Knights game, so at least the first 40 minutes was interspersed with some glorious hockey. The last hour was pure pain. Avoid.


Sun May 13, 2018 12:30 pm
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Considering how the entire "23 enigma" was conceived as an acid-fried joke by the hippie Discordian Society, the fact that someone thought it was a perfectly reasonable premise for a gritty serious thriller should tell you eveything you need to know about the minds behind that endeavour.


Sun May 13, 2018 1:23 pm
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Jinnistan wrote:
Considering how the entire "23 enigma" was conceived as an acid-fried joke by the hippie Discordian Society, the fact that someone thought it was a perfectly reasonable premise for a gritty serious thriller should tell you eveything you need to know about the minds behind that endeavour.


But see, you could have a really good gritty thriller about paranoia (a la Bug). In real life people do fixate on odd or nonsensical things and then their confirmation bias makes it seem true no matter where they look. A film about a descent into madness and paranoia could have been really good, but the movie also wants the number 23 to seem to have some mystical significance.

I also liked how loose the rules were. If you can use digits to make the number 32, GASP, that's 23 backwards! And if you see the number 5, GASP, that's 2 + 3! And people in the film repeatedly point this out, but the movie just refuses to embrace that it's paranoia. Let's not even talk about the "edgy" knife-play sex scenes.


Sun May 13, 2018 10:59 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:
But see, you could have a really good gritty thriller about paranoia (a la Bug). In real life people do fixate on odd or nonsensical things and then their confirmation bias makes it seem true no matter where they look. A film about a descent into madness and paranoia could have been really good, but the movie also wants the number 23 to seem to have some mystical significance.

Sure, there's lots of potential in a paranoia thriller that hinges on the subjective projection of finding patterns in chaos. (Pi comes quickly to mind, Blow-Up is still the classic example.) And the more random, seemingly bizarre patterns are the most intriguing. I agree that this would have been a superior film, a good film even, had it not been an excuse to venture down the well-worn path of psychological fragmentation solely in service of a stale murder mystery. But it is in the persistence in maintaining this mystical air about 23, specifically considering how it was originally introduced as a parody of such pattern-seeking (because it's so easily applicable to most things with a little creative math) that only makes it all the more apparent of how much it fails as an insight into what can legitimately be called conspiracism, or the more pathological manifestations of conspiracy-minded inclination.

This film just packs on so many cliches and rope-a-dope plotting contrivances that we've already seen so much from psychological thrillers that I'd like to think it was a movie bad enough to have been turned down by John Cusack. Maybe even Nic Cage.

Takoma1 wrote:
I also liked how loose the rules were. If you can use digits to make the number 32, GASP, that's 23 backwards! And if you see the number 5, GASP, that's 2 + 3! And people in the film repeatedly point this out, but the movie just refuses to embrace that it's paranoia. Let's not even talk about the "edgy" knife-play sex scenes.

Exactly. The premise is based on the two most fundamental prime numbers, which by definition all (or technically most) other numbers can be reduced, giving almost universal application.


Mon May 14, 2018 12:30 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
A comedy made before 1970: The Thin Man

I've mostly tried to watch movies for these challenges that I've never seen before. I was looking at the sequels to The Thin Man, but quickly realized that I didn't remember much about the original.

I've seen the film years ago, and I've also listened to an audiobook of the novel (I'm a big Dashiell Hammett fan). It's a light, charming mystery-comedy.

The story follows Nick Charles, a former detective who has moved to New York with his new wife, Nora. Nick gets pulled into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of an old client of his and the subsequent murder of the man's secretary/mistress.

Along the way there's a lot of banter between Nick and Nora. Despite his protests that he is retired, Nick keeps getting pulled into the murder mystery, encouraged by Nora who is excited at the idea of solving a crime. William Powell and Myrna Loy have great chemistry as the lead couple, and their dog Asta is also a fun character. The mystery itself is chock full of characters (including the absurd family of the missing man), and the plot crackles along at a good clip until the final Agatha Christie-like scene where all of the characters from the entire movie are gathered at a dinner table where Nick untangles the mystery. ("Serve the nuts," Nora tells the waiter. Catching a look from Nick she amends that to, "I mean, serve the guests the nuts.").

