Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ten Statements About....HANCOCK (2008)

These two people--and how they change each other's
lives--is what this movie should be about.
"You're built to save people, more than the rest of us. That's who you are. You're a hero, the Insurance Policy Of The Gods."

1) I can't lie; it really, really bothers me that Peter Berg is making this and the upcoming...grumblemutter...Battleship (Starring The Amazing Eighthead That Walks Like A Singer, Rhianna!) rather than more personal dramas like Friday Night Lights and witty adventure films like the Franchise-That-Never-Was, The Rundown.

2) And you can see why it bothers me at moments in the first two acts. For example, the way Berg uses a documentary-style structure when doing the scenes with Jason Bateman's Ray, even to the point of using a grainier film stock, creates a subliminal intimacy with him that puts us on his side and gives him our sympathy.

3) At its core, this is a film about two men and how they make each other better; the fact that one of them has super-human powers is only an obstacle to overcome. The second that third act hits, however, and the films decides it wants to be about this grand mythology and big, unnecessary fight scenes and even more unnecessary villains, the story totally collapses.

4) seems the only thing Vince Gilligan, who co-wrote this script, learned while serving under Chris Carter is how to obscure that he's making shit up as he goes along.

Usually, if you complain about Charlize Theron being in a
movie, they question your manhood.  Here, however...
5) John Powell's score is the worst kind of score--one of those Carpets of Sound that is so intent on telling us what we need to feel that they become intrusive. There are moments where the actors are, you know, doing their job and conveying what we need to know through body language (like the brief sequence where we first visit Hancock's trailer, and Will Smith's confusion and lonliness is palatable)...but Powell's blaring noisework just screams at you in the hopes you'll get it so much quicker. Well, Mr. Powell...screw you.

6) There are so many elements that get shoved into that third act that just muddy the waters of the plot--and none are nearly as muddying as Eddie Marsan's Red. There is simply no reason for him to come back save that the writers were afraid the audience wouldn't accept Hancock making the decision to leave L.A. just because it's the best thing for the two people--Ray and his son--who helped him become a better person without him (or worse, Ray) hitting somebody really, really hard.

Here, Will Smith drags composer John Powell's car back
to answer for his crimes against music....
7) You know why I love Charlize Theron? She's gorgeous, but in an extremely earthy way. And she acts like an actual human being, someone you could theoretically run into in your neighborhood. And, not surprisingly, she's at her strongest when we take it for face value that she's just like us.

8) I will give the special effects work credit--I didn't notice the CGI nearly as much as I probably should have.

9) Yes, this is a Peter Berg directed film...but you can certainly see Michael Mann's fingerprints in all the wet floors and neon of the hospital sequence at the end.

10) I can't help thinking that there have to be some consequences to defacing the moon like Hancock does in the final scene. Even granted it's paint...don't you think Ray would get in some sort of trouble?

Overall...when it's about Ray, this decent man rehabilitating and redeeming this broken down superhuman, the film actually works very well. But once we get that big revelation at the end of Act Two and the scripts starts deciding it needs some mythology to give the film gravitas, it lost me. It hasn't forced me to abandon my faith in Berg as a director, but it doesn't exactly confirm it, either.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ten Statements About....BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)

"What the?  He got a cool jacket!  Why
can't I have a cool jacket?"
"Mr. Taylor, Mr. Brent, we are a peaceful people. We don't kill our enemies. We get our enemies to kill each other."

1) sigh...Another example of a sequel that was made without understanding why the original kicked so much ass. This film takes a similar tack the original does, but without the subtlety, grace or wit of that original...resulting in a mess.

2) One of the major reasons why this simply doesn't work is because James Franciscus' Brent has no personality, no character arc, no purpose in the film other than to stumble from one set-piece to another with Nova in tow until he finds Taylor. Once Brent finds Taylor, Heston takes over by dint of charisma only long enough to get his ass shot.

3) Wow...there's a character in this movie actually called Negro, and called so unironically. It's still a shock when you realize how far perceptions have come.

4) I do appreciate how Maurice Evans continues to keep Dr. Zaius true to his conception in the original film. His motivations are still thoroughly understandable if not exactly virtuous, and there are moments where he is honestly in the right. It's a rare moment of grace from the previous film....

I find it amusing that The Forbidden my hometown..
5) That is drowned in acid by the one-sided villainy of General Ursus, who is the engine that so hamfistedly drives the film's Vietnam metaphor. Granted, James Gregory is wonderfully vigorous in playing the General, but the character is so unbalancing it's not even funny.

6) It also doesn't help that the mutants, well, are dicks. I know that Paul Dehn's screenplay must've been in love with the idea of them being the sort of 'Military Industrial Complex' side of Ape World, but they're just so loathsome in the way they'd rather torture Brent than learn about his culture.

7) You know, for all the awfulness of this movie, that one sequence with Brent and Nova walking their way around the Matte Paintings Of New York is really cool. The fact that these sequences are done with the alternating blasts of total silence and noise make them a fascinating tableau.

"I want you to go in there...and OVERACT as if your SAG
Card depended on it!"
8) That 'ping' noise we get before the mutants deign to talk normally reaaaaally gets on my nerves.

9) So, ummmm, apparently the mutants are masters of vulcanizing rubber...I mean, what was the whole point of hiding their multi-colored veiny-faces when they usually don't see anyone besides other vieny-faces? And they're not as scary as I remembered them being back in the days.

10) I wonder if the film would have been affected at all if the script just forewent that lil' sidetrip to visit Zira and Cornelius entirely. It's not like anything gets advanced save for a couple of laugh lines..

Overall...this is one of the first films I saw as a child--my parents took me to see it at the old Sunrise Drive-In during its first run--and man, does this suffer. This film's heavy-handedness and clumsy script writing obliterates the entertainment factor of what is, at its core, two groups of pricks taking aim at our astronauts (oh, and Nova The Dopey-Faced Tribal Gal)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE ELEVEN 'Silence Of The Lamb' (2005)

Sometimes there's a reason someone acts like Bizarro-You...
"It is big--like, life altering big, so you should really think about if you want to hear it or if you'd rather just forget it and go on with your life. And may I suggest Option B."

