Obsessongs: “I Only Have Eyes For You”

I don’t really have a reason for writing about this particular song other than the fact that I really like it, and that putting out less than 10 posts in a month just seems unacceptable.  Though I suppose we are approaching the dog days of August, and this is a song that tends to conjure up images of those long hot summer nights.  The kinds where a couple of lovelorn youngsters hook up at the local malt shop, go cruising around the town, end up making out at lover’s point, and ultimately die behind the wheel after Johnny swerves and crashes his dad’s Cadillac into a ditch.  Perhaps I should explain that last part.

Song: “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos
Album: Single Only
Year: 1959
Written By: Harry Warren and Al Dubin Continue reading

T3 63: Top 10 Giant Movie Monsters

Hey, so, the last episode got lost… Sort of. It sounds bad, and it’s kind of hard to fix it, and maybe someday it will be out as a bonus lost episode. But instead we push on! And by push on, I mean continue to focus on things somewhat related to Pacific Rim. Because that movie had kaiju, this week we’re talking about our own favorite giant monsters. Pretty logical path, some nice, linear thinking. Who’s your favorite movie monster? Boring conversation anyway.

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Gh-Gh-Ghosts!!!

The Conjuring

Who knows how indie horror flicks like The Conjuring go on to be big hits. I doubt people went to The Conjuring for their summer dosage of Patrick Wilson. I also doubt it had anything to with reviews (The Conjuring was well received) because most people don’t read reviews. Was it just the right place at the right time? The opportunity to duck into a cool, dark theater to hide from the heavy sun? Maybe that’s it, because nothing cools you down like getting the chills.

The Conjuring is a supernatural horror film from Saw creator James Wan, also the director of Insidious, another ghost story with Patrick Wilson. The Conjuring is based on the exploits of real-life paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). The story is set in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971 and details the Warren’s investigation of the Perron family (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) farmhouse after the occurrence of dark paranormal phenomena.

The film acts as both a historical documenting of the Warren’s work in “Demonology” but also adds flourishes of fantasy and mysticism to create an old school supernatural smorgasbord. I use the term “old school” not only to describe the film’s time period but also the methods. The Conjuring is more about atmosphere and what you don’t see then cheap scares. Not to say there aren’t a few BOO! moments but it’s all in good fun. Using a true story as background adds an eerie sense of realism but also provides limitations that work in the film’s favor. No doubt that it does break those limitations from time to time, The Conjuring still works because it never goes too far, it’s a precise and controlled series of scares.

I rather enjoyed the added backstory to the Warrens. We learn of some of their past cases and get a glimpse at their world through a collection of accursed items they keep displayed in their house. Additionally, their investigation techniques that include; cameras, black lights, and various audio devices that provide an intriguing look into a cooky, if not oddly fascinating profession. All that gooble-gobble reminded me a great deal of the 80s classic Poltergeist, which brings me to another point.

The Conjuring adds very little to the already bloated haunted house sub-genre. I appreciate that it’s an adaptation of a true story, it just happens to be a true story we’ve already heard and seen. The execution is effective but plays it too safe. I wanted to see something in The Conjuring that I’d never seen before. Not seeing that made me disappointed but I still had a good time. I just wanted to have a great time. That being said I’m glad I had something worth seeing in this dismal summer season. I guess anything is better than seeing either of Ryan Reynold’s bombs. Now that’s a real horror story.

Cancel The Apocalypse

Pacific Rim

I guess I’ve loved giant robots ever since I watched the Transformers cartoon as a kid. Or maybe it was the Megazord from Power Rangers? Let’s just say I’ve always loved giant robots. They defy the limits of reality in such a way that I simply cannot resist being both incredibly aroused when I see them. The problem with that? There’s never been that great Western giant robot movie. For spaceships I had Star Wars and a dozen other options; for giant robots, I had Robot Jox. Guillermo del Toro changed that (praise Jesus) by releasing Pacific Rim, my favorite movie of the year so far.

