Archive for September, 2009
Monday, September 14th, 2009
“I miss you, baby polar bears.”
“We miss you too, mommy polar bear.”
Go Diego Go! is a spinoff of Dora The Explorer, but there are some key differences between the shows. Dora has a singing magical map, while Diego has a singing magical backpack. Dora asks you to point things out on the screen for her, like the location of the hidden crystals, or Swiper the Fox. Diego, on the other hand, makes you do stuff. You have to get up and jump. Or you have to sit on the floor and pretend to dig. Or you pretend to pull on a rope. In short, it’s a lot more active than Dora. More implausible (if I make a digging motion on the floor, will it really help the cartoon digging polar bears on the screen? I doubt it.) But more active.
Diego’s Arctic Rescue, out September 15th from Paramount Home Entertainment, focuses on a Mommy Polar Bear who has been swimming for hours looking for food. The arctic ice has been dwindling of late, you see, because of global warming. And polar bears need the ice so they can stand on it to hunt. And as the weather gets warmer and warmer, and the ice melts more and more, their hunting grounds have become depleted. Often, the bears swim out to sea in search of more ice, and drown from sheer exhaustion before they find any. They are the canary in the coal mine of global warming. Or at least one of many canaries in many coal mines.
This DVD actually touches on this, albeit extremely briefly. The plight of the polar bears is explained quickly. It’s getting warmer and it’s tougher for Mommy Polar Bear to find food. That’s good enough. Now, two of her Baby Polar Bears are stranded across the arctic with no food. Diego asked me whether a pogo stick, a tricycle or a jet ski would be best for rescuing the Mommy Polar Bear from the frigid arctic water. I knew I was supposed to go with the jet ski, because it was the third item. It’s always the third item. But I couldn’t in good conscience, tell him to take the jet-ski. Tough and powerful though your jet-ski might be, I just didn’t see him being able to pull a 2,000-pound starving bear out of the arctic waters with it. At least, not without being eaten.
Fortunately, Diego speaks Polar Bear, and Polar Bears don’t eat Diegos. Apparently, according to this DVD, they don’t eat seals either. You see, they need the ice so they can make holes in it to eat. Then, they wait by those holes for fish to leap up in the air, out of the holes, ready to be eaten. I’m pretty sure I have never seen anything like that on the Discovery Channel. Perhaps the idea of bears eating cute little seals would be too much for the poor, frightened children watching this show. So,…Polar Bears just eat fish…right…
One truly annoying thing about this DVD is that Diego constantly refers to the Mommy Polar Bear as Mommy Polar Bear, and the baby polar bears as Baby Polar Bears. He also refers to his assistant, a baby jaguar, as Baby Jaguar. This bothers me because it seems rather disrespectful. Diego doesn’t care about anyone enough to actually learn their names. He just refers to them by age and species. I kept really hoping that Baby Jaguar would give up on calling Diego “Diego”, and start referring to him as “hey, Spanish Kid”. Then again, the Baby Polar Bears called their mom Mommy Polar Bear too. Perhaps animals have no names at all in this series.
Also irritating is the fact that people show up in the oddest of places. Diego’s sister Alicia just happens to be driving her boat around the arctic, as Diego passes by and needs a lift. Dora the Explorer just happens to be tooling around in her helicopter, presumably searching for some kind of sky-crystal, when Diego and Alicia need a ride back to Mommy Polar Bear. What are all these people doing just hanging out this far north? It’s dangerous up there, especially for a ten-year-old ship’s captain and a seven-year-old helicopter pilot.
But of course, they were all safe. And they rode a whale. And they leapt over (with my help) some seals and some walruses and a blue whale. And the Polar Bears, Mommy and Nameless Babies, were safe and sound. So was the Spanish kid and the Little Girl and the Chick with Helmet Hair.
Friday, September 11th, 2009
“Look at it Adam. Feast thine eyes on a scene that approacheth heaven itself.”
The theme music is some of the best-known in the world. The cast is as American as apple pie. Or cheese-covered deep-fried Oreos. The guys I hang out with (Doc and Woody and Randall) can rhyme off the cat the way I can rhyme off the roster of the Boston Red Sox. The Ponderosa. Hoss and Little Joe and Ben and Adam. Everything about Bonanza is familiar and comforting. Even to me. And until today, I had never seen an episode of the show. And yet, seeing it for the first time, I was comforted and assuaged and relaxed simply by the easy regularity of the show, the second-longest-running Western show (behind Gunsmoke) in television history.
Bonanza lasted 14 seasons, which means that according to my math, and the rate at which Paramount Home Entertainment releases TV series on DVD, we can look forward to about 20 years of reissues and DVD box sets. Which works for me. It gives me 20 years to look forward to stuff. You know, Bonanza stuff. The opening scene in the opening episode is incredibly cheesy and old. Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) waxes eloquent as he surveys the land around him (the Ponderosa) and compares it to heaven. I was laughing right away, and looking forward to a cheesy, dated television series that could make me smile.
I was (sort of) disappointed when I started to watch, however. It turns out that Bonanza is no more dated than any of the Western movies that were filmed in the same era. The cast is superb (especially Michael Landon as Little Joe), and the writing is quite good. Each episode is reasonably gritty and tough and badass, and the first season boils down to a final episode which is very reminiscent of some of the coolest westerns of the day, including Rio Bravo and El Dorado. The sherriff in Virginia City is overmatched by a gang who have taken over the town, and the Cartwright boys are deputized to help him out, perhaps at the cost of their own father’s life.