1) Since we're now into 'Act Two' of our longform story, some of the 'Done-In-One' mysteries get a little more serious--thus the E-String Strangler serial killer investigation that Keith Mars has to collaborate with Michael Muhney's Sheriff Lamb on. It helps give us a fuller idea of Lamb's personality and back story, just as Veronica's case illuminates Mac.

2) And a new Act means a few new characters. In addition to Madison Sinclair returning to take a fuller role, we're introduced to Max Greenfield's Deputy Leo, who will be Veronica's romantic interest for the next stretch of stories.

Veronica's new romantic interest is more virtuous
than her last one...but has his own edge.
3) The script by Jed Seidel and Dayna Lynn North effectively builds up Mac's parents as loving if boorish. In fact, both the parent sets are pretty decent. But then, when you have Amanda Norel making like the Prep-School Devil as Madison, that makes up for the older characters being decent variations on a theme....

4) As the cases get more intense, so does Keith Mars' behavior. Watching him knock down a suspect he's interrogating when he makes a comment about Veronica drives home how this is Not A Man To Fuck With.

5) There's a whole Nature Versus Nurture angle that I'm not sure sits well with the episode. It sort of muddies the water a bit, and isn't really addressed fully.

6) It's interesting how Lamb and Keith, the deeper into the case they get, begin to act as a unit.
The transition is seamless in spots, and I have to attribute that to Muhney and Colantoni's skill as actors to build a chemistry out of antagonism...and tear it apart once this sequence of their character arcs are done.

7) The chemistry between Greenfield and Bell is genuine--which somewhat covers up the fact that at least at this point, Veronica is using Deputy Leo solely to advance her own agenda regarding the Lily Kane case. This scene, by the way, also locks in Veronica's age as 17.

This episode illuminates Mac, while cementing her relationship
with Veronica.
8) The scene between Mac and Bridget Hoffman's Ellen Sinclair are truly heartbreaking. Part of this is because the casting agent took the time to make sure there's a definite resemblance between Hoffman, Tina Majorino and Carlie Westermann, who plays Madison's sister Lauren. Seeing all three in the same room emphasizes that this should have been Mac's family...which makes what transpires all the sadder.

9) As much as I enjoyed the whole Keith Mars/Strangler storyline, it does irk me that the mystery is resolved--after a whole lot of hardcore detective work--with a hunch that would not have come to Keith if he hadn't worriedly tracked Veronica down.

10) And here, at the very end, we get the first in media res appearance of Clarence Weiderman, indicating that the next phase of this overarc is firmly on....

Overall...a fairly good episode that shows how much more confident Thomas is becoming. Both plots balance well, both plots illuminate different relationships, and both--more or less resolve well. And it gets better from here.

Ten Statements About....PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

Even though the two male figures here behave badly, neither
is the bad guy...which is the beauty of this film.
"My dreams aren't like yours. I can't help thinking that somewhere in the universe there must be something better than man. There has to be."

1) I had forgotten how many long stretches of this film go on without any of Jerry Goldsmith's exceptional score--and that's for the better. By using it only sparingly, at key moments, the score itself becomes something of a character, a greek chorus commenting on Taylor's plight.

2) Taylor a dickhead through most of this film...but then, I suspect he needed to be an extreme dickhead to make the signs that he does transform due to his experiences all the more obvious.

3) Maybe it's the strength of the actors involved, the expressiveness of the make-up effects or a combination of both, but after a while the ape make-up becomes more-or-less invisible after a little bit, and you accept the apes as characters and not people in suits.

There is a way to make someone put on a monkey
mask and make them real characters...
4) Perhaps the movie's best performance is given by Maurice Evans' Zaius. Unlike Tim Roth's Thade in Tim Burton's 2001 remake, you never get the sense that Zaius is an enemy. He shows something akin to respect toward Taylor after a bit even as he resists him, and you certainly get the sense that even if he finds some of the things he does or has done distasteful, he believes he is doing it for the good of his society.

5) Boy, do I love how director Franklin J. Schaffner gets around budgetary constraints--the way he depicts the space ship crash without the use of miniatures or opticals is masterful and amazing.

6) The only character who gets on my nerves is Lou Wagner's Lucius, who is obviously intended to be an character for 'the young kids' to identify with...and his counterculture spouting is cliched and heavy handed.

7) I guess because it's been quoted--and misquoted--so many times, I forgot how subtle the ending was, especially given that Schaffner has the courage to let the scene and the credits that follow play out only with ambient sound. The only thing that bugs me now about it is Heston's over-the-top punching of the final lines.

"We'll see how you like it when I throw poop at you!"
8) I know there are people who consider this funny and satirical...but, truth be told, I don't see it. I can certainly see its value as a political simile about prejudice, civil rights and the suppression of information, but--whether because of the way the script is written, or because of my viewing it some forty years out of time--I don't see the humor in much of it. Except when, like with the see-no-evil-etc. shot, the humor is over-the-top.

9) I do like the fact that ape society is certainly primitive and has echoes of other primitive societies--there are glimmers of the wild west and middle eastern cultures in there--but it's not one that reflects a certain era in human society one hundred percent.

10) For a film that's two hours long, and one I had an impression was slow going, it's actually very well paced. Even the longish sequences toward the end have purposes.

Overall...I'm surprised at how well I liked this (I have not watched this film for roughly three decades). It's much smarter than I remember; very well acted save for Heston, who never met a line he couldn't chew up and spit out; and does a really cool bit of world building. It makes me feel better about visiting the other four films in the original cycle in the coming days.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ten Statements About....GREEN LANTERN (2011)

"This is my power ring..but our ancestor called it maize..."
"You know, we have a saying on earth, we say; I'm only human. We say it because we're vulnerable. We say it because we know we're afraid. But it doesn't mean we're weak. Help me save my planet. Don't give in to fear. Fight it! Fight it with me!"

1) Dear Ryan Reynolds: just because you're supposed to have no fear doesn't mean you can't show any emotion. That sort of steady-state laid back with touches of snarkiness doesn't work when you're playing a character who, whether written by John Broome, Denny O'Niell or Geoff Johns, is sometimes too emotional.

The same goes for you, Ms. Lively.

2) One of the biggest nagging problems for me with this film is how the script seems to be Frankensteined from earlier successful super-hero movies. From the way Hal resolves the simulated firefight by using high altitudes to his 'oath anthology' to the initial appearance of GL involves saving a helicopter, there's a definite sense of this movie trying to quote those films that came before it instead of finding something new to say.

