Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Replace that boat with a TARDIS...and you've got the
bestest Doctor ever.
"Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three."

1) You know what's the first thing I missed about the Burton version? The little side skits throughout this version which fill in both Charlies' life and the world of the film as a whole. They're chockful of great performances by great character actors and comedians (my favorite is the one involving a computer programmer played by one third of The Goodies--and Peter Davison lookalike--Tim Brooke-Taylor) and set up the sensibilities of the film...

2) ...and the most remarkable thing about this film, watching it now, is how it seems to anticipate the 'One For The Kids/One For The Adults' structure of pretty much all the kid's cartoons today. Director Mel Stuart and screenwriter Roald Dahl never forget that they have to entertain the adults as well as the kids in the audience

3) Even though I prefer David Kelly's version of Grampa Joe (even when he's bedridden, Jack Albertson looks far, far too spry), the one thing both films get right is the deep bond between that character and Charlie. Especially in this film, where the parents are given much more shading than they do in the Burton version, it's essential we believe in the familial love between the two--and that it's his influence that shapes Charlie's honesty.

4) Another thing that impresses me about the Stuart version--the other kids feel like, you know, kids. I didn't realize how thoroughly grotesque the Burton children are (save for the Burton Veruca, who I knew was a Demon Child from that first horrifying rictus grin of hers) until I saw the more naturalistic versions of the other four children. As such, their behaviors seem more realistically awful, which makes their fates all the more horrific. And speaking of horrific...

5) This version of the film isn't all that far away from being a real horror story--not the least because we never, ever see the other four children after disaster befalls them. All we get is Gene Wilder's assurance that they're perfectly fine, which doesn't work because--

6) In this film, Gene Wilder is terrifying. This is why I prefer Wilder to Depp. Wilder rarely raises his voice, does not engage in any of the overt physical tics and eccentricities that Depp positively wallows in...and as a result, he's borderline menacing. I particularly like how he 'calls for help' as each of these children meet their fate in a flat, dull, calculatedly unconvincing way.

I've mentioned before how I think it's a true pity that Wilder never ventured far outside of comedy...I am once again convinced that if he ever decided to play a villain in a thriller, he would have arguably won an award. He also could have been the greatest Doctor eeeever.

Supposedly, this was a naturalistic response...and it beats
looking at a blue screen.
7) Supposedly, Mel Stuart did not let any of the cast see the Chocolate Room until the scene was shot--and I absolutely love the apparently natural reaction the kids have when they stumble into the room. Given that this was all practical, you have to marvel at the handiwork of Art Director Harper Goff.

8) The weakest moment in this film is arguably the most pivotal--namely, the 'fizzy lifting liquid' scene. It simply lasts far too long for its purpose, and never moves beyond a certain emotional point.

9) I do like how the parents get equal time here. In the best cases--Roy Kinnear in particular as Mr. Salt--it draws up an even stronger case for them being part of the reason why their kids are so awful.

Peter Ostman may not have been a great actor--but he had lots
of great character actors surrounding him, like Aubrey Woods.
10) It's interesting seeing how much of the original script is 'quoted' by the Burton version--although in many cases, the Burton version seems to just want to drop certain references in to assure the audience that yes, theirs is a version of the same movie. I said, I like both equally...but the outstanding performance by Wilder, the clever little skits, and some cool art direction makes this the film I'd chose to show to a kid first. It's the more charming and naturalistic, and would prolly entertain them more.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO SEASON SIX, EPISODE EIGHT: Let's Hill Hitler! (2011)

This isn't what it looks, really...
"Okay, I am trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I will try not to see that as a metaphor."

1) Okay, I know we're only four minutes in--but upon seeing Nina Toussaint-White literally bursting in on the episode proclaiming herself Mels, my first two thoughts were, 'it's teenage-to-young-adult Melody somehow insinuating herself into her parents' life without them knowing,' and 'God, please don't let this version of River Song become a companion next year.' Yes, there's a whole Leela/Ace/that cat burglar from the McCoy-Season-That-Wasn't vibe to her, but I can see her and her attempts to imitate Alex Kingston wearing on me quickly.

2) Young Amy Pond? Still seriously charming. Young Mels? Not so much. Even if I sort of liked how Moffat uses this to fill in some of the history of Amy and Rory, and shows us how Rory wasn't a fallback guy at any point, that there was an attraction there all along that wasn't acted on due to a misunderstanding.

3) And once again, I love how Rory may wield a weapon of death, but he never actually uses it. Confronted with Hitler (oh, comon' says it right on the tin), his tendencies to be a caregiver and not a destroyer take precedence. He may have been weaponized, but it doesn't matter if he never actually draws his weapon...and that's why he's so freakin' cool.

"Let's wrap this up quick--we're due to inhabit Eddie Murphy
in ten minutes."
4) I know Moffat is taking this spacecraft-in-human form in a different direction, but I just can't get visions of the Eddie Murphy flop-o-rama Meet Dave out of my head.

5) On one hand--and I've said this before--I really don't like how Regeneration always happens in this same 'look-there's-sparklies-now-my-extremities-are-explodey' sort of way in the new series. On the other, I took some delight in watching Matt Smith reacting to seeing another person regenerate...he seems shocked and ill-at-ease, as if he's wondering, 'Is this how other people see me?'

6) I should mention I've changed the opening quote for this entry several times so far. This really is one of the most quotable episodes of Moffat's rein, all chock full of fun lines that are as entertaining to hear as they are to say.

7) It's interesting how Moffat is utilizing some of the threads of Davies' era--using the whole 'hour-or-so-grace-period-after-a-regeneration' as a way out of a jam worked very well, and the shout backs to the Davies companions without letting them overpower the narrative also worked...although I wonder why he didn't go for a pre-reboot companion; surely there's a couple of people he didn't fuck with in those years, right? Right?

(and yeah, I can see the reason why he has guilt over Martha. He used her for an entire year without being sensitive to what she wanted or needed--or at least what Russell T. Davies forced her to want or need after episode three--which is a pretty good reason for being guilty, right?...)

(Oh, and since I haven't said it in a while...fuck y'all Russell T. Davies.)

