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!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Pathfinder Loses Its Way!

The Unrated Pathfinder DVD came out last week, and I've had a chance to give it a once over. At first I thought it was an unfortunate happenstance that this film came out at roughly the same time as 300. Both are based on comic books published by Dark Horse, and both have an extremely stylized vision. Unfortunately Pathfinder's vision is like a blind man in the dark.

For something that I expected to be mildly entertaining, I was fighting the urge to turn it off. The tale in itself should have been one to hold my interest as my own heritage includes both Vikings (My family tree on my Father's side can be traced back to Leif Erricson) as well as Native American's, being 1/16 Blackfoot on my mother's side. A tale of Viking conquest in the new world should have been right up my alley, but it was not.

The meat of the story is that a Native American woman finds a Scandinavian boy alone and scared on an abandoned Viking warship. She takes this boy in and raises him as her own child. We flash forward to the boy as a young man, still not fully accepted by his tribe. Then, a second wave of Vikings invades and a battle ensues.

Unfortunately, the battle is rather uninteresting. Not to mention the fact that the Vikings are given subtitles while the natives speak English in a story that precedes the English arriving in the new world. Why not subtitle everyone, or perhaps subtitle no one? In this it begins its sloppiness. Add in CG blood that is the only real color in the film and it's not even interesting to look at. The film has a blue-grey color palette, but doesn't work with fake blood. The blood should match the rest of the style and it does not.

Clancy Brown gives a decent performance, but that's about all this film has to offer. The action is quick and looks choreographed, and most of the performances are bland. And so, not having seen the theatrical cut, it is tough to say what might make it Unrated. And if this is edgier, I now understand why there was such a minor media push for this film theatrically ... it just never gets to where it needs to be. The costumes are great, the color palette looks interesting, but these are all distractions from the fact that the film has so little going for it in terms of story and filmmaking. With a tale such as this, I would like to see the action, but the camera moves around it all so quickly that much of it is a stylized blur. Rent it if you must, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard? No Thanks ...

Never in my life have I seen so many goddamn explosions. In fact, I think that might have been the original working title for Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth installment of the Die Hard series starring Bruce Willis. Of course producers backed off when they realized having “Goddamn” in the title might have negated that PG-13 rating. Live Free or Die Hard is a joke.

I know I will probably take one on the chin for this as most movie-goers are going to love this film. Bruce Willis is back as John McClane and he’s taking on more terrorists. For some, that’s the worth the price of admission alone. Then you add blowing up a helicopter with a car, a battle with a bad-ass kung-fu chick, lots of gunplay, a battle between a semi-truck and a jet plane, and most fans are going to go nuts for this movie. However, those people don’t mind that there’s no plot, even though the first act began with a pretty good attempt at one.

The first act introduces us to our baddie Thomas Gabriel (played by Timothy Olyphant, who I like a lot, and even like in this role), a jilted computer engineer who decides to use computer technology and a group of hackers to bring America to its knees over the Fourth of July weekend. There are some extreme leftist ideas, speaking the disenchantment of those who would ring the phrase, “I love my country, but fear my government.” At times, it almost feels anti-American, and that, to me, was extremely interesting and bold considering the political climate that we currently live in. Obviously, John McClane is going to save the day, but not before the ideas of those who live comfortably as capitalist fat cats, and blindly follow their government are questioned, right? Well, no … actually … what begins as an interesting premise dissolves into everything exploding, with the plot being a mere backdrop, and never actually living beyond the plot devices of the sequels that preceded it.

I like Justin Long (The Mac kid, who doesn’t actually use a Mac in this film), who is the buddy in this go-round of Die Hard: The Buddy Sequels, playing a computer hacker and unwitting accomplice to Thomas Gabriel’s meltdown of technology. This is pretty much the starting point of the story as there can be no witnesses and John McClane finds himself protecting the hacker with a criminal record. There are some nice ‘buddy’ moments, admittedly, and I did like this film through most of the first and second acts, but the third act becomes a parody of itself.

The filmmakers have forgotten every reason why it is that they have a job making a fourth, yes fourth, Die Hard film. You make sequels when you have a successful film. I understand that, but none of the sequels have lived up to their predecessor, and Live Free or Die Hard might be the worst offender. Die Hard is a perfect action film that reinvented action movies, as well as reinvented what we expect from the action hero. The entire film takes place in one building, and a shoeless John McClane takes on the terrorists and defeats them because he is brave, cool, collected, and smarter than his adversaries. He is a regular guy who saves the day against all mathematical probability.