3) While the bulk of the film's mythology, sadly, cannibalizes the Johns Mary-Sue-like run, there are some weird choices--why, for example, do you make a point of almost recreating a scene from issue #1 of Emerald Dawn when you then choose to have Hal picked up at a birthday party?

4) And while we're on the subject, it's very disconcerting seeing practically everyone who matters in this film holding Hal in such high regard--even when he's being chewed out--when Hal pretty much does nothing to indicate to us that he is worthy of being hero-worshipped like this. The funny thing is, when we do get some small, subtle indicators later on--like when Hal stands up for Hector Hammond at the party--they're pretty much tossed away.

5) Angela Bassett doesn't need a fat suit to be Amanda Waller. Angela Bassett was born Amanda Waller, and don't you forget it.

6) It's funny how Peter Starsgaard's Hector Hammond is portrayed as the typical Modern DC Legacy Character--namely, an already extant character gives him his powers, he kicks ass, threatens to do something icky and unsavory with the female lead...and then the already extant character shows up, says the equivilent of 'Hey, thanks for keeping my seat warm, I got this,' and blasts him into oblivion.

Say what you like about the humans...they mostly got the
aliens right...
7) I really, really liked Geoffrey Rush's Tomar-Re, and I appreciated that they made it so that he was the first GL Hal meets, as is tradition. Mark Strong's Sinestro was also okay, although I found his final actions at odds with his character arc. I do wish we got to have Hal interact with one or two other Lanterns (like Salaak, who we saw for an eyeblink), or give us a mass Lantern Oath, but there you go.

8) I do wish there was more on OA, for the film really does seem to get a shot of adrenaline when it's there, but there are some really odd design choices. The Guardians, with their weird translucent glass-heads and those mile-long robes in particular looked more silly than wondrous.

9) I admit that I appreciated how they just sidestepped the whole secret identity thing; by having Tom and Carol figure out who Hal is almost immediately, it avoided diminishing them and keeping their status as smarter-than-average intact. Plus it gave Hal a legitimate 'flight crew' on Earth for certain key moments.

"Look, you're cute and all, but I am not dressing up as The
Black Widow for you..."
10) With all the problems I had with the script, I do like how it played fair with us; it lays down elements that Hal uses in all his super-heroing scenes early so we never wonder why he came up with certain constructs..

Overall...this is not a bad's just, well, blah, an average super-hero film that has two not-very-exciting actors at its core and seems more intent in quoting other films than blazing its own trail. It didn't break my heart, as it didn't disrespect one of my all-time favorite super-heroes. But it did leave me with an sense that there should have been so much more.

I was at the Loews Kips Bay again--and among the same old trailers I've been seeing for the last three months, I saw one for the Fright Night remake that made me want to throw things at the screen. I mean, if you're remaking a horror comedy--and a pretty successful one--don't you want to keep the comedy in? And I'm sorry--Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandridge had style; Colin Farrell in a wife beater...doesn't. At least it has Imogen 'I have the most unfortunate last name in movies' Poots in it...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ten Statements About....FROM DUSK 'TIL DAWN (1995)

Do you know how much willpower it takes to look away
from Aztec Bikini Salma Hayek?
"I'm peachy, Kate. The world is my oyster. Except for the fact that I just...I just rammed a wooden stake into my brother's chest because he turned into a vampire, even though I don't believein vampires. Aside from that unfortunate business, everything is hunky dory."

1) You know, this may be the greatest Tarantino performance ever. Save for one speech at the beginning, he doesn't speak much, he gets frequently knocked around and coldcocked, and is killed halfway through.

Yep. Greatest performance ever.

2) How perverse is it that Texas Ranger Earl McGraw's first appearance results in his demise?

3) I love how Rodriguez and Tarantino cast some of characters against type--thus, George Clooney is a Parker-esque bad-ass, and Harvey Keitel is a disillusioned minister--and we're not even touching upon how two of the three Cheech Marin parts are waaaay against type.

4) Man, when Salma Hayek does her Aztec Bikini dance, its like the entire film just holds its breath. And that's how it should be.

Because plain ol' Danny Trejo wasn't scary enough...
5) Give it to Robert Rodriguez for finding a way to make Danny Trejo scarier--because what's scarier than Danny Trejo looking to fuck you up than a vampire Danny Trejo looking to fuck you up.

6) Speaking of Clooney's Seth and Keitel's Jacob--I really like how their relationship develops. Over the course of this film, these two men develop a respect for each other, and through this respect become transformed--Jacob by reconnecting with his faith, and Seth by slowly leaving his rage behind and becoming a somewhat better man...a better man that knows damn well not to drag Julliette Lewis' Kate down the pre-destined road he's on.

7) A lot has been written about how this film takes a sudden u-turn into horror territory after Salma's Aztec Bikini Dance. The reason I think that sudden switch is so effective is because Rodriguez and Tarantino keep both genres in their respective sections of the film...thus, the film starts finding its black sense of humor only after the change-up happens. Up until that point, it's a very tense little crime thriller with echoes of Of Mice And Men.

8) You know, I would love to know what a world would be like where Tom Savini never went into make-up and became a full-time I've mentioned when talking about Knightriders, he's genuinely good and in this film manages to sell some of the broader laugh lines. Plus, in this film, he manages to prevent us from laughing at loud over the fact he's named Sex Machine. That's gotta count for something.

Is it just me, or is some variation of this shot in every film
Tarantino has been involved with?
9) Man, once we reach the hour mark this film just gets super-gooey to the point of parody. And the funny thing is that, with all the gore when the cast is trapped in the Titty Twister, the most disturbing moment happens in a motel room where Seth discovers what his brother did to their hostage. Rodriguez just lets the scene play out, giving us little, quick-to-the-point-of-subliminal shots of what the room the Geckos are looking at looks like...

10) Give it to Tarantino to actually dispute his movie influences in this one--to the point where certain plot elements are taken from the literary sources. The whole 'El Rey' angle is something lifted whole from the much superior, but arguably unfilmable end of the Jim Thompson novel that inspired Peckinpah's The Getaway.