Of course, knowing that the series lasted another 13 years, I assumed that Lorne Greene would not be killed. And of course he wasn’t. And I really do have a lot to look forward to watching over the next 20 years. As Paramount releases each season, one volume at a time. At least they’ve released the first two volumes together this time, so you can get the entire first season at once. I appreciate that, although I would still wish to see one season in one volume. I can’t imagine who would purchase Season One Volume Two and not Season One Volume One, but that opportunity is out there for that one guy. It’s out there from Paramount Home Entertainment, on September 15th.
One Step Beyond Official First Season & 50th Anniversary Special Edition. On DVD September 15th. (*******7/10)
Friday, September 11th, 2009
“What you’re about to see is a matter of human record. Explain it? We can’t. Disprove it? We can’t. We simply invite you to explore with us the amazing world of the unknown.”
There is something breathtakingly cheesy about One Step Beyond, an old TV show about “true stories” of a paranormal variety. The cheesiness is apparent from the first frame of the first scene of the first show, and yet, it’s glorious. I revel in the cheese. I absorb the cheese. I get absolutely ecstatic about the cheese. Host John Newland walks onto the screen, and intones somberly some claptrap about real people and real stories and real situations, and the paranormal…and then the episode begins.
Each half-hour episode is based on a true story, re-enacted by some cheesy actors doing cheesy things and cheesing it up big-time. These shows have been done several times since. All kinds of TV series have used “true stories” of the paranormal in order to add an air of authenticity to the whole thing. most have been reasonably slick presentations, but the original, One Step Beyond, is not one of those productions. From the opening episode, where a woman becomes possessed with the spirit of a murdered girl on her wedding night, through the rest of the first season, the cheese cuts through each scene in spectacular fashion.
I liked the episode about the woman who was chased and almost murdered by the ghost of some guy who murdered his wife in the same room years earlier and was then executed. I liked the one about the woman who finds her crying husband in the bottom of a ditch under his car following a storm. Ah, what am I saying? I like them all. I like them mostly because of John Newland. Not only does he add an air of preposterous certainty to the opening theme, but he also introduces the episode in suitably grave fashion. And then, the most awesome thing about One Step Beyond, he walks onto the screen at the very end of the episode, as the actors exit stage left, to say some grave and important things in conclusion once the episode is done.
It’s all so very glorious and silly, and yet classic. Seen as a television show, One Step Beyond most certainly doesn’t hold up over time. But seen as a time capsule, as a show that could have existed only in 1959 and at no other time, it’s spellbinding and bonkers. And I love it. How this show didn’t become the biggest cult classic supernatural show of all time is beyond me. It’s like Plan 9 From Outer Space, except the televised version. Of course, it’s better than Plan 9. But it shares that cheesy sensibility that made the film such a terrific cult classic. And this TV series is similar, and wonderful.
Friday, September 11th, 2009
“No one is forcing you to do the material on this video.
You do this stuff at your own risk.
If you do it right, you could win beer.
If you do it wrong, you could end up with a broken jaw.
Please drink responsibly.”
There are three DVDs in the Modern Con Man Collection, out September 15th from First Run Features. The first is How To Scam Your Way to Free Beer, the second is Poker-Night Games, and the third is Workplace Pranks. The first, Free Beer, is OK. I can see pulling some of these stunts on my friends at the bar. There is a cue ball trick that could be fun, and an upside-down match bit that I plan to use next time I’m at Tail Gators for our football day. But the “pick-up lines” that show up between the scams are absolutely dreadful, and on my worst day I would never be caught dead using any of them. The weakest of the three is Poker-Night Games. I will not be using any of these tricks the next time I’m at a poker game with my buddies.
The reason I won’t be pulling any of these scams on my buddies is that they pre-suppose that many things might happen. First, I will be bringing my own, already-marked deck of cards. Second, that my friends would be willing to let me shut down the entire poker game for a one-one-one poker showdown with just one person. And third, that I could somehow manage to pick ten cards, ten specific cards out of the deck, and use those in this one-on-one showdown. I find it very hard to believe that I could make any of these things happen in any way, at any time. Maybe my buddies are way too serious about their poker. Or maybe they’re normal and no one would ever let me do any of these things.
The thing about The Modern Con Man Collection is that the whole thing feels so dated. When I was about eight years old, I had a scam of my own. I was always the slowest kid in the schoolyard. And I would tell faster kids that I would race them to the opposite fence for a quarter. They would take me up on it, beat me easily, and when they came for their quarter I would say “I said I would race you, not that I would beat you”. I rarely got my quarter. Todd Robbins has a bunch of “scams” that rely on a similar principal – the idea that the way things are worded is more important than actually doing something cool. His peanut scam, his shot glass scams, in fact just about every bar scam, relies entirely on this principle. I was done with this principle when I was nine years old.
In fact, I would have really enjoyed this box set when I was nine years old. But if Todd Robbins sat down beside me at a bar, or a poker table, or in the next cubicle today, I would find him obnoxious, silly, and I would ignore him long before I actually participated in his scheme. I would find him really irritating, and I would not be friends with him. That being said, I find his DVDs strangely compelling. I am curious about the next scam. I want to know what his next bet will be, the next con. Most of them are, truly, lame. The only DVD that could possibly work is the Workplace Pranks one, because people are really bored at work and might respond positively to such silliness. But I wouldn’t count on it. I could be the most hated person in the office come Monday morning.
