Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Anne Francis Stars In...

Surely that can't be a monster of the id?

I'm assuming you heard about the recent passing of Leslie Nielsen. Please now congratulate me on the restraint I showed just then by not saying, "Surely you heard about the recent passing of Leslie Nielsen." I've seen a great deal of well deserved praise for the guy who defined deadpan humor so well that comedy roles were written just for him well into his old age. I come today, however, to talk about my favorite Leslie Nielsen movie and it's not a comedy.

1956's Forbidden Planet stands as one of the finest examples of science fiction ever put on screen. Fans of serious science fiction have remembered that movie fondly whenever they would see a movie in which a solar system was called a galaxy or that invading aliens came from a planet 3 million miles from Earth. The makers of Forbidden Planet treated their material as if it was actually supposed to make sense and it did as opposed to most producers of science fiction movies who think that mistakes and lazy writing don't matter since the very genre is stupid anyway. Most science fiction films rip each other off doing variations of the radioactive monster or conquering aliens storylines over and over again. Forbidden Planet used Shakespeare as its inspiration.

The movie opens in the 23rd century, a fact that already puts it ahead of the other movies of the 50s that postulated an incredibly advanced space faring civilization by 1980. Leslie Nielsen plays J.J. Adams, a character that would later inspire Gene Roddenberry to create a starship captain who has sex with green women. Adams commands the United Planets Cruiser C-57D, a ship on a mission to investigate a human colony on the planet Altair IV that disappeared 20 years earlier. They discover that the expedition's sole survivor, Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), has built himself a very comfortable existence on this planet for himself and his 18 year old daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis). What killed the rest of the colony and how did Morbius survive? The answer to that holds up to this day as one of the most interesting and evocative ideas ever advanced in science fiction cinema.

The special effects technology is sadly dated but still holds up well enough, especially when compared to other movies made between this and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even more dated, though, are the cultural attitudes. The crew of the ship is very male and very white. Altaira's character is classic damsel-in-distress. Adams describes a machine that takes care of dirty dishes as being perfect for Earth's housewives. I mention this because I see this movie at least once a year and these points always stand out as a distraction but I manage to get past them because the rest of the movie is so good.

I love the scene when the crew does battle with an invisible creature that can only be seen by the outlines it leaves in their force field (a scene that entertains to this day and makes up for other outdated effects). I love it when the movie tries to penetrate the history of a long-dead alien race called the Krell. I love it when J.J. Adams has to outwit a genius to defeat something that can't be fought.

The key to Leslie Nielsen's comedy is that he played his funny roles pretty much the same way he played the serious and solemn J.J. Adams. I often snicker a bit when I hear him in this or The Poseidon Adventure or any of the numerous television guest spots he did all through the 60s and 70s. His comedic skills were incredible and they are what most people are talking about but, if you happen to have room in your Netflix queue or TCM is running it during one of their science fiction marathons, your time would be well spent checking out Forbidden Planet. Just don't call it Shirley because, you know, that would make no sense.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Give Me A Head With Hair

Tangled fulfills two longstanding Disney traditions. The first is for Disney to release a family friendly animated film during the Thanksgiving weekend so parents can pay 50 bucks so their kids can see it while they take a nap. The second is Disney's long-standing plan to take every ancient fairy tale or classic piece of children's literature, slap its name on it and claim ownership of it now and forever more. If they make a movie version of a much told and beloved tale, they make damn sure that, from then on, you identify that story with their movie and they'll fight like hell to make sure no one ever does anything else with that story again.

Still, this is a movie review and not a review of Disney policies that annoy me and, when regarded as a movie and not a symbol of the ways corporate thinking and greed can corrupt even the universal appeal of fairy tales, Tangled is quite good. It's actually nice to see that Disney can make a good animated film without Pixar. Last year's Princess and the Frog was ok. Tangled is much better. It has all the elements of the successful formula Disney has been using since Snow White. Beautiful Princess in trouble? Check. Handsome hero come to rescue the fair lass? Check. Anthropomorphic animals who pretty much keep the stupid humans alive? You bet. Songs? In this case, they're forgettable but they're there. Sorry Disney music fans, there is no Someday My Prince Will Come, Under The Sea or Circle of Life in this one. There's something about a girl's life beginning once she gets free from her prison. Other than that, you could put a gun to my head and I might lie and say one of the other songs was Bad Romance so you wouldn't shoot me.

If you were just freed after several months trapped in a mohole shaft, Tangled is a modern retelling of the Rapunzel story. This new version is a huge departure from the original fairy tale and that's fine. The one best known today was written by the Brothers Grimm but there were several varied versions before they were even born. In this case, they kept the character of Mother Gothel but, instead of being a witch, she's now an old woman who discovered a magic flower capable of giving her eternal youth if she sings to it periodically. Unfortunately for her, the Queen of the land grows ill so the flower is made into a potion that heals her but also transfers its healing power into the Queen newborn daughter so Gothel steals the girl and locks her away in a tower. The healing power is in the girl's hair which must never be cut lest the power go away.

Flash forward 18 years and Rapunzel is now a hot teenager voiced by Mandy Moore with about 50 feet of hair. Her "mother" tells her the reason she can't leave the tower is because it's just too darn dangerous out there. Naturally, all she can think of doing is leaving. Mother Gothel's lies have worked though because she stays up there even though she could leave anytime she felt like. We also meet Flynn Rider (voiced by Chuck star Zachary Levi), an outlaw who just broke into the Royal Palace and stole a crown meant for the long lost daughter of the King and Queen. It's really, really unlikely that, while fleeing from the Palace guards, Flynn would more or less trip over Rapunzel's tower so that's exactly what happens. One twist in the story is that Rapunzel has ninja-like mastery over her long, magical hair and easily overpowers Flynn when he climbs into her tower. She tells him she'll give him back the crown he stole if he escorts her to the city so she can see the floating lanterns launched every year in commemoration of the lost Princess. And things go swimmingly after that. The end.

Actually, a lot of entertaining stuff happens after that, much of it provided by one of the smartest and most thoroughly dedicated and competent law enforcement officials ever seen on a film, a Palace horse named Maximus. Maximus is Javert to Flynn's Jean Valjean and would hunt him to the gates of Hell and back if that was where Flynn led him. To me, the movie's two biggest weaknesses are the forgettable songs* and the main villain, Mother Gothel. The villain in a movie like this should be the most interesting character and Mother Gothel and her passive/aggressive digs at Rapunzel aren't that interesting. Oh, the movie's in 3D. The fact that I waited till now to mention that is the highest compliment I can pay it. It didn't distract me or give me a headache and that's the second highest compliment I can pay it. The little kids in the audience seemed to love it and constantly "oohed" and "aahed" when something would come flying at the screen.

To sum up, Tangled is good. Not great but very, very good. If you're an adult, you will probably be able to enjoy it along with your kids. If you're not an adult, please have your parents add this site to your nanny filters because I swear a lot and talk about blowjobs. What are blowjobs? Ask your parents.

*Did I mention those already? I can't remember.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Things I've Learned From Watching Movies Part 85

It's official. They'll make a movie out of anything.

The reason you never hear about a ninja killing anyone is because they spend most of their time trying to kill each other.

If a movie has a sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, I'll go see it. This is something I have learned about myself and I'm totally cool with it.

Jesus was a talking lion who mercilessly ripped apart his enemies. Did I get that right, C.S. Lewis?

It's all right if you get tricked, framed and have your life threatened so as as it's Angelina Jolie doing all that to you. Seriously, she could do all that to me and I'd still want to take her to McDonalds or whatever it is she likes to do.

Sure, the story of an underdog boxer going all the way has been done a million times but that means you can say the lines along with the actors. That's good, right?

Sure, 99% of all romantic comedies suck but how do you know for sure? Yes, how do you know?

