Quo Vadis

September 15, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Henryk Sienkiewicz.

A Roman general falls in love with a Christian slave and is eventually converted, all against the backdrop of Nero’s Rome.

I was traveling, as is my wont, and was listening to a great audiobook series from the Teaching Company about movies that take place in Ancient Rome and their historical accuracy; the presenter was a Classics professor, and he was funny and had a lot of interesting things to say, both about the movies and about the whole ‘Roman Spectacle’ genre of movies. This was one of the films he talked about; it started the whole genre in 1951.

I read the book many many years ago as a young Otter, and still remember that it was a thunderin’ good read…this movie? not as much, although it wasn’t bad…

Robert Taylor is the Roman commander, and it’s a toss-up whether he or a block of wood would be a more compelling hero…he’s very handsome, but rather stiff and unemotional. Deborah Kerr is beautiful and awesome as the Christian slave Lygia, but the cake is completely taken, eaten and owned by Peter Ustinov as Nero; not only is Ustinov an Otter Family Favorite Actor, but this role is campy and awful. Scenery is chewed with gusto.

This movie has huge sets, scenes with hundreds if not thousands of actors, chariot races, Rome burning, and lots of overacting. What’s not to like?

But read the book as well, it was great.

The Imitation Game

January 5, 2015


Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Yet another movie about Turing and the breaking of the Enigma code.

Now, don’t get me wrong. What Turing and his group did was amazing, and they changed the course of the war by figuring out the code. He gets top marks for that Chez Otter.

But is there anything new to say on the subject? Mr. Otter and I have seen at least two or three other movies and TV miniseries about him, his (illegal at the time) homosexuality, his supposed communist leanings and/or info leaks, his difficult personality, and also how he broke this extremely difficult code by inventing a type of calculator/computer that could figure it out in the time frame (it was changed every 24 hours.)

This was a well-made and well-written movie, beautifully filmed and, except for a regrettable scene where white-out was used to correct typewriting (Otter ground her teeth at that one) very historically accurate. Benedict Cumberbatch (who has the BEST NAME EVER in the Otter Family’s opinion) played Turing, and did a very good job of it, giving his extremely difficult personality enough human feeling for viewers to empathize with him.

But…did we really need another movie about this? Well, yes and no, I think. On the one hand, it’s been done before. On the other hand, with fan-favorite Cumberbatch in it, this will introduce Turing and what he did to a whole new generation.

But (and this is where the reality police come in and haul everyone away) it WAS NOT THE FIRST COMPUTER. Yes, they actually said this in the trailers for the movie, which made me shoot steam out of my ears. The Turing machine models algorithms, but is not itself a computer, and even if it were, it was a hundred and fifty years too late to be the FIRST computer.

But those are minor quibbles. If you don’t know this story, or are a Cumberbatch fan, or just like a well-written drama, you’ll enjoy this one.

How the West was Won

June 9, 2014


Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

A multigenerational epic about the American Frontier, Hollywood style.

I have gone back and forth with Mr. Otter about this movie for years.

I’d bring it home from the library. Oh, god, he’d say, that’s the most awful movie, don’t watch it.

But it’s a big ol’ western epic, I say, how bad can it be?

No! he says, I saw it once, I won’t watch it again (runs out of room with hands over eyes.)

This is not much of an exaggeration. We danced this dance two or three times over maybe ten years.

Then I was in my library and needed something to watch at the Red Cross, which takes 2 1/2 hours or so. I saw this. Perfect! I said, and grabbed it.

Neener neener neener, I said to Mr. Otter, I’m going to watch it WITHOUT YOU and you won’t be able to say anything.

And he didn’t.

And I did.

And you know, it wasn’t bad.

It’s one of those 1960s things where they have every single star they can possibly get their hands on come in for a cameo in one movie, just so they can attract as many people as possible who wouldn’t otherwise see it…just one of those things they did back then.

But the story isn’t bad- it’s a family story, starting with a group that travel on the Erie Canal; there is a Civil War story, a Gold Rush story, and a western story. The main characters are all the same family, and it’s fun seeing some of them get really old.

