Monday, March 10, 2008

I'll Bet We've Been Together For a Million Years ... And I Bet We'll Be Together for a Family Ties Review.

I think it’s true. Before long, every thing to have ever graced television will eventually end up on DVD. There’s a few I’m still waiting on like Voyagers and Tales of the Gold Monkey, but at least we’re finally getting Family Ties on DVD. That’s a start to completely recapturing the Sunday night TV lineup of my youth.

The third season of Family Ties has just been released, and it feels like opening a time capsule to 1983. I remember gathering in front of the television on Sunday nights to watch Family Ties with the family. I remember thinking Mallory was hot and that Alex was so cool … of course, now I still think Justine Bateman is hot, and Mallory is to young. I’ve also come to the realization that Alex as a Republican was the joke, a greedy desire for money and a blind following of Richard Nixon are not exactly admirable qualities.

To review the third season is sort of like playing baseball and hitting off of a tee. It’s not hard because I already know I love it; I’m nostalgic with it, and so it is the reason that one day, nearly everything will make it’s way to DVD, or whatever is the popular format. The point is that people love to revisit these old shows. And it might be that the third season is as far as you might want to go to retain the nostalgia.

It is in the third season that Elise is pregnant and about to have young Andy. The baby is fine, but by the time we get Brian Bonsall in subsequent seasons, it’s like they strapped that baby into the rocket car, filled the tank with sharks, and …

But the third season is still great fun. Gina Davis visits for a couple of episodes as a hapless, but gorgeous housekeeper. Timothy Busfield has a stint as Alex’s best friend, whom Alex feels he’s about to lose to marriage. Many a tough topic is handled from suicide hotlines to arguing with friends over a girl. And poor Jennifer must deal with no longer being the baby of the family. And Skippy Handelman is there, too.

My one question, though, is this: remember the opening credit sequence, the one where the family portrait is being painted in oils by an artist whom all we see is their hand? Why is it that by the time the painting is nearly finished, the artist goes back in and pains in some dandruff on Elise’s shoulders?

The 4-disc set features all of Season three, as well as a brief gag reel and actual TV promos for each episode. Not much in the way of extras, but the promos are kind of fun to watch in retrospect, seeing how it is that TV used to promote itself. The gag reel is short, provides a few laughs, but no one is going to buy this strictly for the extras. What your buying here is nostalgia, and it’s worth it. Sha-na-na na!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cloverfield: Smashing Expectations Like a Giant Monster in Manhattan

Well, after what seemed like a lifetime of waiting since first seeing the trailer that left us with only a date, Cloverfield is finally upon us, opening nationwide in Theatres on Friday. Yes, 1.18.08 is finally here. The early reviews were more than favorable, declaring that it was the second coming of the monster movie, so I was eager to see it before the hype machine got rolling, and, perhaps made a snowball too big. Can it even live up to that trailer? Yes, yes it can. It lives up to the trailer, and surpasses it. This very well could be the second coming of the monster movie, and we as a film-going audience are lucky to have it.

Every once in a while, a rare film comes around that ends up being so much more than a film, it paves the way for new avenues of storytelling. When The Blair Witch Project came out, it attempted to fool the public by portraying its story as real. It used the technology of the day, and the gimmick of the handheld camera and first person storytelling to make us believe their story was real. The gimmick was great. The movie was mediocre. Cloverfield, on the other hand, uses a sort of gimmick in that it is first person and handheld, the evidence of a horrible monster attack on Manhattan, but it elevates the gimmick into something so much more.

Cloverfield is like catching lightning in a bottle. Never again will it be possible for some of these techniques to be used without it being a blatant theft. This movie is so clever in its storytelling that it is possible to believe that you are watching someone’s home movies shot on mini-dv. And that’s what this is. The movie comes in at about 79 minutes, sightly longer than a mini-dv tape, but it’s a single mini-dv tape, all the same. There are no multiple angles, as it’s a single camera, filming on a single night. There are cuts when our cameraman shuts the camera off, but that’s it. Nothing fancy. But it uses its limitations as a way to surpass them. And one of the more clever devices, which can never be used again, is the rather normal occurrence of having taped over something else. So clever and so seamless.