Shut up, she', on second thought this is nightmare
8) What interesting to me about the revelations about The Silence in this episode is how there's now an implied relationship with those Headless Monk dudes from last episode...I'm thinking they're an order within the religion that is The Silence...because how can you speak without heads, right?.

9) So am I correct in assuming that by saving the Doctor that way, Moffat has set up a more logical way to sidestep the twelve regeneration limit for a Time Lord than Davies' simply declaring him immortal? 'Cause by my count, River still had nine regenerations (lives?) left.

Because if that's true, I like it.

10) Maybe it's me, but the ending seemed a little....well, off. Granted, I guess it's Moffat setting up the 'we're in for a ride this final half,' and I realize that this episode was more about River than anything else...but I expected a little more from Moffat.

In short....Well, it's more about River than anything else, innit? And while it answers some questions, I do have this slightly empty feeling that there are a whole bunch of loose ends left dangling in the aether. Of course, my impression might change as we move forward, but right now it's lots of fun bits surrounded by a pool of meh.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ten Statements About....CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005)

This is not the scariest character in this film.
"Everything in this room is eatable. Even I am eatable. But that is called cannibalism, my dear children, and is in fact frowned upon in most societies."

1) I think many people are down on this--maybe because it marks the beginning of Burton's regression toward only adapted material. But it does mark a near-perfect fusion of filmmaker and source material, and as such is pretty unique.

2) I'm surprised how, even though both it and the earlier movie based on the film, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (I really can't call this a remake; both films take the book and go off into very different directions with it) are similar in length, this one moves a lot quicker. But then, since Burton is more interested in presenting a truer interpretation of Dahl's original, he needed to speed up the front half so he could do the material the first film left out of their script.

...this is.  I mean, seriously--see her coming, and RUN!
3) Julia Winters, who plays Veruca Salt, may very well be the single creepiest child in the history of the world. That first shot of her smiling for the cameras holding the golden ticket is positively terrifying.

4) I'm going to say it--Johnny Depp's interpretation of Willy Wonka isn't as effective as Gene Wilder's in the first one. Depp's performance is all artifice and facial tics, and comes off more weird than creepy like Wilder's. Granted, I suspect Depp developed all this strange behavior so that when the third act hits Willy becomes more natural the more he comes to realize his need for a family, but the bulk of the film it's like he's jumping up and down screaming 'Look At Me! I's WACKY!'

5) Man, I love seeing Christopher Lee, whose acting is every bit as effective at this age as it was in the 60's. I'm sure they used some CGI to de-age him in the flashbacks....but it wouldn't have worked without Lee being able to change his vocal qualities to sound younger.

6) The true hero of this film, however, is the one-two punch of Danny Elfman and Deep Roy. I love how Elfman utilizes a different musical style in each of the musical numbers, and Roy's physical acting gives many of his OompaLoompas different personalities and attitudes. It may be Elfman's voice, but it's Roy's performance that gives those songs life.

In my nightmares, I am carried away by a Viking Ship full
of Deep Roys....
7) Apparently, a lot of people were up for the role of Granpa Joe, including Christopher Lloyd...but I cannot think of anyone who would have fit this version of the film as well as David Kelly. A more famous face would not have worked, and Kelly's physicality (there's that word again) and chemistry with young Freddie Highmore makes the character come alive.

8) I like the fact that John August's screenplay has some of the parents--particularly Mr. Salt--learn a lesson or two as well. I still feel a swell of satisfaction when James Fox expresses more emotion than he's expressed in the movie to finally refuse Veruca something she wants.

9) This is another one of these films where I kind of, sort of accept the use of CGI. Since there is a lot of fanciful elements, and the movie is never meant to be 100% realistic, shots of some of the stranger rooms, the glass elevator and other stuff done with computers make sense. In fact, the only time the CGI feels off is when we're introduced to the machine that costs Charlie's father his job.

10) There is a definite sense of ghoulishness and grossness throughout...but since Roald Dahl delighted in infusing his children's book with a touch of gross, it works here--once again, we're talking a fusion of director and source material that is very right.

Overall...a film that is sometimes unjustly denigrated, and also unjustly dismissed as just a remake, this is a fairly faithful adaptation of the Dahl original done by a director whose sensibilities fit Dahl's weird storytelling sensibilities like a glove.

(And no promises, but look for a Ten Statements about Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory in the coming days.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ten Statements--No, Wait, ELEVEN!--About....WONDER WOMAN PILOT (2011)

Adrienne Palicki tries to run from David E. Kelley's dialogue.
"I know you want vengeance, but let's leave that to me. I'm kinda good at it."

1) Do you think Cary Elwes looked at what being on The Practice and Boston Legal did for James Spader and said 'I want some of that mojo' when he signed on for this project? Just saying.

Just like I'm saying the obvious plastic surgery makes Elwes look like one of those creepy ventriloquist dummies in bad horror films.

2) I have to be honest here--Adrienne Palecki may not look like Wonder Woman, who should be Greek and all...but she's actually not that bad at all. She's got a definite charm about her, has this megawatt smile and a sense of timing that does work, and I can almost buy her as a super-hero. It's just the David E. Kelley dialogue she's got to spout that prevents me from being all in with her on this project.

3) You know who else is pretty good? Tracie Thoms' Etta Candy, here reworked into one of her right-hand people at Themyscira Industries. There's a definite chemistry between her and Palicki, and you get the impression that, unlike Cary Elwes' Henry Johns--who comes off as the equivalent of Carl Sack, reining in Diana--she's the person who talks sense when our heroine doesn't want sense talked to her. There is certainly a groundwork on which to build a decent series.

4) ...if this wasn't a David E. Kelley production. Make no bones about it, whenever the dialogue creeps into the Kelley-esque, like the whole marketing argument about the size of the breasts on a Wonder Woman action figure (ever want to hear Adrienne Palicki say 'tits' repeatedly? Here's your chance!), the episode loses all the good will it's garnered. There are only a handful of actors--James Spader, Dylan MacDermott, Mark Valley, Candice Bergen, etc.--who can make David E. Kelly's fever dreams sound like they could come from a normal human being's mouth...and no one here is amongst them.