This movie is a true revelation. I would have thought it would be a huge deal if bears started talking but now I see that people will be nonplussed and the two races will instead enter into a battle of wits over picnic baskets.

Allegorical fantasy stories about Irish class differences in the 18th century that are considered to be classic works of literature make a great basis for modern day comedies about idiots who bounce cannonballs off their body fat.

Story ideas that ran out of steam in the first movie should definitely get a second sequel.

The Dude abides. As does the Clu. And the Rooster.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Look At My Briefs -- Thanksgiving Day 2010

It's unlikely anyone is reading this today. You're all cramming your faces with various types of traditional foodstuffs while hoping against hope that your closeted cousin doesn't decide that this is the year to announce to Grandma that he and his "roommate" got married in Massachusetts. Still, if you did manage to find time to come and read this site, the least I can do is treat you to an all-new edition of my brief comments on various subjects I like to call Look At My Briefs.

So, a Buffy remake. Without Joss Whedon. I wonder if anyone noticed. Oh yes, you already knew about this. If you aren't a Whedon fan then you know someone who is and have had to listen to them as they describe this state of affairs in the same terms one would use to describe the Holocaust. I'll say what I said when a new Kirk/Spock Star Trek film came out. It's not the end of the world. It does not destroy your childhood. All those episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer you loved? They still exist. The new actress playing Buffy won't be photoshopped into the old episodes. Maybe Angel will be a sparkling, moody douchebag and Spike will be a werewolf with 6-pack abs in the new movie but that won't change who they were before. The new movie will be good and all this rending of garments will be meaningless or it will suck and Whedon fans get to hold a massive congratulatory pancake breakfast/circle jerk. All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.

Anne Hathaway would be a good choice for Lois Lane in any new Superman movie. The big problem in that article is the rumored description of the plot. We don't need a Superman origin story. Everyone knows Superman's origin. People who have never stained their fingers with comic book ink know this story. The CW is about to wrap up its ten year long television series about Superman's origin. Hell, if you found an island with natives that had never before had contact with the outside world, they would know about Kal-El of Krypton.

And speaking of stories told again and again and origin stories everyone knows...

A few years ago, a company called CleanFlicks was driven out of business after a successful lawsuit by movie makers. CleanFlicks and companies like them would take DVDs and remove anything they found objectionable so that people with delicate sensibilities wouldn't get their precious little fee-fees hurts when they saw things like Kate Winslet's nude scene in Titanic. A federal judge ruled in 2006 that these companies were violating copyright laws by selling altered DVDs and that was that. Until now anyway. Look, prudes, I know most family films suck but you all wouldn't like it if I took Fireproof and added swear words and buttsex scenes. Most movies worth watching have stuff in them you don't like. Accept that and learn to love the Disney Channel.

The answer to the question asked in this headline is no. Sarah Palin couldn't even get her daughter a win on a stupid dancing show and her TLC reality thing has already lost half its initial viewers and the diehard fans left are old and will be dead by 2012.

I'd heard that Johnny Depp might star in a new film about the Lone Ranger but wasn't all that interested until today when I read that Depp wouldn't be playing the Ranger. He would play Tonto. The article speculates that Robert Downey Jr. might play the Lone Ranger and what a dream team that would be but I can't wait to see how everyone involved with the project will try to explain why they chose Depp and not a Native American actor to play Tonto. The explanation would be, "Well, he's Johnny freaking Depp," but I can't believe this controversy hasn't occurred to anyone. Knowing Depp, he'll want to play one weirdass Tonto too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Know It's Filler, Filler Night

I'm busy with various holiday related activities so today, instead of posting nothing, I'm going to show off my cut-and-paste skills by sharing the best of my Twitter posts.

  • I've decided to start keeping score. So far, I'm ten points ahead of the rest of you.
  • Skating With The Stars, because Dancing With The Stars still leaves you with a shred of hope for humanity.
  • Tomorrow I will either shake things up or bring that old razzle dazzle. Haven't decided yet.
  • Since he Ok'd condoms, Vatican officials have been keeping the Pope quiet lest he say, "Hell with it. Abortion and gay sex are cool too."
  • "Hey man, know what would be funny? When you create women, make them bleed out their vaginas once a month." -- God's a-hole frat brothers
  • "Hey man, know what would be funny? When you create women, make them bleed out their vaginas once a month." -- God's a-hole frat brothers
  • Incidentally, if anyone knows Kim Kardashian, please tell her it would really help my showbiz career if she and I started having sex.
  • "Please sign this petition to protest Miley Cyrus' upcoming 18th birthday." -- Socially active pedophile
  • I just had sex with a woman. Please RT.
  • "They ride around the Outback looking for gasoline." American knowledge of Australia begins and ends with The Road Warrior.
  • Henry VIII didn't kill his 6 wives. He only killed 2 so he wasn't so bad.
  • "Can I solve the puzzle, Pat? Raping The Squirrel!" I suck at Wheel of Fortune.
  • Historians have show it was 3 days after the invention of math that someone sarcastically said, "You do the math."
  • Congress bans "Crush" videos? Well hell, there goes my weekend.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Oh Oh It's Magic -- Part 1

Finally, after all the years, the story of Harry Potter is finally coming to an end. HA! GOTCHA! Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is not, in fact, the final chapter in Harry's cinematic saga. That will come in the summer when Part 2 comes out or, maybe, next winter when part 3 comes out or 2015 when Part 10 is finally released. Anyway, was the movie any good?

I'm so glad you asked. Ah, what a difference a decade makes. Way back in 2001 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone* was released, Harry and his mates were such joyful children. Harry himself was rescued from a life of being debased by the aunt and uncle who had to take him in when his parents died and so often had a look of wonder and sheer joy at the thought that he could make things float or change their shapes just by saying the correct words. I thought about the poor, innocent boy who had no idea what sort of suffering awaited him during the next seven years of his life. We're reminded of that as Harry wanders around his childhood home and sees the closet under the stairs that used to be his room before Hagrid showed up to rescue him and bring Harry into the wonderful world of magic and wizardry.

Despair is really the name of the game here. Voldemort and his minions have pretty much taken over the wizard world and they're all after Harry. Pretty much all of Harry's old friends, the ones who've managed to live this long anyway, have gathered to try to transport him to a safe house but they get ambushed along the way and another of Harry's friends and comrades doesn't make it. It seems like we might get a bit of peace and happiness when Ron's older brother Bill prepares to marry Fleur Delacour (French witch from Goblet of Fire, please try to keep track, I can't do this every time) but the wedding in the supposedly impregnable safe house is crashed by Voldemort's Death Eaters and Hermione barely manages to transport herself, Harry and Ron to safety.

And now it's just them. The three best friends who have always been the core of the story are now on their own, separated from their friends and allies. They can't go home and Hogwart's is now being run by the traitorous (?) Professor Snape. Their only hope is to fulfill the mission Dumbledore started before he died and try to track down Voldemort's horcruxes, the pieces of his soul he separated and hid so that he can never die. While doing that, they go camping.

If you didn't see the movie but do frequent some form of social media, you already know about the camping from your friends on Twitter or Facebook as that and the fate of Dobby the House Elf were all they talked about. This is where what, up till now, was a gripping and perfectly decent movie. Hermione anticipated having to go on the run so she packed a magical handbag with camping supplies. When they first escaped, they went camping. When it came time to move they went to...another camping site. After an exciting raid of the Ministry of Magic to retrieve a horcrux they once again GO FRIGGING CAMPING AAAHHHHH. Seriously, this is where some judicious script editing of the book would have actually come in handy. It makes me wonder if they had to use all these camping scenes from the book because they had to fill out two movies. That makes this money-driven decision to make the book into two films an even worse idea.

