Was it really this easy to start a mob rampage in the ’40s?

I’ve been watching the “Universal Monsters” movies on TV lately.  It’s a Mystery Science Theater 3000-like comedy show called “Svengoolie“, but for the most part the comic interruptions do little to either enhance or detract from the film.

It is rather amusing how all the movies follow the same basic templates, but it kind of makes sense once you remember these movies were made in the 1930s and ’40s and it must have been a treat just to get to see a movie, even if it was almost the same as the previous movie.  People were probably less critical of movies then.

It’s also hilarious how often a torch-wielding mob shows up in these flicks.  There’s a scene in The Mummy’s Tomb where the Sheriff or somebody says to the assembled townspeople: “You’re not gonna believe this, but there’s a 3000 year-old monster on the loose. We’ve got to run him down.” (Close paraphrase.) The next scene is a mob of people marching to the cemetery with torches, on the grounds that somebody saw an Egyptian guy there the other day.

I never liked the Mummy movies; he moves hilariously slow.  And the plot is just too sloppy and incoherent, even by horror movie standards.  The only Mummy movie I ever liked was the 1999 one, which wasn’t even a horror movie, but a very amusing action-adventure.

Now, the Dracula movies were much better, even if they were also very predictable.  But Dracula seemed like a dangerous monster, what with the turning into a bat and a wolf and magically opening locked doors and whatnot.

One other note: The Mummy’s Tomb has a character in it who looks exactly like Ron Paul.  At least, I thought he did.  (I admit I tend to see resemblances to people in movie characters very often, and my fellow viewers don’t know what I’m talking about.  It’s like the TMBG song “Certain People I Could Name“.) That was perhaps the most frightening thing in the whole movie.  The actor’s name, by the way, was Otto Hoffman.

I honestly cannot believe that Hollywood has been reduced to making movies based on board games. I haven’t seen the movie, but from the trailer it’s not clear to me if it has anything to do with the game “Battleship” besides the license and the fact that it has battleships in it. I’d say this is the clearest sign yet that they’re running out of ideas.

So, what other board or pen-and-paper guessing games could get the Hollywood treatment? I’m thinking “Parcheesi” myself. Although they could also do an adaptation of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and say it’s a “Hangman” movie. The posters almost make themselves:

I read this Slate review of the movie Crooked Arrows, which is apparently a fairly predictable movie about lacrosse. I’d never heard of it till I saw the article. But from this review, it seems that it simply reinforces what I’ve said before about sports movies being dull and predictable.

I still like my idea for a movie about a super dominant team that destroys their plucky opposition. I envision a football movie, about a team on a quest for its second undefeated season in a row. I’m thinking it would be a musical, with the big number sung by the half-Lombardi-esque, half-Belichickean head coach. (I’ve thought about this too much.)

Even that would just be a satire of the sports movie genre, though. It couldn’t be a lasting formula for films, just a one-off. The problem is that sports are dramatic affairs themselves. And they’re more dramatic than movies, because they are harder to predict. If Hollywood had written it, the Cardinals would have beaten the Steelers. The Giants and Patriots wouldn’t have even been in it last year in the movies. The unpredictability is what makes it good.

I think the best sports movies are the ones that involve rigging and corruption in the game. That way, the drama of the game is subjugated to serve the larger drama of behind-the-scenes machinations. Political issues and sports might work, too. I’ve never seen all of Invictus, but I’ve watched some scenes from it, and it seems pretty good because of the larger political issues at stake in the movie. The outcome of the big game doesn’t even matter to the real point of the movie, because it’s more about what the South African rugby team means to the country.

Figures I’d have to find a way to work conspiracies and political intrigue into my sports movies, doesn’t it?

Entertainment Weekly has a slideshow of movie errors that bother people. I have to say, most of them are quite minor, and the sort of thing very few people would notice. (The one about Pi did bother me, though.)

But I guess we all have different things that annoy us in movies. I never did understand why the giant laser guns in Revenge of the Sith seem to be ejecting casings. That makes no sense.

The best errors, though, usually come in movies about some historical event, like people wearing wristwatches in the movie Spartacus. The most glaring examples I can think of come from the movie Battle of the Bulge, in which the German tanks are actually American M47s. Even more jarring is the fact that the final stage of the battle appears to be fought in a desert. There is, as far as I know, no desert in the Ardennes.