"I'm a bad guy...and I'm fabulous."
5) Well, no one except maybe Elizabeth Hurley, who throws herself into her role as villain Veronica Cale with true bravado. The actress manages to be larger than life without going all the way over the top, and truly seems to be enjoying the Hell out of strutting her stuff.

6) Mr. can either have Adrienne Palicki get all huffy about a doll of her with enormous tits, or you can have her literally wiggling her tits to get a policeman to let her into a suspect's hospital room. You can't have both.

7) Yep...nothing says 'David E. Kelley Production' like a supporting character who's a broadly acted cartoon character...well at least the Senator just has a Foghorn Leghorn 'tude and isn't a cross-dresser or a midget or something else that would entertain Mr. Kelley to the detriment of the story.

8) Is it just me, or are they trying to hint at something of an attraction between Diana and Pedro Pascal's Detective Indelicato? I guess this would make some weird sort of sense given the David E. Kelley playbook, playing Idelicato off Justin Bruening's void of a Steve Trevor if the series had made it past pilot.

9) Ahhhhh, the self-righteous left-wing politcal speech followed by an unusual euphemism for sex...we are definitely in Kelley territory.

Ahhhhhhhh!!!!  It's an evil dummy--no wait, it's Cary Elwes...
10) This is definitely the Greg Rucka Warrior Queen Wonder Woman who thinks nothing of breaking bones and tossing guys around like rag dolls. But jeez...there's no way around how she impales the security guard at the climax (not the main hench guy mind you--a security guard). Having her kill a peon in cold blood destroys all the sympathy we have for her up to that point.

11) I'm going to say something heretical here...Adrienne Palicki actually looks better in that updated pants outfit than she does in the classic tap pants. Quite frankly, she looks uncomfortable and ill at ease in the classic outfit.'s something else heretical--this wasn't anywhere near as bad as it could have been. Sure, it's violently flawed and the David E. Kelley stank is overpowering...but I suspect that with some reworking this could've been something worthwhile.

Ten Statements About....TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY Episode Seven 'Immortal Sins' (2011)

"And then Jack died, and the show ended, and Tom breathed
a sigh of, that's not it."
1) Oh, look...another character, because this series doesn't have enough...right? Right? And since we haven't had Jack behave in an ickily irresponsible way for about three episodes, let's get him and this new character in a weird sort of seduction scene involving a girl across the street that once again proves that Russell T. Davies--whether writing on his own or through proxies like Jane Espenson--simply doesn't understand how human really interact.

And hey, just for good measure...let's give the audience a glimpse of John Barrowman penis.

You see what happens when you give dodgy creators carte blanche, Starz?

2) You know...even though the whole about face of Ianto in Season Two was kind of abrupt, the relationship between him and Jack felt real, and it served to illuminate both characters--in the case of Ianto, turning him into a character I genuinely liked. I get the impression given all the time we spend with Jack and Angelo's love story that Davies wants us to feel the same way about this romance...and yet it simply doesn't. It feels tacked on, and as Angelo in these scenes, Danielle Favilli (trying to prove he can imitate Gary Oldman with the best of them) comes off as artificial, a piece of plot to make the whole Miracle Day situation personal. I cannot buy this any more than I can buy any of the nineteen other contrivances Davies has tried to float down my windpipe this season.

3) At this late juncture, can we please stop with the inappropriate comedy lines--like, for example, Gwen scolding Jack for forgetting her mother's name--in the middle of supposedly tense sequences? We're somewhere in the third act, Russell, and you've given us maybe a short story's worth of plot here--let's concentrate on that instead of trying to prove you've studied Joss Whedon's body of work.

"No, you signed us up for this, so you get the blame, John.

4) Thank God Jack made reference to recallibrating that wrist-thingie to Gwen's DNA, because for a moment I thought they were actually trying to hint that Jack was Anwyn's father.

5) I wonder if, over in England, Matt Smith suddenly felt dirty when The Doctor's name was evoked.

6) That being said, the little sequence with the 'Deadly Spawn' puppet is arguably the best thing in this misbegotten episode, and perhaps the first time this felt like 'classic' Torchwood and not Russell T. Davies' book report on Science Fiction Tropes of the 70's.

7) Remember how I said Davies is trying to prove he studied Joss Whedon's handiwork? That self-loathing speech of Gwen's is such a marked aping of Buffy circa Season Six it's not funny. And given the glee with which we saw her blow up a camp full of people last episode, it's not getting anywhere near the emotional reaction I suspect he wants it to.

The same goes for Jack's declaration of intent that follows it.

"I know it's supposed to be blood...but all I get is bacon fat."
8) So lemme get this straight--Angelo is able to accept that Jack is from the future, that he's traveled to other worlds, and that some of those other worlds have weird snakey parasite creatures that eat your brains...but he's not able to accept that Jack is able to survive a gunshot to the head? That's just sloppy writing.

Or maybe more precisely forcing a development because you can't think of a more natural way to get your characters to where you want them to go.

9) I will also give you that the scene in the butcher shop is pretty nightmarish--and also, like the scene with the Deadly Spawn parasites, reminiscent of classic Torchwood..but did it need to go on for so long?

No,'s a scene in a Russell T. Davies produced show. Fuck subtlety and tact.

10) Okay, we get that Angelo is either the brains behind this or the key of this masterplan...and yeah it's a shock given how we haven't seen him up until this episode. Swooping in with a 'shock twist' usually fails when the twist isn't set up in amongst all the bloated plotting of the last month and a half.

Overall...this is marginally better than some of the other episodes...but it's not better enough to make me rescind my 'fuck this series' thoughts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE EIGHTTEEN 'Weapons of Class Destruction' (2006)

Yes, yes, this is the can calm down now.
"Dear Seventeen Magazine, how can I tell if the super-cute boy in my class likes me? No, scratch that....Dear Seventeen, how can I tell if the super-cute boy in my class killed his own sister?"

1) This and the next couple of episodes, in keeping with the tying up loose ends before the climax idea, comprise a little mini-arc involving Keith's dating of Wallace's mom (a returning Erica Gimpel), and the return of Lianne Mars. This is the strength of this very, very weak--dare I call it bad--episode.