I don't use a four star rating system but if I did, the latest Harry Potter film minus the endless camping scenes would have received three and a half stars. In its present state, I would give it two and a half. That basically makes it barely worth seeing. It contains some of the best material seen so far in the Harry Potter series but also has some of the worst, or at least the dullest. To sum up, it's either a substandard Harry Potter film or, if you're an optimist, it's the greatest camping documentary ever. If not for the Harry/Hermione nude makeout scene, the rating would drop even further. Am I making that part up? Sorry, spoilers.

*Please join me in giving a hearty FUCK YOU to the small minded American publishers who worried that Americans would be too stupid to deal with a title with which the rest of the planet has no problem. I'd like to kick you guys right in your sorcerer's stones.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bee Minus

Yesterday, I mentioned a film that Michael Caine describes as his worst movie, and that it's in the process of being remade. A bit of curiosity caused me to look the movie up on Netflix and, sure enough, it's available on Netflix Instant. Regular readers may have already figured out that what you are reading right now is the start of my latest Liveblog and that you can all now sit back and enjoy my real time comments on this oldie-but-not-a-goodie from 1978...THE SWARM!

0:01:30 -- This movie is 2 and a half hours long so I'll have to pace these comments but, in addition to Michael Caine, the credits have names like Olivia DeHavilland, Ben Johnson, Richard Chamberlain, Katherine Ross and Henry Fonda. In other words, the dream cast if you're making a movie in 1978 such as this one. Plus, it was written by the writers of Towering Inferno and directed by Irwin Allen, the guy who produced that not-great-but-decent movie. This means The Swarm should be the bestest movie and I shouldn't be the least bit put off by the fact that, right now, I'm seeing guys with rifles running around some military base in the desert dressed in white jumpsuits and helmets that make them look like they're in some sort of Imperial Stormtrooper fantasy camp.

0:10:00 -- I REALLY have to pace myself or this will end up being 2 parts but the Stormtroopers are actually American military investigating why they lost contact with this missile base. They get to the control room and find several dead members of the Air Force. The control room itself is one of those movie control rooms with machines that have lots and lots of buttons and blinking lights that don't seem to actually do anything and monitors that do nothing but show squiggly lines going back and forth. You'd think you'd want these things to be labeled instead of just referring to everything as "the machine that goes ping" so you don't, you know, accidentally set off a missile or anything but I guess they were less risk averse back in the Carter years. The only living person they found on the base is Michael Caine dressed in a heavy jacket and a turtleneck. In other words, the exact opposite of what you'd want to be wearing in the middle of a desert. He's extraordinarily cool and cryptic considering he's the only guy left alive after some sort of devastation and now has several guns trained on him.

The only consolation I can offer him is that even Jaws 4 won't be as bad as this.

-- Michael Caine is a bee expert named Bradford Crane and he's there because he was tracking this swarm of killer bees when they came down on this missile base. He's such a world renowned bee guy that the President actually gives him full control over the military and the full resources of the U.S. government to fight the swarm. This may sound odd but most of you are probably too young to remember that the 1970s were the time when entomologists were the most highly regarded members of our society and most disaster movies were ridiculed for not having one in charge of whatever problems they were facing. We also met Dr. Helena Anderson played by Katherine Ross. You may remember her from The Graduate or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid because I know you don't remember her from this. She managed to save a few swarm victims and says the bees have an especially potent venom. She also sweats a lot. In fact, everyone sweats a lot except for Michael Caine. I don't know how he pulled that off. Meanwhile, a boy who watched his parents get stung to death has driven into some small Texas town on the day of a big parade. This would have been perfect if someone had said, "We can't cancel the parade. Do you know how much money we'd lose?" but no one did.

1:00:00 -- I got a little excited when Henry Fonda showed up as a wheelchair bound immunologist named Dr. Henry Krim. I was less excited when Caine wheeled Fonda around for a very long seven minute tour of the base. I know it was that long because I kept looking at the clock saying things like, "Oh God, is this not over yet?" and, "No way! Only seven minutes have passed? AAAAHHH!" Caine organizes a briefing filled with famous faces. Fred MacMurray and Olivia DeHavilland play the mayor and school superintendent of the jerkwater Texas town near the base so they naturally qualify to be included in a high level top secret military briefing. Richard Chamberlain is there as another bee guy who swears that no way, no how could these be the African killer bees. I assume Caine wanted him there so he could lord his superior bee knowledge over and give us another exciting scene of a slide show about bee wings that proves that OH YEAH these are definitely the African killer bees. In case you're wondering, back in the 70s, and this is true, there were wildly overblown reports of African killer bees that had spread to South America and were supposed to be here to kill us all by 1990. Remember when that happened? Did I mention that the bees are intelligent? More intelligent than average bees anyway and certainly more intelligent than whoever gave the greenlight to this movie.

1:30:00 -- When a general wants to drop insecticide on a swarm, Caine objects because it will also kill American honey bees. This strategy leads to the swarm messing with Texas by attacking that town Fred MacMurray is the mayor of and 200 people die but at least the honey bees are all right. Caine still objects to using chemical agents because...oh hell, I don't know why. It's not like they'd have to spray everywhere. This swarm shows up on radar. During the bee invasion, Caine and Katherine Ross hid in a pantry climate controlled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that puts bees to sleep. For some reason, this is also the scene where Caine finally broke a sweat. Is keeping cool in hot weather and sweating in cool temperatures something that happens to British men that I'm only just hearing about? Oh, I can't possibly overstate the intense excitement during a scene where Caine, Fonda and Richard Chamberlain are collecting venom and brushing bees off each other. This is actually a director's cut and it's great that this awesome bee brushing scene was saved from the cutting room floor. I looked at Henry Fonda's face as I'm sure he was thinking, "How the hell did I end up here? I used to work with John Ford," but he looked fine. That's how good an actor he was.

Check out the awesome special effects. Could someone please invent CGI?

2:00:00 -- Due to the movie's length, there have been several subplots I've had to ignore. One is that Olivia DeHavilland's character is being pursued both by Fred MacMurray and a local businessman played by famed character actor Ben Johnson. Both men ask her to marry them but luckily for her, she doesn't have to choose when the train they're all on is attacked by bees. Mind you, MacMurray and Johnson would have been fine had they not obviously and hilariously tossed themselves out of a window. I bitch a lot about the poor quality of CGI today but this movie reminds me that there were crap special effects before that was created. That thought was brought to mind both by the swarm that basically looks like a smudge on the camera lens and the crash of the obviously toy train. This movie was made at the same time as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind so there's really no excuse for this. Another thing for which there is no excuse is the number of people who died and no attempt was made to revive them. I know CPR existed back then. Did people refuse to learn it because they thought it was too much like kissing? One of the guys who was allowed to die was Henry Fonda's character though, for an actor of Fonda's stature and caliber, taking him out of the movie was more of a mercy killing. Fonda's genius doctor character decided to test out his new bee venom antidote on himself so he injected himself with the equivalent of six bee stings and died when the antidote didn't work. This, of course, could only have happened to a true genius. The good news, of course, is that the movie's almost over.

2:34:00 -- Oh, are we done so soon? Another great character actor, Jose Ferrer, showed up as the director of a nuclear power plant. After bragging that no way would an attacking bee swarm cause his plant to blow up, the bees attack and the plant blows up causing the deaths of 36,000 people. Good thing they didn't harm all those poor honey bees with insecticides, eh? Not that it would have done any good since they finally do try harsh chemicals and the bees are immune. Then, when the bees are in Houston, they decide that a half dozen guys with flame throwers will be sufficient to burn up 5 billion bees, an idea that, shockingly, turns out to be wrong. Finally, after things have gone from "fucked" to "totally fucked" to "fucked as fucked can be," Caine puts those blinking machines with the reel-to-reel tapes going non stop to use and discovers the bees are attracted to sound waves that simulate their mating call. In a moment of topical irony, he gets the military to create an artificial oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, draws the bees to it with the sound waves and sets them all on fire giving a movie that killed around 40,000 people a happy ending. And, that's it. I hope none of this ruins the upcoming remake. I'd to think I caused that movie to get bad buzz. You all think about that while I wonder how the hell Michael Caine, one of our greatest actors, wound up being a target for my jokes for a second time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Look At My Briefs -- 11/18/10

The Mayans predicted that I would post a movie review on November 18, 2010. Since I think Mayans are total A-holes, I have decided to make them look foolish and instead post another edition of my brief comments on various subjects I like to call Look At My Briefs.