Of course, because it’s the sixties, the native americans are basically treated as an impediment to expansion, and that’s it; Spencer Tracy’s narration pretty much says as much…shows you how much things have changed in the fifty years since this was made.

Not a great movie, not great moviemaking, but fun, and certainly not as bad as Mr. Otter said.

Penalty for inappropriate titles: in the credits, referring to the first section of the film, they misspelled the Erie Canal. Yup, it says Eerie. That made me laugh.

The Lone Ranger

February 6, 2014


Internet Movie Database          Movie Reviews

From the neverending franchise, but originally from a radio program that debuted in 1933.

I was so excited by  the previews of this movie. This tells you how much they have figured out in the science/art of making previews that make people want to see movies, whether or not the movies are any good…

And Serious Honey Johnny Depp! no need to tell my True Fans how awesome he is, even in a bad movie or a very bad movie, he is worth watching. But in full makeup as…Tonto? Really? Okay, I’m willing to go with it, ever since I scorned Disney for making an AMUSEMENT PARK RIDE into a MOVIE…and was proved to be so very very wrong…

But then there were more previews…and they seemed…off, somehow. Hm, I said to Serious Movie Buddy Spider Jerusalem, maybe we should save our ten bucks and see this at home…? and he agreed with me.

So here it was, a Saturday afternoon that not only was I not working, but I had no other plans for. There were three movies that we had not seen in the theaters that we wanted to watch, and this was one of them

And oh my god, we were so glad we had NOT paid ten bucks to see this dog of a suckmonster. I started msting it ten minutes into the movie. It was truly terrible. And because it’s February, here is a valentine that tells how I feel about it:

Lone Ranger movie, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:

A. Hammer is no actor, never was
And Johnny Depp was wasted, that’s no lie.
They both are silly, less than meets the eye
Though Depp can act, while Hammer never does.
The history sucks, there’s no point saying this-
As SJ said, the writers had no brain.
When, at the end, at him I did complain
He laughed at me for every cry and hiss.
The music was, of course, from William Tell
alternately with one more fiddle tune
repeated, o’er and o’er, because a goon
had writ the score and knew just these two well.
And now I tell you, honestly and true,
Avoid this flick! you’ll thank me if you do.

And the fifteen minutes that it took me to express my disdain in sonnet form was WAY more thought than ANYONE put into this movie. What a pastichy mishmosh of a bastardized bad idea with supposedly cool stuff thrown in! SJ mocked me when I screamed at the television that they couldn’t have been playing Stars and Stripes Forever at Promontory Point in 1869 because John Philip Sousa was ONLY FIFTEEN THEN. Not to mention the wild train chase away from there…through TREE LINED CANYONS. On DOUBLE TRACKS. Oh my god.

Oh, and the music thing: of course during two of the big action scenes they had to do the third part of the William Tell Overture; I was actually okay with this. But every time they wanted mood music, they did a sad orchestral version of the fiddle tune After the Battle of Aughrim (here’s a decent version of it on mando and guitar). Yes, a great tune but DAMN I got tired of it and really don’t want to be thinking of this crappy pile of wasted…I was going to say cellulose but movies aren’t, any more…ELECTRONS when I hear it from now on. And I will. Dammit.

No point going on, even Depp couldn’t save this. I’m sure he insisted on the full makeup at all times so he could pretend he wasn’t even there…but we know you were, Mr. Depp. And we also know that you have signed on for a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. And if you want to keep your coveted position of Serious Honey on Otter’s blog site…well, just look to Nicholas Cage and be warned.

Avoid this film like the heap of idiocy it is. If you want something fun and steampunky that’s set in the same time period, I highly recommend Wild Wild West. Let’s watch it together and take the evil taste of this movie out of my mouth. Feh.

They Died With Their Boots On

December 18, 2012


The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

The story of George Armstrong Custer, ending, of course, in the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

You know, this wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered…sure, it’s fairly historically inaccurate in many ways, but in other ways, it’s not bad moviemaking. The plot is good, and even if many of the characterizations are not really credible, they work well. And some of the historical stuff is fine, although of course, being Hollywood, the filmmakers just couldn’t bear not to improve it.

