Sunday, February 28, 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Claritin, Tylenol, or Power Drill?

Slim pickings tonight. I'm just warning you up front. The Cap'n has a bit of a splitting headache of unknown origin (which we all know means only one thing: brain slugs), and I pretty much wrote myself out trying to digest A Serious Man last night. Plans to catch up with Black Dynamite fell through today, and all I really managed to do was get in the new episode of Saturday Night Live - which I found surprisingly amusing*.

However, I shall weather on with something or other, and give you some quality Trailer Sunday action tomorrow. If you're well behaved, I might even share my critical synopsis of Barton Fink come Monday. You'll see it before Herr Doktor does. Don't you feel special?

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For those of you in the area, the Cap'n will again be hosting an Oscar party next Sunday night (March 7th), which will be filled with... uh.... snark. Yes, lots of snark. There's a contingent who comes to talk about the fashion, which is totally fair, but my favorite pastime is punctuating commercial breaks with trailers from 42nd Street Forever...

Wait. This sounds awfully familiar. Did I write something remarkably similar to that last week?

Ah. I did. My bad.

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This is going to come as a shock to many of you, but the Cap'n temporarily lost his senses and started a Facebook account. I blame A Serious Man and a serious lack of sleep. Add me if you're feeling bold, because I haven't yet grown jaded enough to hit that "ignore" button.

On the other hand, that little Twitter-ing experiment got that out of my system. If that's your bag, please keep it up, but I need more than 140 characters to convey what I'm thinking.

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You folks have a 50/50 chance of seeing a review of The Hurt Locker next week. It's entirely dependent on what my work load looks like, but I admit that I do have at home and would like to watch the likely winner for "Best Picture" before the Academy Awards. I'd also like to watch The Informant!, but that's contingent on remembering to pick it up somewhere...

Oh, and there's a really good chance you'll see a review of Purple Rain next weekend. sigh.

* It's been pretty good of late, but my hopes were not stratospheric with host and musical guest Jennifer Lopez. Sorry.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Blogorium Review: A Serious Man

I've been stewing over this review for a while now. Part of me wants to wait until I've had time to sit down and watch A Serious Man again, rather than just parts of it (specifically, the beginning, which I've been through three times), but eventually you have to put something out there. A review today won't be the same review three months from now, and certainly not ten years from now.

What you should know before I start digressing about the particulars of Joel and Ethan Coen's latest film is that I really loved it. It's a dense film, one that I suspect you cannot possibly pick up every element of in one viewing (if you can, then you are a better person than the Cap'n, and I tip my hat to you). It's possibly their most autobiographical film to date, and not simply because A Serious Man is about a Jewish family living in Minneapolis in 1967.

I'd say there's fair cause to suggest that A Serious Man is linked to The Book of Job, although regular reader Adam D. has a theory that the "dybbuk" folk tale that opens the film is also linked in some way to the story of the "Wandering Jew", and he may have a valid point there.

The story of Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is, in some ways, very simple: he's a Physics professor awaiting tenure at a suburban Minneapolis college, with a wife, a daughter, and a son whose Bar Mitzvah is approaching. However, when we peer a little deeper, things get complicated: Larry's wife Judith (Sari Lennick) wants a divorce and a gett so that she can marry Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), another professor and "serious man". This may have something to do with the fact that Larry's brother Arthur (Richard Kind), has been living on their couch and constantly draining the cyst on the back of his neck. Rather than looking for a new place to live, Arthur is working on his Mentaculus - a mathematical formula that explains the universe, or helps him gamble... and worse.

His daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) doesn't seem to do anything but wash her hair and hang out at "The Hole", but desperately wants a nose job. Danny Gopnik (Aaron Wolf) is less interested in his bar mitzvah and more intent on getting stoned and listening to Jefferson Airplane. When one of Larry's students tries to buy a passing grade, things start really going awry.

From here on out, I could spoil the whole film and I don't think you'd really notice while watching A Serious Man. The compounding of horrors in Larry's life are incidental, because the film is more about how he deals with them and what it all means. The film opens with a quote by Rashi: "Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you", advice that Larry does not take. As his life spirals out of control, he seeks meaning from three different Rabbis. It should come as no surprise to fans of the Coen brothers that Larry is more confused leaving than in coming in.

A Serious Man is packed with un-or-barely-known names with recognizable faces, all of whom leave an impression (I could be quite wrong here, but the only Coen brothers "repeat" performer I noticed in A Serious Man was Michael Lerner, who played Capital Pictures mogul Jack Lipnick in Barton Fink). I'd really like some more time to pick apart the religious imagery in the film, or to try to digest Larry's dreams, but I wouldn't say that the film is hard to follow. Several reviews - especially on IMDB - attack the film for saying nothing, but I disagree.

It's true that there doesn't seem to be much more to follow than the series of unfortunate events that befall Larry, but I think there's quite a bit beneath the surface. It's the opposite of Miller's Crossing; a film I love because it fools you into thinking the story is harder to follow than it is, so that once you've "cracked" Tom's plan it all falls into place. There's at least one hook to Larry's story, although I'd be willing to say that in going back and revisiting A Serious Man, I might not find some other threads. Like I said: dense.

But not impossible. A Serious Man is quite funny, if painful, to watch. It stands alone as perhaps the least "auteur"-ish of Coen brothers films, but could not possibly be the product of other directors. I have a hard time pointing out exactly what it is that separates A Serious Man from their other films, but even where you can see the stylistic origins of No Country for Old Men in Raising Arizona and Blood Simple, A Serious Man appears to have no kindred traits with its ancestors.

Rather, characters share their names with childhood friends of Joel and Ethan Coen. Their parents were both professors, and they grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis. It's been mentioned that Santana's Abraxis and CCR's Cosmo's Factory were released in 1970, and not 1967 - when the film takes place. Allow me to posit a theory that fits into the semi-autobiographical reading of A Serious Man: if Danny Gopnik is a substitute for Joel and Ethan, then his bar mitzvah in 1967 puts him at Joel's age (born 1954). However, Ethan was born in 1957, and his bar mitzvah would have been in 1970 - when Abraxis and Cosmo's Factory were released. It's possible that they intentionally left this anachronism in because it reflects their ages respective to Danny's story.

I highly recommend it to all of you, realizing that some will ask me if I am mad. Perhaps so, but A Serious Man did not merely appeal to the film critic in me; it entertained and surprised me, which is more than I can ask for of most films today.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

From the Vaults: Blogorium Review - Grindhouse


(editor's note: the power situation is far from resolved. That being said, I've been slowly working on a proper review of A Serious Man, though I really feel like I should watch the movie again first. The short version is that I loved the movie. I can't help but feel like another go-round would be helpful, as I get the impression that I'm missing something. Like the first time I saw Barton Fink, but more ephemeral. Anyway, enjoy the review of Grindhouse, from shortly after its release)


It occurred to me that while in Cary, the absolute perfect conditions existed to do something I hadn't done in a long time, which was see a movie with Adam and Cranford, in this case the almost** perfect pairing of theatre to movie; Mission Valley and Grindhouse.