Amazon has announced that they are creating an open source movie studio. Basically, they're holding a contest in which anyone can submit a script and it will then be put online where Amazon readers can give feedback and even rewrite and amend the scripts wiki style. Now, I'm a reasonable, mature human being and it's all I can do to restrain myself from writing, "THIS SCHIT SUXXORRZ," in every script's comments section and inserting a buff werewolf character into every screenplay so imagine when your standard comments section creature starts showing up at this site. On the other hand, I finally have a place to submit my screenplay for Star Wars Episode VII: Let's Act Like Episodes I, II and III Never Happened.

Judging by Twitter/Facebook/rest of the damn internet reactions, I have failed as a movie fan because I did not completely lose my shit over the recent Green Lantern trailer. Only thing I found interesting was that I assumed Sinestro would be the movie's villain and instead it looks like it's going to be Hector Hammond*. Sorry, this just looks like a standard action movie to me and not the next Dark Knight/Spider-Man 2. If it's lucky, it may be on par with the X-Men movies which means they'll be entertaining films that you struggle to even think about when they're over.

The trailer for Cowboys and Aliens, however, looks very cool. This is the movie I'll be wishing I was watching between now and it's release date. Daniel Craig is probably a better choice for the lead role than the original choice, Robert Downey Jr, was since this looks like it has a lot of "strong, silent type" moments and Downey is at his best when he doesn't shut up.

Tomorrow's Harry Potter day, like anybody needed to be told that. We've all been waiting for this story to wrap up for almost as long as we've been waiting for Emma Watson to be legally old enough to have a sex tape released. The good news is that this is the last chapter if you don't count the other last chapter coming out next year. The bad news is that they're doing the same "chop it into two movies" gimmick for the last Twilight adaptation.

I've been wondering how long it would take Hollywood to come out with a Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie. I used to watch those reruns every day when I came home from school and to this day I really like that show so, naturally, I'm petrified with fear because of the near-certainty that it will be ruined by the modern day Hollywood blockbuster treatment. The good news is that it may be directed by Steven Soderbergh. Still, deals like this can ruined by just about anything. Soderbergh could refuse to sign onto this for reasons as varied as dissatisfaction with the script to the Sun being in his eyes.

Michael Caine was asked in an interview recently what he thought his worst movie was and he didn't hesitate to say The Swarm. If you've never heard of it, it's a lame 1970s action film about killer bees and was made in response to overblown reports of South American "super bees" that were supposedly migrating to the United States. The makers of this movie took an Oscar nominated director, a successful veteran writer and a cast of some of the best and most successful actors of that day and managed to take all those elements for success and turn them into, by all accounts**, a godawfully dull movie. It is a critical and box office failure so, naturally, it's going to be remade. Meanwhile, Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man still hasn't been made into a movie and yes, I probably will mention every week from now on.

*If these names mean nothing to you, congratulations. You had an interesting childhood and not one locked away in your room reading comic books.

**I haven't seen it myself but I'll take the word of some old reviews I just read.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Unfinished Business

It was a slow weekend movie-wise so I figured I could spend today with some follow-up comments on things I've already reviewed.

In my review of the movie Hereafter, I said that I believed Matt Damon's character, psychic medium George Lonegan, was legitimately speaking to the dead. After a second viewing a few weeks back, I no longer believe that. I think he believes that he is and is truly tortured by his "ability" but seeing him again made me conclude that his supposed gift is a combination of incredible intuition, empathy and a very manageable condition caused by brain damage he received as a boy. You can tell this is true because he conducts his readings the same way that quack psychics do and knows his guesses are correct by picking up on very subtle clues given to him by his clients. This fits right in with the story since Hereafter isn't about the dead anyway but rather it's about the living and the way they deal with it. I'm sure you're all thrilled to read this since Hereafter was seen by pretty much no one so let's move on to something that's being seen by everyone. Well, more than the people that saw Hereafter anyway.

We're now three episodes into The Walking Dead and I can reasonably declare that this is the best show currently on television. I can't believe a story set in a supernatural world is ultimately driven by its human characters. The way in which the characters are unfolding reminds me of when Lost first started up. The people are more complex than they appear to be when you first see them. Even the abusive racist causes you to feel pity for him and his plight. It's a shame that the season is only six episodes long but, then again, Lost basically had six hours worth of compelling content every season that had to be stretched out to 20 hours so maybe this is a good thing. Have I mentioned movies about genetically engineered monsters? No? Well, as long as we're on the subject...

When I reviewed Splice, I couldn't bring myself to reveal the stupidest thing in the movie because it was part of the ending. Well, I've decided not to worry about this anymore and tell you how Splice was perfectly constructed to make me think I was as annoyed and pissed off as I could possibly only to bring me to a new level of annoyed and pissed off in the very next scene. If you ever intend to see Splice and don't want to know how it ends, read no further. Still here? Great.

Adrien Brody's character, Clive, decides that Dren, the human/animal hybrid he and his partner/lover Elsa (Sarah Polley) created, is irresistible and has sex with her. Elsa walks in on them because they're doing it in the middle of a damn barn and Clive discovers how difficult it is to justify to your girlfriend the fact that you were fucking something that's part scorpion. They decide the time has come to put Dren down but this turns out to be something of a chore because she A) flies away and B) turns male. No, what you just read was not a misprint. SHE TURNS MALE! I want to point out that I knew this was going to happen because a female slug they'd created earlier in the movie had turned male so maybe they should have figured it would happen to Dren but these characters are the stupidest people to ever earn the title "genius" so no, they didn't. Anyway, Dren's "Must destroy mankind" programming finally kicked in and he/she/whatever goes on a killing spree. Finally, he pins Elsa down and uses his brand new penis to rape her. While he's doing that, Clive bangs him in the head with a shovel but Dren uses his scorpion tail to sting Clive and they die together. Later, you see Elsa is now pregnant with Dren's child and she's going to have the baby for the purposes of science because, and I cannot stress this enough, she's fucking stupid. And THAT is the stupidest thing these people do.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Crazy Train

Unstoppable is, simply, one of the best action movies in years. It reminds me of the great action movies made in the 1970s about down-to-earth guys who were called upon to do extraordinary things like The French Connection or Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. In the 80s, action films were taken over by the Big Dumb Hero played by guy like Stallone or Schwarzenegger. These days, of course, they're pretty much CGI fests, including smart and entertaining movies like Inception. One thing I planned to do when I saw Unstoppable was to compliment it's intelligent and restrained use of CGI but I've since found out that it has zero CGI which means that, somehow, they made a train tip onto its side without derailing. Whether they did it with a real train or models, I don't know and I don't think I'll try to find out.

The movie centers on three people who have to fight against corporate greed, human incompetence and something you normally don't think of as fearsome, out-of-control technology to avert a disaster that could kill thousands of people. This fictionalized version of a an actual 2001 incident starts when a lazy railyard employee ignores safety procedures and jumps out of the train to manually change a stuck line switch. What I'm sure was a surprise to him but no one else, he failed to properly set the train's dynamic braking system properly and it took off on its own with the mechanisms that would have normally stopped it out of commission. Meanwhile, a conductor-in-training named Will Colson (Chris Pine) finds out he'll be working that day with engineer/trainer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington). When they first meet, they instantly form one of those stupid movie relationships where, for no reason we know of, Frank has an instant dislike for his younger trainee. Fortunately, I can forgive this because we find out later that Frank is actually taking out his frustration about another issue on Will and his behavior suddenly makes sense. After a painful workday filled with back-and-forth drama, they come to find out that they are heading straight toward a runaway train.