Overall...the kind of genre bending film I absolutely adore, a controlled scream of rage and panic that manages to keep things moving for its entire running time. Plus, you get to see George Clooney acting as a total bad-ass with tribal tattoos...and he knocks Tarantino out cold....

Hey, enjoy The Aztec Vampire Bikini Dance!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ten Statements About....GUYS AND DOLLS (1955)

He's Marlon Brando, and he'll charm anyone...even aging men
in band uniforms.
"Like I told you, I am not putting the knock on dolls. It's just that they are something to have around only when they come in handy, like cough drops".

1) I really liked the rather lengthy dance sequence that opens the film--not only because it's witty and fun, but because it manages to create the environment we're going to spend the next two and a half hours in, so that we accept the artificiality of the world we're inhabiting.

2) You know, at first I started laughing when I heard the way Nathan Detroit, Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet talked--no one, I suspect, ever talked in that overtly mannered way...but director Joseph L. Mankewicz has enough faith in his characters that he doesn't alter the dialogue, which results in it becoming effectively 'invisible' after a few scenes. The whole first half hour is about world building just as effective as any CGI spectacular of the last few years.

3) You know, Marlon Brando has gotten jeered at throughout the ages for his performance as Sky Masterson...and yet, there's this bizarre sort of charisma that comes off him throughout the movie that makes you believe in him as a denizen of this world even when common sense says he sticks out like Sarah Palin presiding over a gay marriage. And speaking of Brando....

4) If you ever wanted proof that Brando's mastery of his craft was real, it's here. If we're to believe the legend that he and Sinatra hated each other, the fact that he's able to sell us on the reality of the respect and friendship between these two men is something spectacular.

Using her gurning powers, Vivian Blaine tries to will Frank
Sinatra's hair into becoming something near normal.
5) Okay, let me get this straight...the message of Sarah Brown story is that once you pump liquor into a godfearing girl, she suddenly comes alive and becomes, you know, hot? Sorry, not buying it....

6) Going back to these dance numbers--there are three silent ones in this film, and it's a marvel how they actually tell complete stories within the overall story of the film. That sort of ability, I fear, is rapidly disappearing due to a lack of faith in people's ability to put information together quickly.

7) I have to wonder if someone like Stubby Kaye--who excelled as a comedian, an actor and a singer--would have been able to fully express his talents in the modern age. Watching this man so brilliantly assay Nicely Nicely Johnson, all I could think was how in 2011 he'd be forced into the kind of low-brow, CGI-driven comedies Kevin James stars in...and he'd be the second or third buddy in those movies and not the star.

8) As much as I liked Jean Simmons, the real female star of this film is Vivian Blaine. Maybe not conventionally attractive, there's something really compelling about watching her on screen, not flinching from her own advancing age and still projecting a charm and energy that is incredibly attractive.

"I need you to Hold, Hold Me Up...I's drunk."
9) The strangest thing about this movie is that it's one where there are no up and down bad or good guys...even Brannagan, who is set up early on to be the boogeyman of this film, shows a lot of affection for Nathan once it's announced he's getting married--and it makes perfect sense that he has the role he assays for the wedding proper at the end.

10) I do have to wonder, given Fredrick Loesser's tendency to do these unusual lyrical phrasings, if this musical influenced Stephen Sondheim in some way. Hell, this does seem like a prototypical Sondheim musical. the risk of uncorking a cliche, this is the kind of movie they Just Don't Make Any More, a fairy tale of a musical in modern dress that survives--and excels--through its charm, energy and faith in its audience. If you're at all interested in the classic movie musical, you do need to see this.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE TEN 'An Ecchols Family Christmas' (2004)

This may be a Christmas episode--but it's not one fulla cheer....
"Annoy, tiny blonde one. Annoy like the wind."

1) How can you not love an episode (and I love this episode--it's one of my all-time favorites, and arguably my favorite of the first season) that begins with a riff on my favorite number from my favorite Christmas Special, The Year Without A Santa Claus? Keith Mars loves the Miser Brothers, thus he is empirically proven to be a good guy.

2) Diane Ruggerio's script cleverly gives Veronica multiple incentives to take on this week's case-within-the-episode..and also gives her reason to interact with many of the supporting cast to a degree she hasn't before. This is a good thing because....

3) Francis Capra, Teddy Dunn and Jason Dohring are waaaay at the top of their game. They've got the rhythm of the show down dead, and engage in these great back-and-forths full of wonderful lines. Hell, the line I use as the header, which is Dohring's, ranks as one of my favorite lines in the series ever.

There's a good reason these 09'ers ultimately opted out of
rushing for Weevil's budding fraternity....
4) This is prolly the most we see of Lisa Rinna as Lynn Ecchols...and she's actually extremely good. I like how, even before she kinda, sorta apologizes to Keith for not staying in touch, you get the sense that this woman, of all the '09'er parents, is the one person who didn't resent him for doing what he did, who genuinely liked him and still does. Pity she's not much longer for this series.

5) Compare Lynn's interaction with Keith to the way Harry Hamlin's Aaron deals with him...yes, on the surface Aaron is just as warm and friendly as his wife...and yet, there's a sense of panic to the way he guides him to the door, a strange undercurrent of discomfort in his voice. Ladies and gentlemen, you have encountered your first clue in the overarc...and I doubt any of you realize that it was presented to you.

6) Emmanuelle Vaugier is in this as one of the women who is suspected of being Aaron's stalker. As always, she's not that great an actress, but...Emmanuelle Vaugier.

Yes.  I think she's hot.  Deal.

7) Since Veronica's case is more of a standard drawing room mystery, I love how Ruggerio ends up revealing the solution in her version of an Agatha Christie last act, with our heroine bearding the (not very convincing) villain in the scene of the crime. And since the Ecchols Family Christmas Party is going on at the same time....

8) The scene toward the end where Veronica confronts Jake Kane is something else--just as much for Kyle Secor's acting as for Bell's. There's obvious confusion in the way both of these people are interacting, and the way they get even more frustrated in the mass of accusations is magnificent. It's to Secor's credit that when he practically screams 'I don't know,' you believe him...and it's to Bell's credit that when she retorts 'I don't believe you' suspect she might believe him a little as well. This, and the little exchange with Celeste that follows, is another indication that Jake Kane is far from a one-dimensional monster....