That's right, I watched it, and by golly, I liked it. A whole lot. Cranford and I liked Planet Terror more than Death Proof, and Adam really dug Death Proof. We all liked the trailers equally, and agreed we'd go see any of them that became movies.

The easiest way to digest the experience is just to break it down, because it's more than just two 80 minute movies with trailers, it really is quite a package deal to be involved in.

After stock cards for Coming Attractions and "thanks for coming" spots you might recognize from Kill Bill, we get the first trailer, which is

MACHETE

"He gets the women. He kills the bad guys" "If you hire him to kill the bad guys, make sure the bad guys aren't you" "they fucked with the wrong mexican" Machete plays like the Mark Wahlberg movie Shooter that we'd actually want to see. Danny Trejo kills people in four or five different and brutal ways, and then Cheech Marin is a priest who walks around with two shotguns avenging his brother.

Then we get a title screen that involve kittens and the old R rating screen, one that I admittedly had never seen, and then it's time for

PLANET TERROR

I forgive Robert Rodriguez for Sin City. Really, I do. If you're one of those people who really, REALLY liked The Faculty and From Dusk Til Dawn, or you have a real love jones for the Globus / Cannon era of 80's Sci-Fi / Action / Horror movies that ripped the shit off of John Carpenter and George Romero, then hands down this will be your favorite of the films. Not only does Rodriguez play by those movie rules, he also makes fun of them in ways that don't stand out like a sore thumb.

And look at that cast! Michael Biehn (The Terminator), Jeff Fahey (Body Parts), Tom Savini (please, like I need to tell you who that is), Josh Brolin (The Goonies), Naveed Andrews (Sayid on Lost), Bruce Willis, Nicky Katt (Insomnia), Marley Shelton (Sin City), Michael Parks (From Dusk Til Dawn), Freddy Rodriguez (Six Feet Under), Stacy Ferguson (Yes, Fergie), and Rose McGowan (Scream...?)

I saved McGowan and Ferguson for last because it'd make sense for them to be weak links, but damned if Rose McGowan doesn't really steal this movie right out from everyone else. BEFORE the Machine Gun Leg even. I was beginning to feel like the machine gun looked a little dumb in the ads but much like Shaun of the Dead, context really is everything.Fergie doesn't actually have much to do, but she's actually not sucky in the first great Zombie kill scene in the movie. (Or mutants... it's really up for grabs)

Naveen Andrews... man, if you liked him on Lost, he's really something in what amounts to a cameo. He has a particular fascination with a part of the male anatomy that makes his first scene quite memorable.

I could really rave about Planet Terror, but I'll just leave it at this: Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn play brothers. One is the Sherriff; the other owns a Bar-B-Que place. And the "missing reel" is f'n funny. And a Nouvelle Vague singing "Too Drunk to Fuck" in a scene not to be missed.

At the point that ended I really had to pee, but there was NO way I was missing my shot at seeing the Thanksgiving trailer again. But first was the ad for:

WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS

Easily the most retarded of the four trailers, Rob Zombie stuck every Ilsa, She Devil of the SS movie into one trailer, added Sybill Danning, Tom Towles, Sherri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, Udo Kier, and the BIG surprise, Nicholas Cage. Yes, the same Nic Cage I rip into so readily caught me totally off guard when the announced said "AND NICHOLAS CAGE AS..... FU MANCHU!" and Cage does the most ridiculous Fu Manchu impression ever with the fakest looking moustache you're gonna see this year. The trailer is just quick cuts of every nazi exploitation standby ever, and then repeated shots of some werewolf with a machine gun and two naked she-wolves behind him for no good reason.

After that we got a nice ad for some Barbeque place in Texas called Acuna Brothers with random shots of various foods, and then a trailer to help you vomit said food back up:

DON'T

I'm not even sure I can explain the Don't trailer, because it's really dependent on the Voice Over Guy and how he says things like

"If....You're.....Thinking....of....going....in....that.....house..........DON'T"

and something really strange or disgusting happens. Edgar Wright really fashioned an ad for one of those British movies from the seventies came in the wake of Hammer studios collapsing. Really funny in a disturbing way.

(If it helps, you should think of the trailer as a combination of The Legend of Hell House and The Burning.)

and then, there was

THANKSGIVING

Seeing this online was cool, but seeing the Cheerleader / Trampoline thing with an audience is that much better, as were almost all of the fucked up things Eli Roth does in his two minute slasher money shot homage. I would pay to see Thanksgiving right now if he made it. The same goes for Don't and Machete. I might not pay full price for Werewolf Women of the SS, but I'd see it.

I should mention that in addition to being scratchy, losing audio, and film distortions, in between every "reel" of trailers or movies is a few seconds of white space, as though the projectionist didn't cut it properly and left part of the "tail" on, runing the "illusion". As a former projectionist, I got a kick out of that.

Finally, even though I missed part of the credits, there was

DEATH PROOF

Here's what I don't exactly like about Death Proof: There are VERY long stretches in the beginning and middle of the movie that exist only because Tarantino*** wanted to write Tarantino-esque dialogue for women, and had he only done it the first time, I'd be okay with that, because what happens between those yap fests makes up for it.

What I do like about Death Proof: The driving sequences are the SHIT. When Tarantino drops repeated references to Vanishing Point (going so far as to put the car from Vanishing Point in the movie), he'd damn well better deliver on the car portions, and yes, does he ever. This easily could have been Tarantino slobbering over his standby obsessions again, but instead he simply uses the things he loves about Hot Rod movies and slasher films to make a high octane car chase that rivals The French Connection or Ronin. Really.

Kurt Russell really brings his A-Game to Stuntman Mike, a character that's alternately psychopathic and really, really pathetic, and all of the girls in the second half bring it (including Uma Thurman's stunt woman from Kill Bill, Zoe Bell, who plays herself and does some ridiculous car stunts). The ending will probably remind people a little bit of Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill, as that is the spirit it closest resembles, but there's just that gap between the first time Stuntman Mike looks at the camera and winks and the next time he does that really doesn't need to be.

So anyway, Grindhouse is a SEE IT IN THEATERS, because this is meant to be watched with your rowdiest friends in a raucous crowd in the dive-iest theater you can get to late at night. And don't feel bad if you get up and walk around, because almost everyone else in the theater did at one point or the other, including all three of us. Oh, and we didn't need to say shit, if that tells you anything. The experience is half the fun of the show, so check it out.