We also meet Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), the woman who has this unthinkable situation suddenly drop in her lap. She discovers that she is apparently working for BP as her executive superiors try to figure out a solution to this problem that is both cheap and serves their PR purposes. Because of the expense, they ignore Connie's suggestion that they derail the train in empty farm country. Connie wants to do this when she finds out the train is carrying tons of volatile and toxic chemicals and wants to get it off the tracks before it reaches a populated area. Her bosses, however, decide to try and drop someone onto the train via helicopter. When that fails, they decide to take up Connie's wonderful suggestion to derail it only now it will have to be done in a populated area. That fails too as I figured it would because problems like this always have to be solved by the stars of the film.

In another callback to older films, director Tony Scott and writer Mark Bomback decided not to give 98% of the screen time to superstar Denzel Washington and actually populated the movie with interesting supporting characters such as Werner (Kevin Corrigan), a very smart and competent federal safety inspector who turns out to be an excellent source of scientific information about trains and what will happen if, say, you back an engine up to an out-of-control train and try to yank it from the other direction that even Frank Barnes with all his experience didn't know. Smart, educated characters in movies are usually ignored in favor of some chunkhead who's listening to his gut, a strategy that works very well in mindless fiction, so it was nice to see a nod given to intelligence.

The three main characters, despite the fact that they make you think the train industry somehow gets the most beautiful people in the world to work for it, are portrayed as normal people with believable problems who never had to be brave or inventive until today as opposed to two fisted loners who are always causing headaches for their superiors because they often have to bend the rules to get the job done and only manage to keep their jobs because dammit, they're the best. I also appreciate the fact that Tony Scott, for this movie at least, has abandoned the acid trip style of filmmaking he has embraced in movies like Man on Fire and instead gave us a straight forward movie that's old fashioned in a very good way. Other movies could learn a thing or two from him. They probably won't, of course, and next week I'll see yet another movie about some dumb guy saving the world that was filmed entirely inside the director's Macintosh.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bizarro World Movie Reviews -- Skyline

Often times, movies aren't made available to critics before they are released. The latest entry into this category is the new science fiction adventure Skyline. In almost every case, critics are not allowed to see a movie in advance because the producers think the movie is horrible and they don't want the word getting out before it's released. Note that I said "almost every case". Yes, there are those awful films, and then there's Skyline.

I think Skyline's makers refused to arrange critics' screenings not out of fear that it would be savaged by them but out of love. Yes, damn it, love. Not just for the critics but for all humanity. You see, I managed to be one of the very few people to see it before today and I can tell you that it was not denied critics' screenings because it was bad. It wasn't shown to critics because there is a very real danger that Skyline will become a new baseline for cinematic excellence and literally make all other films horrid and unwatchable by comparison. I already feel my vomit rise when I think of ever again having to view movies like Citizen Kane or 2001 or Pulp Fiction. I was looking forward to the Coen brothers remake of True Grit but now I won't be able to stomach it unless it's a CGI loaded story of aliens invading Los Angeles.

Co-directors Colin and Greg Strause are clearly being guided by truly great filmmakers like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay but, instead of simply emulating those giants, they stand on their shoulders and surpass them to create something that neither Bay nor Emmerich could create even if you smushed them together into one incredible director called Bayerich, a name that could also be used by gossip media if they ever became lovers. The Strause brothers didn't simply create the ADD-inducing feast for the eyes for which those other two are so well known. It's difficult to put into words what they did differently. How can I put this? Imagine the best food you ever ate, the most wonderful sunset you ever saw, the most intense orgasm you ever had. Now mix them all together with a bit of your mother's love and a piece of the Berlin Wall, slap all that onto celluloid and that's what it's like to watch Skyline.

Some say the plot about hostile aliens invading and enslaving the human race is trite and derivative but Skyline renders terms like "plot" and "logic" and "intelligent storytelling" obsolete. Instead, what happens on screen isn't something you watch for entertainment. You watch it so it can touch you in places you didn't know you had. Did I know there was a spot near my liver that tingled? I do now. I never truly felt like a human being before I watched Skyline but now I feel like I have surpassed humanity. This must be what it's like when a priest becomes the Pope or when a virgin becomes a prostitute.

If someone tries to steer you away from Skyline, as the haters and cynics out there will do, say to those people, "Hey, do I come to where you work and knock the dicks out of your mouth?" This will make them so confused that you'll be able to slip by them easily and enter the multiplex to see the movie. Ha, did you see what I did? I said "see" the movie when seeing it is just a small part of what you will experience as you begin humanity's journey in the next phase of its evolution.

Oh, it has cool spaceships too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Look At My Briefs -- 11/11/10

If the year was 2011, today would be 11/11/11. As we are stuck in the hell year that is 2010, we can all at least console ourselves with another edition of my brief comments on various subjects I like to call Look At My Briefs.

This is very bad news indeed for the upcoming sequel to Sherlock Holmes. When I saw the headline that Rachel McAdams wasn't sure if she would be back for Sherlock Holmes 2, my assumption about the movie automatically became, "Wow, this movie's going to suck." It's not that she would absolutely have to be in it, mind you. What bothers me is that filming for this is already underway. Hell, Stephen Fry is playing Mycroft Holmes and he's been live tweeting from the set every day. So, we have a movie that's started filming and the script is still is such a state of flux that one of the main characters isn't even sure if she's in it or not? That's a recipe for failure and pretty much guarantees the third act will be dominated by chase scenes and explosions.

Jessica Alba was recently quoted as saying, "Good actors, never use the script unless it's amazing writing. All the good actors I've worked with, they all say whatever they want to say." Why am I the only one who, we he read that, automatically assumed that she was either misquoted or was joking and the interviewer for Elle magazine decided to report it as if she was serious? People like screenwriter John August and Cinematical's Allison Nastasi bring up that possibility but only so they can dismiss it and unleash their righteous indignation on something that's so damn outrageous that the possibility of it being real is pretty close to zero.

I never realized Smurfette had such a complicated origin story. The whole Smurf situation is still kind of creepy and implies that there are fairly regular gang bangs going on when they're not busy running from Gargamel's cat or whatever the hell it is Smurfs like to do. I still think the Smurfs movie is going to be all smurfed up and it's totally going to suck smurf.

Zack Snyder movies always have trailers that come out six months in advance and make you upset that you have to spend the next six months watching movies like Little Fockers when you could be watching this. I was surprised to see this story of a girl who was institutionalized for the crime of not wanting to be raped by her stepfather was an original screenplay and not based on anime or a graphic novel. The most likely scenario for a movie like this is that it will have a dumb plot mixed in with a wonderful visual imagination. That wouldn't be so bad but why not hope for even more? How could doing that possibly go wrong?

Something called the Parents' Television Council complained that profanity on network television has risen 69% in the last five years. First, is there a media watchdog organization with the words "Parents" or "Family" in its name that isn't composed of prudish rightwing touchholes who think a good way to spend your time is to watch television so you can count the dirty words? Second, as I said last week about a similar incident, a complaint like this would have been effective as recently as the turn of the century but television networks are fighting with shows like True Blood and Dexter that have not only foul language but graphic violence and simulated sex scenes. They have bigger problems than tightass freaks who lose it even when they see something like %$#& substituting for Shit My Dad Says. Third, 69%? Really guys? All that awful, corrupting profanity you guys watch and no one at your organization knows the significance of that number or the irony of seeing it in a report about profanity. Helpful hint: learn the concept of rounding off numbers.