But some people probably wouldn’t be bothered at all by things like that. For one thing, in the EW article, a lot of people mentioned being bothered by characters going in the wrong direction to reach their supposed destination. I have a lousy sense of direction, so I would never notice that kind of thing.

What kind of movie errors irritate you?

I saw a trailer for the upcoming movie The Raven on TV yesterday. It seems to me like it would have made more sense to release it around Halloween, but I guess it is right in time for Walpurgis Night.

I read up on the movie, and it sounded like kind of a cool concept, although it’s gotten terrible reviews so far. It sounds like they have, as modern filmmakers always do, relied on the grotesque and not the cerebral to make the film scary.

There’s nothing terribly violent in the poem “The Raven”, you’ll notice, and yet it is a masterpiece. You would think that this might suggest something to present-day practitioners of the genre, but it does not seem to.

Someday a statistician will have to write a paper about the probability, if one tunes in at random to the film The Ten Commandments, of the first thing one sees being Yul Brynner saying “So let it be written. So let it be done.” I flipped the TV on yesterday, and sure enough, that’s what I saw. That’s the only line I–and most people I’ve talked to about it–can ever remember clearly from the film.

It’s kind of sad that a cheesy, 60-year old movie that I have seen 10 times already was still the best thing on television last night. Add to this that I’m not religious, and it becomes even more pathetic.

But that’s not the point. The point is that, although the picture quality in the film was great, there were some times when it made obvious special-effects look all the worse. For instance, in the scene where Rameses is exiling Moses from Egypt, Rameses and Moses are looking at each other, a few feet apart. When the camera is on Rameses, he is standing in front of what is fairly obviously a painting of the Nile. Cut to Moses, who is standing in a very real desert, with a vast wasteland stretching out behind him. The shots of Moses are great; they could have come from a modern-day film. The shots of Rameses are laughably bad, even for 1956. It’s jarring.

Obviously, though, that hasn’t hurt the movie’s popularity. Even I enjoy it, although it’s not anywhere close to what I’d call a “great” movie.

Oh, and happy Easter.

The Daily Beast has a slideshow of Hollywood movies that bombed. I’ve only seen one of the movies on the list: Cleopatra. It’s a long movie, and as I recall the early-going with Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar was pretty good, but after he gets killed off, the movie goes downhill fast. What amazed me was the fact that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, famously having an affair at the time of the filming, had very little chemistry in the film. Harrison and Taylor were a better couple than Burton and Taylor, weird as it sounds.

Of course, the more expensive a movie is, the more danger it is in of “bombing”; since bombing basically means “failing to break even”. So, this means it’s theoretically possible that a good movie that people like could still bomb because of financial mismanagement during production. Since Cleopatra is the most expensive movie ever, it would have had to do incredibly well to not bomb.

So, what’s the best movie to bomb? Wikipedia has a list of the biggest bombs, that’s a good starting point. I know some people love The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but I’ve never seen it. I haven’t seen most of these. Babe: Pig in the City wasn’t that bad… but it was pretty bad.

Any suggestions?

I was thinking of watching the movie Ryan’s Daughter, since it’s St. Patrick’s Day and the movie is set in Ireland. And I usually like David Lean films. But I was reading some reviews of it, and it seems like a lot of people feel it has beautiful cinematography and a gorgeous location, but the story itself is weak. I don’t know if I’ll see it or not, but it did set me thinking about something, especially with this post still on my mind.

To me, for a movie or video game to be art, it has to do more than just look good; it has to have a good story and good characters. I’ve always taken this for granted in my posts on the subject, but I’ve lately realized that some people may not feel the same way. I mean, some people will argue that games like Rage or BioShock are art based on their settings alone. And I can’t argue that both Rage‘s wasteland and BioShock‘s art deco undersea city are beautiful creations.

It’s just that, those game aren’t just about looking at the pretty setting. They also have stories and characters, and I found both lacking in these games. Especially Rage. BioShock definitely had some interesting ideas, but ultimately it just felt forced and too self-consciously weird to me. (That said, I’d still qualify BioShock as art for at least trying, just not great art. Rage is right out.) If you make a game whose art lies solely in its visuals, make a game about going around and looking at all the pretty stuff. Kind of like Pilotwings 64.