2) Joey Lauren Adams, she of the lil' girl voice in the early Kevin Smith movies, suddenly makes her only appearance as Geena Stafford, the new faculty advisor of the school newspaper. This is pretty much a clear indication that Sydney Tamiia Portier was not coming back, as her character is never mentioned again. And after this episode, neither is Adams'.

3) I've sung the praises of Duane Daniels' Mr. Clemmons before, and I'm going to again--while he may be an impediment to Veronica in the A plot, the beauty of Jed Seidel's script is that there's a grain of truth in what he's saying...namely, he does have an obligation to protect the student body that Veronica and Ms. Stafford interfered with. Daniels continues to add more and more nuance to what could have been a cardboard character, a process that will culminate in an excellent episode down the line.

"And I learned this trick from watching Jackie Chan movies."
4) What's not excellent is the performance of Jonathan Taylor Thomas. He is thoroughly unconvincing throughout--the man seems to feel the best way to sound sinister is to channel his inner Christian Slater channeling his inner Jack Nicholson--and because the effectiveness of the A Plot rests on him, the A Plot fails.

5) And its doubly aggravating because it takes away from the performance of Theo Rossi as Norris. Rossi manages to create a very three dimensional character from what could have been a stereotypical thug. He allows us to see a bit of his inner life, and his true nature during his interactions with Veronica.

6) There is a scene at roughly the twenty-one minute mark between Veronica and Duncan that acts as a showcase for Teddy Dunn; he goes through a number of emotions, and what's even more amazing is what his body language tells us he's really thinking.

Mr. Taylor Thomas, you're sending this episode down that
7) But you don't want to know about all this want to know about The Kiss. Yes, what Rob Thomas and his room of writers have been leading up to finally goes off with Logan and Veronica's first kiss. I remember how shocked I was at seeing this moment when I viewed the episode for the first time, and it continues to have a sort of impulsiveness even now after five years. But then, pulling the trigger on their relationship is vital to getting Veronica in position in the coming episodes to put the pieces together.

8) The one thing that puzzles me about the A Plot--besides why we had to put up with Jonathan Taylor Thomas' cliched performance--is that it's established very clearly that Norris' bullying stopped around Junior High School. We never quite learn why, however, which is doubly puzzling given that the ultimate reason why Norris was set up ties in with his history of bullying. I suspect that Seidel's reference to Norris' father giving him an incentive to keep up his grades with a tour of Japan has something to do with it, but it's only a fleeting reference. Usually I'm not that worried about dangling plot threads, but here it bugs me.

9) I sort of wish the tension between Veronica and Wallace over their parents' romance had extended beyond a couple of act. It just seems like there was a wealth of quipping and interactions that goes to waste after they get all chummy again....

10) As corny as it is, I still rather like how Veronica takes up the just fired Ms. Stafford's mantle in the moments after she exits the journalism room.

Overall...the real good moments in the overarc aside, this is a pretty poor A plot built around an atrocious performance by a failed child actor. Try to suffer through the bull and focus on the few good moments...and try not to realize that an even worse episode is coming up next time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ten Statements About....KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977)

Henry Gibson gives Good Advice For The Dead...
Should premature ejaculation occur, The Joy Of Sex album comes equipped with BIG JIM SLADE!"
1) I know a lot of this film might seem weird to many new viewers, but this is the beginning of two traditions--the sketch comedy movie, which became something of a fad for a couple of years following this one's release, and the first Zucker, Abrams, Zucker film. Everything that comes after it--Airplane, Police Squad, Top Secret!, even the later Scary Movie entries, spring from here.

2) It's kind of...quaint seeing a film that was released theatrically look so primitive. The cheapness of the film stock, the slightly off sound quality all contribute to the 'Let's Put On A Show' feeling the movie has.

sometimes, you're the man...and sometimes Big Jim
Slade is the man.  Deal with it.
3) A film like this, being a string of gags, rests on the writing. And to be fair, there are spots where the writing fails. Some sketches just presents the premise, some just drag on too long (especially some of the scenes in the central sketch, 'A Fistful of Yen'), and some are so quick that we don't get a chance to register the joke fully.

4) ...but when it hits, it hits hard. Some of the moments in the disaster movie spoof 'That's Armageddon' still work today, especially the recursive loop of dialogue George Lazenby and Victoria Carroll get stuck into as everything--but everything--falls down around them still cracks me up.

5) 'A Fistful of Yen,' the spoof of Enter The Dragon that serves as the tentpole of the film, doesn't quite work; you can tell that the three writers are still working out the timing and staging that will be their strong point. But every once in a while they hit a note--the look on Evan C. Kim's face when he's told that he'll be able to kill upwards of sixty men on the mission, the bespectacled, red-suited guard who serves as the alarm, main villain Klahn using an electric toothbrush attachment--which are just hilarious.

6) I have to wonder if the film as a whole would have hung together better if it decided to be structured solely as a television network or as a mock film presentation--the fact that it wavers between both can be disorienting.

7) Notice how there are a number of references to what were then current commercials like Crisco and Miller Beer and Renuzit...and yet because the gags aren't based on the recognition of those brands, they still work. I particularly like the Crisco gag, which ends in a real funny shot of a little girl trying to keep the lid on a pot of boiling oil...with a cat in it.

I've said it before...some things cannot be unseen...
8) Sometimes Zucker, Abrams and Zucker force the tastelessness in the strange 'Courtroom' sketch where a lawyer waves around a dildo for no reason, for example. The tastelessness works best when it's in sketches where the tastelessness is the focus, like in the 'Catholic School Girls In Trouble' mock-trailer or one of my favorite sketches, 'Danger Seekers.'

9) ...and sometimes the best sketches are the ones with the simplest premises, like 'High Adventure,' which takes the simple goof of a boom mike being in the shot and running with it, playing with all the different ways it can screw up the show--even taking a drink of water at one point.

10) I can understand how the writers got people like Bill Bixby, George Lazenby, and Henry Gibson (whose deadpan delivery during the 'United Appeal For The Dead' sketch makes what could have been a cringe-worthy gag comedy gold)...but how the hell did they get Donald Sutherland to take a pratfall into a cake? I mean, he was a major star at this time!