About the news that a new movie version of Dune may get shelved: good. I love that book. I really do. My love of the book gives me enough familiarity with it to come to the conclusion that it is unfilmable. I believe my theory is reinforced by the two previous critical and financial failures that were attempts to film it. If you want to film an old science fiction novel, Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man has been sitting around for over half a century. You're welcome, Hollywood.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Movie So Nice They Named It Splice

I'm a life long science fiction fan. I can honestly say that the writings of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein changed my life. My favorite novel of all time is Frank Herbert's Dune. Thus, I always consider it to be a pleasure and a treat to see serious and intelligent science fiction on the big screen. Most of what is labeled "science fiction" was made by people who have no idea what that is. They think it's Star Wars. Don't get me wrong, I like Star Wars but, to me, it qualifies more as escapist fantasy than science fiction. Some of the better science fiction films of recent years were movies like Inception, Knowing and Moon. I even classified Avatar as intelligent and serious science fiction. This all brings me to the recent DVD release of Splice.

Splice annoyed the ever loving crap out of me because it was made by people who not only don't know how to make science fiction but, I would honestly guess, seem to have real contempt for it. This is very common in the movie world. Many filmmakers and studio executives consider it to be the fodder of children and nerds and would abandon the art form altogether if it wasn't so profitable. You can tell Splice falls into this category because it's a dark, depressing film that sees science as a destructive force and the pursuit of knowledge as something that will kill us all.

Splice is a monster movie about two scientists named Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley). These two are top flight biological researchers working for a pharmaceutical company. I have a relative who is a biological researcher for a pharmaceutical company and she mostly injects various compounds into mice then stares at the mice for hours or days to see if they live or die but that glamorous existence just isn't good enough for these two. Instead, they take the DNA of various animals, somehow splice them together and literally create a new lifeform. They create male and female slugs that they name Fred and Ginger that are the product of combining the DNA of diverse animals. Let this sink if for a moment. If anyone actually did this, it would be the most amazing thing in the history of anything. Anyone who did this would win the Nobel Prize for the next dozen years or so but is that good enough for them? Oh no. Just to see what will happen, they want to remake this thing but this time they want to toss in some human DNA. You know, just to see what happens.

Have I mentioned these two are supposed to be really smart? Another way you can spot the fact that the people making this had contempt for their own material is that everyone in it is an idiot. The people who made this thought that it wouldn't matter if their characters acted like idiots since people would only really care about the monster. Mind you, using human DNA in their experiments, in direct contravention of the instructions of their employers, is hardly the stupidest thing these two do. After they secretly manage to successfully combine a few human and animal proteins, a scientific feat that actually dwarfs the historic work they've already done, they figure, "What the hell?" and decide to see if they can make an embryo. That is not the stupidest thing they do. Somehow, without anyone noticing or any accountant wondering where the hundreds of thousands of dollars this work would require was going, they grow this thing into a full fledged fetus that breaks out of its vat upon birth and trashes their clean room. What do they do? Why, take it home and raise it, of course. The creature, despite it's alien appearance, deer legs and tail with a retractable scorpion stinger on the end, grows up to be a fairly hot looking girl that they name Dren (nerd spelled backwards). Dren is often temperamental, unstable and violent. She's also super strong and, if she chooses to, sprouts wings. The scientists who were smart enough to shatter the boundaries and limits of contemporary biological thinking figured something like this could be left alone in a barn while they go to work. This is NOT the stupidest thing they do.

What is the stupidest thing? That happens too far into the movie for me to give away but I will say that it leaves room for a sequel.

To sum up, this is a dumb ripoff of Frankenstein that hates science, logical thinking and happiness and tries to make up for that by showing us a monster that I got sick of seeing after a while. I suppose it could have been worse but, at the moment, I don't see how.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Make A Date To See Due Date...Sorry, That Sounded Funnier In My Head

Due Date is the kind of movie that makes me say, "Haven't I seen this before?" and then stop caring about that around ten minutes in. I was kind of annoyed when I saw that Hangover Todd Philips was doing a basic ripoff of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and I basically had this review written before I even saw it. Oh, what a thing of beauty that review was. It contained phrases like, "...and I will visit great vengeance and furious anger on anyone who thinks they can copy John Hughes," and, "You suck, Todd Philips." He never would have recovered from that. Todd Philips, however, just did what he almost always does when I said ahead of time that his movies will suck. He made a movie that made me laugh from beginning to end.

Oddly, the majority of critics don't seem to agree with me. This only scored 39% on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm assuming they all accidentally walked into a showing of Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls which I've heard is rather depressing. I'll read some other reviews later and if they seem to be confused because Robert Downey Jr. looked so much like Whoopi Goldberg, I'll know I was right. Or maybe they didn't like the scene where Downey intentionally punched an eight year old boy in the stomach. Yes, that happened. He hit him hard too but I blame the kid since he easily could have blocked it.

Yes, with some variations, this is Planes, Train and Automobiles. I don't know if anyone has even bothered to attempt some lame denial but, if they did, they're either lying or stupid. So, what are these variations? It's kind of like when you copy your term paper off the internet. You change a few things here and there so you can legitimately say you wrote it but you're not fooling anybody. The big change, however, was the removal of limits. Philips is the guy who thought it was a good idea in The Hangover to show us Ken Jeong completely naked while keeping Heather Graham clothed and not only did he not get chased by people with pitchforks but it became one of the biggest hits of the year.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Peter Highman, a man trying to get home to Los Angeles from Florida so he can be present for his pregnant wife's planned C-section. It's established in a conversation with his wife that he has made great progress lately with his anger management problem. The only reason to bring something like that up, of course, is if it plays a role in the plot later but nah, let's just dismiss that. what could possibly happen in the few hours it will take to fly from Florida to L.A.? Enter Ethan Tramblay (Zach Galifianakis, and let me give a quick thank you to whoever invented the copy and paste feature and saved me from having to type out that name). Like John Candy was in Planes, etc., Ethan is a not-particularly-bright guy who manages to annoy the crap out of people but is also such a thoroughly decent human being that you can't help but eventually like him. "Eventually" is the operative word here. Ethan's complete lack of boundaries makes him into the kind of guy who immediately insinuates himself into your life as if you and he had been friends for years. His annoying natures causes him to talk and speak in the rudest and most inappropriate of ways (at one point me masturbates in front of Peter). Lastly, his lack of smarts renders him incapable of realizing that you shouldn't speak of bombs of terrorists while on an airplane and this conversation, which Peter tries to end, put both Ethan and Peter on that thing that has never actually caught a terrorist, the No-Fly List. And thus our heroes share a bonding experience when Peter realizes his wallet is still on the plane and is forced to accept Ethan's offer of a ride to Los Angeles.

And so we now have two guys, one extremely annoying and the other with very shaky anger management skills who must spend several stressful days together. Does hilarity ensure? I thought so, even when Peter punches a little kid. It was an awful thing to do and the fact that the kid was being a brat was no excuse but it was also funny. In lesser hands, it wouldn't have been but the director, writer and actors actually managed to make an act of child abuse funny and funny is all I really ask out of a comedy. Besides, Peter gets his later on when he gets his ass kicked by a guy in a wheelchair.

So yes, go see Due Date. If you found it offensive, stupid, boring and an intolerable film watching experience, I consider that to be entirely your fault.

Friday, November 5, 2010


This Liveblog selection was a last minute thing. I was planning to do a crappy 80s horror sequel but my last two Liveblogs were from the 80s and I was scared I might think it was a good idea to put on parachute pants in public so today I picked a movie that's barely a year old. Enjoy now as I spoil every minute of the dystopian science fiction action flick that, so far, has kept us from killing real people while playing video games. Oh yes, I'm talking a movie that just went up on Netflix Instant called Gamer starring Gerard Butler, a man who achieved great success with 300 and seems determined to never have a hit movie again.