Talking of David Lean, consider his movie Lawrence of Arabia. Does it have awesome visuals? Yes, it certainly does. However, without Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson’s script, and the powerful performances by all the actors, it wouldn’t be a great movie. Cool to watch for the “match/sunrise” scene and the scene where Omar Sharif rides up out of the desert, but not a great movie. I’m not passing judgement until I see it, but some reviews make it sound like that’s exactly what happened with Ryan’s Daughter.

Now, of course, Lawrence would also be a lesser film if it had the same script and acting, but shot in black-and-white on one of those laughable “desert” sets that you sometimes see in old Westerns. But still, I think that people sometimes overstress the superficial qualities. Obviously, just having better visuals doesn’t make a film better. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is not superior to Casablanca, even though the former is in color and the latter in black-and-white.

I don’t have HBO, so I won’t be seeing the movie Game Change anytime soon. it sounds mildly interesting to me from what I have read, if only because of this one line:

“‘Now it takes a movie star charisma to get elected president. Obama and Palin, that’s what they are, stars,’ one strategist concludes at the film’s end.”

Well, I don’t dispute that. In the age of television and especially of the internet, charisma itself is a “game changer” Visual media loves a charismatic individual.

Perhaps that’s why they couldn’t resist making a movie about something that happened only three-and-a-half years ago, and was not exactly undocumented. Personally, if I wanted to relive The Sarah Palin Experience 2008, I’d just go watch some of the many news shows about her. It’s not like her debate performance or her acceptance speech are lost forever. The Couric and Gibson interviews are readily accessible.

I know, supposedly this movie gives us the “behind the scenes” look at Palin and the McCain campaign, but I frankly have my doubts as to whether it is accurate. The only evidence it has for its accuracy is that Palin says it is inaccurate. That counts for something, but on the other hand its truth is vouched for by McCain’s Chief Strategist Steve Schmidt. Forgive me if I don’t trust the words of a political strategist.

No one except the actual participants knows what really went on, and, being all currently living people in the field of politics, are likely to tell the story that is most flattering to their own interests. The only way to really do it right would have been to make some sort of Rashomon-like film. And even that wouldn’t get you any closer to the truth.

This doesn’t mean that it’s utterly impossible to know what happened on the campaign trail, but it’s going to be years before a really clear picture emerges. That’s often the way with history. Right now, there are too many currently politically active people portrayed in the movie to really have much confidence in it.

So, why did they make this movie? Why didn’t they make a movie of an election we don’t have footage of, like, for instance, the 1824 election? That would be a good one; full of drama and intrigue. And it had Andrew Jackson, who is quite a fascinating personality. That would be very interesting to watch.

I went to see The Phantom Menace in 3D yesterday. I didn’t have high hopes for it, as I was mostly unimpressed with the 3D effects in Avatar, and that film was originally filmed in 3D. Still, I thought I should at least take advantage of the chance to see it on the big screen again for the first time since 1999.

Overall, I thought the 3D effects were okay, but not revolutionary. They didn’t look bad, but they didn’t change the whole viewing experience for me. The best use of them I can remember was a scene at the very beginning of the movie showing the Trade Federation blockade. I really felt the sense of depth looking at the all the different ships in orbit.

After that, though… it was just The Phantom Menace. Since I enjoy the film, it was fun to watch, but no more so than it would have been in2D. If you’re one of the many people who hate it (you’re wrong, but you have a right to your opinion) I doubt this would change your mind.

(Incidentally, one thing that struck me on this viewing was how misplaced the complaints of the film being “dull” are. If anything, I felt it moved a little too fast.)

The 3D thing is just a marketing ploy. It’s an excuse to induce people to watch the same movie again. I have to wonder how long this fad will last. I mean, once they figure out that Star Wars nerds such as myself would watch the thing anyway in 2D, why should they bother making the effort?

Lastly, I have to ask: why do the 3D glasses they give you have a dark tint? That screws up the color of the movie, and frankly, when balanced against the minimal effects of the 3D, makes it arguably a less visually-appealing picture.