December 25, 2012


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Henry II and Thomas Becket duke it out on the church vs state issue.

Long but excellent. In all respects but one, this is very good history. Henry II is tired of the uppity priests demanding that they have the right to try their own people and are not under his authority, so when the Archbishop of Canterbury kicks off suddenly in the middle of this debate, he pushes through the nomination of his old drinking-and-roistering buddy, Thomas Becket…except that Becket finds out that his loyalty shifts to God instead of the king.

Peter O’Toole plays Henry II, a role he recreates in The Lion in Winter. Richard Burton is Becket. John Gielgud has a short role as the French King, who shelters Becket for a while.

So all that is really good. There are also a couple of nice family scenes with his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and kids (including, although not mentioned, Richard I aka Lionheart). The neverending embroidery project Eleanor and Henry’s mom are working on is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is fun if you notice it. There are other small but excellent details like that in the movie.

The big problem here is that the writer, Jean Anouilh, wrote the script after reading the story in a book that had been published many years earlier…and all the stuff about Becket being a Saxon, which is central to this movie, just ain’t so.

But this is still an excellent movie. Yes, it’s long slow and talky. Yes, for a medieval movie there is very little (read: none til the last scene) swordplay. Yes, Burton is unbelieveably serious and ponderous. But the script is good, the history is by and large good, the writing is excellent, Peter O’Toole (serious honey) is at the top of his form…this one is definitely worth seeing.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

December 22, 2012


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CinemaSins       Movie Reviews

Bilbo Baggins sets off with a group of dwarves on an adventure to travel to the Lonely Mountain and kill Smaug the Dragon.

This review not only contains MANY SPOILERS, it is full of SARCASM and STRONG LANGUAGE. Stupid and gullible people must have adult guidance to read any further. You have been warned.

Dear Mr. Jackson,

I just saw your new movie, The Hobbit, and felt compelled to express my feelings to you personally. You may not know this, but many people have already read The Hobbit, some (like me) more than once, and many of us have strong feelings about it.

I now have strong feelings about you and the movie you made of it, and those feelings are not good feelings. There are many things that I did like about it- it was VERY pretty, and cinematographic, and the costumes and special effects are excellent. I liked the dwarves and the care you took to differentiate them from each other. I liked Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins- he’s quite good.

In fact, I wanted to like the whole movie.

Oddly enough, my first intimation that I might not like the whole movie came this summer, at Comic-con, where I discovered that this film, made from a book that is about 2/3 the length of the first volume of Lord of the Rings alone, was going to be made as not one…not two…but THREE MOVIES.

Seriously? I said, THREE movies? how can that be? it’s just not that long a book.

But yes, as it turns out, this is just the first of three movies.

Hm. I was not thrilled with the idea. I found out more about what was planned and was not thrilled with that…the words ‘milking the franchise’ and ‘overwriting’ kept bobbing up in my mind, but I resolutely pushed them down. No, I said, this is PETER JACKSON. Whatever quibbles I had with some of the changes and plotting in the three Lord of the Rings movies, he really did right by them; he was pretty faithful to the books, and I was overall very happy with them. Surely he won’t muck up The Hobbit, which is much more simple and straightforward. Surely he’ll totally get that it is a simple children’s story and not a BIG OL’ THUNDERIN’ EPIC, and treat it appropriately.

So now it’s December 21, 2012. The day the world is supposed to end. And of course it hasn’t, except insofar as my illusions about your respect for Tolkien’s work and the legions of people who love this book have shattered like the continents caught in the throes of Armageddon.

Because, Mr. Jackson, you have failed. You have totally betrayed me. You have screwed with That Which Must Not Be Screwed with. You have, in two words, FUCKED UP.

You have taken this simple, straightforward, charming and amusing story and rewritten it to make it EPIC. PORTENTOUS. MEANINGFUL. While, at the same time, putting in all kinds of references and scenes that refer to the Lord of the Rings and that were simply not there in the original book…because THEY DIDN’T NEED TO BE.

