Saw a Takashi Miike picture called The Great Yokai War. "Yokai" is a Japanese term for monsters from folklore, as opposed to the more familiar kaiju. It's a kids' picture, about a young boy from Tokyo sent out to live in the countryside with his older sister and his intermittently senile grandfather. When a vengeful spirit appears, the boy gets caught up in a war between warring groups of yokai and must find his courage to become the "Kirin Rider", the hero who will set everything to rights. It's not a bad picture - nothing deep, but an amusing story. Some of the yokai are really trippy, Japanese folklore can get pretty "out there", apparently.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA

 

2011

Marvel Studios/Paramount Pictures

 

Directed by Joe Johnston

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Based on “Captain America” created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA is right now the best Marvel superhero movie made to date.  Joe Johnston doesn’t get a single thing wrong in this movie which is actually two movies in one: it’s not only a superhero movie but it’s a World War II movie as well and never to the two elements clash with each other.

 

4F Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) tries time and time again to enlist in the U.S. Army as he desperately wants to do his part and fight the Nazis.  But his list of physical aliments prevents that until chance puts him in the path of Professor Erskine (Stanley Tucci).  The professor left Germany to willingly work for the United States on his greatest experiment: The Super Soldier Serum which can transform a man into the perfect human.  Erskine wants to try his serum on Steve as he is impressed with the man’s heart and compassion.

 

Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) the head of the Super Soldier Project isn’t so sure this scrawny specimen is the right man.  But Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) of the Strategic Scientific Reserve agrees with Erskine and the experiment goes ahead.  Steve is endowed with enhanced strength, reflexes, heightened senses and a metabolism that heals him at a faster rate than normal.  Tragedy dims the success of the project and as a result Steve is regulated to being used a mere publicity tool to sell war bonds, going on USO tours as ‘Captain America’ dressed in a gaudy red, white and blue costume.

 

But over in Europe, the war isn’t waiting for Steve.  Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is the head of HYDRA, a separate organization within the Nazi party dedicated to developing advanced weaponry for its own purposes.  Schmidt is also known as The Red Skull, due to an unfortunate side effect of Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum which he took himself.  Along with his chief scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) The Red Skull has his own plan of world domination that doesn’t involve Hitler.

 

Things really kick into high gear when Steve, fed up with being treated as a joke, goes on a one-man rescue mission behind enemies lines to rescue his best friend James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and over four hundred prisoners of war, including a bunch of fightin’ fools known as The Howling Commandos (Neil McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, Bruno Ricci and J.J. Field).

 

Captain America, now a front line soldier with Bucky and The Howling Commandos backing him up as well as a new protective uniform and shield developed by genius inventor/industrialist/futurist Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is regarded as a genuine real American hero.  His battles are rapidly becoming the stuff of legend.  But it’s a legend that may be cut short when he finally confronts The Red Skull…

 

There are so many things that CAPTAIN AMERICA gets right I could easily take about an hour listing them.  Elements of the origin are moved around but the spirit of the character is intact.  Chris Evans finds exactly the right note for Steve Rogers/Captain America and never strays from it.  Just like when he played Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in the two “Fantastic Four” movies, I get the impression that he took the time to read the comics.

 

The only problem I have with Tommy Lee Jones is that his character wasn’t named “Happy Sam” Sawyer since to me that’s who he’s playing.  Neil McDonough is absolutely scary in how much he looks like “Dum Dum” Dugan.  And he sounds exactly like I always heard Dugan’s voice in my head while reading those “Sgt. Fury” comic books.  The changes in the relationship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes is one I thought made that relationship even stronger.  I really liked how Tony Stark’s dad got in on a lot of the action and we get to see a lot of where Tony gets his swagger from.  Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones make for an effective pair of bad guys and Hayley Atwell steals every scene she’s in as Peggy Carter, a woman definitely ahead of her time.

 

But the star behind the scenes is Joe Johnston who I’ve been telling you folks for years now is a genius.  Hopefully the success of CAPTAIN AMERICA will cause people to finally acknowledge “The Rocketeer” as the masterpiece it is.  And “Jurassic Park III” and “The Wolfman” ain’t bad either.