Cloverfield never really feels like a movie, but rather, it feels like exactly what we are peering in, firsthand, at a giant monster catastrophe. We start in Rob’s (Michael Stahl-David) apartment at his going away party, leaving, conveniently, for Japan home of giant monsters. We meet our cast of characters: the brother, Jason, and his girlfriend Lilly, the best friend Hud, who will also be our documentarian for the evening, the girl he has a crush on, Marlena, and Beth, Rob’s best friend and love interest. The party goes well, our characters seem real, and are building backstory in their subtle dialogue. Then, chaos strikes, and our characters are fleeing for their lives in the street.

There are only glimpses of the monster in the beginning as our heroes’ confusion matches our own at not really being able to see what is attacking us. The handheld camera helps create a lot of tension, as does the fact that we only know as much as the people we’re with, and the technique of the home movie camera allows our characters to be pretty ignorant of any details. Leaving the audience to have a whole lot of fun.

I have been thinking about this film for days now as I type this, and I have so much to say, but most of what I have to say would be spoilerish, and more fun in a discussion. Also, I fear being another cog in the wheel of the hype machine. I would hate for my gushing to give way to someone feeling that the snowball of hype had gotten too big and squashed them at the bottom. Suffice it to say, the film is fun, perfect in what it attempts to do, creating enough real tension that the characters stand at the forefront of what is actually a very-well disguised love story. In fact, I’ll just come right out and say that it’s my favorite love story of all time. Do you hear that Hollywood, we need more giant monsters in our love stories! So, get on out and see this movie this weekend. It’s going to be the talk at the water cooler, in your local comic shop, at the bar, at your local pizza shop, and anywhere else you might find yourself over the next couple of weeks. You might as well get in on the discussion. If there was any question about the talent of J.J. Abrams, it has just evaporated like Spider-Man’s marriage. Viva la Cloverfield!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hacking Away With Hatchet Leaves This Critic Wanting More ... Not in a Good Way!

Those fine folks at Anchor Bay are doing their very best to not only distribute low budget horror, but now are producing low budget horror. Their latest release “Hatchet” is set to hit shelves on DVD on December 17. Much like “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” “Hatchet” was not given a wide release. However, there was much hoopla surrounding the film in horror circles as the tagline boasted, “Old School American Horror.”

The problem here is that the only thing old school about it is the amount of tits in this film. They’re everywhere, and yes, I enjoyed Mercedes McNab (Harmony Kendall from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) perpetually topless, but too much of a good thing is what it is and isn’t enough to distract from the fact that there is so little story, too much coincidence and a really shitty monster.

The premise is that Ben (Joel David Moore) is hopelessly broken up about his girlfriend since jr. high breaking up with him so his friends take him to Mardi Gras where he can’t even enjoy streets seemingly paved with boobs. Instead he wants to take a haunted swamp tour. Against his better judgment, Bud from The Cosby Show (Deon Richmond) joins him. There they meet a would-be Joe Francis played by Joel Murray, his two topless bimbos, a woman who believes her Dad was murdered by the deformed Victor Crowley (our lame monster), and the bumbling tour guide (Parry Shen).

There is no plot, just backstory for each character, and the fact that they’re all on the same boat together. Of course, once the boat crashes into a rock and they all must seek land, our story kicks into high gear and we find out about the deformed Victor Crowley who caught a Hatchet to the face while his Dad was attempting to rescue him from a fire. Now he’s trapped in the night he died and there’s little that our hapless victims can do to stop the inevitability of their fate.

The gore in this film looks okay, but the monster is just not scary, nor does he have a backstory that separates him from the pantheon of 80s movie monsters. There is nothing new here, and way too many continuity errors to just simply enjoy it. To add to my point about nothing new, “Hatchet” even panders to the idea of old school by using cameos from Robert Englund and Tony Todd, and electing to use Kane Hodder as their monster. Homage is nice, but I’d like to see a horror film that is just simply a horror film, not needing its predecessors to give it street cred.

The DVD has been packaged in a nice two-disc set that features the theatrical release, as well as the unrated directors cut, and there are also some nice extras that include commentary, interviews and some behind-the-scenes stuff. I didn’t make it to any of it as the theatrical release left me needing lots of time before I could ever revisit it again.

It’s not that the film left me mad … again, lots of boobs and gore, but not enough to save it from itself. Going back to where I started, it’s refreshing to see that Anchor Bay is really trying to create rather than just distribute, but I’m sure there was a much better script laying on someone’s desk somewhere.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Legion of Superheroes DVD Is Fun, But No Futuristic Extras

The fine folks at Warner Bros. have begun releasing their hit show Legion of Super Heroes on DVD with the release of Volume One recently and I’m here to say that it’s a whole lot of fun. This was something that I had missed on Cartoon Network, but was eager to see how it turned out as the Mark Waid run on the newest Legion series was a whole lot of fun and had me becoming a bit of a fan of those teenaged super heroes in the future.

