Tag Archives: NPR Monkey See

Friends, Coens, Countrymen: All Hail Hail, Caesar!

hail-caesar01

No one in the world can possibly appreciate the way the narrator of the new Coen Brothers picture, Sir Michael Gambon — the man who once declined the role of James Bond because, quoth he, “I’ve got tits like a woman” — says “in westerly Malibu” as much as I do. But just about everyone seems to like the movie. I do, too. My NPR review is here.

The Future Is Not Set: A Terminator Dossier

A T-800 goes shopping for some clothes at the Griffith Park Observatory, May 12, 1984. Recognize the guy with the spiky blue hair?

I haven’t seen the by-all-accounts underwhelming Terminator: Genisys yet, because since I’ve been busy being a “Critic Fellow” at the one-of-a-kind Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in the wilds of Connecticut. But I did indulge in some quippy dramaturgy on the wandering-ronin Terminator franchise, for NPR.

Psychiatric Help $0.05: Lucy, reviewed.

Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson's "Lucy."

My NPR review of Luc Besson’s wiggedy-wack but truly, madly, deeply watchable Lucy.

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Anyway, We Delivered the Bomb: On Choosing the 50 Greatest Summer Blockbusters

Scheider in "JAWS." I knew Spielberg's 1975 genre-starter would be No. 1.

In honor of the historic 25th anniversary of the release of Lethal Weapon 2, give or take a couple of days  — no, that’s not actually why I did this — I elucidated the agonizing process of logrolling and negotiating required for me to determine my votes in The Dissolve‘s list of the 50 greatest summer blockbusters in this essay for NPR Monkey See.

Sometimes you need the Socratic Method and math to discover you’re dead inside.

Back to the Future (Past), or You Can’t Keep a Good X-Man Down

I enjoyed X-Men: Days of Future Past, Bryan Singer’s return after a decade-long absence to the surprisingly resilient superhero franchise he originated. This movie is based on a 1981 story from The Uncanny X-Men comic book that I first read when it was reprinted in probably 1989 or 1990.

The movie alters the tale as necessary to unite the cast of 2011’s 60s-set X-Men: First Class with the players from the earlier X-pictures, set in the present day — or rather, as a title card at the top of 2000’s X-Men tells us, “the not-too-distant future.” I’d feared this timeline-straddling — Days of Future Past is set in some unspecified year in the 2020s, -ish, and in 1973 — might make the movie as dull and incoherent as the Star Wars prequels, but it’s funny and light on its feet.

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So Long, H.R. Giger, and Thanks for All the Sleepless Nights

H. R. Giger, "Necronomicon IV," 1975.

Giger’s “Necronomicon IV,” 1975

A brief remembrance, written this morning not quite as quickly as I can type, of the great Swiss artist H.R. Giger and his most iconic creation, for NPR Monkey See. Continue reading

Please Hammer Girl Don’t Hurt ‘Em: The Raid 2 and the Flat Circle of Cinema Violence

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The same weekend I saw both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Raid 2 — prompting this piece for NPR Monkey See — my pal Glen Weldon showed me the mostly-animated G.I. Joe episode of Community. The show got a lot of mileage out of the fact that nobody ever got killed in that war cartoon, wherein an elite American military unit fought a uniformed army of terrorists to a stalemate every 21 minutes using ray guns.  Continue reading

The Retouchables: RoboCop

Peter Weller in "RoboCop" '87.

Peter Weller in “RoboCop” ’87. I will call you “Murphy,” and Murphy when you call me you can call me “Al.”

Today! Right now! Right here! The first installment of The Retouchables, an irregular but recurring feature I’ll be writing for NPR Monkey See about reboots and remakes and re-remakes and, just maybe, bootmakers. IN THIS EPISODE: RoboCop!

 José Padilha’s remake opened at number four with a bullet last weekend, so the time just felt right. This’ll be all on RoboCop for a while, I promise.

I Still Wish I Were Blind: The Often Terrible Album Covers of Bruce Springsteen, revisited.

HIGH-HOPES

That’s The Boss’s imminent album up there, all right. Over at NPR Monkey See this morning, I ask why it — like pretty much every album Springsteen has made in the last 30 years (except for The Ghost of Tom Joad) — must have such a terrible, awful, no good, inexpressive and irreducibly goddamn fugly cover.

I wrote a similar, much longer piece examining the covers of Springsteen’s entire official catalog five years ago, after the horrific cover of Working on a Dream leaked. Continue reading

It’s About Time Somebody Called Richard Curtis on This Shit

Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson in About Time. After holding this expression for three grueling months of shooting, both actors had to have their faces amputated.

Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson in “About Time.” After holding this expression for three grueling months of shooting, both actors had to have their faces amputated.

That’s disingenuous. Plenty of critics have called Richard Curtis on the way his new movie About Time cheats already. My take, which you can read on Monkey See now, is somewhat unique, I hope.

Backstory: I saw About Time on vacation in London Leicester Square about two months ago, several weeks before it opened here in the States. (Fancy!) With the exchange rate being what it is, two tickets cost me the equivalent of $50 — double the freight of a first-run movie here in Washington, DC. I would’ve been steamed to spend that much on a film I disliked. As I suspected I would, I enjoyed the film unabashedly, but I felt even guiltier for liking it than I’d felt for liking Curtis’s other sappy movies, but especially Love, Actually, which was particularly egregious. About Time‘s handling of its time-travel conceit was just so lazy and… unfair.

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Captain Phillips and the Terrible Excitement of Real Action

black hawk down

Ridley Scott’s BLACK HAWK DOWN, from 2001.

Captain Phillips, the seemingly little-embellished new thriller based on a 2009 hijacking at sea, got me thinking about what sort of responsibilities filmmakers have — and we as audiences have — when approaching a dramatized account of things that actually occurred. You can read that piece over at Monkey See today.

