Friday, April 27, 2012


"Niiiiiiiiiiiiightmare fuel!"
"Perhaps it's all for the best."
"The Best? I think you'll find, Mr. Yates, that this is the worst day's work the world has seen for many, many years."

1) Oh. My. God. Is this thing preachy. Writer Robert Sloman seems so much more interested in talking about alternative fuels and the evils of corporate pollution and All The Things That Was In The Air Circa 1969 (never mind that it's some four years later) that the actual story frequently falls by the wayside...when it's not revealing itself to be much of a story at all. Like other 'issue' serials like The Sun Makers (Taxes are wrong!), the message gets in the way of what we want to watch Doctor Who for in the first place.

2) As someone who hates Jo Grant, you'd think I'd be happy to see the back of her...if only so much of this six episode serial is taken up by the romcom bullcrap that is Jo and her romance with Professor Clifford Jones, played by Katy Manning's then-boyfriend Stuart Bevan. From their awful 'meet cute' to the artificial 'complications to the stunningly bad endangerment sequence for the Professor in the last two episodes, this is a legendarily awful outgoing character arc in a series known for its awful outgoing character arcs. And a large part of why it's awful is because it takes up so much of the serial itself--take out the romance, and you've got a four, maybe even a three part story. For that matter....

"Here, Jo--I got you this crappy plastic crystal thing as
your wedding present."
3) Even taking out the Jo/Cliff romance, this serial is stretched out. As with all the six-parters I've rewatched so far, there are episodes that boil down to one thing that really doesn't contribute much to the story as a whole. Hell, episode two is literally all about The Doctor and The Brig searching for cutting equipment. If John Nathan-Turner did one thing right (he did a couple, to be fair), it was his abolishing of the six part structure when he became the producer several years later.

4) In critiquing past Barry Letts produced serials, I've been critical of their use of rural stereotypes. Maybe it's because this story is more obsessed with corporate stereotypes (which we'll discuss in a moment), but the rural types in this serial are much more successfully. They're more fully fleshed out, and a couple of them are actually pretty damn smart. And I especially appreciate how they may not approve of 'The Nut Hatch'--Professor Jones' commune--but they do accept them.

There are times like these when you wish your so-called
hero would just expire...but then we'd be left with the
annoying, squeaky doll-baby....
5) As with most Who serials, the special effects are a hit-and-miss thing. The long shot of the giant, disease-infected maggots (the 'Green Death' of the title) that are obviously tinted rice being knocked off a mound of dirt are pretty hilarious in their ineptness...but the more detailed models, apparently made from condoms and fox skulls, are really disquieting, especially when they snarl.

6) ...but that giant, ummm, dragonfly that one of these maggots morphs into is really, really silly looking. The damn thing looks like a pipe cleaner insect, and the fact that said insect chases The Brig and Sargent Benton around for the bulk of an's dire.

7) Of course, supposedly the major villain of this story is B.O.S.S., of whom I am not entirely happy with. While I really like the voice reading given B.O.S.S. by John Dearth, which has a lot of humor and nuance, the fact is this is another computer-gaining-sentient-evil. Not only is computers-gaining-sentient-evil a trope that was tired even back in 1973 (hell, I covered a more primitive version of B.O.S.S. in The War Machines), but the presence of this figure just doesn't contribute a damn thing. You don't need evil computers to foul up the environment!

8) And while we're on the subject--after five episodes of B.O.S.S. acting all chummy and corporate-y, we get this extremely rushed 'I wanna be Colossus: the Forbin Project' plot that gets literally shoved into episode six. It once again emphasizes how thin this story is, and is nothing more than a scrabbling to tie up all those loose ends with a lot of running around and explosions.

9) Look, I can buy the Pertwee Doctor getting all pally with Professor Jones. What I don't buy is how quickly and easily The Brig comes over to the side of The Hippie Tree Huggers (or in this case, Fungus Growers). It seems to me that this is Robert Sloman's sensibilities bleeding through to the point where already established characters are acting contrary to how they've been established as acting.

10) I suppose I should say a few words about the whole Metabelis 3 thing that takes up a large part of episode one, becomes a key gewgaw to defeating B.O.S.S. and is brought back to help finish another interminable serial, Planet of The Spiders. It...well, it is what it is, a plot device....although I think the whole Metabelis 3 sequence seems another attempt to stretch things out to unreasonable ends, especially given how the whole things seems built up just so we can get a lame punchline.

Overall...I know a lot of people hold this serial in high regard, but this is a bloated and sanctimonious serial that seems more interested in pushing its agenda on us rather than telling a good Doctor Who serial. Even dumping one of my least favorite companions does little to make me appreciate it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ten Statements About....ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

One of the most important shots--both figurative and literal--
in a film that establishes that No One Is Safe....
"What does it mean?"
"It means they don't care. They're not afraid to die, any of them. They want to rip us apart no matter what the cost. It the death."