Friday, September 11th, 2009
There are good moments in Minnesota Cuke and the Search For Noah’s Umbrella. The end, where the characters suggest that believing everything you see in a cartoon is kinda bonkers, is nice. Some good lines, and a decent “silly song” about a Sippy Cup are solid as well. I like the idea of a Sippy Cup song. I have always hated sippy cups, even when I was allowed to stop using them. In 2005. The basic premise of the DVD, out September 15th from Alliance Films, is that Larry The Cucumber is Minnesota Cuke, and he must stop the evil Wicker before he get’s to Noah’s Umbrella first. Wicker believes that the umbrella is able to control the weather. Somehow.
What follows is basically an Indiana Jones type story where Minnesota Cuke fights his fear of being embarassed and conquers his demons just in time to save the damsel in distress, save the day, and save the world from Wicker and his umbrella. It’s all cute and stuff, and it’s alright for what it is, but it’s quite preachy. More so than most VeggieTales episodes and DVDs. Lots of God stuff, lots of proverbs and so forth. That’s OK, but I have one big problem with this DVD. And it’s likely not a problem most kids will have. But here it is.
Minnesota Cuke is clearly based on some kind of crazy Western hero, he has his gunslinger-type quirks, and yet he’s in an Indiana Jones movie, where he uses a rope and does all kinds of Harrison Ford type stuff. I know – it’s a kids show. And I get that it doesn’t have to fall into my own, silly, pre-conceived notions of movie tributes. But in the end, it’s just not that good. It’s presented as a movie, but it’s really just a really long double episode of the show. It’s 50 minutes, and it’s OK, but there is nothing exceptional, as I have seen before in Silly Songs and The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.
Friday, September 11th, 2009
[TV reporter] “A white male apparently fell from the sky above downtown Los Angeles today, landed in the middle of a busy intersection, destroying one vehicle and hospitalising its elderly driver,and then was removed from the scene even before emergency personnel could respond. Without a body the police have yet to piece together the events of the day. It can only be described as implausible.“
Country: United States
Starring: Jason Statham, Efren Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam, Bai Ling, Clifton Collins Jr, Reno Wilson
Eye candy: Amy Smart, lots of girls with naked boobs, Geri Halliwell, Jenna Haze, Monique Alexander
Cameos: Corey Haim, Ron Jeremy, David Carradine, Maynard James Keenan, Jose Pablo Cantillo
Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Where do you go after Crank? How can you possibly ratchet up the action? Well, it turns out you can’t. You can merely make a movie that is a reasonable approximation of the first, and without any real ideas in the second one, you just make a silly parody. It’s like one of those carbon copy papers. The first one is a reasonably close imprint, the second is a little more faded, and when you get to the fourth you can barely make out the words. Even though it is, ostensibly, exactly the same as the original.
And Crank 2 is, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same movie. It moves at 100 miles an hour. Now, thanks to some implausible medical chicanery, Jason Statham must now juice himself with electricity to stay alive, rather than cranking up his adrenaline as in the first one. All the main actors return. How is Efren Ramirez back, having died in the first one? He plays his own twin brother, of course. How is Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo) back, having died in the first movie? Well, he is now a floating head in water. Of course. And, the big question – having fallen thousands of feet from a helicopter in the sky at the end of Crank, how is Jason Statham still alive?
Well, it doesn’t really matter. The first movie was so devoted to bonkers implausibility that the plot of the second just continues the trend with idiotic reasoning behind just about everything. I’d explain how Statham lived, but it’s ridiculous and, ultimately, kind of irrelevant. But this is also the problem I have, more than anything, with Crank 2. It just doesn’t care. Not that the first was concerned with plot and character development and plausibility. But at least it paid lip service to those things. Now, all pretense of common sense has been abandoned, and we’re left to watch Jason Statham get electrocuted, over and over, while annoying characters do annoying things around him.
Vying for the title of Most Annoying Character In Crank 2 are Bail Ling and Efren Ramirez, who plays the twin brother of that guy who died in the first film. He has Full Body Tourettes. So he spazzes out, says strange things, and twitches. Just watching him twitch and spasm is (I assume) supposed to make me laugh. It makes me exasperated and bored. Bai Ling, who can be a fine actress, is terribly misused in the movie, as a girl who gets (incidentally) rescued from an abusive fat guy by Statham and chases him the rest of the movie thinking he’s her boyfriend. It’s a sad and depressing Asian stereotype character, and she is so shrill and ludicrous that every moment she’s on screen I want to cry. Or gouge out my eyes.
Oh, speaking of gouging out my eyes, sidebar – I have a pretty serious nipple-phobia. I can’t stand people touching my nipples, looking at nipple rings bothers me, and seeing nipples abused on screen is, for me, a lot like an arachnophobic person watching Arachnophobia. That means that I was not only disgusted by the nipple-slicing scene, but also scarred for a few hours. What angered me, more than anything else about the scene though, was how terribly unnecessary it was. I get it – it’s a sequel. Ramp up the cringe factor and the blood. But seriously? Was that funny to anyone? Or even close to reasonable? Excessive. That’s the word. Excessive. For both that scene and the entire movie.