-- The movie opened with a dingy, uninspired battle scene in some abandoned warehouse all playing to a punk version of the old Eurythmics tune from the 80s "Sweet Dreams" and DAMMIT DIDN'T I JUST SAY I WAS TRYING TO GET AWAY FROM THE 80S THIS WEEK? Anyway, lots of stuff blew up and a guy called Kable (Gerard Butler) killed lots of people. He was, apparently, under someone else's control which means...well, absolutely nothing at this point. IMDB says we're in the year 2034 and, according to this movie, in the future everyone is a surly asshole. the example of this is talk show host Gina Parker Smith (Kyra Sedgewick, a woman who does everyone she acts with a favor by putting them within one degree of her husband, Kevin Bacon) and her producer played by Star Trek actor John DeLancie. These two live their lives in some sort of duel to see who can be the biggest asshole to the other.

0:12:00 -- Dexter actor Michael C. Hall is Ken Castle, the creator of a deathsport called Slayers. This movie is one of those science fiction stories in which a contemporary technology is extrapolated to its ridiculous and really god damn unlikely extreme. In this case, that extreme is called Slayers. The game consists of deathrow inmates being given a chance at freedom. All they have to do is survive a game in which, through chips in their heads, they are placed under the control of a master Gamer (title achieved) who runs them through live ammo combat scenarios in which most of them die, all to thrill enraptured television viewers. Complete a certain number of missions and you get to go free. So, yeah, society is now so dark, vicious and nihilistic that they now want to watch graphic murders happen on live television cause, you know, they watch Johnny Knoxville get hit in the balls by a wrecking ball today so this is the next logical step. This is one of those ideas that, if you submitted it to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for their nickel-a-word rate, they would reject but you can convince movie studio executives who think science fiction is stupid and probably couldn't even spell dystopia that this stupid, vacuous vision should be forever immortalized in celluloid at the cost of tens of millions of dollars of their company's money. If nothing else, can you imagine how the general public would react if one of these murderers lives and gets to go free?

0:20:00 -- Kable's real name is John Tillman and he has a wife named Angie (Amber Valetta). Being live avatars in virtual reality games is their family business because she works in a live-action Sims type deal called Society also run by Ken Castle. The people in this allow themselves to be controlled and the controllers mostly just have them debase themselves by being injured or screwed. Take a look at Amber Valetta and guess which one her overweight-nerd-guy-controller likes to do.

Her controller was about to get her clothes off when they got interrupted by Ludacris. No, seriously, Ludacris hacked into the game network and delivered a rant about how wrong this all was. Oh, he doesn't call himself Ludacris. He's called Humanz. Which is much better. Also, newscasters say "fuck" and "cocksucker" during their broadcasts now. I fully support that. What I really want to see are old shows like Andy Griffith with their dialogue converted into dirty words. If that happens, the future will be awesome. Oh, sorry, the future will be FUCKING awesome.

0:43:00 -- As anyone who has ever seen Rollerball, The Running Man or any other movie about a futuristic deathsport, you know that there's always a point where the most skilled and popular player of the game becomes a target for the evil awful bad guys who run the game and this movie is no different. Kable is just two missions away from going free and Castle doesn't want that because Kable supposedly knows something about him. Castle even framed him for murder so he'd be locked away. Luckily, Humanz has noticed Kable's plight and got his controller, a teenager named Simon, to add a mod to the game so he and Kable can speak. Kable wants Simon to turn him loose so he can control himself during the battle. Oh, about the battle scenes. They suck. They were basically designed for people with A.D.D. who hate light and color and love it when the camera spins around and cuts away every 4 seconds. The filmmakers (co-writers and directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who also wrote Jonah Hex, a fact that explains a lot about this movie) kept cutting the battle with static and electronic glitches to emphasize the fact that this is being played like a video game even though real people are dying. If the desired artistic result was to piss me off and give me a headache then bravo. Did I leave something out? Probably, but I'm moving on anyway.

0:48:00 -- Oh yeah, I remember. Kable asked a mysterious woman who works for Humanz to get him some booze which he drank just before the start of his last battle. What happens next isn't just a "WTF" moment but more like a "No seriously, WTF? Are you shitting me?" moment when Kable finds a car that takes ethanol and vomits the vodka into the empty tank. He also pisses his now-vodka soaked urine into it for good measure and starts to drive off so he can escape, something else I forgot to mention. Something like that may have worked if it had been done by one of those equally skilled and crazy Hong Kong directors but Neveldine and Taylor...aren't that. Also, if this scene is any indication, automotive technology doesn't advance even a little bit in the next 30 years.

1:00:00 -- Even though Humanz had helped him break out of prison not 10 minutes earlier, Kable basically said, "What have you done for me lately?" when Humanz wanted Kable to join in his anti-tech revolution. He changed his mind when they said they knew where his wife, Angie, was. We see her when she's pulling her shift as a Sim and she meets another human droid calling himself Rick Rape. Rick is played by Milo Ventimiglia, best known for playing Peter Petrelli in Heroes though I'm sure he'll want this...

...to be known as his greatest role. Rick was about to take advantage of poor Angie when Kable walks in and breaks the guy's back. All I could think then was, "Um, wasn't that guy being mind controlled? He killed the actor but the operator is alive and well," but that's never mentioned again and there's so much other stupid and amoral stuff to deal with. Like when Angie's operator keeps getting turned on by the scenes of horrific violence that break out when Castle's operatives track Kable down. Kable gets away with Angie after approximately 37000 people got shot so it was one of the movie's less violent scenes.

1:14:49 -- They were rescued by talk show host Gina Smith who, for some reason, is now on Kable's side. Humanz managed to free Angie from the game's control but that did squat because Castle managed to reacquire her as well as their daughter. Castle quite correctly figured that Kable would come to where he was holding them. This means he surrounded the place with snipers and shot him on sight BUT NO NO NO that's what a smart guy would have done in a smart movie. This was made by the Jonah Hex writers and that means Castle set up some elaborate trap that involved letting Kable, a deadly fighter who impossibly survived 30 missions in his virtual world, waltz right into his home. Don't worry though, Castle was ready for him with a musical number. Seriously, Michael C. Hall sang "I've Got You Under My Skin" with some very unfortunate choreography to match.

1:34:40 -- The best part of doing these is when I get to say YAY, THE MOVIE'S OVER. You know, I can't believe I went this far without mentioning Michael Hall's Southern accent. IMDB assures me he's from North Carolina but he sounds like he's from deep Georgia except for the parts when he sounds like he's from Minnesota. Anyway, Castle confronted Kable with a force of about two dozen mercenaries who very kindly attacked Kable one at a time, making it easy for him to kill them. I don't like to tell people their business but, if you're an evil genius bent on world domination and you happen to be reading this, may I suggest just shooting the hero who invades your fortress with the expressed purpose of stopping you? Oh yes, Castle was going to use the game technology to infect everyone with his brain probe things so the world would be under his control. Castle tells him that he found and killed Humanz and found a way to bypass the device that freed Kable from the game and Kable suddenly finds he can no longer control his own actions. Luckily, the thorough and capable Castle left one of Humanz' people alive and she and Gina used Simon, Kable's game operator, to take control of Kable and kill Castle. Kable, Angie and their daughter then leave, I assume to celebrate saving the world with a burger or something which is how I'm going to celebrate the end of this movie.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Look At My Briefs -- 11/4/10

It's a new Dawn, it's a new day and while I can't say I'm feeling good, I am feeling good enough to present another edition of my brief comments on various subjects I like to call Look At My Briefs.

My God, people, NO the woman in this Charlie Chaplin movie is not a cell phone using time traveler. Did anyone really need to be given some sort of alternative before making that the default position?

They say there are no new ideas but will these mysterious "they" people keep saying that when they discover that Roland Emmerich is working on an alien invasion movie? I mean, sure, he's done that before but this time around it will be shot as if it were "found footage" shot by the characters themselves so that's new. Right? Oh hell, maybe the aliens will be wearing hats this time around.