Let’s take a step back. Yes, Western media has been a huge letdown when it comes to giant robots, but Japan gets it. They have a long tradition of mecha anime, from Gigantor in 1963, to Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979, to Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1997, to whatever weird shit is going on today. These beautiful have a fascination with gigantic city-destroyers, as they are also the country responsible for the kaiju genre of cinema, most notable for giving us Godzilla. However, both of the genres have been limited to animation of dudes in costumes. Japan is the greatest place on earth when it comes to entertainment, but they just don’t have the big bucks like Hollywood does.

I go through all this not because I don’t think you know it already, but because it’s important to keep in mind what Pacific Rim really is: a tribute. It was as if del Toro managed to get the budget Gundam and Godzilla never could, and used it the way he think they would have. That means the movie might have some problems on it’s own, but it also means the movie screams: “Hey! Fuck you Michael Bay! Fuck your Transformer movies! Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!”

Because seriously, this is the opposite of those terrible Transformer movies in most ways. OK, yes, it also has a portal between worlds that has to be blown up, but what movie doesn’t these days? But do the characters make jokes that are funny and not racist? Yes. Does what’s going on make sense all the time? Yes. Is the action exciting and fun to watch and paced in a way that I don’t want to commit suicide? Yes!

So this is set in the future, when Kaiju (giant monsters) invade the world through a portal in the Pacific Ocean. Humanity united and created Jaegers (giant robots) to stop them. It worked. Years later, Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) is a washed up Jaeger pilot who ends up teaming up with his old commander (Idris Elba) and the new hotness (Rinko Kikuchi) on a last-ditch effort to close the portal before the kaiju invasion speeds up to an unstoppable rate. Also, Charlie Day and that guy from The Dark Knight Rises are there trying to understand the kaiju brain, and later Ron Perlman shows up.

Anyway, the action. Here’s the trick: it’s really exciting to watch. The jaegers are ginormous and beautiful works of machinery. They look like unstoppable killing machines. But the kaiju, the evil creatures from the depths, are just as diverse and menacing. Despite how powerful the jaegers were, I always believed they were outmatched by the kaiju. More importantly, even though the pilots were deep inside the machines, they were clearly in danger all the time in every fight. It’s amazing and tense and so fun to watch.

And then you get to the dumb stuff that you have to accept as tropes of the genre or you’ll be driven mad. Yes, they did build giant robots just so they could wrestle the monsters. Yes, for some reason, the sword is way more effective than missiles and lasers. And yes, people are going to yell dumb things when they attempt to kill the kaiju. Melodrama is a massive part of the shows and movies Pacific Rim was inspired by, you just have to be willing to eat it up. And good guy, I was starving.

This is probably the worst review I’ve ever written, because I’m pretty sure I’d defend Pacific Rim to the death. I concede the middle drags a bit and I wish there were fights outside of the ocean, raining, at night. But I was never bored, I liked all the characters, and damnit, I’d have paid damn near any price to see the two or three great battle sequences in this movie. Congratulations, Guillermo del Toro, you saved this disappointing summer for me. I hope they let you make another.

Lovers Assemble

Much Ado About Nothing

You could say that The Avengers was the ultimate test for Joss Whedon; a big budget summer blockbuster seemed pretty far out of the wheelhouse of the guy known for niche nerdy shows that get cancelled. But he made it work by doing basically what he has always done: writing a funny, exciting script that allowed the movie to focus a little more on character than spectacle. You see, Whedon is a writer, and a good one. So if you think about it, his real ultimate test is doing a movie he didn’t write, like when Kevin Smith did Cop Out. Fortunately, by taking on Shakespeare, Whedon set the bar a little higher for himself.

If you haven’t heard about the production history of this movie, allow me to leave you really unimpressed. Basically, while on post-Avengers vacation, Whedon invited his actor friends over to his Santa Monica home and shot the movie right there in his house. Knowing that made me think of the movie as a fun little exercise and not really a film worthy of analysis, but obviously I was wrong, or this wouldn’t have gotten a wide release.

The movie is shot in black and white, so as to create even further distance from The Avengers, which is nice. After Frances Ha, I’m getting used to the idea of seeing really modern places in black and white, might as well see this trend continue. As for Whedon’s interpretation of the script? He turned Conrade into a lady (played by Riki Lindhome of Garfunkel and Oates fame) who is totally doing Don John (Sean Maher, Firefly‘s Simon) which makes him seem a more credible threat. Also, Whedon implies that Beatrice (Amy Acker, who was in both Angel and Dollhouse) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof, from Buffy/Angel) already had a relationship previously, which I can get behind.