It’s nice to revel in the excess of Crank. In fact, I really enjoyed the excess of Crank. I even enjoyed the ludicrous public sex scene. But the ludicrous public sex scene in Crank 2, (even though it features the ridiculously smoking hot Amy Smart), was kind of painful. It was also totally expected, I was just waiting for it, and when it came I fast-forwarded. I get it. You did it in the first movie. Let’s do it again, because it must have worked. The rest of the film is similar.
One thing that makes Crank 2 a little different is that the constant injections of electricity appear to make Jason Statham into a superhero. In Crank, the adrenaline made him crazy, gave him insane energy, and made him go off all half-cocked. Or, full-cocked, in one scene. In Crank 2, the constant electrocutions seem to be treated like spinach for Popeye. He flies through the air like he’s in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. He attacks people while he’s on fire, like he’s in The Fantastic Four. And he beats up scores of cops and bad guys and everyone else who’s around. Fine. But it’s way too much.
In the end, all I really got out of the film was a sense of accomplishment for pointing out the cameo appearances. Geri Halliwell and porn stars Ron Jeremy, Jenna Haze and Monique Alexander are instantly recognizeable. (Well, I got a friend to point out the “instantly recognizeable” porn stars for me…yeah…) But Corey Haim and David Carradine (R.I.P.) are terrifically disguised and it was only their voices that (just barely) gave them away. Then again, if that’s all I got from this movie, the movie was not very good.
Friday, September 11th, 2009
“Don’t talk to him like that! My boyfriend kills people!”
Country: United States
Starring: Jason Statham, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Efren Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam, Carlos Sanz, Reno Wilson
Eye candy: Amy Smart, lots of naked boobies
Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Run time: 88 minutes
There is an underrated movie from 1949 called D.O.A. where a man is poisoned, and has less than a day to solve his own murder. There is also an overrated movie from 1994 called Speed, in which a bus will explode if it’s speed drops below 50 miles per hour. If you take both movies and cram them together, you get Crank, a crazy wild ride of a movie starring Jason Statham. He is a hitman who has been poisoned, and he has to keep his adrenaline pumped or he will die.
What follows is the ultimate movie for the ADD video game culture. From the opening scene, Crank travels at 250 miles an hour. There isn’t much in the way of story line and there’s absolutely no character development, but if you can handle an hour and a half of frenetic action and jangled nerves, sit back and enjoy. Crank is as funny as it is intense, as Statham has to find more and more ridiculous ways to keep his adrenaline firing.
The action never stops, and the scenes get better and better, the way Metallica’s Seek and Destroy grabs you right away and piles one great riff after the other without stopping. Yes, it’s stupid. Yes, it’s utterly implausible. And yes, it’s poorly acted, poorly written and poorly constructed. But damn, is it ever fun!
Thursday, September 10th, 2009
“So there I was, hiding in this fridge.”
No one can accuse Old Jews Telling Jokes of false advertising. That’s what this movie is called, and that’s what this movie is. A bunch of old Jewish men (and a few women) telling jokes. Some of them are very funny, some of them are not so great, but they’re all told by non-professional people, each of whom adds their own perspective to jokes that are sometimes familiar and sometimes new. I had heard many of these jokes before (like the one about the rabbi who wanted to eat pork just once before he died, or the one about the guy hiding in the fridge). But the fact that many of the jokes are old adds to the charm of the film.
Old Jews Telling Jokes is fun. It’s like sitting with my old Uncle Johnny at his house, as he would regale me with joke after joke after joke. I remember, as a kid, being absolutely amazed that he seemed to know every joke in the world, and remember them word for word. I don’t know if he told them well. All I know is that sometimes someone will tell me a joke, or send it to me on email, and I will think “Uncle Johnny told me that one when I was four. Hmm. Still around, eh?” It’s that kind of familiarity you get with this film. It’s just 18 old Jews. Telling jokes. In front of a white screen. And it’s only 45 minutes long. But it’s 45 charming minutes.
Old Jews Telling Jokes comes out September 15th from First Run Features.
Thursday, September 10th, 2009
“This is the story of one Army batallion and one Iraqi village.”
Many of the best war films are ambiguous, in that they allow the viewer to interpret the film the way they see fit. Often, that means the viewer will see the movie they want to see it, coloured by their own bias. Full Battle Rattle is one of those films, and my viewing experience was most certainly coloured by my own vehement anti-war bias. But I can see supporters of the war in Iraq (if any of them still exist) finding this movie terrific in an entirely different way.
Documentary film makers Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss were given incredible access to Medina Wasl, a mock Iraqi village set up in the Mojave desert by the United States military. This is where American soldiers went before they were shipped off to Iraq. They would run through a three-week simulation involving the local “villagers”, who were played by Iraqi-Americans filling the various roles of mayor, or deputy mayor, or shopkeeper, and so forth. It seems that most of the actually dangerous “insurgents” are played by U.S. military personnel, freshly back from the war.
I’m talking in the past tense here because the installation in the Mojave has now been changed. What were once 13 mock Iraqi villages are now a series of mock Afghani villages, as the United States shifts its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. This film was shot in 2008, when Bush was still president and when the war in Iraq was still the big one. Gerber and Moss took their cameras behind the scenes to film one of these three week mock training campaigns, one of them filming on the side of the soldiers, and one on the side of the Iraqi “villagers”.