Volume One contains the first four episodes and a featurette about moving the Legion from the page to the small screen. I desperately wish WB would put these things out in seasons, but for whatever reason they seem to think this format works better. It’s a bare bones DVD, but the selling point should be the series itself, and the four episodes that are included here, the first four, are a lot of fun.

The set up in the first episode is great in the Legion coming back in time to retrieve a young Clark Kent who isn’t even Superboy, let alone Superman. The joke in there is that the Legion has traveled back in time too far, but given time Clark will surely become the (super) man that he is destined to be. What’s fun about this is that Clark takes off to the future, being reassured that they can drop him back off before Ma Kent even knows he’s gone. I loved this element because it felt sort of like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends having that sweet apartment that turns into their HQ. I felt like the possibilities were limitless.

However, within these four episodes, Clark never does go back home, and that whole element seems to have disappeared. Clark leaving his time and saving the world only to get back in time for dinner in each episode would have been a nice touch, but alas it was just a way to get Superboy into the future.

Now, that’s not to say that it isn’t a great time while he’s there. It seems that Legion of Super Heroes has found a way to be a great, fun, kids’ cartoon without being as silly as Teen Titans or Krypto. It seems to fall somewhere in between the aforementioned shows and Justice League.

The show itself is something that parents can watch with their kids and have a lot of fun doing it. WB and DC are really doing a great job of bringing some rather obscure characters to animated life with some success, and Legion is no different. Again, I can’t help but think the DVDs could have packed a little more punch, but I guess four episodes at a time appeals more to the demographic of kids getting Mom to buy a reasonably priced DVD as opposed to the comic collector and DVD-ophiles who need it all. But here’s hoping the first season finds its way into a nice collector’s package soon.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Bee Movie Is No B-List Affair: Seinfeld Visits Detroit!

I remember watching Seinfeld its first season and being one of two kids at school who thought it was really funny. It seems it took a little bit of time for a show about nothing to really sink in with viewers, and it did. It has become a cultural phenomenon, lasting 9 seasons and being regarded as one of the greatest sitcoms ever. After Seinfeld and the cast decided to call it quits, not much was heard from star Jerry Seinfeld. That's not to say that he dropped off the face of the earth, but it didn't seem that he was at all abusing his star power to get himself high-powered movie deals. He did a long stand-up tour, and even became a father. Now, as trailers for Seinfeld's animated romp Bee Movie are hitting TV and computers, we now know what this comedic genius has been up to for the last four years.

Bee Movie is set to hit multiplexes on November 2, 2007 and Seinfeld and his directors have ben hard at work, touring with footage of the film to promote that upcoming release. Last week Seinfeld, along with directors Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner came through the eMagine Theatre in Novi, just outside of Detroit. Large groups of fans and reporters gathered alongside the "Red Carpet," which was actually black and yellow in honor of the theme of the film, to catch a glimpse and get in a few interview questions with the filmmakers. Seinfeld even commented that he had picked Detroit himself as, "I've always loved Detroit. I started out doing stand-up here." In fact, Mark Ridley of Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle introduced Seinfeld before the big presentation, but more on that in a moment.

Seinfeld seemed very pleased to talk to both fans and reporters, taking time to sign autographs for fans, and do plugs for local TV stations. When asked about the brilliance of the live-action trailers and whether or not they played into the creative process at all, he merely smiles and says, "No, we always knew those were just a joke." Which is too bad as this reporter thinks our culture might be ripe for some HR Puffnstuff-like puppetry, and guys in suits. But, alas, we will have to settle for Barry B. Benson in animated form only. That's fine by me, though, as this film looks to be a lot of fun.

After the black and yellow carpet happenings we were ushered into a theatre where Seinfeld did a quick intro that involved him doing schtick for the most part, but that's a-okay as comedy is what Seinfeld does, it's what he is. At one point during the day he was asked what sorts of roles he was offered after leaving Seinfeld, and why he hasn't really done much, to which he basically said that he's a stand-up comedian, not an actor. And judging by the success of Seinfeld, and what looks to be a him playing himself as an animated bee, he's made the right choices by playing to his strengths. After doing some schtick about fatherhood, and answering some questions, he introduced a series of videos about the "behind-the-scenes" of Bee Movie, that portray Jerry as a control-hungry tyrant; one in which he yells at a PA for not getting his coffee right, only to find out that very same PA is a Spielberg, which results in the kid leading the production meetings and Jerry bringing him coffee.