** The perfect pairing would've been Grindhouse at The Studio, but since that can't happen anymore,
Mission Valley is a close second.
*** I should mention that QT has roles in Death Proof and Planet Terror, but you're not gonna care about the Death Proof one once you've seen what happens to him in the first movie.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

From the Vaults: What Exactly is The Criterion Collection? (from 2007-something)

*editor's note: as things have invariably changed since this was written, please disregard any erroneous information about potential "future" releases mentioned in the post. If it helps, click on the "Criterion" tag to find out more contemporaneous information pertaining to those damned spine numbers*

Today I'm going to divulge a little bit about this thing I keep referring to, the mysterious word "Criterion".

You've probably heard me talk about them. You may even have seen one while you were shopping and said "Geez! Why is that dvd so expensive?!" Allow me to give you a little bit of background information, and then I'll discuss some finer points concerning this awesome (if financially draining) branch of dvd viewing.

The Criterion Collection is a joint venture of Janus Films and the Voyager Company, two groups devoted to the preservation and distribution of film. They started out releasing laserdiscs in the 90's, and moved on to dvd when the format emerged.

It might be easier now to let them explain in their own words:

"The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, is dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements. Criterion began with a mission to pull the treasures of world cinema out of the film vaults and put them in the hands of collectors. All of the films published under the Criterion banner represent cinema at its finest. In our seventeen years, we've seen a lot of things change, but one thing has remained constant: our commitment to publishing the defining moments of cinema in the world's best digital editions."

To date, the collection includes nearly 400 titles (numbered on the spine), including everything from classics of foreign cinema to obscure and rarely seen films to definitive editions of popular entries. Every film receives the same amount of care towards restoration and attention towards providing supplements that create a kind of "film school in a box" for viewers.

Because of the time and effort put into Criterion Collection discs, they tend to be more expensive than the average dvd, but the quality of the film and supplements is almost always worth the price.

The Criterion Collection tends to focus on particular directors, releasing back catalogs from directors like Francois Truffuat, Akira Kurosawa, Igmar Bergman, Orson Welles, Jules Dassin, Louis Malle, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, Jean Luc-Godard, Preston Sturges, Carol Reed, Luis Bunuel, Robert Altman, Frederico Fellini, John Cassavetes, Jean Renoir, and Ranier Warner Fassbinder.

More recently, they've worked closely with Terry Gilliam, Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, David Cronenberg, and Richard Linklater on Director Approved editions of films like Rushmore, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Videdrome, Dazed and Confused, and Kicking and Screaming.

Now I'm going to dispel a rumour that I hear a lot:

"Why can't I find the Criterion collection of Fight Club/2001/Touch of Evil?"

There isn't one. In fact, the most common misconception is that there a Criterion editions of movies that have existing dvds, or that there should be Criterion editions. While in many instances, I agree, the truth is that because the collection is an independent company, the availability of films does not always include movies that we assume would be in the "best of classic, contemporary, and world cinema".

When Criterion was releasing Laserdiscs, it is true that they had access to films like Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, High Noon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Trainspotting, but we must consider that at the time most major studios didn't consider Laserdiscs to be a viable alternative to VHS, and they were much more likely to give Criterion the license to release them.

As DVD began taking off, studios realized the potential moneymaking strategy of releasing the films themselves, and early Criterion releases like This Is Spinal Tap, The Silence of the Lambs, and Robocop were taken back by MGM, leaving the discs out of print. Now that dvd is a major market for revenue, the studios have very little interest in allowing an independent company to release their films and take a share of the profit, and accordingly, major catalog titles can be produced by Warner Brothers, Fox, Columbia/Sony/MGM, Universal, and Disney.

Occasionally, a studio will enter into a joint partnership with Criterion, most notably Universal and Buena Vista, particularly if a director works closely with Criterion. Steven Sodebergh's Traffic is an example, as are Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Linklater's Dazed and Confused. Universal stands to make money from sales of their dvd of the movie, and Criterion's deluxe treatment discs. Wes Anderson, on the other hand, has released every one of his films since Rushmore as a Criterion exclusively, with Buena Vista kicking in distribution to cut the cost down. As a result, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou don't have non-Criterion discs, whereas Rushmore does.

So why do films like Armageddon and The Rock get Criterion treatment? I don't really know. Why do obscure fifties and sixties horror movies get Criterion discs? Are we really to believe Corridors of Blood is as important as The Seventh Seal? I don't pretend to know how Criterion chooses the films they choose, but they do pick interesting and often unavailable movies to share with their devoted fanbase. I certainly know I would've never seen a movies Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages or Equinox: A Journey into the Supernatural otherwise, and I'd certainly never heard of Salesman or Symbiopsychotaxiplasm before they came out as Criterion discs. Or King Kong's sister film, The Most Dangerous Game, which used many of the same actors and all of the standing jungle sets RKO had set up for Merian Cooper's ape film.

Criterion was kind enough to put together a comprehensive version of Mr. Arkadin, a multi-versioned Orson Welles thriller that languished in public domain for years, and to provide background information on his many unfinished films as part of the F for Fake disc.

In keeping with their "film school in a box" mentality, the Criterion Battle of Algiers has an extra disc devoted to the making of the film, and another devoted to the historical background that helped inspire it.

It's difficult to predict if we'll ever see Criterion Collection editions of movies like The Magnificent Ambersons or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which they released on laserdisc, and it's always fun to joke about movies like Cannibal! The Musical or House of the Dead getting the treatment, but the truth is that until we see a spine number on the side of the disc, there's no telling.

That being said, considering dvd as it is now, I can say with some certainty that you will never see I Heart Huckabees or Pan's Labyrinth with a Criterion spine number. To be honest, if you see a new release that you think should be a Criterion, don't hold your breath. 20th Century Fox (who owns Huckabees) and New Line Cinema / Warners (who own Pan's Labyrinth) haven't ever licensed their films to Criterion on dvd, and I don't expect them to start now. They know how to market their discs, so I wouldn't get my hopes up.

Postscript: I feel the need to correct something from my Criterion post the other day: I erroneously mentioned that Twentieth Century Fox had never worked with Criterion, which isn't true. Kagemusha, Akira Kurosawa's "comeback" film, produced by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, was released domestically by Fox, and it's noted on the back of Criterion's two disc set. However, until Criterion can actually release a packaged set of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset for Richard Linklater, Warner Brothers is still a holdout. No one mentioned it, but I thought I'd clarify the curious double existence of movies like Time Bandits, which has both a Criterion disc and a two disc set from Anchor Bay. The answer to this is that both independent companies have a license to produce dvds of the film, so more than one version exists. It's all fair when you talk about the various indie distributors like Anchor Bay, Blue Underground, Lion's Gate, Synapse, and Media Blasters. My only hope is that someday Kino films and Criterion will join forces to create the ultimate in awesomeness. (Kino takes great pains to do full restorations of movies like Nosferatu, Buster Keaton's The General, and Metropolis, but often lack the kind of supplements Criterion does.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flickering Lights (but in the bad way)

Explanation of technical difficulties:

Greetings, all. For the past week or so, issues with the power in my apartment have made using my computer for extended periods of time difficult. As I'm typing this, the light behind me is once again flickering, and I have few doubts that before I finish getting this entry up, the computer will a) cut off, or b) flicker out but not actually cut off, only to flicker back on shortly thereafter.