As the sequels have progressed, however, the filmmakers have forgotten, or just ignored these facts. Sure, I want to see big action, but I don’t need to see it at the expense of plot. When there is little story making me truly believe the action occurring on screen is even partly feasible, then my attention is already lost, which brings me to my complaints about the third act. I’ll forgive the weak CGI in the highway tunnel scene that we’ve all seen in the trailer, depicting a car flipping into the air and Willis and Long just ducking in time. I’ll forgive the ridiculousness of a car going up a ramp and crashing into a helicopter. I will not forgive a semi-truck battling a jet plane while pieces of the highway are crashing all over the place only to wind up with Willis surfing on top of said jet. That was it. The over-the-top aspects that I could buy into as summer popcorn fun, disappeared into mockery.

People will like this film if they’re looking for 2 hours and 10 minutes of non-stop cartoon-like action, with a few catch phrases sprinkled in there, and if they can also accept the fact that it starts out with promise only to fail in its storytelling. I could not be so forgiving.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is Probably the Best Horror Film You've Never Seen!

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon comes to DVD on June 26, thanks to the fine folks at Anchor Bay. However, it is also thanks to the fine folks at Anchor Bay that most have never heard of this film. What is without a doubt the best horror film to be released in years, Behind the Mask was only given limited release in theaters, and was, ultimately, marketed wrong. In many cases this film was being billed as a documentary of a serial killer, which we’ve seen enough, and is interesting enough, but totally off the mark in this case, and not going to get the attention of horror fans who should have seen this film.

The Rise of Leslie Vernon is not a documentary about a serial killer, nor is it merely a mockumentary about a serial killer. It is a perfect post-modern deconstruction of the supernatural horror film. Leslie Vernon (an inspired performance by Nathan Baesel) is a man who was presumably killed as a young boy by the townspeople of Echo Falls where the legend of that fateful night lives on, and he is now ready to begin a killing spree worthy of his myth.

With journalist Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and a film crew in tow, Leslie describes how it is that he plans to live up to the masters Jason, Freddy, Mike and Chuck, and even delves slightly into how they do it. The idea of the supernatural is never made to be silly or ridiculous, but instead is serious work, and takes much in the way of preparation. Baesel’s Vernon is very funny, witty and charismatic, which makes Behind the Mask seem like a comedy, but it is his charming attitude that makes him seem that much more haunting. Not all killers are outwardly psychotic; it is because they are charming and charismatic that guys like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy were so successful at luring unsuspecting victims.

It is, however, Vernon’s dry explanations that make this film a bit comedic as he deconstructs the genre, and even introduces us to his mentor, Eugene, played by Scott Wilson. Wilson seems to represent more of the Slasher/ Grindhouse films of the 60s and 70s, prior to the obligatory sequel. He is a man who has respect for the game of fear, and knows that if he didn’t play his part, then there would be no evil to go head to head with good.

It is in this understanding of good and evil that Vernon explains that the true battle for someone in his line of work is against the Survivor Girl, the virgin who has the only true chance at surviving his killing spree. The plot thickens, of course, when Robert England as Doc Holloran shows up to fulfill the role of Vernon’s “Ahab,” the man from his past hell bent on stopping his murder spree.

The DVD has some nice behind-the-scenes stuff as well as some deleted and extended scenes. All have commentary with director Scott Glosserman, which does much to explain and expand on some of the concepts within the film. The actor commentary is fun, but not particularly informative. It amounts to little more than storytelling, not so much a mini-film school as some director commentaries can be. Ultimately, though, it is not the extras that make this DVD worth owning, although there’s some good stuff in there, all worth watching, it is the brilliance of this film that you are going to want to watch again and again.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is everything Scream should have been. Instead of playing to laughs exclusively, BtM is exactly what it strives to be. It is not a parody and, in fact, plays more to its intended audience, but does enough explaining that a mainstream audience could have a lot of fun here. At its heart, though, this is a celebration of horror films that is itself the beginning of a new killer to add to the pantheon of greats.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Silver Surfer Helps Take Fantastic Four to New Heights!

Is it possible? Is Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer really, truly, the first great summer blockbuster?! It’s certainly the most fun I’ve had staring up at that silver screen this summer. With all of the talk about it being directed at kids and carrying a PG rating, I have to say that the PG doesn’t matter. There isn’t going to be nudity or partial nudity in an FF film; there isn’t going to be any blood and gore in an FF film; and there certainly isn’t going to be any cussing in an FF film. However, there is another suggested nude scene with Sue Storm, there is a little bit of risqué humor, and it does lean a little dark at times. Keep in mind, though, that all of the places one might desire for this film to go to achieve that PG-13 rating are the very same places that the comic book never goes. This is a family film and that’s ok.