And Errol Flynn (serious honey from 1935-45) is in it, very very nice. He’s great fun to watch, chewing scenery like there’ll be no dinner tonight. Olivia De Havilland looks WAY better than she did in Gone with the Wind, and is a good foil to Flynn’s overacting.

And of course there are the usual supporting actors, including Sydney Greenstreet as General Scott, and Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse, that famouse Irish/Mexican Sioux…

The battle scenes are good, although it was a hoot to see that they shot the Little Big Horn stuff in California…Montana sure doesn’t look like that! but again, they’re fun to watch, many good bits of action.

Worth owning and watching, if only for amusement.

Santa Fe Trail

December 6, 2012

sftrailThe Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan ride off to stop John Brown and vie for the hand of Olivia De Havilland

And that’s pretty much it. Someone saw the list of famous Civil War commanders who all graduated from West Point together, and decided to write a story around them. Flynn plays J. E. B. Stuart, Reagan is (hold on to your hats here, folks) George Armstrong Custer, and their first cavalry assignment out of West Point is in Fort Leavenworth KS, where they are trying to stop Brown’s raids and find out where he’s going to strike…and then, of course, they are part of the troop who take the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.

nobrainWell, of course, since Mr. Otter has <shameless plug> written a novel for Young Adults about John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry raid </shameless plug>, we chez Otter knew that most of the historical stuff in this movie is just silly. By the end, when Custer is enamored of Jefferson Davis’ daughter (!) we were just shaking out heads and laughing.
But, historical veracity aside, it’s really not so bad a movie…I mean, you have Serious Honey (at least he was until about 1945) Errol Flynn, cutie pie Olivia De Havilland creating serious sparks with him, and Ronald Reagan bouncing around like a puppy dog. Some good action sequences, historical inaccuracy notwithstanding, and Alan Hale and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (I am not making this up) as the two pretty amusing comic relief sidekicks.

Watch it for fun, don’t expect too much.

The New World

November 7, 2012

It’s Pocahontas, duh, but of course Disney has already franchised the heck out of that name, so they had to call it something else, and if they followed the Truth In Advertising laws and called this One Of The Most Boring and Ponderous Movies You’ll Ever See! nobody would have paid ten bucks to go see it.

Sigh. This is a movie not only about a seminal event in American history (or at least a seminal American STORY, since most people don’t really know what actually happened) but what actually happened is really pretty exciting and would make a great movie!

Too bad this wasn’t it.

Sure, the reviews talk a lot about the meaningful and beautiful camerawork, the slow pans over the forest primeval, the lovely and lyrical scenery…but the truth is, the scenery is the best part of this awful and boring movie, it sure isn’t the acting or the script. As Mr. Otter said, it’s pretty painful to actually watch a movie commit suicide before your very eyes…

It’s two and a half hours long. With short bursts of action and dialogue. And long scenes of natural beauty and all that stuff. But it doesn’t really seem like two and a half hours, you know. It was more like EIGHT YEARS by the time we got out of that theatre (except that if that had really been the case, I’d be retiring now…ah well).

This movie was so bad that part way through, Mr. Otter (who had gotten his customary cup of some sort of coffee drink before the movie) leaned over to me and whispered, I don’t think this has ever happened before, but this is a TWO COFFEE MOVIE.

As he got up and left (left me ALONE watching that AWFUL MOVIE all by MYSELF with NOBODY to SHARE THE PAIN) I looked at my watch. There was a WHOLE HOUR left to go…and I confess it. I almost got up and followed Mr. Otter out and said, (in the immortal words of Eric Cartman) screw you guys, I’m going home.

But I didn’t.

I had to sit through the whole rest of the movie.

And it didn’t get any better…

Colin Ferrell may be good looking, but I think they needed to actually wake him up before filming…he was sleepwalking through all his scenes. The actress who played Pocohontas (who, by the way, is never called by that name), Q’Orianka Kilcher, was very good, pretty much the only good thing about the whole movie.

And I’m just not going to waste the space going on about how they could have made it better or how much better and more interesting the real stuff that happened was than the stupid mishmosh they made of it here…because this movie has already sucked two and a half hours out of my life, and it’s not worth wasting more on it.