See, the part you don’t get is, it’s this simple little story that sets a lot of balls rolling for the books that follow…but it’s SIMPLE. Because the most important things usually have the most commonplace antecedents. (This is a point actually made in the Hobbit itself, in case you missed it.)  And they don’t need a lot of boom and whango and foreshadowing and backstory and stuff. They’re better if you just LET THEM BE.

Not everything needs to be shown or explained, or have additional plot written for it- it’s enough that the dwarves got thrown out of their home by a dragon, we don’t need Thorin and the big ol’ white orc to have a vendetta and keep running into each other. We know that there’s bad stuff in Mirkwood, we don’t need to have Galadrieil show up and talk with Elrond and Gandalf about the Necromancer in Dol Guldur.* By that point I was just facepalming, seriously. I was tired of whispering to Mr. Otter, That’s not right!

And then there are a whole lot of unnecessary chase and action scenes that really add nothing but a special-effects budget to the whole production. Yes,  they’re pretty and cool to watch and all that, but the words PADDING PADDING PADDING were reverberating through my brain.

Simple, Mr. Jackson. This is a word you have evidently expunged from your moviemaking vocabulary.

I could go on, but what would be the point? either you get it or you don’t…and unfortunately, like George Lucas (may he go to That Special Hell reserved for those who change beloved movies when they are finally released on DVD) you now have such a big budget that you see nothing wrong in spending all of it on whatever sounds good to you, whether or not it really is a good idea, helps the movie be a BETTER movie, or is an affront to decency and good taste.

You make me sad, Mr. Jackson. And although I will probably go to see the second and third movies, I have no hopes that they will be good, or that I will enjoy them.

When Ma’at weighs your soul against a feather…I know how that one is going to come out. And I will not be sorry. Not one bit. Not any more.

Yours more in sorrow than in reproach,


*I have heard that a whole lot of the second Hobbit movie is about this, which was just a mention in the Hobbit, and was also only mentioned in bits and pieces in the LotR books and appendices. Speaking of overwriting and making stuff up.


December 21, 2012


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The battle of Rorke’s Drift, in 1879, when a handful of British soldiers fought off something like 3,000 Zulu warriors (139 to 4500, actually. There’s a good, concise article on it at

I can’t believe that I haven’t reviewed this movie, which means that it’s been more than four years since I saw it last…far too long. This is one of the best war movies ever made, for many reasons (besides the fact that it’s Serious Honey Michael Caine’s first big role, and is he ever young and cute in this one, yowza!):

  • it’s extremely well made, with enough character development to interest the viewer in the lives of the people in the movie without slowing down the action
  • the military stuff ditto, enough to set the scene and get you involved, but not so much picky detail that Otter’s head threatens to explode.
  • Not having big ol’ famous actors helps a lot too. (Yes, Stanley Baker had been around forever, and had a solid reputation, but certainly wasn’t a big name, and it was Caine’s first big role)
  • And the details: the costumes, the weaponry, the accuracy of the layout of the mission station at Rorke’s Drift, it’s all very well done.

And that’s not even the best part of the movie, the part that EVERYONE who has seen it talks about because it is indeed wonderful…and I’m not going to give it away. Watch it, you’ll see not only one of the best and best made war movies ever, but a scene you’ll remember forever.

Zoot Suit

December 21, 2012


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An otherwordly musical about the Zoot Suit riots in LA in the early 1940s that were the result of four Latino men being unjustly sent to San Quentin.

Okay, I grew up in Southern California, but of course in the small redneck community that was my home town, nothing was ever mentioned of something so controversial…so although when the musical, and then the movie, came out, I saw the ads on TV (yes, I was still hooked on the Box of Evil back then) and thought it looked interesting, I never got around to it.

Until this last weekend, when I went on a girls’ trip to Death Valley with La Cuerva.