As for the rest of the cast? Clark Gregg, who apparently subbed in for Anthony Head at the last minute, is having a lot of fun as Leonato, as it should be. Nathan Fillion is obviously cast as Dogberry, and does it due diligence. Fran Kranz, of Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods makes Claudio a little more interesting than he usually is, and was fun with Reed Diamond’s Don Pedro. And there are other, mostly inconsequential parts for women.

Much Ado About Nothing is probably me favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, and I probably would get some enjoyment out of any rendition of the material. That said, I think Whedon deftly handled the material and the cast had a lot of fun with it. Shooting it in Whedon’s house gives the film an intimate feel, and the score, which Whedon also helped do, accentuates that tone. The whole movie just seems fun and casual, which it probably should, especially compared to Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version. I liked it.

Video Updead

V/H/S/2

Looks like we’ve hit the summertime slump here at Mildly Pleased. The days get warm as the posts dry out. Though something unusual that always seems to happen about mid-July is the rekindling of my love for horror movies. It’s probably because this is normally when I start watching films in advance for “Shocktober” (a 31 day celebration of horror movies in October.) Anyways, I decided to take my renewed interest in the genre and watch V/H/S/2, the found-footage anthology sequel to 2012’s V/H/S. If you’d asked me a year ago, “Do you think V/H/S needs a sequel?” I would have told you you’re dumb. Yet not only was a sequel not a dumb idea, it took the opportunity to improve upon the former.

Some Spoilers!
V/H/S/2 like its predecessor follows the same format; a collection of horror shorts by different directors all brought together under a filmed framing device (all found footage style). In this case the framing device (directed by Simon Barrett) revolves around two private investigators searching for a lost college student. Their investigation leads them to a house filled with TV’s and VHS tapes. The investigators find a recording of the student on a laptop where he informs them that watching the tapes in the correct sequence will “affect you” in a mysterious way. The female investigator begins to watch and the shorts begin.

vhs-2-phase-i-clinical-trials

Phase One Clinical Trials

The first segment is about a man who has his eye replaced with an untested cybernetic eye. The eye is installed with a camera to test the eye’s functionality but is also prone to occasional glitches. The man goes home but immediately starts seeing what appear to be dead people. He soon discovers that these aren’t glitches but are in fact ghosts! The short is simple but scary and ends in a grisly fashion, setting the tone for the rest of the film.

Phase 1 is directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die and the upcoming You’re Next, a film with a lot of festival buzz) and is an exciting, out-of-yer-seat opener. It certainly has the most BOO! moments and I enjoy the clever setup. It’s a little lean on plot and the ending isn’t much to speak of but it’s fun nonetheless. With an anthology you want to open and close with a bang and this is a good enough bang to get the heads rolling.

VHS 2 Review 005

A Ride in the Park

A Ride in the Park is directed by indie horror trailblazer Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) and Gregg Hale, who produced The Blair Witch Project. The segment is shot almost entirely on a GoPro camera attached to a bicycler’s helmet. The cyclist goes for a ride in the woods only to encounter a gang of ravenous zombies. The short takes an interesting turn when the cyclist is attacked and becomes a walking corpse himself. Leaving us with a mindless zombie protagonist (and I use the term lightly).

I like the old school style Romero zombies and especially the “twist” of having our main-man becoming a pile of dead man meat. Though after the first few minutes the segment doesn’t really go anywhere. Essentially, it’s the same-old, same-old zombie story in new packaging. Fine, but nothing that’ll stick with you. Though I must give props to the GoPro, “Be a Hero” and go pro.

vhs2-clip26

Safe Haven

Wow, not only is Safe Haven the best segment in V/H/S/2 (by a great deal) but it’s also better than any segment from the first film. Directed by Gareth Huw Evans (The Raid: Redemption) and Timo Tjahjanto, Safe Haven is a horrifying depiction of “cult” brought to its most extreme.