 

So should you see CAPTAIN AMERICA?  Are you kidding me?  What are you waiting for?  

 

 

 

 

Jeff, Murder! is on TV here tomorrow, and I'm hoping to remember to watch it again. I didn't know until recently that it's based on the novel Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson.

 

Strangers on a Train is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, but I have a theory that the climax of Hitchcock's version was taken from The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin. Kirby imitated the film's climax in the concluding sequence of the third issue of Silver Star.

Oh, yeah... I remember that! It thought the sequence on film was very exiting. Tracy's choice for follow-up is "Throw Momma From the Train" (what else?), which I have not seen but she already owns. Too bad one can only ever see a Hitchcock film for the first time once. Or maybe not. The very first Hitchcock film I ever saw (before I saw even Psycho or The Birds on TV) was his last, The Family Plot, at the theater. I remember almost nothing about it. I've never seen it since but plan to watch it again one of these days.

"Too bad one can only ever see a Hitchcock film for the first time once. Or maybe not."

 

That reminds me of EVIL UNDER THE SUN (directed by Guy Hamilton, as it happens).  I saw that film at least 4-- or 5-- times-- before I was able to REMEMBER all the details and how it all fit together.  I wound up running ther tape back and re-watching the last 15-20 minutes of it over right after I watched it... and suddenly, after more than 25 years since the first time I saw it-- the plot MADE SENSE to me! Mind you, I always enjoyed the film from begiinng to end... there was just something about the plot that made it difficult to follow.  I think what allowed me to understand and remember it, was the realization that everything that happened BEFORE everyone arrived at the island was the important stuff. If you could folow that, the events on the day of the murder would all "click" and fall into place.

 

I love the story, the all-star cast, the sense of humor to balance out the mystery, and, the Cole Porter music.

 

Kinda makes you forget how really bad those 3 "007" films he directed in a row were.

I saw Win Win the other night. It's a movie from the same director as Station Agent. It stars Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan about a struggling lawyer and part-time wrestling coach who somehow ends up watching his client's grandson. As you can imagine if you've seen Station Agent, the charm from this movie comes from the interactions of the characters. Very quiet movie, but one of the better that I've seen recently.

Win Win is terrific. We saw it a few months ago, and really enjoyed it.

 

Kathy & I saw a ton of horror/SF movies this weekend (and tonight). I started out on Friday night (in the wee hours) with Paranormal Activity, which might be the creepiest of the bunch. Then on Saturday, we stayed in from the snow and watched The Thing, Cronos, and The Fly. Sunday, we saw Them! (well, I was in the room while Kathy watched Them!) and Forbidden Planet. And tonight, we celebrated Halloween by watching the recent monster movie Feast, which was a sick, gory blast of a good time.

I need to see a movie. The last one I saw in the movie theater was Drive and the last at home was Blue Valentine. I've been watching a lot of tv lately. I use to watch movies a lot. Any recommendations?

...I mentioned The Lion King , and an Occupy Santa Cruz showing ( From some portable DVD player rigged into a projecter onto a sheet-screen . That's Sticking It to The Man , eh ????????? ) of V For Vendetta , didn't I ?????????

  Well , I also saw a UK film with Helena Bonham Carter ( Actually a BBC-shown TV-movie in ol' Blighty but shown in cinemas here in the colonies . ) called TOAST .

  Yepper , that's the title !!!

  3 folks ( Including me . ) in a 200ish-seat auditorium , approximately 9 P.M. , Monday nite...

Just watched the new Conan the Barbarian movie. It wasn't too bad.

I'm not sure which of the Conan's is more faithful to Robert E. Howard's vision of his "origin" but they were very different. Jason Momoa certainly had more speaking lines than Arnold did in the original.

Nevertheless, both Conan movies are enjoyable and action-packed.

The Invisible Woman (1940)

I have to admit, I never would have guessed that Shemp Howard and John Barrymore ever appeared in a movie together.

I watched the newest version of Gulliver's Travels with Jack Black. Honestly it was because nothing else was on. It was pretty dumb.