FF2 has officially learned from the mistakes made on the first film, and writers Don Payne and Mark Frost have made a nice effort in bringing the feeling of Marvel’s First Family to the big screen. I daresay that Don Payne gets it! Yes, we need big action, but we also need depth within the family and between the four main characters, and it’s all here. This time, the jokes are funny, the action is fun, and the villain doesn’t come off as silly. Doom is in this film, but he’s depicted as a bit more dark and menacing, even if Julian McMahon as Victor seems to grin and wink at the camera. It’s when we see Doom that this character works.

On the set of Rise of the Silver Surfer in Vancouver Julian McMahon was asked if Doom would be a bit more evil this go round, and his response was a cocky grin and, “Well, you can’t make him too evil or the kiddies wouldn’t be able to watch.” The problem then, is that he has no idea what comic book evil is. It’s not the same as real world evil. It is without rhyme or reason, more about grudges and power … well, that sounds a lot like real world evil, but my point is that the hero always wins in comics, and always defeats the larger than life evil of a comic book villain, and is not a danger to the innocence of “the kiddies.”

Doom has a grudge against Reed, and uses it as his reason for becoming the iron fisted dictator of Latveria, which is glazed over in this film, but his bid to take over the world is there, and in terms of comic book evil, all you really need is a grudge. But it’s only there because the writers understand the character.

It is because the writers understand the character, that this film is stepped up a notch. Tim Story also does a fine job of mixing the humor and emotion with some fun action beats. We finally get to see Reed step up and become the leader of this team. No longer is he the wimp that he was in the first film. Ioan Gruffud is still a little awkward, but the characterization is strong. Sue, who spent much of the first film in a “whoa is me, why can’t we get married” state of mind, comes full circle in this film and becomes more of the matriarch that we know and love from the comic books.

While Reed and Sue are slowly becoming the heads of the “family,” the relationship between Johnny and Ben deepens and is right on. Chris Evans understands the character of Johnny Storm so well that he stole the show in the first film; this time around, he gives a better performance, but doesn’t steal the show because he’s no longer the only actor working his ass off. Michael Chiklis is great as The Thing, still curmudgeonly, but really is the ever-lovin’ blue eyed Thing. As much as Johnny and Ben pick on each other, we see a little bit of heart here. Through Johnny’s cocky attitude, we see that he is a bit jealous of Ben and Alicia, and it works without being mired in emotion like the first film.

Which brings us to the Silver Surfer, whom this story is primarily about. WOW! Silver Surfer is one of those characters in the comic book that instantly captures the imagination. Few other mediums could do justice to a silver entity riding a surfboard through space, which is why it works in comics, and these things don’t always work in movies. Fans have been clamoring for years to see Norin Radd on the big screen, much the way fans thought they wanted to see Venom. To the benefit of FF and the Silver Surfer, though, Tim Story makes this character work. Doug Jones, also, should receive kudos aplenty as his movements make this character so fluid, so cosmic, so … perfect. That Laurence Fishburn plays the voice is sort of inconsequential. So much emphasis was put on the effort to get a “real actor” to voice the surfer, but with few lines it could have been anyone, and should have been Doug Jones. Fishburn didn’t make me love the character any more than I did already. It’s the story that drives the character, and the story is fun.

In fact, one of the largest geek complaints is in making Galactus a storm cloud, but I think seeing is believing. Would I have liked to see the big purple and blue eater of worlds? You bet your surfboard I would have, but it didn’t matter. He was depicted more as a circumstance, and it worked. Much the way Venom was rushed into Spidey 3, putting Galactus as more than just a presence in this film, might have felt rushed. Instead, seeing a cloud of dust and debris as he makes his bid to eat Earth ends up feeling a bit more cataclysmic, perhaps, less silly. And if you look close enough, you’ll even see an outline of the helmet.

This is Silver Surfer’s story, and the movie is stronger for it. It is an entertaining ride, and just plain old popcorn-eatin’ fun! I give it a 7.5 out of 10. It’s good, fun adventure that doesn’t pander at the kids, and doesn’t just try to sell them action figures (although, there certainly are action figures and fast-food tie-ins, and oh how I would love a Fantasticar!). Rise of the Silver Surfer understands that the adults can like these movies, too.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home is Both a Reflection of 1972 and Today!