Set in Indonesia, Safe Haven is about a camera crew following a mysterious Indonesian cult and its short-tempered leader. What begins as the most grounded segment in V/H/S/2 quickly escalates to the most ridiculous short in either film. This one makes it all worth it and could’ve easily stood alone as its own movie. The cult is undeniably creepy in their quiet, brooding disposition and you actually care about the fate of the characters. I tiptoe around this one only because it deserves to be seen. If you like demonic stuff and are scared of stern, southeast Asian men, this is your film.

vhs-2-alien-encounters

Slumber Party Alien Abduction

The name pretty much sums it up. Directed by Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), a group of rowdy pre-teen boys, a slutty older sister, and their dog are attacked at a lakehouse by a group of grimacing greys. Conceptually, it’s the weakest and doesn’t really do much out of the ordinary. What does work in its favor is how it’s photographed. A majority of the short is photographed by a camera strapped to a terrier, which is surprisingly effective. In addition, the various puffs of smokes and flashing lights make this one a strange visual trip (easily the most nauseating.) Most important are the aliens, retaining the classic black eyed stare with just the right amount of slithery lankiness. It’s nothing to write home about but it has some out-of-this-world scares.

The overarching film ends with a bit of whimper, opting out for a cheap scare instead of a real resolution to the missing student’s whereabouts. Though overall I had some freaky fun with V/H/S/2. It’s refreshing to see what filmmakers can come up with when they have to deal with the limitations of found footage. I equate the entrainment value of V/H/S/2 with that of a spook house. There’s not much when you look under the surface, but there’s just enough skin-crawling scares to keep you away from delving too deep. Only time will tell if V/H/S/2 returns for my “Best Horror Films of 2013” list in October. Happy Haunting!

C.A.T.: Pretzel Logic

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic (1974)

How does an artist go from seeming lame and cheesy, to something worth listening to?  As a constant explorer of rock music’s rich past, this is a question that I’ve often asked myself.  Because when I step back and look at it, some of my absolute favorite artists were once designated to the cheesy/lame category (Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Randy Newman).  Yet somehow, they were able to completely transcend that at some point.

I think this kind of turnaround from hate to great is usually a gradual process, made up of several key reference points.  A line in a Judd Apatow movie; a certain friend’s strange infatuation with the song “Peg”; the realization that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were basically the original rock nerds; the final revelation brought on by Random Access Memories that studio-manufactured pop-rock isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  All of these moments combined are what recently convinced me to get in to Steely Dan, a band that I once dismissed as being totally second tier classic rock, mainly on the grounds that they barely rocked.

Now that I’ve delved a bit further in to the Dan’s discography, I might go as far as to argue that Steely Dan were one of the more consistently solid bands of the ‘70s.  And that’s what makes Pretzel Logic such a quintessential Steely Dan album — it’s just a great example of their impeccable solidness.  I wouldn’t even say it’s their best album (that distinction would probably go to the silky smoothness of 1977’s Aja), but it finds them in that sweet spot of transitioning from pop-rockers with a faint interest in jazz, to pop-rockers with a noticeable interest in jazz.  It’s also a transitional album in that for the first time it saw Donald Fagen and Walter Becker starting to swap out their own band members for seasoned studio musicians.  This seems like kind of a dick move, but I suppose when you’re going for the kind of pop perfectionism that Fagen and Becker were chasing, it only makes sense to try to get the best sound possible.

I’ll be honest.  I always thought that whenever Dan fans (Daniacs?  Danatics?) cited the jazz element of Steely Dan’s music, they were just trying to rationalize their adoration for a somewhat saccharine pop group.  But the jazz is definitely there, especially in “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, one of the band’s signature tunes and probably the only time anyone ever managed to build a hit single out of a riff lifted from jazz pianist Horace Silver.  And sure, you can try to intellectualize Steely Dan all you want, but I’ve found it impossible to deny that their albums were great because they dared to churn out slick, infectious, and vehemently uncool pop music — which also happens to be why I once disliked them.  But I suppose that’s what should make a formerly derided artist click for you: learning to no longer recoil from their most distinctive qualities, but to embrace them.

Favorite Tracks: “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, “Barrytown”, “Parker’s Band”