TOWER HEIST

 

2011

Universal Pictures

 

Directed by Brett Ratner

Produced by Brian Grazer and Eddie Murphy

Screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson

Story by Adam Cooper

 

 

In the interest of full disclosure there are a few things I should get off my chest before getting into the review.  First, there’s the director Brett Ratner.  I thoroughly detest the “Rush Hour” films and like most of you reading this, I didn’t care much for “X-Men: The Last Stand” In fact, before today the only Brett Ratner film I liked was “After The Sunset”  The last time Eddie Murphy made me laugh was in 1999’s “Life”  Ben Stiller is hit-or-miss with me.  When he’s funny he can be screamingly, side-splitting funny as in “Meet The Parents” or “Tropic Thunder” but when he’s not he bores me to despair as in “Zoolander” or “Starsky and Hutch”

 

So trust me when I say that I wasn’t expecting much from them and therefore I was totally and delightfully surprised at how much I enjoyed TOWER HEIST.  Sure, the actual heist is pure screwball in planning and execution but the cast is so good and are all obviously having a terrific time that I didn’t care.  TOWER HEIST, like “After The Sunset” is a Brett Ratner movie that feels as if he’s telling a story about characters he cares about.  Unlike the “Rush Hour” movies that feel like pure product.

 

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) is the manager of The Tower, Manhattan’s most expensive and exclusive condo skyscraper.  He’s extremely good at his job and is adored by his staff.  Among them, his brother-in-law Charlie Gibbs (Casey Affleck) who is the building’s concierge.  Enrique Dev’reau (Michael Pena) the elevator operator.  Odessa Montero (Gabourey Sidibe) a Jamaican maid who needs to find a husband to avoid being deported.  Lester (Stephen Henderson) is the building’s head doorman who is looking forward to retiring after many long years of service at The Tower.

 

Josh is also very buddy-buddy with the building’s most famous tenant: Wall Street billionaire businessman Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) who owns the penthouse.  They play chess by computer and Josh plainly looks up to the older man as a father figure. 

 

That image is shattered when Shaw is arrested by the FBI for running a Ponzi scheme.  Shaw’s lost over $2 billon, including the pensions of The Tower’s staff as they all invested their money with him.  Placed under house arrest by the FBI agent assigned to his case (Tea Leoni) Shaw maintains his innocence but when one of the Tower’s staff attempts suicide, Josh is determined to get their money back.  He recalls that sometime ago, Shaw had his condo extensively remodeled.  He thinks it’s because Shaw used the remodeling to cover up having a safe installed in the condo.  Josh plans to break into the condo, get in the safe and hopefully get back the money The Tower’s staff lost.

 

A reluctant Charlie is enlisted, as is Enrique, Lester and Odessa.  They’re joined by Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) a Wall Street investor himself who’s gone bankrupt and has been evicted from The Tower.  The last recruit is Slide (Eddie Murphy) a small-time thief who is understandably dubious about the whole caper.

 

The heist is set to be pulled off during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and as I said earlier, it is a totally screwball heist as everything that can go wrong, does go wrong with results that are both hilarious and nail-bitingly suspenseful.

 

The story is one that is extremely timely, given the current financial crisis in the country and goes a long way to selling the movie’s premise.  Alan Alda is great in his performance, playing Shaw as a man totally indifferent to the havoc he’s created in people’s lives.  Casey Affleck is pure comedy gold and this is yet another performance that further reinforces what I’ve been saying for years; that he’s a better actor than his brother Ben.  Eddie Murphy hasn’t been this good in years and for me it was a pleasure to see him truly acting and not hiding behind tons of makeup and fat suits.  Gabourey Sidibe continues to prove that she deserves to be taken seriously as an actress and she’s not just a one-movie wonder.  And it’s always a pleasure to see Tea Leoni in a movie.  Why this woman doesn’t have a bigger career is a mystery to me.

 

I could go on and on but I won’t.  Just go see TOWER HEIST.  Trust me, it’s good.

 

Rated PG-13

104 minutes

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