In short, I cannot trust anything to stay on very long. I rarely interject "real life" garbage into the Blogorium, because this is for writing about movies, not my day to day crap. My landlord is, not surprisingly, dragging his feet on the matter, so in the meantime I have to make the best of when the PC is working.

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What I can do in the meantime is put up another "From the Vaults". Last night's picture project took me the better part of five hours to put together with all the headaches this wiring has been, so forgive me if I simply cut and paste some "classic" Blogorium from the olden days of Myspace or Livejournal. I will return to normal as soon as possible, and hopefully with the promised A Serious Man review you voted for but don't have yet.

In the mean time, here's some old stuff...

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Excursions into the random, the weird, and the mundane:

Someone called into work today asking if we had the new Mel Gibson movie about Presidential Assassination called
Vanishing Point.

Can you pick out what's wrong about the caller's question? Here are some hints:

1)
Vanishing Point wasn't released recently, and it's about a cross country car chase.
2) Mel Gibson isn't in
Vanishing Point or ANY movie involving Presidential Assassination.
3) Mel Gibson is also not in
Vantage Point, which does feature said assassination.
4)
Vantage Point won't be on dvd until July 1st
5) The Caller is an idiot.

--

However, the John Wayne Westerns at Fox boxed set came in. I know this is probably not of interest to many of you, but it does include
The Big Trail, which has a very young John Wayne and one other seriously interesting technical tidbit
*:

* I'm about to get VERY geeky about cinema. You may not even be interested.

The Big Trail was a very early attempt to create the "widescreen" effect on a film. Twenty five years before The Robe ushered Cinemascope into theatres, The Big Trail was trying something like what Todd-AO Cameras did and present a western on an "epic" scale. For this reason alone, The Big Trail is something I want to check out. I don't know much more about it than that, other than it's a little bit like Stagecoach or How the West was Won.

--

65,929 minutes.

1098.8 hours.

45.79 days.

That's the total amount of unwatched film I have here in the Apartment of Solitude.

Mind you, this is just movies; I'm not including television or stand up or mini-series or anything like that. Just movies.

If I didn't sleep at all and took virtually no breaks between viewings, it would take me 46 days to watch everything here I haven't seen yet. That's assuming nothing else is coming in. I didn't even factor in the times for movies I had seen.

To be honest with you, I'm stunned. It's more staggering than even I thought it would be. In order to see as much as possible, I tend to ferret away movies that I want to / feel like I should see with the promise of "we'll get to it some time soon."

I tried to do this earlier this year but got halfway through and accidentally cleared out the calculator. This time, being very careful, it took me two hours to get through everything here in the house. I'm not even going to think about my Netflix queue, which is in the range of another 440 movies I haven't seen. Strictly going by what's at home, I have a LOT to watch. And most of it is very good stuff I'm just not going to tell you I haven't seen.

Surprisingly, only a small chunk of it is horror. It is true that I do have a large shelf devoted to nothing but horror movies, but I do tend to pick up things I've seen or have a great deal of interest in. Only occasionally do I pick up random stuff like
Garden of the Dead or Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter.

TV-wise, I'm just not willing to think about that. The movie running time is daunting enough, so I'd rather not think about the boxes with running times of 16 hours or more right now. Yeesh.

At any rate, I still have a lot to watch, and even more that I don't have here that I do want to watch. I guess it's good that this is what I want to do with my life, otherwise I'd be wasting 46 days (and then some) alone in a dark room.

--

So I watched I Am Legend, and the verdict is...

It’s pretty good.

The main criticisms against the film I’ve read elsewhere are pretty much right on the money: the "infected" people look awful and really fake, there isn’t much of an explanation of how the other two survivors get to Neville, and accordingly the very very end is not to palatable. I’ll address those one by one in a moment, but first I want to talk about what DOES work, because when this movie is on, it’s better than The Last Man on Earth or The Omega Man and might even be as good as the Matheson novella.

The first two thirds of the movie works like gangbusters: we’re immediately immersed in a world that feels real, abandoned, and dangerous. Robert Neville’s daily routine is established in ways that feel organic to the plot and not simply "well, here’s what he’d be doing", and the flashbacks are employed in a useful and logical fashion. In this sense, it’s like The Last Man on Earth but without narration; we see, but don’t need to be told. Neville treats his dog Sam and mannequins he places around town like people, but it never seems stupid or trite. This is just how he copes with being alone.

Big chunks of this have to do with Will Smith. It may not seem like the conventional choice, especially looking at the two films that came before I Am Legend or The Quiet Earth, but I think a lot of people forget that Smith started his film career with Six Degrees of Separation, and that when asked to carry a film based on body language and facial expressions, he’s more than up to the task. Considering that his co-stars are a dog, lots of cg creatures, and much later two other people, he grounds the film and keeps it believable, even when he’s hitting on a mannequin.

When the infected / vampire / hemocyte* creatures are introduced, it’s in a way consistent with the story; they are a constant presence at night, first heard and then later seen, and the threat is very real. There isn’t too much scientific mumbo-jumbo to gum up the works, and director Francis Lawrence mines some real tension out of the first time Neville gets stuck in the dark.

But what I liked more than that was the escalating traps that Neville and the "lead" whatever you call it set for each other. Watching the extended cut, I don’t know how I would’ve read some of the things that happen in the middle of the film if I hadn’t seen the "alternate" ending. It wouldn’t make sense to set the kind of traps they set for Neville if they couldn’t reason, or to systematically take away what was important to Robert the way they do.

Anyway, I don’t want to spoil too much, because I think most of you will find things to like about I Am Legend. I will however give you the heads up about some of the problems I have with the film (which aren’t unique from the looks of it):

1. The infected are all CG. In no way at any point do they look like they’re organic to the world around them, nor do they look like they’re actually occupying the same space as Will Smith. It actually reminded me a little bit of the robots in I, Robot, because they have similar body movements. The problem is that I never once believe these were humans who were infected and mutated. The "infected" dogs were more believable than the people, and for the ending of the movie to really work, you need to buy the antagonists.

2. Early into the flashbacks they establish that all bridges to the island (Manhattan?) are being destroyed in order to keep the infection from spreading too quickly, so it’s hard to understand how two people drove in and find Neville at exactly the right moment. The timing of their arrival isn’t so strange, but the way they did it is never even addressed. No one ever asks "how did you even get here", which leads me to

3. This is for those of you who saw the "alternate" ending, and already know what happens. Otherwise, please heed the SPOILER warning. At the very end of the film, Neville, Anna, and Ethan have made their peace with the infected and head north to Vermont (apparently the virus can’t survive the cold) and as we hear a new recorded message from Anna, you can see them driving across a bridge that is in NO WAY damaged. After 90-something minutes of seeing and understanding there’s no way in or out of the island, suddenly they just drive off. It doesn’t make sense, and that kind of cheapens the climax of the film.