Pros and Khans, or Star Trek into Dorkness: How the new movie reflects a 32-year-old battle for a 47-year-old franchise’s soul.

I once attended a midnight screening of the Cadillac of Star Trek films — that would be numero dos, The Wrath of Khan — wherein the projector bulb burnt out right in the middle of Mr. Spock’s heroic death scene. If the theater hadn’t given us four free movie passes to compensate for this effrontery against all that is good and decent, I would’ve suspected an especially cruel prank, perhaps orchestrated by a partisan of the bloodless, squeaky-clean Next Generation-flavored Star Trek, which I suppose is okay if vanilla is what you like.

Naturally, I had to dig up my Khan DVD at home and watch the final 10 minutes before I could go to sleep that night. Spock’s grand and tragic expiration would soon be reversed in a not-so-good movie with the surprise-negating subtitle The Search for Spock, but whatever.

All of which is to say that my love for The Wrath of Khan is mean and true. And it fascinates me that that film, more than any other of the hundreds and hundreds of subsequent Star Trek items (a great number of which — like the entire Deep Space Nine and Voyager and Enterprise series, for instance — I’ve never seen or read), remains the primary source document that continues to guide the cinematic Star Trek universe, especially in the heavily Khan-indebted new movie Star Trek into Darkness.

J.J. Abrams’ second Trek film takes a generation-old, backstage fight over the meaning and purpose of Star Trek and drags it right to the center of the camera-flare-buffered frame. I make my case today on NPR’s Monkey See blog. Continue reading

Where There’s a Willis, There’s a Way, or They Still Call Me John McClane: Being a die-hard’s guide to the Die Hard-iverse

Die-Hard-air shaft

“I think I see my future…”

Hey, I didn’t ask to annotate the Die Hard films for NPR Monkey See.  I’m just a good man, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

No, I did ask. I was just delighted they were willing to run it at the obsessive, possibly excessive — but by no means exhaustive! — length at which I filed it.

I wrote it in a fit of anticipation for A Good Day to Die Hard, a film that, after reading a dozen or so reviews, I’ve decided I won’t be seeing — not in the cinema, anyway, where movies live. “This is a Die Hard movie where no one is trying and nobody cares, which is depressing,” wrote Deadspin’s Will Leitch. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch Amour yet, so if I’m in a mood for depression-inducing viewing, I’m not gonna waste that on a movie that by all accounts debases a franchise and a character I’ve loved since I was a kid.

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Skyfall-In: The Education of Sam Mendes

THUNDERBALL (1965)

I wrote about Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, over at NPR Monkey See. The piece is basically my apology to director Sam Mendes for having expected him to screw this thing up.

Gently Mendes-dissing line I wish I’d written: In his Skyfall review at Grantland, Zach Baron described Mendes as “taking a break from plastic-bagging the American Dream in Revolutionary Road and American Beauty to shred the enduring illusions of his native country instead.” Continue reading

Wherein I return to Pop Culture Happy Hour, and everyone attempts a Schwarzenegger impression except me.

James Bond, in DR. NO (1962) and SKYFALL (2012).

I was delighted to appear on Pop Culture Happy Hour again last week. (Listen here, you.) The show’s A-topic was movie action heroes, inspired by the publication of Arnold Schwarzengger‘s memoir Total Recall (which I’d only half-read prior to taping, on account of its 624-page girth and the fact I’m reading it in tandem with Salman Rushdie‘s equally substantial memoir Joseph Anton) and, I thought, Taken 2 (which I haven’t seen, and won’t, unless it turns up on Encore Action at 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday eight months from now).

If they’d asked anyone but me to come discuss this topic, I’d have been crushed like Sarah Connor crushed the T-800’s microprocessor-controlled hyperalloy endoskeleton in a hydraulic press.

It turns out that the first half of Arnold’s book is a lot less annoying than the second half.

Happily, Taken 2 did not come up at all.

624 pages!

I’d come prepared to talk about the evolution of the cinema action hero: How the men (usually) of violence, reluctant or not, whose adventures fill seats around the world grew out of a conflation of the gangster pictures that dominated the 1930s and the westerns of the 40s and 50s. In 1962, James Bond arrives onscreen; by 1969, Bond one-timer George Lazenby is watching Telly Savalas (in his sole appearance as one of the series’ recurring characters, cat-loving Bond nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld) break his neck on a low tree limb during the film’s climactic fight atop a bobbing bobsled (!) and observing, “He’s branched off!” Continue reading

There Will Be Acid-Blood: Musing on Prometheus

I owned this.

Over at NPR Monkey See today, I write about about the Sisyphean task Ridley Scott has taken on in trying to make his breathlessly-awaited, origins-of-life epic Prometheus compelling enough to compete with my adolescent obsession with the seminal films of the ALIEN franchise. (Ongoing, sadly. My fascination, not the franchise. But that’s ongoing too, obviously.)

I had fun writing it. I hope you like it. Prometheus is the sort of problem film where you know that diagnosing its failings and parsing its mysteries is the greater, more lasting pleasure than actually watching it (though I did enjoy watching it), a trait it shares with the latter two ALIEN joints. The best I can hope for is to go to my grave having purchased only one home-video version. If you’re interested in used VHS copies of the original release cuts or extended special editions of ALIEN or ALIENS, or the ALIEN Quadrilogy DVD set, I will totally give you a deal.

My NPR Monkey See debut, sorta, on MMA star Gina Carano’s film debut, sorta

MMA star Gina Carano in HAYWIRE

I have a lengthy, discursive post up on NPR’s Monkey See blog today ruminating on Steven Soderbergh‘s action-cinema debut, Haywire. Continue reading