The beautiful thing about this scene is that things end up
bloody and unpleasant for all three of these people given time...
9) There is a sense of profane beauty to the way the Stalker storyline resolves...but a beauty that is intentionally artifical. And the fact that the stalker turns out to be literally a nobody, someone who walks on at the last minute to stab Aaron...well, let's say we've just been handed another clue we won't even know we had until the end of this season.

10) If there is one sour note, it is the overtly affected performance by Kevin Sheridan as Sean Friedrich. It's so arch, so mannered that it's hard not to think he's the villain in Veronica's subplot. I said, this is one of my favorite episode--not just because it is fun and exciting, not just because it shows most of the cast at the top of their game, but because during this forty-some-odd minutes we learn a lot about a lot of these characters in their behavior and interaction with each other....and in the course of these interaction, learn some things we don't realize we learn until the resolution of this season's mystery has shaken out.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Flat And Red And Shiny Inside: Jack of All Trades Disc One(2000)

Yeah. I know I said I was going to the second Undergrads disc, but the last two episodes--the so-called 'tighter continuity' ones--so pissed me off I decided to go on to the next stop on the 'Tom looks at television he vaguely remembers liking' train. Because it's so much better.

Besides, this disc ties in with the unintentional theme of this week, namely, 'Bruce Campbell Is Way Cool.'

This is one of two half-hour shows that replaced Hercules: The Legendary Journeys on Sam Raimi's Action Pack syndicated package (I didn't care so much for the other one, Cleopatra 2525 in spite of the wicked hotness of Gina Torres and Victoria Pratt), and the premise...well, the theme song explains it in the most general strokes:
To fill in the specifics: Bruce Campbell is Jack Styles, the post-Revolutionary War era's answer to James West. Concerned with French expansionism under Napoleon (Not to mention Jack's, ummmm, expansion into his niece) President Jefferson re-assigns Jack to Pullau Pullau, an island in the West Indies under French rule. Jack is teamed with 'mildly disgruntled' scientist (Artemis Gordon to Jack's James West) Emilia Rothschild (Angela Dotschin), and uses the local folk legend of The Daring Dragoon to aid in his campaign of desception and espionage against Pullau Pullau's governer, Croque (Stuart Devine), and Croque's right hand man, Captain Brogard (Stephen Papps).

Now let's get this out of the way right now: Jack of All Trades is a Renaissance Pictures/Tappart and Raimi series, and is done in that style--namely, that it's a mixture of broad comedy and adventure where the characters use anachronistic modern dialogue. If you're familiar with the style from Hercules and Xena, you'll know if its for you.

If you can stand that style, then there's a lot to like in here. Obviously, a lot of that lot rests on the shoulders of Campbell himself, who plays his role of Jack to the hilt. This is Bruce cranking it to eleven, reveling in his 'Ugly American' role while also presenting to us a character who is as good as people say, and isn't afraid to say so. And he does work well with Dotschin, who tends too much toward the broad, especially when she tries to express exasperation. But then, Dotschin is responsible for a lot of the steampunkish tech that surfaces throughout the series, so she can be forgiven her mugging.

Since this is the first disc of a Renaissance Pictures series, a lot of the episodes seem designed to set up satellite characters who would drift in and out of the series every once in a while. None of them really took except for Napoleon, played by Verne Troyer. It's obvious that Troyer was meant to be a joke casting, but the man does strive to give Napoleon a sinister second side to him. Some of the others--rival spies Martin and Rupert Smythe, pirate Blackbeard, and Jack's ex-partner and lover Kentucky Sue--don't aren't as effective. None of them really have the appeal that the satellite characters that were introduced during Hercules, so it's fortunate none of them seem to have returned.

However, the truly amazing thing about Jack of All Trades is that the series presents done-in-one comedy adventures that were all roughly twenty minutes long.

I'll repeat that last bit. Each episode was twenty minutes long.

Nothing, but nothing is wasted. The show runs at a quick pace which manages to break out the jokes while keeping the viewer focused on the story at hand. Granted, the stories are sometimes quite simple: Jack and Emilia have to rescue Ben Franklin from Blackbeard; Jack and Emilia have to destroy a super-cannon, etc.--but it works, and works well. And even though the series ended up not being converted to an hour-long format much like Cleopatra 2525 did, I'm sort of grateful it stayed true to its original precept. It knew what it wanted to do and stuck to its gun.

Provided you know what you're getting into, and if your tolerance for the Renaissance style and/or love of Bruce Campbell is high, you might enjoy this loads. Although it might leave you like me, wondering yet again why no one seems able to capture Campbell's unique style and charisma on television for any length of time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR. Episode Three: 'The Orb Scholar' (1993)

"Hey...I remember this metal porcupine!"
"You're afraid, aren't you? You mark your accomplishments walking in the shadow of your father, but how far have you progressed?"

1) This is the first of two episodes directed by Andy Tenant. While this is towards the end of his television career--he goes on to direct such films as EverAfter, Anna and The King and Hitch--he will always have a place in my heart for being one of the key directors of one of my favorite television series of all time, Parker Lewis Can't Lose. While Tenant's direction is a bit more staid than it was when he was with Parker..., there are some moments (like when Brisco tells a story from his childhood, and we cut to a grainy sepia-toned black and white representation) that makes it clear he's behind the camera.

2) The main reason for this episode, of course, is to start moving the Orb sub-plot, and to fill in its mythology. This is done via the character of Ogden Coles, played by Brandon Maggart--Maggart even does the opening narration that accompanies the teaser's outlining of the Orb's history as we know it. And when Coles starts revealing what he is capable of, and what he knows about the Orb, it is a stunner.

3) This is really the first time we get a sense of John Bly as a character--and it's to the credit of Carlton Cuse's script that, while we get a definite sense that there's something decidedly wrong about Bly (mainly because he's being played by Billy Drago, a man whose face is too small for his skull), we don't get a hint of what will be the big reveal about him down the line.

4) Another thing we get a sense of for the first time is Lord Bowler's smarts--this is the first time Julius Carrey is allowed to play him for more than just comedy relief and, like the pro he is, the man steps up in spades.

5) The brilliance of the Orb subplot is that it relies on us to accept one, and only one, idea outside the realm of possibility--all the other steampunk-y things, like Wickwire's diving suit in last episode, are things we know will be perfected given time--and yet, that one idea can be used tyo explain a myriad of insane developments.