1) You know, I've said this before, but it needs to be said again--nothing, but nothing sounds like a John Carpenter soundtrack. From the moment the martial strains of the theme starts over the black screen, you know whose territory you're in.

2) I like how Carpenter, through the way he introduces the little girl only to have her casually shot dead, makes it very clear that no one is safe--a message further reinforced when both Starker and Julie die during the course of the film.

3) Now,'s how you set up an intriguing anti-hero. We never learn much about Napoleon Wilson outside of maybe his crime and the fact that he's a Real Big Figure when it comes to law enforcement. But then...we don't need to know much. Thanks to Darwin Josten's performance, we know everything we need to know--that he's got a code of honor, that he's level headed, that he respects people who give him respect. And that makes us willing to root for him when the siege happens.

4) I know that this is an unofficial remake of Rio Bravo--something Carpenter does variations on several times throughout his career--but I have to also wonder if Carpenter was influenced mightily by George Romero. There are a number of moments that mirror Night of The Living Dead, and the way the marauding bands are shot sort of slipping in and out of shadows makes them seem like zombies.

These three people have been through Hell...and only
John Carpenter knows their full backstory....
5) I give much respect to Carpenter for being able to recognize when the film benefits from being quiet. There are long stretches of this film that occur in total or near silence, and those stretches help to increase the tension, while allowing him to continue building up his characters and getting us to give them our sympathy.

6) However, something I do think muddles the waters is the opening battle between the cops and the Street Thunder Gang. An argument could be made that the film could be streamlined a bit, making the death of the little girl collateral damage in a drive-by or similar crime and sidestepping that battle completely. That would also make the situation a little more 'personal,' as the choice to give aid to the girl's father would prompt the gang to focus on this place.

7) The whole idea of establishing that this is a precinct that's being closed down, that will have its utilities cut in the morning, is very clever on a number of levels. For one, it gives us a reason why most of the action takes place in near darkness--which allows Carpenter to save on special effects at points. For another, it gives the exterior an air of normalacy that the mostly faceless, silent throng can use to their advantage. And it also emphasizes the isolation of our heroes--while also gleefully shoring up the horror movie ambiance that this film has. It's no wonder Irwin Yalbans saw this and realized Carpenter would be perfect for his Babysitter Murders project.
They may be convicts heading for Death's Row...but they
are heroes in one sense or another....

8) Some words should be said about Laurie Zimmer's Leigh. What impresses me about her is how she's competent, but in no ways a super woman--and the fact that she has a chemistry with both Josten and Austin Stoker's Bishop shores up her own character. And the fact that romantic interest is implied by never paid off on...well, there are some directors who can learn from Carpenter's handling of this.

9) And I'm going to make it clear--I respect that the moments of comic relief (the two cops searching for all this carnage to increasing frustration; the way Wilson and Wells resolve who has to risk their lives, etc.) are funny but also fraught with a touch of unease so that the increasing tension of the scenario is not disrupted.

10) I respect the fact that just as Carpenter spent some time thinking through the scenario, he spent some time showing through their actions that these gang members are not idiots. And because they're not idiots, the heroes are raised up in our eyes since they have to struggle to outlast them.

Overall...a clever little actioner that shows a lot of what made John Carpenter the mega-super-star he was in the late 70's and early 80's, a film that can be looked at as a blueprint for future films in his ouvre.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ten Statements About....WILD SIDE (1995)

Anne Heche and Christopher Walken have a competition to see
who's unsexier....
"You're gonna fuck your chauffer to prove you love me?"
"See, the woman is smart."

1) I am going to refrain from making a connection between the disaster that is this film and Don Cammell's suicide...but I can certainly see why he had his name taken off of it, and why so little of his fingerprints is on this film. Nu Image took a typically quirky, sexually perverse Cammell script and turned it into a Skinemax cookie cutter 'erotic thriller.'

2) I have to wonder whether Christopher Walken signed on to do a Don Cammell film, only to revert into Chris Walken Parody Mode when he realized how little control Cammel had of the film. In the first scene, Walken's Bruno feels like an actual character--but when he is reintroduced into the story about halfway through, he's all tics and pronounced halting speech and bizarre behavior.

3) Remember when we all considered Anne Heche to be a potential big star? She's such a weird choice for the female lead (Cammell apparently fought for her). Yeah, she's got a certain sexual coldness--but it's not the 'Ice Queen' coldness of Grace Kelly, but the coldness of the banker she's supposedly portraying. There's no hint in her performance as to why Heche's Alex/Johanna makes all the other main characters go all lusty for her.