This one's a classic for a reason, and if anyone in here hasn't seen it, I highly recommend it.


If you really enjoyed this, I think the sequel After the Thin Man (with Jimmy Stewart!) is also worth a look. The first feels like they're trying to understand what works while the first sequel takes that research and comes up with a film I thought was just as good.


Mon May 14, 2018 12:52 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
A film you swore you'd never watch: The Number 23

I wrote earlier about how most movies I strongly feel I won't ever watch are for moral/ethical qualms about the people involved in them. Especially with some issues my students are dealing with right now, I have zero interest in sitting down for a movie made by or starring a sex offender. My problem with animal cruelty is a standing issue, and it's not one I plan to budge on any time soon. So what to do?

Apex posting about watching I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry evoked a visceral response in me. This movie is one that I had sworn never to watch. Why? Well, friends, back in 2007 I worked the counter at a local Family Video. For hours at a time I supervised the store while wall-mounted televisions played a "screener" DVD on loop. Over. And over. And over. The screener lasted about 50 minutes, so on a typical shift I would hear the same trailers about 5 or 6 times. Every day. For a month. Thus there is a whole list of probably-not-awful-just-mediocre movies that make me almost sick to think about them: Perfect Stranger, Mr. Magorium's Emporium, Are We There Yet?, and so on.

Looking through a list of movies released that year (and I do love 2007 for giving me one of my favorite ever comedies, Hot Fuzz along with several amazing thrillers like Zodiac), one title that stood out was The Number 23.

Why is it the movie I'd least want to watch?
1) As mentioned, I watched the trailer to this movie so many times. As I watched it today, certain lines triggered a disgust reaction because I recognized them from the trailer.
2) Jim Carey's promotion of the anti-vaccination movement really made it hard for me to want to watch him in anything. There are literally people who are dead because of that movement (and anti-vaccination movements, often led by wealthy parents, have a disproportionate impact on low-income children because of their lack of access to regular medical care).
3) As a mathematician, I hate dumb presentations of mathematical phenomena.
4) One time I saw a minute or two of this movie through the seats on an airplane because the person in front of me was watching it. I don't like flying, so this movie also triggers some vague residual anxiety about air travel.

The biggest crime of this movie, however, is that it is really bad. The film follows a man named Walter who begins reading a book in which the main character bears a remarkable resemblance to Walter. A character in the book becomes obsessed with the number 23, and soon both the number 23 and events from the book begin to crop up in Walter's own life. The whole affair connects to the years-earlier murder/disappearance of a young college student. The movie switches back and forth between the "real" world and the world of the book (in which the main character is also played by Carey).

The thing that bothered me the most in this movie was the math. It's not that hard to use a string of digits to make a target number (especially if you have almost no rules about how to use those digits). For fun I took the numbers on the front of a drink I had (16 oz, 473 mL) and made 23 with them two different ways (4 - 3 = 1, 1 x 7 = 7, 7 + 16 = 23) or (16 - 7 = 9, 9 x 3 = 27, 27 - 4 = 23). Characters in the movie repeatedly say that it's easy to do this, but the movie still has scene after scene of characters "discovering" 23 hidden in names or dates, all with dramatic music in the score behind them. Also, I sometimes find the "value" of words (yeah, I'm that kind of math nerd), and so it bothered me to watch Carey's character counting out the number values of letters just for the sake of an audience. When you compulsively turn words into numbers (*shifty eyes*), you just start to know those values. I don't know the value of every letter in the alphabet, but a =1, e =5, m=13 are some really common ones (m=13 is a basic because it is the halfway point of the alphabet). So watching him count out the values of n, e, and d at one point was just dumb.