In 1989 The Simpsons aired their Christmas special, and for many, this was something totally new, a depiction of a dysfunctional nuclear family that seemed more familiar to many families than what was depicted on typical sitcoms. In the beginning that show had dysfunction, but its popularity was largely due to its heart.

However, when that show was aired, not once do I remember it being compared to, what seems to me, its obvious predecessor, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. With Season One released as a Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection by Time Warner last week, it has become apparent to me what an overlooked treasure this show is.

Wit Till Your Father Gets Home was originally aired in 1972 and features the voice of Tom Bosley as Harry Boyle, an understanding father trying to understand a vastly changing world. His neighbor is conservative, way to the right, terrified of the communist threat to America, and thus runs a crack outfit of pseudo militants, The Vigilantes, bent on bringing justice and safety to their quiet neighborhood. And so The Vigilantes stand as a great example of just one extreme.

His children, however, go to the opposite extreme. The two oldest children, Alice and Chet serve to show the bleeding-heart liberalism that was prevalent in the 70s. Just one example, is in an early episode in which the family suspects Harry of cheating with his secretary. They don’t believe him when he denies it, yet they try to understand why he would cheat, rather than chastise him for doing so. Of course, not once do they consider that he didn’t. And Harry utters, “I get treated better around here when they think I’ve done wrong.” And the largest, most prevalent theme when dealing with the kids is that Chet, at 22, refuses to get a job.

Does any of this sound familiar? Is it a case of history repeating itself, as more and more kids are frightened of entering the workplace after college? Of course, it doesn’t help that there are few jobs waiting for them.

The youngest son, Jamie, who is voiced throughout the season by both Willie Ames and Jackie Earl Haley, seems to be a prototype for Alex P. Keaton, and sign of what is to come in the 80s. The young, entrepreneurial Jamie is constantly trying to sell whatever services he has for a little extra change, and even tries to barter up the value of a lost tooth, asking why the Tooth Fairy doesn’t account for inflation.

And in the middle of all, is Mom. She is a mom of the past. She is dependent on house and husband, but is ruler of the roost at home. However, she is always supportive of both the kids and Harry. She is the sole voice of reason, even when no one is listening.

Overall, it is a very unique family dynamic that sort of encapsulates the feelings of change that were spreading through the mass consciousness. And right along side of all of this social commentary is an animation style that fits the show so well. It is very pared down, putting less emphasis on backgrounds, and more emphasis on characters, and with this minimalist approach the viewer is left with a sort of less-is-more feeling.

In the end, the best way to describe it is as Family Guy living next door to American Dad with the heart, emotions, truth and honesty of the first few seasons of The Simpsons. For those who remember this show, it is worth the purchase as a reminder of the past, and a reminder of the present as it holds up remarkably better than many sitcoms of the 70s. That, in my mind is due to the themes taking precedence over the visual commitment of painting the 70s. It’s just a family, dealing with the issues of their, and our, times.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Spider-Man 3 Allows Too Many Villains to Ruin the Stew!

When Spider-Man first hit the big screen in 2002, I remember describing my enthusiasm as that of a 16-year-old girl on prom night. I could hardly contain my excitement. However, as Sam Raimi and company embark on the third installment of the franchise, I have quite a different phrase ringing in my brain: I didn’t love it! I wanted to love it, but it’s the weakest of the three, and a sloppy effort as a film.

What should have been a slam dunk instead reeks of producer and studio interference. Sam Raimi said from day one that he grew up with, and is a fan of the classic Spidey stories, and the classic villains. And he made it very clear that he was never a fan of Venom, and he would, therefore, never appear in the Spider-Man movies. But, then word gets out that Spidey 3 will include the black suit and a certain brain eating symbiote. So the questions start flying last year at San Diego Comic Con and Sam’s extremely diplomatic response was that the producers thought it was time, that it’s what the fans wanted, and Sam agreed. Although, I don’t think in his heart of hearts that he did agree. And my question to Avi Arad is this: It’s what the fans wanted. Really? Did you beat the pavement, Avi, and ask them?

Now, I’ll admit that I am not a fan of the Venom character and see him as a representation of the Dark Age of comic books that was the 1990s, with brooding heroes and dark, sinister villains. The 90s weren’t really a “fun” time for comic books, and this movie, unlike its predecessors, just isn’t fun. But it’s not Venom’s fault. The problem is that this is two movies forced into one that leaves no room for complete story arcs for any of the villains.