4) Steven Bauer's awful performance stands out as the worst of a lot of bad performances...but then, how can you even begin to sell a scene where Christopher Walken, playing your boss, is preparing to anally rape you as proof that he loves the woman you blackmailed into cooperating him as part of your undercover sting operation?  It's a strange, strange thing to process.
"So will turning lesbian do the same for my career as it
did for yours?"

5) Also strange is watching the relationship between Alex and Joan Chen's Virginia....well, maybe blossom is too weak a word--explode is more like it. The whole character arc between the two seems to be firmly in 'Say Not Show' territory, two scenes of heavy kissing besides the point. Of course...

6) know your efforts to engage us in your main character has failed when, when Virginia heads off to do something rather mundane, you realize you want to go see what she's doing instead of Alex.

7) If, as I suspect, the Nu Image people were envisioning an erotic thriller, I can imagine why they were horrified by the lack of actual 'erotic' in the erotic thriller. There's a real chasteness to the few and far between sex scenes, and it looks like the only nudity is confined to Heche showing her tits twice.
"Get away from me before you do for my career what you did
for Wiseguy!"

8) I dunno....when you call a computer virus 'The Hiroshima,' you expect it to be a) a little more impressive when it's used (off-screen), and b) play a much, much bigger role in the plot. But then, that would require an actual plot.

9) Yep, rape is an excellent way to recruit a banker/prostitute to be the 'shark bait' in your federal operation to capture a major crime boss....

10) I'll be the first to admit that Cammell, like his friend Nicholas Roeg, wasn't much when it came to dialogue--but Ye Gods, are some of the lines in the ninety minutes goes beyond bad into pure befuddlement. People simply do not talk this way unless they're drunk or joking.

Overall...A truly dreadful thing that has a patina of sadness given that it was the last film of a very sparse filmography from a potentially great director.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


You, too, can have this stupified expression...just watch this
"How many times in the past have they stood between me and my dreams of glory? How many times have they foiled my plans with their bungling interference?"

1) The opening few minutes, that begins with a proscenium arc and includes the lengthy animated 'since last you saw them' sequence, makes you think this film will actually work. The voice of the old show is intact, as is the humor. And then, once the film is fully eased into the live action all goes horribly wrong.

2) And the fundamental problem with the film is how it establishes that the most significant characters of the cartoon have entered into the real world....but the difference between the 'real world' and the cartoon world is negligible. Hell, the script by Kenneth Lonergan isn't really clear about the actual rules of this version of reality--the opening makes a clear demarcation between the real world and the cartoon one, yet when we get to Wossamatta U, there's this whole anti-cartoon protest rally and a gag about the college getting real world status after the cancellation, and....

If the rules of the world you're building doesn't make sense, your movie won't make sense.

You should be tying up the writers and producers of this
film,'s not those actors' fault....
3) I know that when this film came out there was a lot of brickbats thrown at Robert deNiro for playing Fearless Leader. But he does the best he can with this underwritten role, as does Rene Russo, who is scary in how much she seems to have channeled Natasha. No, the worst villain performance is Jason Alexander's, whose Boris is so broad they could build a whole airplane hanger with it. It's downright painful to watch his exaggerated mugging, and that weird-ass mustache distracts you every time we see him in close-up.

4) Also shockingly awful is Piper Perabo's Karen Patience. Like Alexander, Perabo overplays her character to a degree that makes her every pronouncement winge-worthy....and the film does her no favor by giving her a wardrobe and a make-up job that's unflattering in the extreme. If she's supposed to be the audience's POV character, the film fails in that respect.

5) Usually I would hate all the 'fish out of water' gags....except that said gags in this film certainly plug into the whole Bullwinkle 'malapropisms/misunderstandings' aspect of that character's personality. It makes sense here, as does the very strict moral sense of Rocky.

What did jar was the one gag about Bullwinkle's first exposure to hip hop, only because his line about getting jiggy with it was there only to be dropped into the trailers.

6) I also appreciate that the film made the conscious choice to animate Rocky and Bullwinkle as cell-shaded objects, instead of trying to make 'realistic' CGI versions of the characters. Not only does it emphasize the nature of Jay Ward's animation style and the fact that they literally don't belong here, it gives the film a look that makes it stand out from other animated properties in live action features.

7) How many times do I have to say this? Every time you draw attention to a flaw in your script through dialogue, you're not proving you're clever--you're just reminding us that your script is flawed.
"You mean this isn't going to return us into pop culture
prominence?  Like Heck you say!"