But truthfully, I think the positives for I Am Legend do outweigh the negatives, and you’re going to enjoy most of the movie, even if it falters a little bit at the end. Oh, and the Bob Marley and Shrek scenes near the end are um, out of place. They aren’t really bad, they just don’t fit in this world.

I Am Legend is a 3 1/2 Stars out of 5 movie, and definitely worth seeing, but I would recommend the "alternate" cut, or whatever is on disc two.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Technical Difficulties


The Cap'n will return with our regularly scheduled blogcast tomorrow night.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Tawt I Twaw a Twaiwer Sunday! I did! I did!


The Last Unicorn


The Sound of Music


The Mouse that Roared


Lone Wolf and Cub - White Heaven in Hell


976-Evil 2


Kelly's Heroes


Lola Montes


Kiss of the Spider Woman

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Best You Can is Good Enough

I hope we all learned something from our Twitter experience last night. I learned that while it's a cute exercise, ultimately The constraints were more frustrating than creatively fulfilling. If the spaces count as "characters", then I really feel bad for people who are trying to do anything substantive in their accounts. I'll stick with whatever it is I'm doing here, thank you very much.

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As some of you may have noticed, I wasn't very careful in setting the parameters of the poll, so technically speaking, you still have a little over twelve hours to vote. I'm not going to sway the vote by telling you what's winning, so feel free to point me in one direction or the other. Provided I actually have time, I'll watch the winner tomorrow night and give it a proper write-up for Monday.

"But Cap'n," you exclaim, "didn't you say you'd be reviewing it tonight?"

Why yes, faithful audience, I did. Unfortunately, life got in the way and something non-movie related took precedence, ergo I allowed my foolish extension of voting time to stand. As it was non-movie related, I'm not going to bother you with the details. Besides, I have something much more amusing to talk about...

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As previously discussed in the Blogorium, Criterion is losing a bunch of titles to Lionsgate, who are subsequently releasing a handful of them as "StudioCanal Collection" titles. Being that the Cap'n is nothing if not a diligent pursuant of information, I went to the trouble of tracking down two of the first three releases (Contempt and The Ladykillers; I left Ran on the shelf because it's been getting universally poor marks for BD image quality) and was amused to discover the following paragraph atop the back cover:

"The StudioCanal Collection brings together the very best of cinema, with a series of acclaimed and influential films on Blu-ray with superior picture and sound quality and other unique special features. Discover or rediscover the great classics, contemporary works or adaptation from literature masterpieces. Cinema will never look the same."

What struck me almost immediately is how that blurb sounds suspiciously like a bloated version of this:

"The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of classic and important contemporary films, presents..."

It is fair to point out that Criterion never had a Spine Number for The Ladykillers, and in fact never released any iteration of the film, but they did have Contempt and Ran, and most of the supplements for those films appear on the StudioCanal Blu-Rays. I haven't seen any list of upcoming StudioCanal BD's, but I wouldn't be shocked to find they synched up nicely with the list of films going Out of Print from Criterion.

Perhaps I'd be a bit more forgiving if it weren't so apparent that these Blu-Rays are redressing of Criterion supplements (and at Criterion prices, by the way - the two I picked up on Amazon were exactly the same price as Revanche, Lola Montes, and Hunger). If they continue pushing beyond merely releasing HD versions of Spine Numbers, then I'll be behind StudioCanal a bit more. The artwork and discs for Contempt and The Ladykillers do look nice, in the interest of fairness.

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Finally - because there has to be a "finally" - I would also like to solicit advice from Spine Number aficionados (and foreign film buffs) as to what Criterion BD to pop in after I get around to watching the winner. Nary an unkind word has been spoken about their three latest releases, or Paris, Texas for that matter, so give me your two cents, gang.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Please Don't Tell Me the Spaces Count as "characters"

I'm going to try a little experiment tonight. As you are no doubt aware, I am no fan of Twitter. The damned thing drives me nuts with its "140" character limitations. Ack.

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See? That's 140 characters. And then I had to stop, having said nothing whatsoever of substance. I've already blown through 2/3's of the length of this section. So sad.

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Two utterly pointless demonstrations of why Twitter serves no purpose. In an attempt to disprove myself, I will try to give you four brief reviews of 140 or less.

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The Private Life of King Henry VIII - Charles Laughton is in top form as VIII and while the film plays fast and loose with history, wry humor and Korda's direction prevail.

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A Countess from Hong Kong - Charlie Chaplin's worst bar none. Anachronistic, even for 1967, and painfully unfunny. Brando has seldom been more out of place; Loren is ok.

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Borat - I never finished watching the movie. I'm not really sure why not, but I keep getting bored about twenty minutes in. 101 No offense to Sacha Baron Cohen: Ali G still good.

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Malevolence - This movie mostly reminds me of better horror movies, but its saving grace (if you can call it that) is the stupid "beeeeooorrowr" noise. Just skip it.

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Okay, that was taxing and obnoxious. I felt challenged in all the wrong ways, so I'll stick to writing like a human being from here on out. Twittering ain't for the Cap'n.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For the Benefit of All of Us.

Okay, my Snickerdoodles, the Cap'n has to watch something new this weekend. It's non-negotiable. I have entirely too many new movies here at Blogorium Central that I haven't seen yet, and not enough time to watch them all, so I'm putting the decision making in your hands.

To your right, you'll see a new Poll, with four movies on it. Four movies I've mentioned repeatedly but have not yet seen:

A Serious Man

Bronson

The House of the Devil

Black Dynamite

You have until Saturday morning, and on Saturday night I'll watch the winner and give it the first honest to goodness Blogorium Review there's been since the 14th of January. For real this time. I'm entirely too far behind, and before I get to The Brothers Bloom, The Hurt Locker, Universal Soldier: Regeneration, or the dozen other "to watch" movies in my pile, I want to get one of those four "must see"'s out of the way. They're all roughly the same length, I'm really looking forward to seeing all of them, so help me out here. What do you want me to review first?

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Not to sweeten the pot in any way, but the sooner I've seen The House of the Devil, the sooner I'll feel kosher about giving away a copy of the film on DVD as part of a yet-determined contest. And by that I mean I don't know what the contest will be so I can't give you details. Since many of you don't like doing stuff, it'll probably involve writing something. There hasn't been a "so you won't have to" in a while, so keep that in mind...