6) It is interesting that what is fairly obvious about the town of Poker Flats, which provides the backdrop for this episode--namely, that Brisco's old friend Donovan Joe usurped the sheriff's office so he could turn it into a safe haven for criminals--is so inconsequential to the story Cuse wants to tell that it is resolved without anyone spelling it out for us.

7) While everything that happens in the abandoned saloon, from Brisco's first confrontation with Bly on down, the best scene is the one with Bowler conforting the dying Brisco. Not only does it allow us to see our two bounty hunting heroes begin to gain a respect for each other, we learn more about Bowler's background and get a little hint of his true nature. Plus, Julius Carrey sings 'Amazing Grace.' You don't get this kind of stuff on Gunsmoke.

8) I suppose I should make some mention of Voyager fan fave Robert Picardo's role as Donovan Joe's henchman Puel....but, truth be told, he doesn't actually do much of anything, and ends up coming off as a third rate Pete Hutter.

9) We continue to get a number of modernisms snuck in, like Brisco unwittingly inventing hitchhiking...but they're still done with a subtlety that is lost once we reach the Action Pack phase of Campbell's career.

10) You'll notice Christian Clemenson only has one scene, and apparently it's a scene designed only to show Cuse' contempt for golf. You'll notice a number of these 'contractual obligation' scenes with Socrates as the series progresses.

In excellent episode that may start slow, but rapidly picks up steam once we reach The Abandoned Saloon. A lot of stuff gets put in play for future episodes--and even if there wasn't, the performances by Maggart, Drago and Carrey--in addition to Campbell's usual solid anchor of a turn--would make this one to watch.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ten Statements About....HEATHERS (1988)

Yep...a comedy about teens murdering each other...this would
never be made tody...
"Betty Finn was a true friend and I sold her out for a pack of Swatch Watchdogs and Diet Cokekeads."

1) Any film that names its high school after the leader of the Replacements, has another character quote aforementioned Replacements, and has its version of 'Que Sera Sera' sung by Syd Straw has mucho cred with me.

2) This is one of these movies that simply could not be made today. The simple fact that it provide Cassandra-esque echoes of Columbine and other high school massacres isn't the only reason; the fact that said massacres creates practices we accept for granted that J.D. would not be able to over come because....

3) a criminal, Christian Slater's J.D. is a moron. He relies too much on accomplices, and gets super-sloppy when his meticulous plans go awry. The only reason he is able to get away with his murder-disguised-as-suicide spree is because the adults are either unwilling, uninterested or incapable of recognizing what's truly going on.

Glenn Shadix watches over Shannen Doherty to make sure
she doesn't overact....
4) It still floors me how, with the exception of the stray reference to the 80's (that damn Big Fun) and some of the really dated fashions and hairstyles, the script by Daniel Waters is still very relevant. There are so many layers of connectors and signifiers in the names and appearances--even in the color choices--that make it extremely watchable.

Okay, that synth-crazy score doesn't help much.

5) I know the story goes that the role of Veronica was intended for another actress--who was pulled by the project by her horrified parents. But, truth be told, I simply can't see this movie working with Winona Ryder at its center. She is able to convey Veronica's intelligence, outsider nature, and her strange position with one foot in two worlds with just her inflection and body language. In fact, simple choices Ryder makes gives us hints of her backstory Waters never mentions.

6)...and that's a good thing, too, because with only a few exceptions--Veronica, Heathers McNamara and Duke--most of these characters are more types than people, examples to further re-inforce Waters' contention that high school is literal Hell, a dysfunctional existentialist trap that kills anything that might add nuance to the world.

7) You'll notice I don't mention Slater's J.D. in my short list...that's because I never found his mock-Nicholson proto-psychotic very convincing. The film and its dark humor works in spite of Slater, not because of it.

This is a movie where even the colors make a point...
8) The world depicted in this movie is the evil twin of John Hughes' world--a world where emotional cruelty is replaced with actual cruelty, where the barbs actually make people bleed...and sometimes bleed out. And I think Michael Lehmann (a director whose theatrical career should have been lots longer; thank God he was able to find a refuge in television) knew this amd prolly taunted Hughes every time they saw each other with this knowledge.

9) Glen Shadix is gold in this movie. Of all the clueless adults, his thundering sermons with their strange attempts to connect with the teens of Sherwood ('His name is Jesus...and he's in The Book.') are brilliant.

10) I find it very amusing that every dark comedy I love set in a high school somehow involves that high school being blown up or somebody planing to blow it up..

Overall...this still holds up as a very vicious, very dark and very nasty comedy that launched a thousand quotes...and I find it hilarious that someone is developing it as a musical with The Beautiful One herself playing the role played by my one-time crush Winona Ryder.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR. Episode Two: 'Socrates' Sister' (1993)

"What's that sucking the excitement out of the episode...oh,
it's just Judith Hoag...."
"Gravesend? That town's buried under fifty feet of water."
"That's right."
"So how in the Hell are we gonna get your plate? With a fishing pole of hope and delusional fantasies for bait?"

1) It's nice to see that, with the second episode and the pesky need for it to look like a feature film for the European audiences out of the way, the series' 'trade dress' still retains that pulpy/serial flavor. Little touches like giving a title seqience credit to Comet the Horse and retaining the chapter titles at the twenty minute or so marks (roughly the same length as a chapter of an old serial) keep the show close to its roots as an old school adventure.

2) While this show continues to do what will become the stock in trade trick of the Renaissance Pictures' Action Pack shows--namely, putting modern quirks and concepts in an old world setting--they feel more authentic here. Part of it is just the language the characters use, but part of it is how they don't draw much attention to, let's say, talk of civil rights in the middle of their story.

3) You know...I understand why Judith Hoag, who plays the titular sister of Socrates and was the first April in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, didn't have much of a career. She's not a very good actress, and can't really carry the weight of her role. And on top of that, she has no chemistry with Campbell--and Campbell has chemistry with everyone--which kills the romantic subplot.

4) I guess I was mistaken--Pete Hutter returns in this very episode, although he seems to be shorn of that strange mixture of old-west gibberish and new age intellectualism that made him so endearing. Still, Pyper-Ferguson makes this character so vital that it doesn't surprise me that Cuse and Boam determined we needed him back, like, now.