8) How many times do I have to say this, part two? Just including a celebrity in a cameo isn't a joke. And just including a celebrity cameo so you can make a joke about how the character looks exactly like the celebrity who's playing him is even less of a joke.

9) I have to wonder if Kenan Thompson felt a chill run across his back when he was on set for the woefully unfunny extended cameo he did with his then-partner Kel Mitchell as the fatefully named Martin and Lewis, given he was about to play Fat Albert in a film scenario erieely like this one.

10) I do get the sense that this film tried to capture the same sense of satire the show had with the whole 'RBTV' plot...except that said satire doesn't quite work. Just putting on the same shows we usually watch circa 2000 only with black suited spies is not satire, it's lazy. That being said, I admit I found the clips from 'Three Wacky Spies On A Horse Who Is Also A Spy' weirdly charming in its bizarreness.

Overall...a high holy mess that--like so many of the 'family movies' these days--is so busy trying to prove how hip it is and appeal to everyone, it ends up appealing to no one. There is an effort here, but one so confused that what little that's good about this movie is quickly submerged.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


"Of course I am a villian--I have a shouty voice
and a special know, like Dr. Doom!"
"Jo, it's all quite simple. I am he, and he is me--"
"And we are all together, goo goo gajoob?"

1) Let's be honest--the plot here has a potential for being thoroughly incidental since the main reason for this story to exist (written to commemorate the series' tenth anniversary) is to have all three Doctors hanging out together. And judged on that parameter, it is pretty cool, especially in the way writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin manage to capture the essence of each Doctor and rightly figure out how each incarnation would feel about each other.

2) And that's fortunate, because....well, this plot is kinda crap. It's very much of the five pounds of story in a ten pound sack mode, and lots of it is taken up with water treading and corridor walking and other time wasters.

3) And a big portion of those time wasters? The mass of characters wandering around when The Doctors get to Omega's World. Baker and Martin seemed compelled to give equal time to Jo and The Brig and Benton and The Professor and That Game Warden Who's There Only So We Can Have A Punchline At The End Of Episode Four. The whole story gets congested and slows due to the overstuffed cast, and I think it would have benefited from a smaller group (even if there are admittedly good character bits individually).

4) At this point, the Brigadier is a shadow of his former self--but damn if I didn't get a charge out of his chewing out Sargent Benton and Jo, reminding them that they are still members of UNIT. It still gives one hope he won't become a straight man for the Doctor later down the line....
They fight, and fight, and fight and fight and fight....

5) What fascinates me the most is how The Doctors interact with each other. The Troughton Doctor seems horrified that he becomes the cynical, arrogant Pertwee Doctor, while Pertwee treats Troughton with contempt...but both seem to have extreme reverence for The Hartnell Doctor, a reverence I'd almost categorize as familial. It's almost as if the other incarnations recognize Hartnell as their father.

6) And speaking of Hartnell, given how badly he's succumbed to dementia at the time of this airing, it's really impressive how well he comes off. Those small scenes are vital and alive, and you almost don't notice the way Hartnell is scanning the background for his lines. I only wish he got to actually interact in the flesh with the other two.

7) I know there are some people who think Stephen Thorne's Omega is a bit over-the-top, and frequently you can see some pieces of scenery in his (lack of) teeth....but there's that one moment when he realizes what has happened to him and lets loose with this seemingly endless keening cry. That moment almost makes his Brian Blesseding worth it.

8) Okay, let me get this straight--due to a combination of your own willpower and access to a black hole, you've been able to construct an entire world from force of mind...and yet when you have to create these minions, you come up with barrel-shaped, one eyed, one clawed things that look like a mess of partially digested cherry jelly beans? Shame on you, Omega. Shame on you.
"Ere!  You!  We want to talk to you about how a future
incarnation of you is eating up all our brother jelly babies!"

9) The thing that galls me about the Designated Rural Comic Relief for this story is not that it exists--it's a Terrence Dicks supervised script, so there has to be some stoic rural stereotype--but that said Designated Rural Comic Relief permeates the story so much. This character is constantly around, at one point prominently in the background while The Brig and Sargent Benton has a conversation. And the fact that he's there only to set up a final comedy sting makes me roll my eyes.

10) I think this is maybe the second time we've seen Gallifrey, and I like how even though it's still not there yet, most of what we now accept as being Gallifrey--the robes, the frontpieces, etc. are in place already. This is still an embryonic form of the Doctor's people, but I appreciate that we're getting there.

Overall...not a very good show, this story still is watchable thanks primarily to the great interaction between the three doctors of the title.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ten Statements About....CABIN THE THE WOODS (2012)

"Hello?  Spam delivery here!"
"They're zombified, pain-worshipping, backwoods idiots."
"But they're our zombified, pain-worshipping, backwoods idiots."