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Bad Movie Night just keeps growing contenders, gang; in addition to Bionic Ninja (jump a few Trailer Sunday's back and watch "Rage of the Ninja"), I'm eye-ing Deadfall, Evil Roy Slade, Wrong Side of Town, Basket Case 3, and if we're lucky enough for a quick home video turnaround, The Wolf Man. Currently the consensus on The Wolf Man is one vote "don't see it" and one vote "it rules." Guess which one of them drinks Budweiser with Clamato?

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I'd be remiss if I didn't link to this fantastic article in Esquire about Roger Ebert. If you haven't kept up with what's been happening, it could be quite a shock, but the story is so good that keep on past the opening photo. To follow it up, please read Ebert's piece on the profile. Fantastic stuff.

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Okay, I'm off to bed. Schoolwork awaits at all times, and the sooner I go to sleep, the sooner I can continue the Sisyphusian struggle to graduate in three months...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Video Daily Double (plus something else)

Despite not wanting to see the movie (still), I feel bizarre watching the pervasive influence of Avatar on popular culture. For some reason, this whole Na'vi thing is a BIG DEAL to people, and it's all over Youtube and blogs and is just insane to me. When I saw the "Celebrities turned into Na'vi" advertisement, it was clear to me just how much of a cultural movement this thing is.

And in some way, I feel like Donnie in The Big Lebowski. I have (and want) no frame of reference for this fad, so watching it is slightly amusing, slightly confounding to the Cap'n. When Avatar eclipsed Titanic as "Best Movie EVAR OMG" (no picture this time, but let me tell you: Mr. Budweiser with Clamato would very much echo that sentiment) I didn't really think too much about it. Let's look at it this way: James Cameron fans are mostly nerds. It's not an insult in any way, but if I have to prove my case, by all means -

Piranha 2, The Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2, The Abyss, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar. One of these things is not like the other. One of these things doesn't belong. Ironically, the one that "doesn't belong" was the ultimate chick flick of all time, and despite a 3-hour running time, people flocked to see Titanic. I was not one of them, but only two things came out of the movie that I'd call "pop culture" landmarks: "I'm the King of the World!" and the Celine Dion song. Nerds bristled. Their beloved director had been claimed by the Kleenex crowd.

(I left out the documentaries, but they actually just help the "nerd" case, because Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep are about Cameron indulging his inner geek and doing deep sea exploration on camera)

So yeah, Avatar comes out, and they see their opportunity to reclaim James Cameron for their own. It didn't shock me that it made (and is making) mega bucks. On the other hand, I guess that I just thought the Na'vi would be a quick and cheap joke for the late-night shows and then go away. But it's not. It's worse than Klingons or Jedis or whatever the hell it is Battlestar Galactica fans dress up as. I fully expect that Na'vi costumes will finally overtake people dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow and The Joker at the next ComiCon. That, to me, is nutty. I can kinda understand why nerds would identify with blue cat aliens, but not why they'd dress like them. Or pretend to be them.

The easy answer is that I could watch Avatar and find out, but as I've made clear, nothing whatsoever about the film is interesting to me. Nada. I just don't want to watch it. It must be like how 99% of you feel about Tron: Legacy when I bring it up. That does it for me; Avatar does not. As a dispassionate observer, I can totally understand that I "just don't get" the Na'vi phenomenon, but if someone could explain to me in a tangible way what it is that's so alluring about blue aliens, I'd love to hear it.

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Your video Daily Double for the day includes: 2 parts "Mirror Scares", and 1 part commercial that figured prominently during "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer".






The following features Lawrence Welk in a surprise cameo!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Get the Hodgepodge Outta Dodge!

Alas, I knew it was too weird to be true. What a shame, but it did give me something to mull over for the night. Like the "never going to happen" Taxi Driver sequel, a remake is just too nutty to move beyond the "what if" stage.

Moving along...

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Despite my boredom for Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, I feel it is only fair to let the two people who happen to a) read this blog and b) like MSVGO know that The Syfy Channel, in their infinite wisdom, are going to outdo that with Sharktopus, a Roger Corman-related joint. Conveniently, the same two people that a) read this blog, and b) like MSVGO also happen to c) enjoy Syfy original "films", so this is like a trifecta of awesomeness for you both.


There should be no need to explain what exactly the premise is, but if you need to know what a Sharktopus would look like, check out the concept art in the link above.

I could pretend that I cared, or even that I'd entertain screening this potential winner at Bad Movie Night or Featherface: The Greensboro Summer Fest Massacre Part III (mark my words, that's the name of it!), but after the Mega Debacle last summer, I'm not making any promises. In fact, I'm making no promises about ever watching the film period, as is my standard position on ALL Syfy originals.

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Thanks to Dinosaur Island, I now know that The Academy Awards are happening on March 7th. Since I'm such a swell guy, you should all come join the Cap'n for Oscar Snark '10, which unfortunately is not coupled with a "Puppy Academy Awards" show. Such a shame. What it will come with, as usual, is commercial breaks punctuated by 42nd Street Forever trailer compilations!

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If you put money down that I'd seen neither A Serious Man nor Bronson by Sunday, you just made some cash, my favorite fiends. And soon I'll add Black Dynamite to the pile, because there's no way I'm turning that down. It's cause for another movie night of "Shit I Should Be Watching But Haven't Yet." Throw in The House of the Devil and you've got quite a day of things...


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Finally, it bears noting that I'd forgotten both Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow sing during The Last Unicorn. While Bridges fares better, I'm going to let the video do the talking for me:

Monday, February 15, 2010

An Obstruction I Wouldn't Mind...

I may end up eating crow later on if this turns out not to be true, but the idea of Lars von Trier pulling a "Five Obstructions" on Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro is too wild not to mull over.

For those of you who aren't familiar with The Five Obstructions (and didn't bother clicking on the link above), Lars von Trier challenged Jørgen Leth to remake his own short film, "The Perfect Human", five times with various impediments (or, as the title suggests, "obstructions").

The rumor du jour coming out of the Berlin Film Festival is that von Trier has challenged (and Scorsese and DeNiro have accepted) a similar challenge to remake Taxi Driver 34 years later. Personally speaking, I find this fascinating because the long standing rumor on the part of director and actor was that they were mulling over revisiting Travis Bickle - much older, but no more stable - someday.

As sequels go, it was a "probably never going to happen" but "wouldn't that be neat" idea. In all practicality, there's almost no way a sequel to Taxi Driver could work (although it could be argued that if anyone could do it, Scorsese could on the roll he's been lately) but then again it wasn't even a real consideration. Kinda like a full length cut of Metropolis.... oh.

But I have to say, this idea is even crazier. With von Trier egging them on, and dictating the rules of the game by which they have to play, I can only wonder what this Taxi Driver would look like. It has all the potential in the world to be a disaster commercially, but the artistic ramifications are fascinating. I can think of a handful of directors who remade their own films (Ozu's Floating Weeds, Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, DeMille's The Ten Commandments, Haneke's Funny Games), but there's something so iconic about Taxi Driver, so quintessentially 70s neo-noir that I wonder how to approach the film in 2010.