What ensues is almost (almost) a comedy. There are moments that are very funny, most of them unintentional. At times I felt like I was watching a mockumentary like Best In Show, Waiting For Guffman, or This Is Spinal Tap. One scene in particular sticks with me – although it shouldn’t be humourous, I laughed quite a bit when the American soldier discusses the authenticity of the severed limbs he has recreated painstakingly from the photos he took on the battlefield. It really sounds like he’s telling us that during actual battles in Iraq, he stopped to take pictures of the severed limbs of innocent citizens so he could make sure that this simulation was as real as possible.
He’s standing beside a giant pile of prosthetic limbs, which looks like the prop tent for a zombie movie. On one level, I understand the compulsion to make the scenario as “real” as it possibly can be. Without being actually “real” at all. But at the same time, if the soldiers do their jobs properly, the village shouldn’t end up with a pile of severed limbs, right? The whole thing is run kind of like one of those role-playing video games I see my stepson playing. If you do something wrong, then there are consequences. And your response to those consequences can either control the damage or allow the chaos to spiral out of control.
The most interesting people in the film are the Iraqi-Americans who work as role players in the mock Iraqi village. Some of them are facing deportation. Two charming girls are studying for citizenship exams in the United States. They all seem to like their jobs (what’s not to like? You get to act, have some fun, get paid and go home.) But some of them are conflicted, feeling as though they are selling out their country. I wondered for a while why they would feel that way – after all, they are helping the soldiers understand their country before they go over there. Hopefully, they are saving the lives of at least a few of their countrymen by educating the soldiers before their deployment.
But then, I’m not totally sure that they are educating the soldiers. The Iraqi role players don’t seem to have much say in the way the battle goes. It seems as though the Americans in charge of the scenario come to them and tell them what they’re going to do. They tell the deputy mayor that he has just lost his son, murdered by another young man in the village. He is to report this to one of the soldiers at the gate. When that soldier doesn’t respond properly, the deputy mayor must avenge his son’s death himself, sparking sectarian violence and a civil war. This is all an American-controlled scenario, however, and I’m not sure what the benefit is of having actual Iraqis acting as the role players if they don’t have any real input. At that point, they’re there simply because they look the part.
At the end of the three-week training assignment shown in Full Battle Rattle, the batallion has managed to screw things up enough to create a civil war within the village. There are dead soldiers and dead villagers everywhere. And then…the three weeks is up. They’ve completed their training. And, it’s off to Iraq. I would like to think that they were extensively debriefed after the training, and that it was explained to them where they went wrong. But I didn’t see that in the film, and I was left to speculate what the actual result of the botched training session might be.
Full Battle Rattle is eye-opening, and it’s interesting and educational, and it’s disturbingly funny. It seems to me that the army has spent millions upon millions of dollars building this mock village in the desert in California, so they had better use it for something. And now this same place is being used to prepare soldiers for Afghanistan. Full Battle Rattle does one thing exceptionally well, and it’s the main reason to watch. It provides a really illuminating and unbiased look at the American military mentality toward the war in Iraq and toward the Iraqi people. Sometimes, it’s very reassuring. Sometimes, it isn’t.
Full Battle Rattle comes out September 15th from First Run Features.
Tuesday, September 8th, 2009
“You go. I’ll hold them off.”
“We can’t just leave you…”
I included no “starring” section in my standard movie preamble up there above this sentence. That is because no one “stars” in a movie like Backwoods. Instead they just show up, and exist, in the film, and do little else. Instead, all that really matters in a movie like Backwoods is the eye candy. And in this instance, the eye candy is fairly good. Mimi Michaels is pretty darn hot, and I am now prepared to take back what I said about Haylie Duff after watching Legacy. (I said, just for the record, that she is not even close to hot enough to carry a movie like Legacy, which requires her to do little else except simply be hot.)
I rescind those statements, which should be pleasing to Bradley, who wrote a rather scathing comment on my review of that film claiming that Haylie Duff was, in fact, the hottest babe who ever lived. I am not willing to go that far by any means. After all, Amanda Peet is still running around out there somewhere. And I still believe that Haylie Duff was not right for Legacy. But it wasn’t that she wasn’t hot enough, it was that she was the wrong kind of hot. Only in watching Backwoods did I get an appreciation of the womanly virtues of Ms. Duff. I will now go so far as to say that she is certainly smoking. But she’s still a terrible actress and does rotten movies.
When two babes is about all a film has going for it, the film can’t be too terrific. And Backwoods is pretty bad. It’s one of those movies where a corporate office takes off into the wilderness to play paintball in some kind of team-building excercise only to be attacked by a hillbilly cult of drug-producing bible thumpers. Which is an odd combination. Either have them be a religious zealot militia, or a bunch of drug running soldiers. But not both. At least the meth lab makes for a reasonably entertaining explosion later on.
There are some implied rape scenes (but of course Haylie Duff, being the Main Eye Candy in the movie, is spared such horrible treatment). There is some blood, and there are some people set on fire, and people get arrows through the neck. But this appears to be a made-for-TV movie, which means that although it’s rated R for violence, it refuses to show boob. So the eye candy is there, but not all the way there, ever. Which makes little sense, in context or otherwise. There are scenes where the park ranger turns out to be a member of the creepy Family, and there is one gigantic gross unwashed guy in the cult who impregnates the women and of course can’t be killed because he is huge.
All of which means there is nothing new or interesting about Backwoods, and while I managed to develop a new appreciation of Haylie Duff’s comely good looks, that’s about all I got out of the movie. Well, that’s something. But if that’s the only thing I get out of a movie, it must, necessarily, be a pretty bad movie. And Backwoods most certainly is that. It comes out September 15th from Alliance Films.