1) Hope you like monsters!

No,'ll have to stick around for a bit, but if you're patient, this film becomes Crazy Monster Heaven.

2) I'm beginning to wonder if Joss Whedon, who co-wrote and produced this film, is one of those so-called 'geniuses' like Douglas Adams who has a limited amount of ideas and just recycles them under different trade dresses throughout his career. There are elements in this film that are either direct lifts or minor alterations from such previous Whedon works as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (especially Season Four) and Dollhouse. This in no way interferes with my enjoyment of the show, but it's hard to ignore that this is a story that has a prosthetic limb or two of previous Whedon entries.

3) Similarly, it's hard to escape the presence of The Whedon Day Players in this flick. Hell, one of the main characters--a character that you could argue is the hero--is played by Fran Krantz, who was the mastermind behind The Dollhouse in Dollhouse, and is actually playing a character who is something of a variation on that one. The only Whedon Regulars who seems to be playing a character who's actually a character is Amy Acker's Chem Tech Lin.

4) Since this film was shot two years and change ago (its release was delayed due to original producer MGM's financial problems), it's kind of a shock to see Chris Hemsworth in a decidedly slimmer form....doubly so given he's playing The Jock in this Archetype parade.
Ladies and are the real monsters of this

5) Of course, one of the strengths of this film is how gleefully the film embraces our expectations and laughs at them, twisting and turning things until we literally don't know what's going to happen next--and that includes that last twist, where Whedon and director/co-writer Drew Goddard pull the trigger on something we literally assume they never will.

6) And another strength is that the script plays fair. Every shock and twist is set up--even the one that leads to Hemsworth's fate is set up so early in the film I actually forgot about what he's about to run into until it's too late. And credit to the two for working out a rationale for the whole scenario and why it plays out the way it does.

7) You know, I haven't mentioned Bradley Whitford's Hadley at all. This is the best performance of all, primarily because at the core Whitford is a white collar drone just doing his job, taking what little joy in a horrifying job where he can find it....which makes what was, for me, the single scariest moment in the film work.

8) Here's an example of shakey cam working for the film, and not against it--the reason for the switch to that style of shooting, that everything has suddenly been thrown into chaos by the actions of our heroes and so many things are happening at once, makes it acceptable. Of course, the fact that Goddard still manages to make the important developments (including a hilarious payoff to Hadley's story) very clear to us allows us to tolerate this choice toward shakiness even more.
If you ever wanted to know what it would look like for a cute
blonde to make out with a stuffed wolf's your chance.

9) I also like how sometimes the script allows Hadley and his partner, Richard Jenkins' Sitterson, to stand in for when they mock Tim deZarn's Mordecai, the Gatekeeper for the scenario.

10) Given the absolutely insane little glimpses we get of Japan's arm of this operation (prompting Hadley at one point to quip, "How difficult is it to kill nine-year olds?"), I almost regret not seeing more of the scenarios around the world. Hell, we've got something like eight different nations referred to....aren't they each worth a minute or two?

Overall...even with my Whedon-wariness, I love this fucked up, clever movie. This is a fun rollercoaster of a movie--and even if you may not be on board during the first half's stalk-n-slash satire, I guantee you that the last half hour will have you grinning like a ghoul. Easily one of the better horror films I've seen in the last few months, if not a year.

I went to the Loews Village 7 to see this. The trailers were a strange mix of comedy and horror films, including Looking For A Friend For The End of The World (which actually seems like it might be fun, although I kept wondering what is in the air this year that's prompting so many 'End of The World' films); Chernobyl Diaries (...dear Oren Peli...stop that found footage crap. Please...) and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (another reason that my blood now runs cold every time I see Tim Burton's name on a trailer).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ten Statements About....WRATH OF THE TITANS (2012)

"I am a Titan!  Behold My Wrathy Goodness!"
"You want me to say it, brother? You want me to say I'm afraid? Doesn't that go without saying? When mortals die, their souls go somewhere - there's no place where gods go when they die! There's nothing, just oblivion..."

1) Now I'm not sure if it was because I came in a minute or two late, or if it was because I had not seen the first film in this iteration....but there are moments where I was totally lost, and couldn't figure out who was who, what their relationship were and what the actual plot was. After a bit, I found it best to just not worry about this and let the silliness wash over me.

2) Even though there were a couple of moments where I was shocked at how aged she looked, on the whole I was extremely happy seeing Rosamund Pike running around in battle armor and being all shouty---however, I definitely preferred her as a redhead. And while we're on the subject of Rosamund Pike....