We did all kinds of rugged outdoorsy things during the days, of course, but when night fell…there we were in our nice motel room, in our jammies, eating cookies, reading and talking. And we had brought some movies. Of which this was one.

It’s one of La Cuerva’s favorites, and has been on my list for a long time, so we watched it.

And it was really good. Not only historically accurate (and La Cuerva certainly knows her stuff there) but interesting to watch, with good music, great costumes and clever writing. Some of which is in Spanish, but understandable in context for gringos like me who only catch a little of it at any given time…and La Cuerva translated the salacious slang, that was fun!.

And Edward James Olmos is wonderful. He’s the centerpiece of the show, the instigator, narrator, and MC. He’s flamboyant, flashy, irresistable…and has a great part, very well suited to his talents.

The rest of the cast is good too, although the only other one of whom I had heard was Tyne Daly, who plays the woman who keeps their case going and finally succeeds in getting them released from prison.

The songs are not only good, but they fit the time period. Costumes and sets are excellent; this is a treat for all the senses.

A real winner, well worth watching. Even if you have no cookies.


December 21, 2012


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The survivors of the zombie apocalypse band together to try and reach an amusement park. Trust me, it makes sense in context.

I was visiting Ottersis and helping her pack to move, and of course we talked nonstop. Except when we stopped to have a movie night with our friend Spider Jerusalem. And during dinner (wonderful Indian food) talk turned to, well, movies. You have to see Zombieland, they said. We saw it the other night, it was GREAT.

Okay, I said, I’ll put it on my Netflix queue.

No, no, no! they said. it’s IN THEATERS.

Whoa, I said, you guys managed to find time to go to a MOVIE THEATER? for they are great at-home-video-night-with-ethnic-takeout-food-at-one-or-the-other-of-their-houses buddies.

Yes, they said, that’s how good it is!

Well. With a recommendation like that, how could I resist? I left Ottersis’ house and took the Metrolink to Riverside, where The Barracuda was waiting for me.

And we had a fine time that weekend, and in the midst of the frivolity, she and the Dog Master and I went to see this.

And I have to say, Ottersis and Spider Jerusalem were in no way wrong.

This is a funny, hip, fast moving zombie picture that is worthy to take its place in the pantheon of the New Zombie Movie. Woody Harrelson is tough and funny, the kid (Jesse Eisenberg) is nerdy and hilarious, and the girls are excellent. Traveling across a zombie-decimated country, having adventures on the way, trying to get somewhere else, and everyone ends up at a Disneyland-lookalike amusement park just in time for (and you know this is coming all the way through) The Big Shootout.

Absolutely hilarious, well written, a complete joy.


Zombie Strippers

December 21, 2012


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A strip club where the girls are turning into zombies and the customers love it.

A great big shout-out to Miz Shoes in Miami for recommending this one- even Mr. Otter (who totally doesn’t get the whole zombie thing) liked it, as a Commentary On Our Times (because of what the bad guy says at the end).

The government has a zombie disease that they are trying to use to create super soldiers that won’t stop even after they’re dead, but of course something goes horribly wrong. A stripper ends up getting it, turns to a zombie…and the customers go wild. Should the other girls turn into zombies too?

A hilarious treatment of the whole zombie thing, with real ztripper/pole dancers in the lead roles, very nice. And Robert Englund plays the scummy club owner, totally not to be missed.

Having said that, this is bloodier and grosser than many zombie movies, be warned that it’s not for the weak of stomach…but if your sense of humor is sufficiently twisted, you’ll love this.

Ziegfeld Girl

December 21, 2012


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The stories of three girls who are picked to be Ziegfeld Girls.

Oh, the joy of seeing a GOOD musical after that horror that was Love Me Tonight…this one is a pip!