Tuesday, September 8th, 2009
Pick of the week: Nitro Circus Season One (6/10): Kinda like Jackass, in that people do stupid things that might hurt them. But the people doing those things are highly skilled, and might actually be able to land the tricks they attempt. That makes this show way cooler than Jackass.
Blu-Ray pick of the week: The New World Extended Cut (9/10): This is a truly dreadful week for Blu-Ray releases, with some of the worst movies ever made coming out. Catwoman, The Postman, Over the Top, and others. The best one though is The New World, which will be amazing to look at in Blu-Ray format.
Crank 2: High Voltage: The first one was fun, and I liked it. The idea that a sequel could be made is vaguely ludicrous, but then again so was the first movie. Don’t put anything past Hollywood.
Meteor (4/10): A made-for-TV movie about a meteor that is going to shatter the Earth. But it is not Earth shattering. Haha. It’s the kind of movie where a meteor is going to wipe out life as we know it on Earth, but the only way the heroic U.S. forces can convince the Russians to help is to tell them it’s going to land in Moscow.
The Informers: An intriguing cast, led by Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke and Winona Ryder. However, I’ve heard nothing but bad things about it.
Important Things With Demetri Martin Season One (7/10): A pretty funny sketch comedy – stand-up comedy – prop comedy show from Demetri Martin, whose delivery is top-notch. Worth checking out.
Dance Flick: Another movie. About dancing. This one, however, is done by the Wayans group. It will therefore be far better than Epic Movie and Date Movie and all that. But it may not be as good as Scary Movie. Which isn’t saying much at all.
Criminal Minds Season Four (6/10): Still a solid show. Paget Brewster reminds my way too much of Anjelica Huston, and Thomas Gibson reminds me way too much of Dharma And Greg – era Thomas Gibson, but I really like Joe Mantegna and the rest of the cast.
Valentino: The Last Emperor: This has nothing to do with emperors. Or anything that one might associate with emperors. It’s about the clothing designer. So…choose accordingly.
The Chaos Experiment (3/10): This is actually called The Steam Experiment outside North America. That makes more sense. Because this movie has nothing to do with chaos or chaos theory or anything even remotely smart. But it sure thinks it does. Nice naked Eve Mauro though.
Surveillance: Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman track a serial killer. Remember Bill Pullman? No, not Paxton.
The Meerkats (5/10): Not nearly as cool as Meerkat Manor, because it doesn’t show the complex social hierarchy of the meerkat families. But there is a little more animal-on-animal violence, and some cool animals that aren’t meerkats.
The Office, Season Five: Still one of the best shows on television.
Harper’s Island (6/10): Another vaguely crappy made-for-TV miniseries. I can see this one being compelling if you’re watching it each week for an hour for thirteen weeks. Watching it all, back to back, for 13 hours, just doesn’t hold up as well.
Also out this week:
Fringe Season One
Alvin And The Chipmunks Go To The Movies: Star Wreck
Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Very First Alvin Show
On Blu-Ray this week:
Crank 2: High Voltage
Equator: Reef of Riches
Freddy vs. Jason
Fringe Season One
Heroes of World Class
Menace II Society
The Office Season 5
Over The Top
The Quick and the Dead
Rainier the Mountain
Requiem For A Dream
Set It Off
Valentino: The Last Emperor
On DVD next week:
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (5/10)
Observe And Report
Blood And Bone
Grey’s Anatomy Season Five
Barbie And the Three Musketeers
Bionicle: The Legend Reborn
Bodyguard: A New Beginning
Go Diego Go! Diego’s Arctic Rescue
Nick Jr. Favourites: All Star Sports Day!
Nick Jr. Favourites: Animal Friends!
Nick Jr. Favourites: Celebrate Family!
The Strawberry Shortcake Movie: The Sky’s The Limit!
On Blu-Ray next week:
An American Werewolf in London
Army of Darkness
Cinco De Mayo: The Battle
Crash: Complete First Season
Grey’s Anatomy Season Five
The Hannibal Lecter Collection
The Legend of Drunken Master
My Name Is Earl Fourth Season
The Ultimate Force of Four (Hero / Iron Monkey / Legend of Drunken Master / Zatoichi)
The Wonder of it All
Wrong Turn 2: Dead End
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman
Monday, September 7th, 2009
“He was an honest man, and he didn’t deserve any of what happened to him”
Country: United States
Starring: Sharlto Copley, David James, Vanessa Haywood
Director: Neil Blomkamp
Producer: Peter Jackson
Run time: 112 minutes
District 9 is a strange, wonferful movie. It’s thought-provoking and silly. It’s smart and bonkers. It’s violent and sad. There is a little bit of everything in the film, except for romance. There is no romance at all. Unless you count the trumped-up tabloid pictures of Wikus Van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) having sex with aliens. The movie is set in Johannesburg, South Africa in an alien internment camp. The extra-terrestrials have come to Earth, and their ship appears to have stalled above South Africa. The aliens did not attempt to make contact, they had no revelatory technology to share with the human race, and there was no attack. They were just sick, and we went into their ship to cut them out.