3) I know Pike's Queen Andromeda is in this film primarily so Perseus has someone to snog (what, you guys couldn't get Gemma Atherton back?)...but the script by Dan Mazeau and David Leslie Johnson (off a story by the two of them and Greg Berlanti) seems to leave the character arc that brings them both together woefully underdeveloped. It's almost like we're supposed to assume that Andromeda's had the whim-whams for Perseus all this time, and was waiting for his wife to pass on.

4) As much as I dislike CGI, I have to admit that there are some moments here that are pulled off very well. The flying sequences with Perseus astride Pegasus, in particular, were very striking in the way the horse seemed to be using its canter to move itself through the air. There's a definite sense that this CGI team is putting thought in the weight and movement some of these creatures have.

5) That being, The actual Titan that's being all Wrathy is a confused, badly designed mess. Of all the monster sequences, it's the most disappointing as I simply had no idea what the Hell was happening.
"This is....SPARTA--I mean a Giant Hand!"

6) Okay, we get it--you guys think the little robot owl in the original Clash of The Titans sucked....dragging it out again to have Bill Nighy's Hespestus yell at it is just, well, gratuitous.

7) I know there are a number of people, including my friend and partner on BiTD Derrick Ferguson, who think Sam Worthington is a real cool action actor. I just don't see it. He seems cut from the same Generic Historic Fantasy Hero cloth as Geoffrey Butler in 300 and Henry Cavil in Immortals. Hell, he actually comes off as somewhat underwhelming at times.

8) You know who else is underwhelming? Edgar Ramirez' Ares. A villain like this is supposed to be sly enough to trick Zeus and Hades and be nasty enough to give Perseus pause....but truth be told, Ramirez comes off as a petulant child (which, let's be fair, he is) with not enough guile and cleverness to fool me, let alone the three patriarchal Gods of Greek Myth. And it also doesn't help that his moves don't ever come off as a surprise--the script sets things up so neatly that when Ares rocks up to slaughter his worshipper about halfway through, we're so well prepared all we can do is yawn.
It is Rosamund Pike dressed as a warrior queen about to lead
a band of Grecian bad-asses in beating you up.  Your argument
is no longer valid.

9) I think I'd rather watch Liam-Neeson-In-A-Spangly-Robe instead of Liam-Neeson-In-Dungeons-And-Dragons-Cosplay-Robes.

10) The thing I find the most amusing is that the characters with the strongest arcs here aren't Perseus and's Zeus and Hades. Now maybe this is because Liam Neeson and Ralph Finees are such good actors they dug out a character arc where there was none, but I have to admit I got involved with the reconciliation of these two beings in the form of men, and loved how a major portion of the climax is the two of them standing side by side fighting for mankind.

Overall...even though there are some grace notes provided by Neeson, Finnes, Pike and others, you can never quite escape the sense that this is not bad, it's not's just Product.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ten Statements About....JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS (2001)

It is three hot girls (well, two hot girls and Tara Reid) washing
a car.  Your argument is no longer valid.
"And when the going gets tough--"
"The tough make lemonade!"

1) You want to know just how unintentionally wonderful I find this film? It's the only movie where I enjoy the presence of my ex Tara Reid (It's a long story I don't wish to talk about...but let's just say everyone knows you never give a dog chocolate...). The role of Melody is perfectly suited for her vapid, empty headed persona, and her presence here enhances the film.

(Still doesn't mean I didn't cheer on Carson Daly when he tried to bludgeon Reid to death with a baseball bat....)

2) I think one of the key things that makes the script by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan work is how it embraces the pitfalls of its remit and forces them to work for them. By making the entire film a satire of product placement and the nature of pop music circa 2001, it makes the product placement carpet bombing of the film an integral part of the film's joke.

What's shinier--the CD case, or Alan Cummings' complexion?
3) Every great film needs a great villain--and while an argument could be made for Parker Posey's Fiona as said villain, my favorite is Alan Cummings' Wyatt Frame. Everything about this character, from his usage of famous song lyrics as the names of his nefarious plans to his oily appearance to his strange malapropism, embodies everything I love about Cummings as a performer. Both he and Posey are so perfectly placed in this insane microcosm of a world the film builds that I'm always disappointed when we get to their climatic reveals in the third act.

4) For a movie that should be cynical, even mean, in its conception and narrative--we are talking about a film which has product placement and talk of merchandising its heroines built in--it's surprisingly sweet and gentle thanks primarily to the central three performances. I don't know if Reid, Rosario Dawson and Rachel Leigh Cook knew each other before being in the movie or spent a lot of time together during pre-production, but their friendship feels very real throughout, and its their chemistry and affection that keeps the film from descending into cold, mercenary calculation.