I'd always assumed the creation of Dancing With The Stars came about when deals with the devil were struck that involved the gates of Hell opening and this show being vomited up from the bowels of Perdition itself but it turns out that wasn't the case.

Sure, Saw 3D had a $24 million opening BUT, once again, this franchise was beaten when Paranormal Activity 2 scored a $42 million opening the week before. We all the producers of the Paranormal Activity films a huge debt though I'd say that debt has been repaid and then some by giving these low budget films huge box office grosses though I also, on behalf of the American people, want to extend to them the thanks of a grateful nation.

I know I just talked about a movie's box office gross but I normally try to stay away from the subject. I consider that to be none of my concern. It doesn't affect a film's quality and the only reason I care about it would be if I wanted the makers of a film I liked to be able to make another one. I really don't want to be the kind of person who gets any sense of validation from the fact that I liked a movie that also made a lot of money. That being said, I gave a positive review to The Walking Dead and that show has become a huge ratings hit. This means that I WAS RIGHT I WAS RIGHT WOO HOO YES YES WOOOOOOOOOT!!!!!! What? I'm validating myself using television ratings, not box office gross. Those two are completely different.

Seriously, join the rest of the world and watch The Walking Dead. It's very cool and these high ratings will lead to a second season.

At this point, it seems like some sort of natural law violation for Katherine Heigl to star in a decent movie but this one, at least, looks different. Still, with Heigl involved, studios will probably want to completely rewrite the script and make the character a plucky career gal who just can't seem to find the right guy. At least that would seem normal.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dead Men Walking And Doing A Bunch Of Other Stuff

The Walking Dead is, simply, one of the best new shows I've seen in a long time. Usually, the worst episode of any television series is the very first episode. If that holds true for The Walking Dead, we're in for a treat because it's first episode was excellent.

The Walking Dead takes all the cliches of the zombie movie and makes them work one more time. It's set firmly in a copy of George Romero's universe in which, for some unknown reason, the recently deceased have come back to life to eat the flesh of the living and can only be put down for good by destruction of their brains, either quickly with a bullet or slowly by watching Two and a Half Men. Unlike more recent "zombie" pictures in which the monsters are actually people driven mad by a disease, these creatures have literally died and risen up. Why did this happen? No idea. Why do they eat the living and not each other? Seriously, stop asking questions like that and enjoy it. As in George Romero's "Living Dead" series of films, the zombies are slow and weak creatures made deadly by their numbers and their unending determination to kill us all.

When the show starts, we know all this but the characters don't. This is good because we require very little in the way of general exposition and explanation of why and how society has collapsed. In the opening scene, we know right off the bat why all the cars are crashed and overturned and why we only see one guy walking down what should be a busy highway and gas station. This guy is Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a sheriff's deputy in what I think is rural Kentucky whose patrol car is low on gas. He can't just pull the cruiser into the gas station though because it's already crammed with idle cars, cars that are either empty or whose drivers are dead. The only other person walking around is a little girl who is anything but a harmless child.

In flashbacks, we see that Rick was shot in a firefight with meth dealers and, in a move skillfully appropriated from 28 Days Later, woke up in the hospital to find that society had collapsed under the weight of a zombie invasion. He was shaky and weak after spending a couple of weeks in a coma and luckily encountered no zombies who could hurt him until he met a man named Morgan and his 10 year old son Duane. Morgan and his family were on their way to a refugee camp in Atlanta run by the military but they holed up in a house near Rick's home when Morgan's wife becomes a zombie. He didn't have the heart to kill her completely but that means he and Duane now watch through cracks in the boarded up windows as she shambles along with other zombies outside the house.

Frank Darabont, director of the wonderful Shawshank Redemption and the horrible The Mist*, helped adapt this from Robert Kirkman's graphic novels and even wrote and directed this first episode. What he created looked more like a movie than a television show. It's often quiet. There isn't much in the way of background music. The quiet often lends low key dread to scenes in which the characters are as safe as they can be. There are very few moments in which you're truly at ease and not in fear that a zombie could drag itself out of nowhere and start killing characters you've come to like. This may be the most frightening television series ever produced yet there's also hope for the future. Not much, mind you, but you do watch as Rick Grimes manages to recover and adapt to this new world.

The Walking Dead is, in a word, brilliant. I can't wait for it to complete its six episode run even though I'm sure I'll want way more than six episodes.

*It was a decent movie until the ending but oh Lord, what an unforgettably horrible ending.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mild Horses

Watching Secretariat was like eating at Friendly's. It was decent and I enjoyed it while I was watching it but it's not an experience that was particularly memorable or that will cause me to heartily recommend it to others. The best I can say about it is that it's a competently made docu-drama with good writing, a few better-than-good performances and some very pretty scenery and that seeing it was a pleasant way to spend a Friday evening in much the same way a burger and sundae at Friendly's would be. Yes, that's faint praise but it's the best I can do.

I was interested in seeing this because, while I knew that the horse had won a record setting Triple Crown in 1973, I knew nothing else about it or the people who owned and raced him. The best things in the movie are Diane Lane and the character she plays, Penny Chenery Tweedy. When the movie opens, Penny is your average middle class housewife living in Denver in the late 60s. We see her and her family during dinner as she runs back and forth to the kitchen as her husband, tax lawyer Jack (Dylan Walsh), serenely parks his ass at the table reading the paper and making small talk with the kids. This screencap of pre-feminist America takes a poignant turn when the phone rings and Penny is told that her mother has passed. She and Jack have to make the sad trip to her parents' Virginia horse farm only to find out that her father (Scott Glenn)is pretty far in the grip of Alzheimer's and that it's been her mother who has been (poorly) running the farm for a few years now. Her brother (who's not a bad guy) wants to sell the farm and put their father into a nursing home but Penny just can't bear the idea of taking a sick, old man away from his home just after he's lost his wife so she decides to hang around for a bit and try to get the farm into shape.

The best plot element is Penny realizing that she enjoys the new responsibilities that she's taken on. She's one of those people who thought she was perfectly content with her existence which, in this case, was being a suburban housewife. Before this happened, she probably would have told you that she was fine with her life the way it was and she would have meant it but now, all of a sudden, she's making decisions and taking actions that affect a multi-million dollar operation that is also her father's life's work and legacy. She even starts referring to herself by her maiden name due to that name's recognition in the horse business, a fact about which her husband isn't particularly happy. A lot of people don't take her seriously, of course. Her brother really doesn't like it when, for a complex set of reasons, she has a potential choice between two foals and wants the one from the older, slower mare. She ends up with the one she wants, a horse they call Big Red and race under the name Secretariat.

She hires a surly and acerbic trainer named Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich). He has retired from the racing business but she lures him back because he really really really isn't enjoying retirement and his research and instincts tell him the same thing that Penny's research and instincts told her, that Secretariat had the potential to be a champion. Don't worry, I won't spoil the movie by telling you if they were right.

Laurin wasn't as interesting as I was expecting him to be, a script problem that even an actor like Malkovich couldn't overcome. In fact, one of the movie's biggest problems is that the only really compelling character in Penny. Everyone else is, at best, a colorful caricature of a real person. It's only Penny, the woman who ends up gambling her financial future and her harmonious family life, that propelled the movie for me and made me curious how she and the horse would overcome the obstacles (a variety of health and financial problems) they faced before they both ascended to the legendary status they enjoy today.

Secretariat is worth seeing, but only barely. This is known as damning with faint praise. Frankly, the only reason I went to see it is because the only two movies in the multiplex I hadn't seen were this and Saw 3D and I would willingly undergo that Clockwork Orange deal where my eyes are held open while Secretariat plays again and again for several weeks before I would ever watch another Saw film.