Certainly, von Trier will have a number of peculiar obstructions set in place, one of which - I hope - is that it cannot be temporally the same. I can only imagine what New York (assuming it is New York) a 67 year-old Travis Bickle would find himself in, or how DeNiro would play the seething rage in the body of an older man. It's almost like Peter Boyle in Joe, but almost twice as old.

And yet, there's something compelling about the idea of the same film playing out with such wildly different variations. Bickle's misplaced rage, no longer the folly of a young man, but embodied with greater life experience, more time to simmer. I should imagine that some stipulation would include most of the surviving cast (hopefully in different capacities) - Harvey Keitel, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Cybill Shepherd. It would be funny if von Trier insisted on playing the Scorsese role in the film. Too many possibilities to mull over.

The concept is ripe with possibilities, and while I suspect that something so audacious will never come to pass, even with the star power pull involved, this is at last a remake with some drive behind it that transcends the cheap and easy methodology of contemporary studios.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saint Trailer Sunday's Massacre


Paris, Je t'aime


Before Sunrise


The St. Valentine's Day Massacre


Bushido: The Cruel Code of the Samurai


Valentine


Before Sunset


New York, I Love You

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Movie Night Recap: One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer

Greetings and salutations to all those who could not make it to the first "theme" night that didn't involve horror movies or acts of torture performed on attendees. Quite the contrary, as once a comedy through line had been selected, the choices of "One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer" were quality all around.

Before I get to the movies, a quick note to prove I meant what I said about not providing awful alcohol. While there's certainly enough Wild Irish Rose, MGD 64, Aristocrat, and Bud Light with Clamato to share, none of those were on the menu tonight.

Adam provided Glenlivet Scotch, I provided Knob Creek Bourbon, and the beer didn't actually factor into things much, but if you want to count it Adam brought over some Hobgoblin. Far from the garbage I'm sure you were expecting.

The movies were comparably good stuff, and broke down thusly:

Bourbon - Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Scotch - Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Beer - Wet Hot American Summer


I don't really feel like giving full write ups to each movie (although I can't find any kind of official write up for WHAS), but I would like to share some tidbits we noticed in watching these films again after some time.

- Chalk this up to a "you just didn't know who he was then" category, but Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) is in Wet Hot American Summer. And not just in a "blink and you'll miss him" way; he's the guy Michael Ian Black is making out with and the co-director of the Camp Talent Show with Amy Poehler. He's also the person who suggests the counselors get together "Ten years later" near the beginning of the film. I honestly had no idea, and it's amusing because current Bradley Cooper fans might be surprised to see him in WHAS.

- Dr. Strangelove is clearly visible in the War Room for most scenes prior to when he's introduced. It's most obvious when General Turgidson (George C. Scott) is on camera talking to the President (Peter Sellers) off-camera. There is a shot featuring both the President and Strangelove facing the camera (when Turgidson is accusing the Russian diplomat of spying), although I suspect that rather than some split-screen trickery, Strangelove is merely a Sellers look-alike.

- Here's another "Because you didn't know them then" tidbit: look for most of NBC's Thursday Night Comedy Line-Up somewhere in Walk Hard. Seriously, in addition to being able to easily spot Chris Parnell and Jenna Fischer, look for Ed Helms, Craig Robinson, and Jack McBrayer. Additionally, there's Jane Lynch and 3/4's of The Upright Citizen's Brigade (I contend that, though uncredited, you can see Matt Walsh standing in the wings during one of Dewey Cox's early performances).

- Try as I might, I cannot for the life of me notice what's missing in the Theatrical Cut of Walk Hard from the Extended Cut and vice-versa. It should be easy, since there's almost 30 minutes worth of material included in the longer cut.

- There's a typo in the credits for Dr. Strangelove: the film is apparently "Base on the Novel by Terry Southern." I'm not making that up. Put in your copy and check.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Classic Monsters and Menacing Doctors

Where are you folks landing on The Wolf Man? I really can't make up my mind if I want to see it or not. The Cap'n is a massive fan of the Lon Chaney version, and also The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Curse of the Werewolf, Ginger Snaps, and, of course, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. I'm not even torn up about this being a remake with Benicio Del Toro taking over as Lawrence Talbot, which is odd for me. Usually I get all up in arms about this, but with every other Universal classic monster movie remade or being remade (okay, minus The Invisible Man), I'm surprising not perturbed. Bram Stoker's Dracula is the high water mark, and then it drops off considerably with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and The Mummy.

Still, I just can't decide if I want to watch the movie, considering all of the insane stories about various directors, effects permutations, and cuts of the film. Is it worth dropping $10 for?

Thanks, Mr. Budweiser with Clamato. Sometimes I lose sight of the important things, like movies with werewolves. And not ones with werewolves fighting mopey vampires*, but actual werewolves tearing people up and being hunted by Hugo Weaving. And where the gypsy woman is Geraldine Chaplin, for crying out loud!

What folly possessed the Cap'n?

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It is amazing, considering how cgi-happy studios are, that no one's tried mounting an Invisible Man movie since Hollow Man. Of course, when even the director of Hollow Man (Paul Verhoeven) calls his movie a "piece of shit", maybe it's not so surprising.

Oddly, I'm sadder about the impending Creature from the Black Lagoon remake, even though it stands a chance of being more suspenseful just by dropping the ubiquitous "Creature" theme:



Seriously, that "Bum bah Baaaaaaaaah!" plays every. single. time. the Creature is on camera. It's ridiculous. As much as I heart that movie, the score kills me, because it instantly makes you not afraid of the Creature.

This has nothing to do with Creature from the Black Lagoon, but I guess I do have to thank those awful Mummy remakequels for giving the world The Scorpion King. That's some small comfort, right?

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And finally:

This is tangentially related to film, insofar as it chronicles the difficulties of setting up a home entertainment system. Really, I'm including it because a) who is making the complaint and b) how hard it made me laugh by the end:




* I know you thought I was talking about Twilight, but in this case the Underworld movies are just as, if not more, apropos.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Quick Review(s): Doctor Who - The Complete Specials

Some time in between all of the other nonsense that occupies my working day, last week I managed to finish the Doctor Who specials of 2009. For those not keeping up with the new run of the show (sorry, but I won't can't recap the 47 year history of Doctor Who proper), series four ended with the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and all of his companions successfully defeating Davros and the Dalek armada from stealing Earth (and several other planets) in order to destroy reality itself. The Doctor dropped everybody else off, but his newly half-Time Lord-ed companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) needed a complete memory wipe in order to avoid dying. Distraught, the Doctor drops her off at home with instructions to never mention him again, in order to prevent her death.