In fact, between those live-action trailers and the behind-the-scenes videos, there is this extra world surrounding Bee Movie that add to the fun, and show how much fun the production must have been. After Jerry's presentation, he handed things over to Simon Hickner who then showed about five clips from the film, which all received a great deal of laughs and applause. I don't want to give any spoilers because in total we probably got to see about 35 minutes of the film, and I would hate to ruin any of it as it is just plain fun.

The story of Barry B. Benson is that he ventures into the real world when he finds out that taking a job at Honex means that he is forever making honey and that's it, sort of dead-end job. And so, he leaves the hive, and befriends a human (played by Renee Zellweger) only to discover that humans are stealing the bee's honey and selling it for their own profit. Well, the only thing left for a bee who makes such a discovery, is to sue mankind. There are some great cameos by Sting, which is as clever as you can imagine ... but the highlight in the clips we were shown was, perhaps, Ray Liotta playing himself as some kind of mad honey despot.

Detroit was glad to have this early glimpse of Bee Movie, and its creators were glad to bring it to us. That speaks volumes about the belief in this film, and I can only hope that it shows at the box office.

(Photos by Nicole Lucas)

Friday, August 31, 2007

Halloween is Good, But Just Misses Greatness!

With Rob Zombie's freshmen effort, "House of 1,000 Corpses," he showed a certain amount of potential, and a great amount of talent even if the film itself had a great deal of shortcomings. However, by the time he gets to "Devil's Rejects" he has fully arrived as a filmmaker; the film is damn close to perfection. Through Zombie's dialogue, shot selection and overall storytelling he creates a horrible, nasty, disgusting, smelly, beautiful film. As a result, I couldn't help but hold "Halloween" to this same measuring stick.

During this year's San Diego Comic-Con I heard Zombie make the comment that if Carpenter's original film were a short story, then his version was the novel. I wasn't quite sure what to make of that comment at first; was he backhandedly complimenting Carpenter? Upon seeing the film, I get it, but I'm still not fully settled. Carpenter's masterpiece sets you up on Halloween night, shows you the perspective of young Michael and then puts him behind that clown mask, gives us that great shot of killing his sister with our perspective through the mask, and only shows the innocence of Michael's face after the crimes have been committed. Flash forward to the fact that Michael Myers has escaped and is heading home.

Zombie's opening act takes much longer, and is what he means by being the novel. However, it is really only his first act that strays much from the heart and soul of the original, and it is this first act that I have problems with. The film spends a great deal of time exploring the family life of young Michael, and it's not sweet suburbia as depicted in the original film, but they seem to be, rather, the redneck, white trash neighbors living in sweet suburbia. This seemed too much to me like Zombie inserting the direction that he likes. When Myers comes back home, we're back in sweet suburbia, with no signs of any white trash element. In that, Zombie seemed heavy handed in that opening act. Add to it, a scene of Michael killing a classmate, long before he goes on a rampage killing nearly everyone in his house. The clown mask is present here, though, and it works nicely as an homage to Carpenter. I do have a problem with the introduction of the Michael Myers mask and the fact that it's not a mask of anything, but just sort of shows up.

We then spend another 20 minutes or so of Michael going to therapy with Dr. Loomis. And Michael speaks, sweet and innocent, but hides something behind his masks, which he seems to be obsessed with, making them out of papier-mache inside of his cell. Of course, if a young, disturbed murderer says that the masks hide his ugliness, and he ceases to speak over 15 years, never taking the mask off, one might think that the psychologist isn't doing his job. Sorry son, we're trying to help. No masks. And this is a glaring flaw to me, but there it sits because Zombie's novel needs to include backstory.

I don't think that the backstory of this young innocent child who claims to not remember the murders when he's sitting there after first being incarcerated, and not wearing a mask, jives with the supernatural killer who can be shot and stabbed and still get up, that we see depicted in the third act. The third act is amazing, though. Hell, the second act is pretty damn fun and really feels quite a lot like the original. The setup is the same, talk of the boogie man, babysitting, running between houses. It's all there, but feels rushed due to all of that backstory.