Judy Garland is the Good Girl trouper, Lana Turner is the Girl Who Goes Wrong, and Hedy Lamarr is the Girl In Love With Someone Who Doesn’t Know She’s Alive. Also starring Eve Arden, total honey, as the Wise-Cracking Know-It-All (as always), Jimmy Stewart visiting his dark side as a crook and jailbird, and Edward Everett Horton as the never-seen Ziegfeld’s factotum and voice.

Great musical numbers, good story, wonderful costumes, a real treat all around. If you like musicals, don’t miss this one!

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

December 21, 2012


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Zack and Miri make a porno. What did you think it was about?

We chez Otter like Kevin Smith movies a lot. We are even very amused at the rude hilarity of Jay and Silent Bob. We think Dogma is one of the best movies ever.

So when Mr. Otter brought it home from work, we watched it right away. We expected it to be rude, not politially correct, full of naked people doing wierd things, and pretty funny.

What we did not expect was that it would also be sweet and romantic.

See, Zack and Miri are sharing an apartment. He is obviously in love with her, but she just sees him as a guy friend. And they are broke. They are beyond broke. And when events conspire to give them the idea to make a short porn movie and put it out on the internet to make some money, well, all kinds of things happen.

This movie is not for the faint of heart, nor the weak of stomach. They are indeed filming a (unintentionally hilarious) porn movie, so if you are not amused by the concept, don’t watch this.

But if you like Kevin Smith, if you have always wanted to see Jason Mewes (aka Jay) naked (and he’s worth seeing, believe me), and if you have a sense of humor that night, give this a try…I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Young Frankenstein

December 21, 2012


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From the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Sort of. In a very oblique way. But funnier.

This was the third film we watched at an AGVAPSNBA*, the other two being Sin City and Laura.

Okay, I am totally shocked that in five years of reviewing movies, I have not yet reviewed this one. And I KNOW I’ve seen it. I think Mr. Otter has had it on a couple of times while I was doing other things like packing or crocheting or working on my web site, and I don’t tend to review movies that I don’t pay attention to unless it’s that they’re so bad I have to wander off

So here goes.

Firstly, this is one of the Four Good Movies of Mel Brooks (the other three being Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and The Twelve Chairs.) And don’t be emailing me about Spaceballs or High Anxiety or any of those other movies. Otter has spoken.

Anyway. This is a WONDERFUL movie. Filmed in black and white, in the original set used in the Boris Karloff Frankenstein movie from 1931, it’s about Victor Von Frankenstein’s grandson…who has inherited some of his grandfather’s talents.

The cast is just perfect: Marty Feldman, Gene Hackman, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Madeleine Kahn, Kenneth Mars, oh man. It’s a symphony of funniness, yes indeedy.

And I will tell you no more, because I do not wish to spoil a single hilarious second of your pleasure at seeing this movie for the first time, except to tell you that there are a million great lines that you will quote forever more. And a story: Otter first saw this in the theater when it was new. I was with my dad and his mother, a stolid middle-westerner.

Dad and I laughed hysterically, until both of us were crying and panting for air. Grandma…was not amused. One of my favorite childhood memories. You can see where I get my totally twisted sense of humor.

*All Girls Video and Pizza Sleepover No Boys Allowed

Yellow Submarine

December 21, 2012


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True confession time: I am completely indifferent to the Beatles, both the phenomenon, and their music. Yeah, I’ll sing along with Obladi, Obladah on the radio, and I like Let It Be if I’m in the right mood, but if I never heard another Beatles song again in my life, it really wouldn’t matter to me at all.

All of that aside, I love this movie. I’ve loved it since I first saw it as a tiny otter of 8 years old, when it was new, and still loved seeing it for the umpteenth time on DVD at home last Friday night, with young friends who had never heard of it.

Yes, the animation is very old fashioned, although it’s still pretty darn imaginative, and was cutting-edge in many ways when new. There are many pseudo-psychedelic scenes, and the jokes are corny…nevertheless, this one is a winner. Fun to watch, easy on the ears, good and amusing dialogue…if only the Beatles had been like this in real life…