Rather than go to series five, departing series creator Russell T. Davies wrote 4 specials for Tennant, who was performing Hamlet with the RSC, in order to facilitate the tenth Doctor's regeneration to the eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). To this point, I'd seen the first three: The Next Doctor, Planet of the Dead, and The Waters of Mars. What remained was The End of Time (parts 1 and 2).

I really thought I'd reviewed them before, but apparently I never got around to that, I'll give you a quick once-over of the first three specials:

The Next Doctor - despite the title, it's pretty clear that Paul Morrissey is not going to be the eleventh Doctor, but Davies manages to withhold that information for as long as possible. The special itself is fun, if a bit frivolous even for a Christmas special (technically placing it in 2008). Morrissey is clearly having fun playing a facsimile of the Doctor in the beginning, and manages to sell the shift halfway through to a traumatized survivor of the Cybermen.

Personally speaking, I'd be happier if we moved away from the "alternate reality" Cybermen of season two and dealt with the fact that there are actual Cybermen in the "normal" Doctor Who-niverse, but the story works well enough, despite some cheats involving the disposal of a giant steampunk Cyberman near the end. Despite suggesting (mostly through sketches) in previous stories, The Next Doctor is the first story I can remember to show every version of The Doctor on-screen from William Hartnell to David Tennant, including Paul McGann's oft neglected eighth Doctor (as part of the Cybermen's information file on The Doctor).

Planet of the Dead - The story, which involves the Doctor, a jewel thief, and a busload of commuters passing through a portal to another planet, is fairly light weight stuff. Despite teasing a potential new companion (Michelle Ryan), the only plot development to really come from Planet of the Dead is a last minute prophetic vision that "your song is ending, sir. It is returning, it is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor... Oh but then, he will knock four times." This hint at his impending death rattles the Doctor, setting up the next story, which is admittedly far more interesting than Planet of the Dead.

The Waters of Mars - finally, a good story (the Doctor arrives at an Earth colony on Mars that he is forbidden to change the history of), with some genuinely creepy monsters (the Flood, which are zombie-like humans that constantly produce water), and an honest to goodness shift in character that could - in theory - shift the direction of Doctor Who heading into the final special. Oh well, two out of three ain't bad.

I gives Davies credit for asking the question "why can't the Doctor break the rules of time in order to save someone who cannot be saved?", and answering it in a novel way. The Doctor, who has been traveling alone through these specials, decides near the end that he's not the survivor of the Time War, he's the victor (something that turns out to be quite important in The End of Time), and his impulsive decision to alter a "locked" historical event could have moved nicely into Tennant's final story, but Davies backs off at the last moment.

To present the possibility, have the Doctor act on it, and then immediately rescind his actions in order to restore the status quo is a missed opportunity. The Doctor has, for better or worse, generally adhered to the "Rules of Time", especially in the new run, but Davies poses an interesting direction for the series and then backs away from it almost immediately. It's frustrating, because Tennant moves from being the altruistic Doctor to an almost megalomaniacal Time Meddler, but the ramifications of this change don't get to play out. Instead, Davies shoehorns in a guilt trip and resets the Doctor to "guilty and facing certain death" at the end. The Waters of Mars is a maddening special accordingly; part of me loves the set up, but I wish the Doctor's change of heart extended into The End of Time.

The End of Time (parts 1 and 2) - There are a handful of things I really like about the last tenth Doctor story, but many of them are canceled out by arbitrary or, worse, stunningly arbitrary plot points. It's easier to just cover them in bullet points:

- The return of The Master (John Simm) is pretty cool, save for a totally unnecessary inclusion of lightning powers, which leave the Master looking like a reject from Heroes. The Master's plan(s), involving turning an entire planet into versions of himself sounds like a great concept at first, but the execution is so silly that it's hard to maintain half of part 2 with John Simm in various costumes.

- The Doctor spends 80% of The End of Time moping and whining about how he doesn't want to die. This really seems to be more for David Tennant's benefit (speaking directly to the fans) than for the Doctor, since we (and he) are perfectly aware that the Doctor's regenerated before and will again before the series ends. Worse still, Bernard Cribbins is wasted at Donna Noble's grandfather / companion for the special. His role in the prophecy is almost laughable considering how hard Davies tries to make you think that the Master will be knocking "four times."

- Donna Noble gets her memory back, but rather than face certain death, she simply emits some energy that takes out a few Master clones and then passes out - part of the Doctor's "safety measure." It's symptomatic of the way that Davies is simply unwilling to take any risks or offer series shifting twists, even at the end of his run.

- Speaking of which, if you're going to bring back The Time Lords without bothering to explain that when the Doctor said repeatedly he was the "only survivor", he meant that they were actually just locked out of time, then don't immediately dispose of them (and the Master). Give the series some gravity, for crying out loud! It's like suggesting that bringing back Gallifrey physically will "knock Earth out of orbit" but then just smoosh them up next to each other for ten minutes and then undo the whole thing. Why bother?

- On that note, you can't just build up Timothy Dalton as the President of the Council of Gallifrey and then have a throw away line that he's Rassilon. THE Rassilon, who was very dead in The Five Doctors. Like Omega, Rassilon is more of an element of Time Lord history, and not the kind of stunt casting you can expect to get away with if you aren't going to take the character seriously. I certainly hope that we haven't seen the last of the Time Lords (or the Master), but for now Davies leaves us hanging with a not-at-all explained appearance of a long-dead character suddenly back and power hungry.

- When the actual regeneration happens, I'm fine with the Tennant to Smith transition, but the Return of the King-esque sequence where the tenth Doctor visits all of his companions (including a clever cheat to include Rose Tyler) in order to "say goodbye" is more frustrating than poignant. It doesn't help that the series already went this route by bringing all of them together at the end of season four, but it indicates in no way whether we'll see Mickey and Martha join what's left of Torchwood, or why Alonso from "Voyage of the Damned" happens to be in the same bar as Captain Jack Harkness (and every alien from the first four seasons). The inclusion of Sarah Jane Smith in the montage is so pointless one wonders why it was included at all, and an inordinate amount of time is spent making sure we know that Donna Noble is going to be just fine after all.

For his part, Matt Smith has fun with his brief introduction, which manages to top Tennant's "Where was I? Ah yes, Barcelona!" season one cliffhanger. It seems clear that new show runner Steven Moffat is making a clean start, with what looks like a new TARDIS interior and a companion yet to be introduced. Smith is reminiscent of early Peter Davison, which is to say a youthful vigor that could benefit the show greatly as it moves forward.

Overall, the four specials are non-essential viewing. There are interesting ideas, and some fun stories, but none of them are as good as individual episodes from the four years of relaunched Doctor Who, and parts of them are as bad as the series gets. I'm pretty sure you can watch them all on YouTube, so unless you're a die hard fan (like the Cap'n), save your money and catch them elsewhere.