Overall...hit and miss as most sketch comedy films are, this serves as a cultural artifact. It gives us a glimpse at a group of writers who excelled at the parody film in their nascent form, while also delivering some effective laughs that are still hilarious today.

Ten Statements About....TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY Episode Six 'The Middle Men' (2011)

Ladies and gentlemen...the only actor who actually tries to
act well in this misbegotten story....
"If schemes and conspiracies are being plotted,they must be seen only as patterns, waves. Shifts that are either too small or too vast to be perceived. Someone is playing the system right across the planet with infinite grace."

1) Okay, that pre-credit teaser may have been the best moment in this wretched series to date...and notice that there wasn't any of our regular characters involved in it, just Ernie Hudson on the phone to some guy. Yes, there's the usual icky Russell T. Davies 'Everyone-Must-Have-Sex' aesthetic for a second...but the rest of it is reminiscent of some of the better X-Files teasers of their heyday.

...which is the first evidence that someone other than Davies (namely writer John Shiban) had a hand in this episode.

2) You know, I get that stuff like Rex finally admitting he's Torchwood is supposed to get us cheering and on his side and all that...but when you spend the last five episodes of your show setting him up as a nationalistic Ugly American Douche, you haven't earned the right to manipulate us like that.

3) Yep, just as I figured out last episode....this is a gigantic Holocaust/Concentration Camp metaphor. Now all I have to wait for is the inevitable shot of the Space Cannibals/Vampires/Whatever in the Nazi-esque uniforms sprinkling cremains on their Post Toasties, and the bad taste in my mouth will be complete.

4) In a season known for hiring bad actors, and for eliciting bad performances from great actors, the performance of Mark Vann may very well be the absolute worse. I don't know if Russell T. Davies told him to play the role as The World's Evilest James Carville Impersonator or not, but he is thoroughly dreadful and couldn't convincingly cover up that he forgot to pick up the dry-cleaning, let alone murdering and cremating one of the major characters of the first five episodes.

You call it a gratuitious shot of someone pushing a pen into
a splattery make-up effect; I call it a graphic representation of
exactly how watching this crap feels.
5) I have always been sympathetic toward Gwen Cooper for the bulk of this series--primarily because Eve Myles is an amazingly good actress, and also because the chemistry between her and Kai 'The Jason Segal of Wales' Owens is so supremely good it sheds light into an otherwise dour series...but the scene where she harasses Dr. Patel simply loses all that goodwill. Part of it is because Myles has the unenviable task of spelling out the Concentration Camp Metaphor in Big Gaily Colored Building Block Letters so even people in a coma can get it, but mainly its because she's taking on this Holier-Than-Thou attitude that the show has not earned. Hell, quite frankly Rex's actions are doing much more good in this episode than hers are.

6) Wow...if you want to get someone to help you, mocking you about the affair you're having with your boss and your prowess at your job after proving you've done your stalker homework is not a good strategy, Jack.

...and of course it works...because, as we've mentioned before, Russell T. Davies has no conception of how human beings actually interact.

7) God Help Us, Ernie Hudson didn't get the memo to overact and play his character in only the broadest strokes. He's trying to give us an honest-to-goodness decent performance! And the scene with his Stuart Owens having a sit down to talk conspiracies is perhaps the single best scene in this season so far.

For those keeping count, that's two good moments in an episode...both of them involving Ernie Hudson. Coincidence? You decide.

8) Our heroes are real, real crap liars. I don't think any of the characters in this episode--not Rex, not Esther, not Rhys--are effectively deceptive on any level. At least give Rhys points for trying to sass his way through....

9) So Esther is like, what, a MMA fighter able to triangle choke Evil James Carville to...well, not death, since we know what happened to Dichen Lachman and her extreme neck trauma in Episode Two...sorry, don't buy it. And Evil James Carville going all Jason on her is perhaps the most expected shock revival of all time.

Yeah, I'd hide my face if I appeared in
this episode, too.

10) WAIT! We get this whole self-righteous speech from Gwen earlier about how they're killing people in these Overflow Camps and that poor doctor should be ashamed of herself for allowing it to happen--and then she turns around and BLOWS UP THE CAMPS? WITH EVERYONE INSIDE, SICK PEOPLE SHE WAS DEFENDING INCLUDED? WHILE JACK LAUGHS IN ENCOURAGEMENT?

I...I am speechless. I cannot imagine what Davies expected our reaction to be....did he think we'd not realize that one of our main characters is as big a murderer as the villains are?

Overall...I cannot believe how miserably bad this show is. Even for something produced by Davies, this is stunning in its awfulness. The only thing--the only thing--that eve vaguely redeems it are those two scenes with Ernie Hudson. His nuanced performance actually kept me from punching a hole through the laptop screen.

If you're defending this program, or giving it a pass due to your love of Davies' run on Doctor Who...well, shame on you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ten Statements About....BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH PROJECT II: (2000)

Sorry, Sam Axe for you...
"If you don't believe in The Blair Witch, why the Hell did you come?"
"I thought the movie was cool."

1) Joe Berlinger, a documentarian who must have rolled his eyes when given this assignment, actually does the best he can to both 'conform to the reality' of the original film while pretty much telling all of us, 'you know the first film was a load of made-up stuff, right?' Simple tricks like naming the characters similarly to the actors who play them, the inclusion of actual clips and real-like personages as talking heads,designing the film so it looks like a documentary--even creating a title sequence that mirrors Berlinger's own documentary Paradise Lost: The Murders At Robin Hood Hills all contribute to the sense that this could have happened..just as Berlinger is winking at you and telling you it's never did.

2) It is so weird seeing Jeffrey Donovan playing the twitchy, disturbed Jeffrey Patternson. You almost expect him to call up Bruce Campbell to clear this mess up at a moment's notice. He's actually pretty funny at times, and you can see what USA Networks saw when they gave the go-ahead to his casting in Burn Notice...and his flashback to his time in the asylum is just...strange enough to make you realize this is not going to end well.

3) And speaking of it not ending well...Berlinger seems to delight in just piling on the intimations that this is a doomed tour from the beginning. Giving us a full pass into Jeffrey's mind, letting us know this is his first time leading a tour, Kim's admission that she might be a little unstable as wouldn't surprise me if Berlinger approached this as something of a satire of the original hysteria that rose up over the first film.