The governments of the world had no idea what to do with the aliens, so they stuck them in this internment camp and began practicing a type of human-alien apartheid. Which is why the choice of South Africa is so poignant. As the movie points out, It’s quite a surprise that the ship didn’t come down over New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles, but rather over Johannesburg. In a way, this is a shot at the Independance Days of the world where all kinds of familiar scenery gets blown up as the good guys flee the aliens past the Empire State Building and the White House and so forth. In another way, though, it’s just a cool addition to this film, which does everything differently.
I have heard this movie compared to Independance Day, the X-Files, and other films, but all of that misses the mark. District 9 is something entirely new. This is one of the most original Sci-Fi alien movies I have ever seen, and it turns the entire genre on its ear. The filming is brilliant, using a combination of hand-held cameras and news footage and regular cameras to tell its story. There are scenes that remind me of the incredible work done in Children of Men, and others that are as chaotic and difficult to follow as Cloverfield. It all comes together to form an incredible whole, and some of the scenes (the helicopters rising to meet the alien spacecraft, for example) are breathtaking.
While the references to apartheid, intolerance and the marginalization of minorities are too obvious to ignore, they are just the framework of the movie, rather than the thrust. Really, the movie is about one guy, Wikus Van de Merwe. Who has a really oddly awkward name for the main character in a cheesy sci-fi flick. Wikus works at MNU (Multi-National United), a company that has been tasked with keeping order in the alien compound, which has now become a slum complete with weapons dealers and drug dealers. Much of this is incredibly silly and often quite amusing – the “drugs” in question happen to be cat food, which is highly addictive to this alien race. So they deal cans of cat food.
Wikus is charged with going in to serve eviction notices to the aliens. The people of Johannesburg have grown tired of the aliens living in their midst, in this slum. They have been there for 20 years, and have become scavengers. So MNU and Wikus are tasked with moving the entire slum to a new, more secure and more high-tech internment camp far outside the city limits. As Wikus describes it later, this new camp is really a concentration camp. But that’s something he thinks about only much later, as he starts the movie blissfully ignorant of the fact that the alien creatures (which are referred to by the derogatory term “prawns”) might have brains and feelings and needs, just like human beings.
Quickly, however, Wikus has an unfortunate accident which involves him being sprayed in the face by an alien substance of some kind. And when he starts to turn into an alien himself, he becomes the most valuable man in the world to the government. You see, the aliens have incredibly, high-power weapons that the government is desperate to use. But those weapons are engineered to be used only by the aliens themselves. Only someone with alien DNA can operate these things, which have been confiscated from the alien race. So Wikus needs to be studied, which to the government really means cut open and drained of fluids and murdered in the most horrible way.
The scenes where the government officials (including Wikus’ father-in-law) discuss this idea in a matter-of-fact manner right in front of Wikus, who is strapped down to a table and can’t move, are the perfect scenes that exemplify the film. There is something cheesy and B-movie-ish about the whole thing, as the scientists determine that of course draining all of Wikus’ blood is the only reasonable course of action. At the same time, the scene is frightening and genuine because the actors are great and because the scene has been set up so well.
Of course, Wikus escapes. And he heads into the only place he knows the government won’t chase him – the alien slum. There, he hooks up with an alien scientist and the two of them must fight the humans, break into MNU, and get fuel for the spaceship so the aliens can escape Earth and Wikus can get the medical treatment he needs (from the aliens) to turn back into a human being. In another bizarre and silly yet still somehow totally poignant touch, the alien is named Christopher Johnson. Obviously, this isn’t really his name at all, it’s a name that was designated by the human authorities when the camps were set up – something human beings have done many times over the years, at Ellis Island and elsewhere.
From here on in, Disctrict 9 is primarily an action movie. An over-the-top, gloriously violent action movie. There are scenes that are utterly silly, others that are totally badass, and they all work. The big final showdown between Wikus (now in an alien weapon-suit) and the gung-ho racist leader of the military government commando team does not disappoint. That alien weapon-suit, by the way, would not be out of place in Robocop or even cheesier movies. Yet, somehow, it manages to be the coolest thing about the end of District 9, which finishes with half an hour of the most awesome action imaginable in an alien film.
District 9, better than any movie I have ever seen, straddles the line between silly B-movie and brilliant sci-fi film. The cheesiest B-movie portions of the film are also the smartest and most stunning moments. Altogether, District 9 is virtually flawless. Go see this movie right now.
Monday, September 7th, 2009
There is precious little dialogue in Hunger. Those seeking action, or talking, will have to look elsewhere for their fix. Those seeking phenomenal movie making, however, need look no further than this story about the final days of Bobby Sands. Sands, for those of you (like me) who were not around for his story, was an IRA prisoner in a British prison who led a hunger strike in the early 80s, leading to the death of ten inmates, including himself. Although this is the central story in the docudrama, we don’t even meet Bobby Sands until the movie is about halfway done.
In the meantime, director Steve McQueen (who really ought to have changed his name before getting into film, if he was going to do films this good – I mean really, that would be a fine name for the director of Buxom Bitches of the Badlands or something, but Hunger is no B-movie) sets the tone with a look inside the prison. The utter chaos of the “troubles”, the almost incomprehensible actions of both the IRA prisoners and their British captors, and the general tone of confusion that surrounded the whole thing. We meet a prison guard who is constantly in fear of assassination. We meet two IRA prisoners who join with their brethren in a “no wash” strike, where they refuse to bathe or shave and they pour their urine into the hall and smear the walls with their feces and do other disgusting things. For some reason.