(Luckily, Cuse and Boam must've felt they needed to give Hutter a little rest before his revival...see point 9 below)

Every time John Astin shows up, the series
like gold.
5) God, I love Astin's Professor Wickwire, who's a lot deeper than the 'addled scientist' archetype he's supposed to be portraying. There's a definite warmth in his performance, and the way his face seems to light up when he start expounding on life lessons with Brisco--as if this is a man physically excited by the idea of debating and examining real life issues--is amazing. The lack of Amanda, however, is curious.

6) Sadly, Christian Clemenson ends up playing the comic relief in this episode, sitting in a mess of bags while people comment 'too much weight.' He deserves better, especially figuring that this episode should focus at least partially on him.

7) This episode continues the tradition the show has of being true steampunk--we may take deep sea diving as a given now, but to the world of the Old West it was still a weird and out there idea. And making sure that the 'Inner Space Suit' was of the clunky old variety and not something sleek and science fictiony (something I suspect a more modern treatment of the same themes would do) keeps the trueness of the concept intact.

8) You know, William Russ was not very interesting as a villain. As we'll learn very rapidly, we can pick out who will be the recurring villains and who won't by how much of a backstory and personality they have.

Yes, Pete's back.  Yes, he was shot dead in
the pilot.  Just deal with it for now....
9) I can understand why, according the the imdb trivia page, this was the episode of the show that was initially shown out of order. It feels like a breather episode to be placed between two mythology-heavy programs. Watching it in its original position in the series, I kept wondering where the Orb stuff was....

10) To the best of my knowledge, this is the first and last time we hear about Socrates' sister, and about their less-than-high-class upbringing. And this is a good thing.

In short...a bland follow-up to the pilot that is enlivened by some character bits, it's not surprising it got shuffled deeper into the season.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE FACULTY (1998)

Just because Robert Patrick acting all up with people doesn't
mean he's an alien....right? Right?
"Body Snatchers is a story somebody made up, dingus. It's located in the fiction section of the library."
"So is Schindler's List. Look, all fiction is based on truth, right?"
1) Even though this is a Robert Rodriguez film, it belongs more to Kevin Williamson and, as such it has the weakness every Williamson film has--namely, when the movie is dialogue driven, it works beautifully. The second it starts relying on things outside of human interaction, it fails.

2) Seriously--the films literally falters every time the CGI craziness starts, and totally collapses the second the aliens stop being guys behaving oddly and start becoming big ass tentacle monsters. And the sad thing is how, right in the middle of Teen Stars Being Chased By All-Mouth-Squid Thing, we get a brief moment where the Queen Alien reverts back to human form and gives a lovely speech about her origin. That moment, with the human alien walking through a darkened locker room, only these snaky shadows following it giving indication that this is Not A Normal Teen, is so achingly beautiful it kills the rest of the climax once it ends.

3) Boy, I remember when Jon Stewart wanted to be an actor. Am I the only one secretly glad how that worked out?

4) I don't think this would have worked half as much if Robert Patrick--an actor who is so much better than he allows himself to be most of the time--chose to make his Coach so reasonable and even tempered after his transformation instead of being Cold Emotionless Guy. Seeing him smiling and supportive of everyone is waaaaay creepier.

"RAAAAR!  I'm a late 90's CGI Monsta!  FEARS ME!"
5) I liked how the pre-title sequence makes it out to be more of a slasher, right down to the red-glowey title card.

6) Having so many of the adult actors playing against type--I swear I didn't recognize Famke Janssen for a long time when she was playing pre-alien Miss Burke--worked well, as it ups the ante of paranoia amongst our Outsider Teens.

7) Salma Hayek in a nurse's outfit. Why didn't you show us more of this, Mr. Rodriguez? It's like you don't know how blisteringly solar she is....

8) Going back to that climax--I really wish that the coda had the balls to not show our heroes going through such shocking transformations. It sort of blunts the whole fact that the guys who survived the ordeal are the ones who kept their individuality when the Goth Girl suddenly shows up in a gingham dress with her make-up Stridex'd off.

Ewwwww....don't kiss her, Josh Harnett--she's got alien cooties!
9) I find it absolutely hilarious that the film's de facto Final Girl is Elijah Wood. I suspect it's his big eyes that convinced Rodriguez this had to happen.

10) It needs to be said...Jordana Brewster may have been cute as a teen actor, but she didn't truly become beautiful until she got older and grew some lines on her face. I think she also grew a bit as an actor as well....

Overall...for what it is, and accepting that it degenerates into Rodriguez wanting to get in touch with his Carpenter love by emulating The Thing in a half-assed way, it works as a good popcorn kinda horror-thriller. If only it had the courage to be a little more restrained with its monster effects in the third act....

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE NINE 'Drinking The Kool-Aid' (2004)

"Who's up for 'Camptown Races? My Sweet Lord?....
"Enough already with this mellow incense and peppermint vibe. Let's break out the mushrooms and dance naked, strap on the goat skull headgear, sacrifice a few infants. Come on, people, you're cultists. Start acting like it."

1) We begin immediately where the previous episode left off, with the unconvincing panic attack and a set-up for what is going to drive the next few episode's overarc elements--the question of Veronica's paternity. Right now it plays out of left field, although there are moments (like her reaction to realizing what Duncan might be to her) that are at turns funny and appalling...and they're nothing compared to the moment towards the end of this season. That moment--and we'll be talking about it when we get there--is what makes all the dithering in these episodes worthwhile.

2) And this episode we get another introduction--Christopher B. Duncan is uncredited as Claude Weidman...but trust me when I tell you that this character, and the actor playing him, is very, very interesting. He ends up fulfilling a strange role in the series, a kind of grey-area wildcard foe with a grudging respect for our heroine...and some of the things we see him do are cold.

Yeah, that crying jag convinced no one, Kristin...luckily for
you, what follows does.
3) Look, even if this show wasn't a clever and modern fusion of Nancy Drew and Mike Hammer, I'd still watch it for the interaction between Bell and Colantoni. Does the scene where Keith finally grants five year old Veronica's wish and gets her a water bed have anything to do with the main plot? Hell, no. But is it a vital, alive and funny scene that's entertaining? Damn straight.