5) I give respect to Elfont and Kaplan for not only breaking the fourth wall, but driving a big wrecking ball right through it...but they wisely establish this early and pick and choose those moments well so that the gags--like when Missi Pyle answers her brother's question about what she's doing here by claiming she was in the comic book, or when the film calls attention to the unlikeliness of the band's meteoric rise in one week--don't jar at all.

6) If there is a weakness in the central trio, it may be the presence of Rachel Leigh Cook as Josie. It's not that she isn't good--she is--but that she tends to be overshadowed by her two co-stars. Cook in particular seems to pale a little whenever she's on-screen with Rosario Dawson's Valerie, who just has a level of charisma she just doesn't have. I admit that the red dye job is also pretty distracting, as its so obviously a dye job, and it seems to emphasize her, ummm, generous chin.

7) This film would have collapsed in a second if the music was lackluster--and thankfully, this probably has one of the greatest collection of power pop songs written for a fictitious band since The Monkees. Written by a raft of power pop luminaries including my beloved Fountain of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, the luscious former frontwoman of Letters To Cleo Kay Hanley (who provided the vocals for Cook) and others, they're perfect lil' nuggets of tuneage and seem exactly like the kind of songs three girls from a small town would write if they're trying to write pop songs.
This is the only film where product placement actually works...

8) You know, for a film that's supposed to be a frothy, silly little comedy, it manages to create a coherent world--and sticks to it. Elfont and Kaplan create this wonderfully subversive history about this conspiracy to control the minds of teenagers and never violates that history for the sake of a gag. Hell, they manage to make the exposition moment explaining all this into one of the funniest sequences of the film thanks to Fiona's presentation of the Eugene Levy hosted presentation film.

9) Now this is the type of film where montages are expected, and there are loads of them. But the genius of these montages is how Elfont and Kaplan work to make each one a little different and distinct--not just through the music, but though the settings, the cutting, and even the storytelling. I was particularly taken with 'Pretend To Be Nice,' which illustrates our heroine's rise to popularity by having them literally climb a giant Billboard chart.

10) I have only mentioned Parker Posey in passing, and part of the reason is that her role is a bit problematic. Yes, she's gorgeous as always, and yes, she has one of my favorite moments in the entire film....but there are frequent moments where she's so over the top she ceases becoming a parody and becomes something of an embarassment, and the subplot that involves her lisping like a duck when stressed just comes off as odd. She doesn't kill the film--far from it--but she is responsible for some of the rare sour notes.

Overall...I continue to marvel at how much affection I have for this, a film that should represent everything I hate about modern movie making...but I do, thanks to its inherent sweetness and surprising cleverness in how it takes on its remit. Don't let its rep as a bomb scare you away!

Oh, and here's some proof that the music rocks....

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Even with the wacky hair and the razor, Johnny Depp manages
not to overact....
"At arm is complete again."

1) I'm convinced there is an exceptional Broadway musical director fighting to get out of Tim Burton's body. One of the absolute brilliant things about this film is how easily the story flows, carried forward on the strength of its songs and the way he directs the film so it feels like a stage play when it needs to, and opens up when it doesn't....

2) ....and another brilliant thing is how this group of actors you think wouldn't be able to carry musical numbers succeed because Burton is able to recast much of Sondheim's songs (many of which utilize complex time changes, harmonies and dissonant lyrics) so that they're talk-singing their way through it. And because so much is talk-singing, it gives certain actors--especially Johnny Depp--the confidence to try full on singing.

3) You'll notice that this film utilizes a muted color pallete throughout its running time unlike many later Burton features where said muted pallete gives way to a much brighter one...and I think Burton could benefit from abandoning those damn eccentric candy color swirls and doing something more subdued like this more often....because those bright colors distract from Burton's storytelling abilities in other films, but here the moments where the bright colors appear (i.e. every time there is a throat slitting) empasizes the horror and shock of those moments.
Look!  Sasha Baron Cohen is using a funny accent...and
is actually good!

4) Why is it I love Sascha Baron Cohen except when his dialogue is written by Sascha Baron Cohen? I ask this because, quite frankly, he's brilliant as Pirelli.

5) Another performance I love is Timothy Spall's as Beadle Bamford. Not just because it is successful in its all-out oiliness...but because somehow with his body language and his appearance, Spall seems to have walked straight out of the illustrations for the Penny Dreadfuls from which this story originally came from.

6) As much as I dislike CGI...okay, loathe CGI...this is what it should be used for--enhancing the look of a film, making London look like a sinister picture book of the London of old. I can even respect the somewhat clumsy use of CGI blood in a few key moments at the film's climax, as using the slower flowing blood in those kills seem to be a subliminal cue that these are the murders Sweeney will learn to regret.