So go find out for yourself, it’s pretty interesting stuff.

And you’ll have a way better time than you would have had seeing this dog.

Trust the Otter.

National Treasure

November 7, 2012

The Internet Movie Database
CinemaSins      Movie Reviews

Nicholas Cage is solving clues and trying to find a fabled treasure before the bad guys get there.

This is kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark meets The Da Vinci Code, but the lite version, fewer brain cells, fewer calories…but on the other hand, as my friend Virago pointed out, it was made for kids.

And she was right, it’s not even PG 13…so seen in that light, it worked really well, better than many movies that are dumbed down for kids instead of WRITTEN for them (big difference, but I won’t froth at the mouth about it here. Just take it from me, kids aren’t stupid.)

Nicholas Cage has lost Honey status, but he was fun to watch, and his sidekicks made a nice counterpoint to his know-it-all character. And let’s not forget Jon Voigt, Harvey Keitel and (briefly, and I didn’t even recognize him) Christopher Plummer. Not to mention Sean Bean as the EXTREMELY charming bad guy, he may be a honey soon, he is really really good to look at…but I digress. Good cast.

Sure, a lot of the history is bogus, and we were glad Mr. Otter wasn’t there, since he would have muttered to himself all the way through it how wrong everything was. The whole set-up at the National Archives is made up, and the clues are WAY too easy, but all in all, it was a fun ride. Lots of running, chasing, mixing up items, finding clues, figuring them out, etc. Go see it, have a good time.

Reality police: they’re climbing down the extremely old and fragile wooden scaffolding/stairs that’s 200 years old, and has handmade nail heads in all the visible parts…and as two pieces of wood seperate, nearly dumping the girl sidekick to a nasty death, a MODERN FACTORY PRODUCED STEEL NAIL is clearly visible between the pieces of wood. How hard would it have been to edit that out? hmph. And if I noticed one thing, there were probably plenty more…

My Name is Bruce

November 7, 2012

The Internet Movie Database       Movie Reviews

Bruce Campbell is…himself. Seriously. The actor. Playing himself in real life. And he is brought to a town where they’re having undead problems because the geeky kid in the town has seen all of Campbell’s movies and figures that he can get rid of the baddies.

And who can resist a buildup like that? not this otter, I’ll tell you. I was very disappointed that I couldn’t make it to Berkeley when Bruce Campbell was touring and showing the movie and stuff, I would have loved to see that. Ah well. Life gets in the way of fun, once again.

But there was one problem: if this kid has seen that many Bruce Campbell movies, you’d think he’d know better than to take a shiny seal off the old shack…

Anyway. This was cute and funny, especially if you’ve seen some Bruce Campbell movies. He’s not aging badly, the geeky kid was cute, there were some funny scenes, it was worth watching.

Don’t buy it unless you’re a big fan, though, it wasn’t THAT good…

The Mummy

November 7, 2012

The Internet Movie Database
CinemaSins      Movie Reviews

A bunch of people go looking for the lost city of Hamunaptra and find a lot more than they bargained for…

This one is just a whole lot of fun, and basically has everything- lots of explodo, excellent effects, a plot that doesn’t necessarily make complete sense, but is in there trying, amusing (if not witty) dialogue, great locations, many flying body parts, you name it and it’s here.

Brendan Fraser is as cute as a puppy dog, and Rachel Weisz is adorable (just promoted to Honey Status as of 12/03). They’re great together, especially with John Hannah as the fall guy, he’s way funny.

Nope, no oogies in this one, although I almost didn’t go see it because I knew there’d be dead things walking around…but they’re not scary, they’r e more like the skeleton robots in Terminator, menacing but not frightening (at least for moviegoers).

And the scene where she’s getting drunk by the fire…and proudly proclaims herself A LIBRARIAN! Mr. Otter, Virago and I burst into applause at that point when we saw this in the theatre, all of us being of that ilk. Way amusing.

Historical nobrainer, but if you like explosions, fast moving plots, special effects, exotic locales, or seeing many people killed in various icky ways, this flick is for you!