Also (super math nerd rant) there ARE some really interesting applications of digital roots, which are frequently featured in the movie. A digital root is what you get when you add up the digits of a number repeatedly until you get a single digit (so 2,989 = 2 + 9 + 8 + 9 = 28, and 2 + 8 = 10, and 1 + 0 = 1, so the digital root of 2,989 is 1). For example, every multiple of 9 had a digital root of 9. Every multiple of 3 has a digital root of 3, 6, or 9. If a movie is going to have someone be obsessed with a number, there are interesting places it could have gone. Instead it all remains very superficial. I get that the movie is portraying paranoia, but the movie also wants us to believe that there is something deeper going on (and there is), so why not do something more interesting with the number stuff?

This movie has moments where I think it tries (and actually succeeds) at being gloriously campy and over the top (I'm thinking of one very dramatic zoom in on the face of a dog). But for most of the film it seems to take itself seriously, and so the attempts at humor just feel out of place, and then I'd question if they were even intentional at all (but that zoom, tho!).

I watched a good chunk of this one during the intermissions of the Jets/Knights game, so at least the first 40 minutes was interspersed with some glorious hockey. The last hour was pure pain. Avoid.


The reason I chose Chuck and Larry is because a) these two characters are choosing to be gay which if you're aware on how it actually works, it comes across as stupid and b) we're dealing with the lazier Adam Sandler (the last film of his that I watched was Anger Management, which had its moments but had some very cringeworthy attempts at humor). I am aware that it was a remake of a Paul Hogan film from a few years prior. But if it follows the same formula I noticed in his last few films of his I've seen, I swear I'm gonna roll my eyes so hard it's gonna hurt.

I don't completely hate Sandler. I can watch Happy Gilmore all day long because his character remains likable throughout and he has some good foils against him and his granny. Oh, and The Wedding Singer was pretty good as well. Kevin James is more of a non-plus thing for me. I was never sold on The King of Queens which works as an OK sitcom, but nothing more.

As for The Number 23, I found that more of a misfire than truly a bad film. I thought Jim Carrey played decently against type and Virginia Madsen was nice, if underused, as his wife. The biggest sins I thought of was a bad third act which somehow got redeemed by the finale and overuse of the number 23 (some of it was effective, but the further it went, the more laughable it got). I'd watch this again over Nic Cage's Knowing which I thought was truly pretty bad.


Mon May 14, 2018 1:07 am
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Apex Predator wrote:
The reason I chose Chuck and Larry is because a) these two characters are choosing to be gay which if you're aware on how it actually works, it comes across as stupid and b) we're dealing with the lazier Adam Sandler (the last film of his that I watched was Anger Management, which had its moments but had some very cringeworthy attempts at humor). I am aware that it was a remake of a Paul Hogan film from a few years prior. But if it follows the same formula I noticed in his last few films of his I've seen, I swear I'm gonna roll my eyes so hard it's gonna hurt.

As for The Number 23, I found that more of a misfire than truly a bad film. I thought Jim Carrey played decently against type and Virginia Madsen was nice, if underused, as his wife. The biggest sins I thought of was a bad third act which somehow got redeemed by the finale and overuse of the number 23 (some of it was effective, but the further it went, the more laughable it got). I'd watch this again over Nic Cage's Knowing which I thought was truly pretty bad.


What I've heard about Chuck and Larry that doesn't fly with me is not just the "straight men pretending to be gay" element, it's that apparently there's a critical moment that hinges on (spoilers, I think?)
them kissing each other and WILL THEY DO IT?!?!?!? And to me, that's just dumb. Who wouldn't, for the sake of healthcare, kiss someone they were close to?
There are a lot of movies and TV shows that use straight men pretending to be gay for laughs. It sometimes works, but so often it's offensive just because it's suggesting that simple affection between two men (even something like hand holding) should be worthy of freaking out two straight guys. Like, grow up!

The thing with The Number 23 is that you're right--it's bad, but not terrible. But I would have enjoyed watching it more if it were terrible, because at least then I'd have gotten some ironic enjoyment out of it. There were like two moments that I thought were okay, and the rest was just dull and the more the music tried to tell me "This is intense!!!" the more I resented how much of a shrug the whole movie was.


Mon May 14, 2018 2:17 am
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