Believe it or not, Kim Director's Kim is at her sanest when
she's dressed like this...
4) Just as one of the strength's of Myrick and Sanchez' first film was their ability to cast three leads with chemistry and personality, Berlinger seems to have worked hard to get a similar group of actors together. This quartet--besides Donovan, stand-outs include the absolutely hilarious Kim Director as a goth chick who isn't buying into all this and the absolutely gob-stoppingly hot Erica Leershen as an actual witch with some dotty ideas--does have a good give-and-take that helps us buy into the film's gag for most of its running time.

5) ...and I use the word 'gag' deliberately. I honestly don't think that this film was meant to be taken seriously. When you actually listen to some of the stuff that is said--like Erica's intention to beseech the Blair Witch to be her mentor--you realize that this film works best as a satire commenting on what went down around the time of the first film's release.

6) If there is a weak link in this central cast, it is Stephen Barker Turner, who's given the unenviable task of being the group skeptic. And while I get the sense that his character is Berlinger's mouthpiece, and that the points he's making are connected to Berlinger's own views on the matter, he ends up becoming something of a Scully--refusing to accept any counter arguments to his own views.

7) At first I wasn't sure why Berlinger chose to do all these flash forwards to the Really Bad Thing That Happens throughout the first act--but then I realized it was to obscure the moment when it actually happens (for the record, my guess is it happens at the 22 minute mark, when we start seeing Kim's and Tristene Skyler's Trinsten's hallucinations and dreams--just before the rain of paper).

Erica Leershen...mmmmmmm.....
8) I have to wonder if the few creature effects shots were absolutely necessary; they seem out of place in a film where so much of what Berlinger is selling us is based on our perceptions and the unreliability of the narrator--why shout when he's doing just fine whispering how these five people are Not To Be Trusted? Much more effective are the simple tricks, like when Sheriff Craven talks to the group via a pre-taped television report.

9) I am not a fan of Lanny Flaherty's Sheriff Cravens. He's too over-the-top, too obviously playing a part in a movie that every time he shows up it makes the film a bit less smart....

10) It's odd how the real central horror of the third act revolves around how everyone sort of changes places. And the person who comes off the scariest is the least scary member of our crew, Tristin...who becomes the epitome of unhinged just before meeting her fate, daring others to do what she so desperately wants to do herself. Or at least, what others think she wants to do....

Overall...a film that maybe is a little too clever for its own good (the fact that the title refers back to the film itself--something I didn't realize until it was pointed out by Scott Aslin's excellent review of the film--doesn't help any), but still a pretty effective unreliable narrator film. It's certainly the best a sequel could possibly have been to a film that was more of an event than an actual, you know, film.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON ONE, EPISODE SEVENTEEN 'Kanes and Abel's' (2006)

"Remember this overarc is about my
 "What do you think Lily would make of you investigating all the people who loved her?"
"I loved Lily. Maybe if I didn't, I'd be able to drop this."

1) We're now into Act Three of Season One, and this episode is all about setting up the elements Thomas and his writers need for their big climax. It's also about starting to discard the red herrings left in the road, but we'll get to that on a case by case basis. A lot more is going to be going on in each episode, and they're sometimes going to be difficult to keep up with.

2) That's not to say there isn't an A plot--it's just that the whole storyline involving Veronica being hired by a student to stop the harassment of her during midterms is pretty much the B plot this episode. It's treated as an impediment to what the story is mostly about, namely Veronica sequestering Abel Koontz' daughter Amelia, played by Erin Chambers, while she develops the case to clear Abel of Lily's murder.

We get even closer to the Logan/Veronica relationship...
thanks to a little snooping.
3) There's some advancement of the plot thread involving Logan and Veronica's changing relationship--which is vital for the Lily Kane storyline to shake out...and Bell and Dohring more than prove up to the task. There's a simple exchange--quoted above--that explains why Logan isn't a suspect while drawing them closer together. The chemistry at this point is a physical presence here.

4) You know, Veronica in this episode comes close to being a real jerk when it comes to her interactions with Amelia. She consistently lies to the woman and is overall deceptive just so she can get what she wants.

5) And, of course, this is the episode that introduces Vinnie Van Lowe, played expertly by Ken Marino. Right now he's seen primarily as a comedy character, but come the next two seasons Marino will start slowly getting darker in his performance until he becomes something of a threat to the Mars family.

6) The whole sequence revolving around the Scholarship Dinner is significant primarily for setting up the motif of Veronica replaying the murder of Lily with each of the final suspects (which means more of Amanda Seyfried being fabulous, but that's besides the point)...but one of the other things I like is it once again gives us a glimpse of the very nuanced portrayal of Jake Kane by Kyle Secor...okay, and the wretched scenery chewing of Lisa Thornhill as Celeste. Seeing their reaction to Veronica showing up side by side shows why Secor knows what he's doing, and Thornhill doesn't..

7) ...and speaking of Lily, we get another little bit of magic realism, with Veronica having a discussion with her ghost that leads into a wonderful moment with her and Duncan admitting in a circuitous way how much they miss her. I've said it before, but these are the moments that elevate the show into something unique.

8) There's another strong Veronica/Keith scene that leads directly from the first real exposure we have to Christopher Duncan's Clarence Weidman. The scene with Keith and Clarence basically playing chicken with each other is pretty choice--and the one that follows, with Keith finally giving his consent to Veronica's investigation is extremely powerful...all the more so because of the absolute believability these two have as father and daughter.

Say hello to a red herring...
9) If you want proof of how this show, at least for the first two seasons, planned for the long term...the ultimate resolution of the Amelia plotline that is for all extents the A plot of this episode ends with a comment about her running off to Belize. I have no idea if Thomas had intended this, but it's a foreshadowing of what ultimately happens to Amelia when the series decides to revisit the Abel Koontz subplot in Season Two.

10) And give this episode credit for ending on a real shocker of a hook, as we reach Veronica's mental recreation of how the murder of Lily would go if Duncan was the culprit. Short, nasty, too the point, and leading to a silent outro.