7) I didn't notice until this viewing how 'By The Sea' has a darkly funny staging thanks to the way Depp seems thoroughly out of it as Bonham Carter's Mrs. Lovett is planning their upcoming fantasy life. And speaking of which...

8) I'm really of two minds when it comes to Helena Bonham Carter's Lovett. She's very much underplaying it, which seems to make her more monstrous than Sweeney--after all, Sweeney's horrors are spurred forward by what Judge Turpin did to him, while Lovitt's is done out of practical capitalism--but there's a ring of falseness to the way she continues to go along with 'Mr. T' even when it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that he is working at his own purposes to the exclusion of hers.
"Didn't you once rob Nakatoni Plaza?"

9) While it is a delight to see Alan Rickman being Mean Ol' Rickman...I can't help but think that he's not exactly stretching himself here, that this is just a bit of lazy casting facilitating some lazy acting.

10) While it's obvious from almost the introduction of the romantic subplot that it's only there because it was there in the stage play, the way Burton literally forgets to pay off on it, satisfied with leaving Joanna in the chair and forgetting about Anthony almost entirely once the climax is in high gear makes his disinterest clear.

Overall...arguably the best of Burton's later films thanks to his eschewing of what has become his stylistic crutches, this succeeds both as a musical and as a full-on, grand guignol horror film.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944)

Apparently in the afterlife, you're made to dress as if you were
in the school play....
"You don't know about this woman, my first wife Irena. You don't know what happened to her just because she told lies to herself and believed them."

1) And here we have, yet again, another film that couldn't have been made in the here and now, simply because this film chooses to move forward from the original while violently changing its tone away from a horror and into a family fantasy steeped in psychology and fairy tale mythology. Hell, I wonder how they pulled it off back in 1944.

2) Maybe it was her accent, but after watching this I wonder why Simone Simon didn't have a larger career. She's got this definite charisma that draws your eye, and even though she has a very small part, the scenes she's in she just dominates.

(Update: After hearing the commentary, it turns out Simone Simon didn't have a larger career because she was a nasty, complaining lil' nit....)

3) I love how the script by DeWitt Bodeen (with uncredited assists from producer Val Lewton) seeds the story with a number of fairy-tale analogs that help emphasizes that this story is a fantasy about story telling. Mrs. Farrin's house, in particular, is unapologetically the movie's witch's house...although the script flips the story elements so that it's Elizabeth Russell's Barbara and not old Mrs. Farrin who's the witch....
She may live in a witch house, but this is not the witch...

4) God, do I love Nicholas Musuraca's cinematography. It totally plays to Lewton's sensibilities, and many of the visual compositions--like the sequences where we see how Ann Carter's Amy segues from the real world to the fantasy one occupied by Irena--are breathtaking.

5) Okay, let's get the biggest weakness out of the way...I recognize that Ann Carter's performance as Amy is in keeping with the standard of child actors of the day, and that this breathy, recitation-style of emoting was acceptable back then. But, to be fair, it does not age well, and in the modern age her performance can grate, as can....

6) ...for different reasons, Sir Lancelot as Edward, the Reed's butler/cook. Edward, quite frankly, is ever-present, talks in a pronounced accent and seems to be, well, not very competent in his job. I'd almost assume that Edward is a comic relief character except that he's treated totally seriously--even with respect by the Reeds. It's a weird performance, weirdly written that might have made sense at the time but now makes no sense.

7) It's to the credit of Lewton as a producer that he uses major footage shot from two separate directors....yet the film itself looks seamless, especially when you look at scenes where shots from both Gunther Von Fritsch and Robert Wise are intergrated in the same scene.
The real hero of this production may very well be Nicholas
Musuraca's cinematography....

8) Another thing I don't think they could get away with if they remade this--much like in the original, this film never commits one way or another, leaving it to the audience to decide if what they're watching is just a figment of Amy's imagination or an actual ghost story.

9) Even though this film does carry over many characters from the original, the most intriguing figure has to be Elizabeth Russell's Barbara Farrin. I won't go so far as to say that Russell, who appeared as Irena's countrywoman in the original, was beautiful--but she certainly was striking, and I like how the film may give us visual cues to make us think of Barbara as the real witch in this movie's witch house...yet seems to have a strange bit of sympathy for her, never letting us forget that her madness and extreme actions come out of living as an outcast from her mother's love.

10) I like how this film not only completes Amy's character arc--allowing her to integrate her imaginary life with her real life in a way that makes her a fully functioning person--but Oliver's--allowing him to finally accept what happened to his first wife and making unafraid to discuss her.

Overall...while prolly not what people who saw the original expected, a wonderful and unexpected little psychological fantasy that takes elements of the first story and builds on them to create something unique.