The only real dialogue in the film comes soon after Sands (Michael Fassbender) is introduced for the first time, as he sits down with a priest (Liam Cunningham) for a long, incredible, powerful talk about his impending hunger strike (among other things). This is some of the best acting I have seen on film in a long time, as Fassbender and Cunningham sit across from each other, in one extremely long take, discussing the reasons to go on a hunger strike and the reasons not to go on a hunger strike. The camera doesn’t move, the actors move very little, and the only action in the scene is the pair of them smoking. And it’s one of the most riveting scenes I can remember.
The best thing about that scene, and the movie as a whole, is that it perfectly captures the questionable motivation behind Sands’ actions. He is certainly willing to die for his cause, and his beliefs, but he is also willing to take his fellow soldiers down with him, and I could never really understand exactly what he wanted to accomplish with the strike. I suspect that to this day, nobody really knows. Or at least, no one really understands. But I believed Michael Fassbender understood, when he was sitting in that room with Liam Cunningham, and that is the best reason to watch the film.
I watch movies in my living room, and in my living room there is a clock that ticks. It’s not terribly loud, so I never notice it when I’m watching a movie in full surround sound cranked up to eleven. But I certainly noticed that tick-tock while watching Hunger. The movie is almost silent much of the time, as people sit around in prison. I was about to take the batteries out of the clock, but I realized that it added a little something extra to the film. It was the perfect companion to prison, and made it feel even more so like time was passing incredibly slowly. The movie appears to be going incredibly slowly as well. But in fact, it isn’t. It’s slow, but it’s just incredible.
Sunday, September 6th, 2009
“I’m running the asymmetrical trajectory algorithm.”
Country: United States
Starring: Jason Alexander, Christopher Lloyd, Marla Sokoloff, Stacy Keach, Michael Rooker, Billy Campbell, Mimi Michaels
Director: Ernie Barbarash
Run time: 188 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
Despite cheesy acting, made-for-TV silliness, and some staggeringly implausible dialogue, Meteor has moments where it works. They’re just few and far between. At three plus hours, this TV miniseries needed to cram extra stuff into it’s already threadbare plot. You see, there is a meteor heading for the Earth. It will wipe out life as we know it. Only one woman (Marla Sokoloff) knows how to blow the meteor out of the sky, but she’s having trouble getting to the U.S. military base with all the weapons. What are the other countries in the world doing? Who cares. The point is, the world is coming to the end, so people go all crazy (think The Mist), and that is making Imogene’s journey more difficult. That’s about it.
However, there is a father-daughter thing going on, a kidnapping going on, and a bizarrely evil character (Michael Rooker) who is totally unnecessary. People are raping each other, murdering each other, and fighting tooth and nail over water and supplies as they head underground or just panic. Part of the entertainment of the film could come from the regular people becoming crazier and crazier. Why add a guy who was already a murderous rapist, even without the end of the world approaching? No real reason. Just needed to fill time, I suppose. Then there’s a kid trapped in a hospital, and his mom and his dad and their seperate frantic searches for him, and we have two unnecessary subplots.
I don’t think there is a single frame of Meteor that comes as a surprise. In fact, I could probably have described the entire plot of the film after watching Scene One with about 80 percent accuracy. Somehow, though, Billy Campbell manages to remain a sympathetic character amid the porno-quality acting, and a few supporting characters are pretty good as well. But it just doesn’t add up, and the three hours I sat watching this movie were hours I could have spent eating gummy bears, clipping my toes, reading Macleans and not cringing. Meteor comes out September 8th from Alliance Films.
Sunday, September 6th, 2009
“Slappa da bass…slappa da bass, mon.”
Country: United States
Starring: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Jane Curtin, Jon Favreau, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio
Eye candy: Jaime Pressly, Rashida Jones, Sarah Burns
Director: John Hamburg
Run time: 110 minutes
I find it very hard to review I Love You Man. On the one hand, I see a well-crafted, slickly acted movie where Paul Rudd is utterly convincing as a man with no guy friends trying to find a best friend to be his best man in time for his wedding. He’s as good as Steve Carrell was in 40 Year Old Virgin – I can fully believe that this man has no male friends whatsoever. He is incapable of talking guy talk with guys, he has this bizarrely imagined vision of “how guys actually talk”, and he is sad and awkward whenever he tries.
Eventually he meets Jason Segel, who is a free-spirited, totally interesting dude. And he finally has a best friend. And I thought that awkward sadness would disappear once he became friends with someone. On his brom=-0mance. That’s what they call these films. A bro-mance. This one isn’t that good though. Over and over, Rudd says awkwardly inappropriate things in an effort to be more of a “man”. But he isn’t a man. He’s a woman with a penis. And that’s how he’ll always be. You know how sometimes there’s a girl who comes to hang out with you and your guy friends at the bar or during a football game, and she tries desperately to fit in and be “one of the guys”? And sometimes she has no clue how to do that? That’s Paul Rudd in this movie.
That’s actually Paul Rudd for this entire movie. And it’s annoying at first, absolutely excruciating by the end. He doesn’t change, hardly at all, he just finds someone who shares his love of Rush music and he starts doing guy things. But he is no more of a man because of it. He does guy things, but he is not becoming any more of a guy. Instead he is just really, really, sad pathetic and irritating. And the awkwardness made me awkward watching the movie. And I was totally uncomfortable through the whole thing. And although I appreciated the writing and the acting, I didn’t appreciate feeling ill-at-ease for two hours.