Overall....a pretty disjointed episode that is given a lift by some strong character bits and some genuine movement of the overarc. It's a great forty-some-odd minutes before we hit what has to be the two worst episode of the first you've been warned.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ten Statements About....ROMAN (2006)

There is sadness..and madness..behind these eyes...
"You should go out and find out what it's all about, 'cause otherwise you sit around just tortured by your curiosity...and then you'll make up some twisted answer inside your head just to satisfy yourself and you'll never really know what the truth is."

1) I'm not surprised that this is a Lucky McKee script directed by Angela Bettis, as this pretty much serves as a companion piece to May.

2) McKee actually proves himself to be something of a decent actor with a great deal of awkward charm. However, I really, really wonder if the film couldn't have been improved by dispensing with the frequent interior monologues--he's capable enough that his physicality is able to convey what Roman is thinking.

3) And much like May, the film manages to do the trick of having a character mentally unbalanced by his loneliness and isolation we never, ever lose sympathy with. Even after he does something truly heinous at the end of the first act, the fact that he's guilty and tortured as a result of this action makes us feel for him.

4) If I was the person who designed the hairstyles, fashion and jewelry for Nectar Rose's Eva...I wouldn't want any screen credit. Yea Gods, every time she shows up it looks like she took a header into a hedge.

Stare, Lucky...stare all you want.  I know I am...
5) I do wish that they didn't stretch out the revelation of what Roman did with Kristen Bell's 'Isis,' since it's very obvious what he is doing and her body is incidental to the character arc, being on some levels metaphorical.

6) Bettis does suffer from a case of First Time Actor Directing disease...the frequent quick cuts and artsy dream sequences interferes with what should be at the core of the film--namely Roman and the way this one violent act effects his life.

7) I do like the fact that Bettis does do a compare and contrast of 'Isis' and Eva, but not in thunderingly obvious ways. And by the time we realize that Eva is a sort of negative image of 'Isis,' it's far too late.

8) My LORD, does this film drive home how tiny Kristen Bell is...that shot where she's standing in front of McKee, she appears to be about to head off to grade school.

"Wait a minute--THAT'S NOT A WINE COOLER!"
9) I really, really could do without the multitude of slow, tinny lo-fi songs that just won't stop coming throughout the film's 90 minute run time. They add nothing to the film, and should have relied more on the silence to emphasize Roman's isolation.

10) I will admit that I sort of figured out the big last minute twist...although I really, really liked how Roman got what he wanted in the end.

Overall...while it does suffer a bit much from Arthouse Artiness, and prolly would have been more effective if Bettis relied more on the actors and less on dream sequences and pseudo music videos, this does work as a decent character study that you know cannot end well.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ten Statements About....TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY Episode Five 'The Categories Of Life' (2011)

I don't know which is more horrific--the fact that Dr. Juarez is
about to be burned alive, or that she has to spend so much time
with this dumb racist James Carvell lookalike...
"Whatever you're doing to fight this miracle, count me in. They just took control of life and death."

1) Look, I trust Jane Espenson as a writer--besides the many good episodes she contributed to Buffy, she co-created and wrote material for a show I rather liked called Point Pleasant. I trust John Shiban, who wrote some exceptional episodes of The X-Files. Did no one listen to what Russell T. Davies had in store for this bloated ten hour mess and say, 'Russell, you need to rethink some of these ideas. Okay, most of these ideas.'

Okay, all of these ideas."

2) I thought Gwen and Captain Jack were listed as of Episode Two as, at the very least, Persons Of Interest, and would have their photos pasted all over airports by The Mysterious Agents Of The Mysterious Vampi--CORPORATION! I Mean Corporation That Pulls The Strings Of The Miracle. And yet Gwen just waltzes back into Wales to have comedy flirty time with Rhys?

3) At this point, I think we really need to drop the 'Jack teases Rex with intimations he might be gay' thing. It was old about two episodes ago.

Lord knows I understand, Mr. Barrowman...I want to lie down
and die after watching this episode...
4) Okay, we get this big scene where Dr. Juarez says she wants in on Torchwood, she gets kinda, sorta inducted into the crew...and then, when she wants to flounce off and 'investigate' at the facility Rex went undercover to investigate, she starts saying she's not Torchwood. Is anyone reading these scripts for continuity? We're talking about contradictory information separated by less than ten minutes here!

5) My GOD, did they just pull a variation on 'Oh, you're a WOMAN Doctor' thing with Dr. Juarez and the Overflow Camp administrator followed by a Nazi joke? I'd expect that of Davies, who always displayed no sense of how humans interact in the real world, but Espenson?

Oh, wait. Look at statement one. Never mind.

6) You know what one of the major differences is between this and 'Children of Men'--besides of course this one sucking and the other one being the best thing Russell T. Davies was ever attached to? This one keeps forcing humor in at the most inopportune times...and every gag about Hillary Duff and bit of flirty-flirty between Juarez and Rex, or Esther and Jack, stops the flow of the story dead. Not only that, it dissipates the tension built up in the story prior....resulting in a show that has to keep re-earning its thriller status by rebuilding the thrills that made that tension in the first place.

7) I have this very weird sense that Davies is using the whole Overflow Camp angle to address all the panic some Americans had over 'death panels' when Obama tried to pass nationalized health care. While there is a proud tradition of writers using science fiction to address modern concerns in this country, Davies' ham-fistedness, tendency toward broad villains and inability to plot coherently may very well make him the last person I want trying to make any political statements.

"..and I promise you you'll be able to murder children and make
a killing in the real estate with no money down..."
8) So Oswald Danes has gone from child murderer to, what? The world's greatest inspirational speaker? Huh?

9) So now you're doing a whole Concentration Camp riff, Davies? Really?

10) At least Arlene Tur is now finally free of this thing, even though I'd categorize her end as overkill in the extreme.

Overall...I'm just dumbfounded at how this show seems to be getting worse and worse with each successive episode. My theory that Davies intentionally set out to create a season so dire to dare everyone to watch it remains intact. And thinking we're only halfway through this bloated turd makes my blood run cold.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ten Statements About....LINK (1986)

When an ape loves an actress.....
"He missed the bus by a lousy one percent. That one percent counts for all of human civilization, the entire history of art, music, science, literature...everything you're willing to give up on so you can go away and live with badgers."