The moment in which Michael begins putting his costume together is fun, has a nice death scene with Ken Foree, and at this point we know Rob's getting somewhere good. And he does. The third act is lit very dark, but is brilliant. It feels scary, and the darkness aids the effect of Michael moving silently through the backgrounds. "Halloween" is shot very well. Zombie is becoming an auteur to be certain, and it is nice to see all of his usual suspects show up in Bill Mosely, Leslie Easterbrook, Sid Haig, William Forsythe, Tom Towles. It was a nice family reunion. In fact, as would be expected, Zombie gets amazing performances from his actors. Scout Taylor-Compton gives a great performance as Laurie Strode, and Malcolm McDowell is a nice addition as Dr. Loomis, even if he looks ridiculous in the first act with his dutch boy haircut. And one of the biggest surprises was seeing Brad Douriff show up as Sherriff Lee Brackett. After all, why wouldn't Chucky be in a Halloween movie?

While I did enjoy the film quite a bit by the time it kicked into gear, I felt like I was watching the map that Leslie Vernon draws for us in "Behind the Mask" unfold before our very eyes. I couldn't help but wonder how Michael was able to get his cardio workout while in jail, I sort of laughed now that the Boogieman's home was the party house where kids would go to have sex on the anniversary of the grisly murders. I was scared due to that lighting, and scared for Laurie as she enters the "birth canal," sliding her way into the wall to hide from Michael. And I loved the final showdown between our killer and our survivor girl. Watching "Halloween" really made me want to watch "Behind the Mask" again, and yet, I didn't feel that working in that framework cheapened the film, it all works as the classic slasher films worked, but deep down it's missing something. Wait, let me take that back, it's not missing something per se, as so much is given in backstory, rather, it misses greatness due to that which it is not missing. I enjoyed it as a film, found it entertaining, but can't help but wonder if the best film Zombie had in him was "Devil's Rejects." In the end, I want to give this film a 3 out of 4 stars, but it didn't really earn it, however it also doesn't need to wallow with the 2s, instead I want to give it a 2.85 stars, as a motivator to work harder next time.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tales From the Crypt: Season 6 Still Delivers

As a kid I was always a big fan of horror and anything that required me sneaking into the living room to watch late night HBO. Tales From the Crypt fit that bill. Granted, by the time TFtC hit the airwaves I was 13 and didn't have to do much sneaking, it was still on late enough that I didn't want to wake the old people in the house. Now Warner Bros. is releasing them on DVD. Season six just hit the shelves recently, and while the show only lasted a total of eight seasons, and didn't pack the same punch in those later years, it was always fun!

Season Six features 15 classic episodes from 1994, featuring many stars of the silver screen, as well as some future stars waiting for their big break, including Benicio Del Toro, Sherilynn Fenn, Isabella Rosellini, Bruce Davison, Isaac Hayes, Corey Feldman and many others. In The Assassin, Corey Feldman and Jonathan Banks play Hitmen out to kill one of their own who has gone into hiding; capturing his wife just might bring him out of hiding, but how far has this hitman gone to hide his identity? The story has all of the fun and camp that you remember from both the EC Comics' title, as well this great HBO gem.

In "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime," Catherine O'Hara stars as an ambulance chasing lawyer who just might have met her match in a town that has a low tolerance for crime. It harkens back to the old Twilight Zone episodes as it builds some nice suspense with a fun conclusion. Catherine O'Hara gives a fun performance in an episode that has a nice twisty ending as you would expect from TFtC.

These episodes are fun, but not as scary as I wanted to remember. Of course, I seem to remember the early seasons having more scares, but that could just be one of those charished memories that don't live into adulthood. However, scary or not, the show still packs some really nice suspense, and fun twists. As always, the Crypt Keeper is our highly entertaining and ghoulish host. Most of the bits framing each episode in this season use pop culture references, such as dressing as Forest Gump, or playing games with William Sadler's Death (Yes, the very same Death from the highly underrated Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey). In fact, the appearance of Death was a highlight for me, like that missing piece of Bill and Ted lore.

Sure, there are a couple of episodes that feature some gore, however, it's 13-year-old gore and not quite what it used to be. On the other hand, any viewer interested in this set should already know that. It was ahead of its time, at the time, but time was starting to catch up by 1994. Overall, this set is certainly worth getting and watching on those late nights, with the lights out and some popcorn at the ready!
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