4) You'll notice I haven't said much about the A plot yet...and it's because even now, after repeated viewings, I am very ambivalent about it. I think there's a point Rob Thomas and scripter Russell Smith are making about not everything society would deem a 'cult' being sinister and evil...but in making that point I wonder if they go too far in the other direction.

5) Another problem with the A plot--given what we've seen of Veronica's romantic life so far, I find it hard to accept she would go from contempt to borderline crushing on Jonathen Bennet's Casey so quickly. There's a little chemistry between the two, but the abruptness of the transition doesn't quite work for me...

" ambivilence here...
I's a total creep.'
6) And it also doesn't help that Ray Proscia's Deprogamming Guy is such a thorough and total creep (he's billed as 'Ice Cold Guy' in the credits...and let's be honest, Proscia's specialty is ice-cold creeps). It unbalances the debate to an extreme, when a less threatening, more nuanced character would keep us open to both sides of the issue the episode is raising.

7) That being said, I'm glad that the script is self-aware enough to allow the voice of reason to spring from Wallace's mouth, proving to us why Veronica needs him as her Watson. And I love the fact that some of Veronica's funniest lines to date come from this A Plot.

8) Ascribing base motivations to the parents towards the end of the episode, making their desire to save their son from this cult all about money, furthers the one-sidedness of this episode. And it's doubly frustrating because the two characters seem a little stuck-up, but genuinely concerned in their scenes.

9) You know, the deus ex machina development that finally brings the A Plot to a climax makes everything that Veronica goes through unnecessary..yet another reason for my conflicted feelings about this episode.

10) And yet...all this is allllmost worth it for the scene between Veronica and her father in his office--it bookends with the comedy of the first scene, and bring forward the fact that at its core, this next stretch of the series is about nature versus nuture, and what has shaped Veronica into the person she is..

Overall...this suffers from the same problems "The Girl Next Door" did, although not to the extent. Yes, some of the humor and small touches makes up for the heavy handed nature of the A Plot...but there's just some things that prevent me from getting behind it one hundred percent.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ten Statements About....X-MEN FIRST CLASS (2011)

Michael Fassbinder proves this is his movie by looking coo'
even when wearing that silly helmet.
"Listen to me very carefully, my friend: Killing Shaw will not bring you peace."
"Peace was never an option."

1) I would pay full price at the theaters to watch a movie set in the late 50's featuring Michael Fassbinder's Magneto hunting down Nazi war criminals. Hell, I'd buy the DVD and the Blu-Ray (and I don't own a Blu-Ray). Fassbinder makes the character work, and those early scenes are probably my favorite moments in the movie. That being said...

2) We once again have an X-Men movie that isn't what it says on the tin. It's a Magneto movie just as the previous trilogy were Wolverine movies. Of the other characters, some of them (Charles, Mystique) only seem to get development in relation to who they are to him, and others--including two of my favorite X-Men of all time--are ciphers.

3) Even though they make all these references to the previous trilogy, it's better to just assume that this is taking place in some alternative universe. For that matter...once Sebastian Shaw escapes in his private submarine, I realized that the best way to treat this film was as the world's most insane 60's set James Bond pastiche. Once you accept that, the film works flawlessly.

"I have fantasies about Emma Peel.  I've met Diana Rigg.  You,
January, are no Emma Peel..."
4) Could somebody please find the mannequin warehouse January Jones escaped from and return her to it? I just don't get why so many men drool over her--she's not all that attractive, and she has this sucking black hole of anti-charisma that follows her wherever she goes. Her Emma Frost is so dreadful, she drags the film down every time she shows up. The only way I could escape from that black hole was picturing Rosamund Pike, who was originally cast as Frost, in Jones' place.

mmmmmm....Rosamund Pike....

5) You know--I have to admit that, for a movie that has as one of its themes racism, killing off one of its minority cast members and having the others be evil henchmen is kinda hinky.

6) I understand that a conscious decision was made to have Shaw's minions bear echos of Magneto's Brotherhood from the first film (just as Shaw bears echos of Magneto himself), which means that two of them are ciphers..but Azazel and Whirlwind/Riptide Guy aren't ciphers--they're just place settings.

7) Just as I think that Agent Coulson should be Jasper Sitwell, they really should have just gone all in and named Oliver Platt's Man In Black character Fred Duncan. That's who he was, after all.

James McAvoy, the world's first temple-based actor...
8) I give the script credit for not shrinking away from the fact that, as good as Charles Xavier's intentions are, he's a bit of a dick. He violates his own principles a number of times to achieve his goals--and that ultimately results in his losing both his oldest and closest friends.

9) Maybe it's because we get a chance to actually walk around inside her version's head, but I actually preferred Jennifer Lawrence's version of Mystique to Rebecca Rojin. And even little, maybe unintended touches like the Lawrence Mystique choosing to be more curvy than the super-models around her is...charming.

10) Maybe it's me, but the whole assault on the secret compound seemed like overkill to me, especially given how we've been led to believe that Shaw is more a manipulator than a brazen mastermind. And it makes the character turn for Zoe Kravitz' Angel seem off and abrupt. But then--as per my Second Statement, Angel is treated as little more than a cipher (better than Banshee and Havoc and Darwin, but not by much more), which might explain how arbitrary her character arc seems.

Overall...there are flaws here, not of the least of which is the fact that so many of these characters are blank slates. But it's still better than the third film's ham-fisted clusterfuck, and has a certain flavor of its own that makes it enjoyable.

It was back to the Atlas today...and the first time I paid $9.50 for a matinee. At least the staff is back to being the courteous, friendly people they used to be. Amongst the trailers was the surreal back-to-back of watching Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern followed by a reminder of why I can't stand him in The Change-Up; one for Mr. Popper's Penguins, which may be the first film with Carla Gugino in it I will never watch; one for Rise of The Planet of The Apes that killed what little enthusiasm I had for the project once I beheld those thoroughly awful CGI chimps; and--on the postive side--the absolutely mind-melting assault of a trailer for the David Fincher Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Of course, the absolute lowest point was that moment during The FirstLook where we were, ummmm, treated to a sneak peek of the Kevin James abomination Zoo-Keeper, further proof that if there is a higher power, he is very, very mad.