Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story

[3.5 stars] Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story (2010) on IMDb [Amazon]

A fun documentary about the game of Monopoly, exploring its origin, history, and current-day devotees. There is nothing extraordinary here, but movie held my interest throughout. It is narrated by Zachary Levi, late of the TV show Chuck.

The history is especially fascinating: the very earliest version, called The Landlord's Game, was meant to illustrate the single-tax theory of Henry George. Over decades, it mutated. Today's version was originally developed/stolen by Charles Darrow in the 1930s; even today, his descendants get a few cents thrown their way for each and every version of licensed Monopoly product purchased. Fascinating trivial details abound: "Marvin Gardens" is actually a misspelling of the actual property; "Short Line" was thought to be punchier than the actual "Shore Fast Line".

Much of the movie is spent reporting on competitive Monopoly tournaments, sponsored by the makers of the board game. If (like most people) you don't take Monopoly very seriously, you might be amazed at the number of people who do. There are a lot of talking heads, but they're colorful talking heads. There's some trash talking, as it develops that some of these guys don't really like some of these other guys. It all culminates in the 2009 World Tournament, held in Las Vegas; the winner is an unlikely Norwegian.

Novices can pick up some playing tips. (Example: in the early stages of the game, you should always bail out of jail ASAP, so you can accumulate tradeable properties. Once all the properties are owned, however, jail is a pretty attractive place, and you should stay there until you get thrown out.)

Last Modified 2012-09-23 11:21 AM EST


[3.0 stars] Haywire (2011) on IMDb [Amazon]

An arty action thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh. Probably would have been a big yawnfest if not for the protagonist being a woman.

But, to be fair, it's a pretty amazing woman. The actress is Gina Carano, playing "Mallory Kane", a spy-for-hire. In real life, Ms. Carano was once a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter, and her skills carry over pretty well to this role, which involves her beating the crap out of a whole bunch of guys.

As noted above, the plot is kind of generic: Mallory is called for a mission extracting a Chinese hostage held by a bunch of no-goodniks in Barcelona. Post-operation she's swooshed away to Dublin, but this turns out to be a mere pretext for a betrayal by her co-workers. She barely escapes and vows revenge.

Did you see Salt? It's kind of like that, although grittier, artier, and slightly more believable.

The movie's also notable by a bunch of big stars in relatively minor roles: Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton all appear briefly. (All but the latter being kind of sleazy.)

Last Modified 2012-09-23 11:20 AM EST

The Avengers

[5.0 stars] The Avengers (2012) on IMDb [Amazon]

As I type, IMDB has The Avengers as number 32 of the best movies of all time. I don't know about that, but … oh, wait, yes I do know about that: it's not. But it's very good. Consumer note: you might not want to bother shelling out extra money for the 3-D version.

Consumer note 2: if you're a true fan, you'll want to hang around through the entire credits for a sweet little post-credit scene.

It's the movie we've been waiting for since Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, showed up at the end of Iron Man back in 2008. His brilliant idea: assemble a group of heroes, some with unusual powers (Thor, Hulk, Captain America), some just extremely talented (Hawkeye, Black Widow); and throw in one with access to amazing gadgetry (Iron Man). Any of these folks can handle normal existential crises on their own, of course. But when a supernatural Asgardian miscreant (Loki) teams up with a nasty alien race (the Chitauri), it pretty much takes everyone to eke out a victory.

Sorry, that was a spoiler. The good guys win.

But along the way, there's plenty of action, internal bickering, and humor. There should be, I think, an Oscar category for actors speaking totally ludicrous lines with a straight face. Robert Downey Jr. would win this year, but face fierce competition from everyone else in this movie.

I see at the IMDB that the DVD will have about 30 minutes of deleted scenes.

Last Modified 2012-09-23 11:20 AM EST

Buchanan Rides Alone

[3.5 stars] Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) on IMDb [Amazon]

Yet another Randolph Scott movie made under director Budd Boetticher. A little better than average, I thought. Also, at 78 minutes, very short.

Buchanan, as you might guess from the title, is riding alone. He's made some money as a hired gun in Mexico, and is on his way back to West Texas. But he rides into the dinky border town of Agry, owned and operated by the Agry family. All he wants is some food, drink, and a place to spend the night.

But one of the younger Agrys has strayed over the border and dishonored the sister of Juan de la Vega; Juan (successfully) seeks vengeance, but the ensuing melee entangles Buchanan, and pretty quickly they're both about to be lynched by the enraged townspeople. Only by happenstance are they spared, and soon the town is caught up in intra-family rivalries, betrayal, and violence.

I don't think Mr. Scott was ever cooler. Even with a noose around his neck, he's making wisecracks. Extra bonus: Peter Gunn himself, Craig Stevens, playing the Agry's local enforcer, obviously disgusted with working for the sleazy bunch.

Last Modified 2012-09-23 11:21 AM EST