1) Given the way this film shakes out, accompanied frequently by Jerry Goldsmith's rather...circusy soundtrack, I really have to wonder if somewhere down the line of this production it was meant as a black comedy.

2) Even though it's very obvious that Terrance Stamp's Dr. Phillips is done away with fairly early on, it's to director Richard Franklin's credit that I didn't accept that his character wasn't coming back until I realized over thirty minutes had passed with just Elisabeth Shue inteacting with an orangutan and a chimp.

3) While there is some references to Dr. Phillips experimenting stimulate Link's intelligence, the genius is that Link's behavior can be explain within the realms of actual ape behavior. He's exceptionally clever in terrorizing Shue's Jane, and is obviously acting out of self-preservation, but he's still emotionally just an animal motivated by animal instinct.

Thankfully, the sport of monkey pulling didn't catch on....
4) I know Link was played by an actual orangutan named Locke at times...but Locke was an exceptional actor. There are moments in this film where you see the actor reacting with a twist of its lips, or staring with these weird, soulful eyes where you swear he's in the scene, not just reacting to a trainer offscreen. And speaking of that monkey...

5) Naked Elisabeth Shue being peeped on by itself would be creepy...but Elisabeth Shue trying to persuade Link to go away as it stands in the doorway naked staring at her frankly...brrrrrr.

6) There is no reason whatsoever for Steve Pinner's David and his mates to be in this movie, except to show up in the third act and provide Link with some extra victims to slaughter. Although, admittedly, it was cool that Franklin thought to reverse the usual trope by making Pinner the Girl School Screamer and Shue the hero who saves him.

7) I find it fascinating that this was produced by Dr. Who's Verity Lambert when she was heading EMI during its disastrous final days. And knowing this was typical of the films that Lambert greenlit during her tenure explains a lot.

"You wanna piece of me?  Well, do you?  DO YOU?"
8) I was struck the many, many tracking shots through and, in one instance, over walls. Sometimes it's to give us a 'beast eye's view' of Link's activity, but overall it gives the film a definite whiff of giallo to it...which, to be fair, is a change of pace from Franklin's usual Hitchcock love.

9) I'll admit it--even with the really, really obvious fake rottweiler after the fact, Link's murder of the animal in defense of Jane during the early part of the second act is pretty shocking, and maybe is the best scare of the film.

10) I love how Stamp gives Shue a list of rules...which Shue promptly violates quickly throughout the film. But then, if she wasn't on some level a dumbass, there would be no film.

Overall...a weird, weird film, very unlike the other entries in Franklin's filmography. I don't know if it would work for everyone, but if you're in the mood for something offbeat, you might want to give it a look.

Plus, 80's era Elisabeth Shue--albeit a seriously deglamourized one. If you grew up during the 80's, that might be enough.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ten Statements About....IT'S ALIVE! (1974)

This woman had a baby, and it came out looking crazy....
"Hunting and killing babies doesn’t seem to be my specialty."

1) Perhaps the reason why this film is so effective even today is how, for the first eleven to fifteen minutes it's shot almost documentary style, with a lot of hand held tracking shots, no music and naturalistic lighting. We're lulled into this sort of quiet, happy tableau...and then the nurse stumbles out of the operating room, and the world Frank Davis lives in quietly goes insane.

2) Of course, Larry Cohen is not interested in monster babies, but the way being the parents of this monster baby affects the Davis family. This is why we have all these possible explanations thrown around throughout the film for the baby's mutation--because it's not the baby but the family that's the focus.

3) The most interesting character is James Dixon's Lt. Perkins. Unlike the other people who approach the Davis family with their own agendas, ignoring what this situation is doing to Frank and Lenore to get what they want, Perkins seems focuses on the general good. He also shows remarkable sensitivity to Frank's continued breaking down, and the fact that his wife is pregnant gives him an uneasy stake in making sure this all works out for the best.

This ain't your cuddly lil' critter here....
4) Supposedly, the reason the Davis Baby is used sparingly is because Baker didn't have the time to put together a full suit--just a mask, some gloves and a stationary model. This may be a case of a happy accident. Since we never see the creature from head to toe, only in quick close-up glimpses, our mind is left to fill in the rest of this monstrosity...

5) ...and the other genius of how Cohen handles the baby is how his script never makes the baby act as anything other than a baby. He seeks out food, he seeks out shelter, and he responds to the people he instinctively knows are his family. It's this behavior that makes the key moment in the final act work so beautifully.

6) If there's one flaw, it's the way the key sequence that bridges the second and third act, with Frank figuring out that Sharon Farrell's Lenore has been keeping the baby in the basement. It just goes on forever, and I suspect that if they cut out about three or four minutes, the narrative flow would have been improved.

7) John Ryan's career didn't go very far...but one has only to look at the key moment in the final scene where he finds his baby and realizes that that's all it is--a baby--and begins to bond with it, comforting the creature as tears fill his eyes, to know he had the chops to do great things.

It's a father and son reunion.  It's just...messy.
8) I love how Frank and Lenore have opposite ways of coping. While Frank seems to disassociate himself from his previous life, insisting the baby isn't his and drinking his way into oblivion, Lenore tries to re-exert her normal life by sheer force of will, seemingly overcompensating for giving birth to a mutant by trying to be the perfect housewife.

9) Besides being a great writer with a skewed sensibility, Cohen had a surprisingly good eye for composition. I know many people will point to such set pieces as the mix of blood and milk running out of the milk wagon, but the sequence that struck me as the most engaging was the succession of shots in the L.A. Sewer system of the cops and the baby shot utilizing only the flashing red lights of the cop cars. The strobe-like effect is unusual and unique, and it continues to hide the deficiency in the baby special effects.

10) This might be heretical, given how much of a legend Bernard Herrman is, but I really don't think his score adds much to the film. There are some cues that just seem out of place and ominous-for-the-sake-of-being-ominous, and a number that actively interfere with the flow and sensibilities of the scenes. excellent horror film that speaks volumes about how Cohen thinks, with the actual scares not as disturbing as the way what's happening wrecks the mental and physical health of two normal people who didn't ask for this to happen. Recommended.