Had this film found a focus and built its story around a specific set of conflicts, it could have been great, but instead it suffers from Part 3 Syndrome and seems to want to cram in as much as possible, just in case there isn’t a fourth installment. So, instead the film relies on a series of coincidences to force conflict, and put all of our characters at odds. Harry is the only one of the villains who receives a decent arc, and in fact, steals every scene he’s in. James Franco plays Harry as vengeful, yet also playful after an incident leaves him with no short term memory. This, then, sets up a nice conclusion for the character, who is actually allowed to develop, unlike Sandman, Venom and even Gwen Stacy.

Sandman is forced into the story as Peter’s origin is seemingly rewritten to give him motivation to fight Sandman. Flint Marko could have been sympathetic without having to put him on the criminal parallel path of Peter. One goes to jail, while the other is lauded as a hero. And Marko, just happening to fall into the experiment that turns him to sand, also feels forced. And it didn’t have to be.

Venom suffers from the same problem. In order to tell Venom’s tale, Peter has to reject the suit, but telling the tale of the black suit in a one hour chunk in the middle of this film, makes Peter too dark and menacing, as opposed to building up over a year or so in monthly installments. Which, again, leaves everything feeling rushed. Peter rejects the suit and Eddie Brock just happens to be in the same church to receive the symbiote. Too coincidental, but there was little time to build as the rest of the film meanders around, trying to give all of these characters something to do and failing miserably.

And, why oh why, couldn’t Harry have been a Goblin. Making him something out of the Ultimate Marvel Universe again reeks of producer interference; especially considering the fact that we are shown an alternate Goblin mask during Harry’s introduction. What could have been a brain-melting third act battle sequence depicting three of Spidey’s villains, instead becomes unappealing icing on a cake I don’t want to eat.

The visuals are great, the performances are strong, but the story and character development are lacking. We are given too little story in 2 hours and 20 minutes. If the Black Suit, and Venom had been saved for a fourth movie, and the film was shaved by 20 minutes, this could have been right in line with the first two, but instead it seems the bar was set too high, and the producers were too scared to let the stories develop on their own.

It breaks my heart to have to say that this film achieves little more than a 6.5 out of 10. I could break it down and go higher on acting, and visual effects, but we go to the movies for the whole product, and the pieces that made this product are strong at times, but the film is just not good.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Grindhouse: Better than Sneaking Downstairs to Watch Skinemax while your parents are sleeping!

It was 1983 and I was on the verge of turning seven years old, 3D was all the rage between going to the 7-11 or Sunoco gas station to get 3D glasses for the local TV screening of Creature from the Black Lagoon, and a crop of films employing this new technology turning up at the theatres. My neighbors were going to the Drive-in and offered to take me with them. It was a double feature of Jaws 3D and Friday the 13th Part 3D. Louis Gosset Jr. was in Iron Eagle and I was just ecstatic at the prospect of him taking on a 3D shark. And I loved it. However, even deep in the heart of a horror fan, 6 years old was a bit young to see Jason killing college kids, so I rolled over and discovered that Return of the Jedi was playing across the lot. But while the film was across the lot, the speaker in our car was still promoting the grisly sounds of college kids dying at the hands of Jason. I would grow up with this rather unique experience that would shape my life for the rest of my days.

It is unfortunate, then, that Drive-ins are a thing of the past, thus negating any hope of future generations talking about that time they watched CGI Ninja Turtles kick monster butt while Kurt Russel kills young women with his car. I think kids and adults, both, need such an experience, and now it is that the generation who grew up with similar, but different and equally unique experiences are making movies. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are revolutionizing what movies can be, by taking a step into the past with Grindhouse, the throwback double feature that opens nationwide today.

The two rebel filmmakers who are, seemingly, fans above all else, have recreated the magic that once existed at the movies. In both "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof" the filmmakers use all of the dynamics from their favorite exploitation films, but make the stories more relevant, by acknowledging current technology such as cell phones. And it works. "Planet Terror" is absolutely inspired as it wastes little time introducing the characters and jumps headlong into one really bad zombie-filled evening in a small town. There's a loner rebel (Freddy Rodriguez), a restaurant owner who makes the best BBQ in the land (Jeff Fahey), his brother the Sheriff (Michael Biehn), a wayward Go-Go dancer (Rose McGowan), a crazed doctor and his wife the anesthesiologist (Josh Brolin and Marley Shelton), there's machine gun legs, zombies, a crazed military General (Bruce Willis), all of which make for a really fun, fast paced, over-the-top exploration of a lost genre, which is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Death Proof, however, is not as break-neck in its pacing. I had heard rumors of Rodriguez going over budget, delaying the production a bit, and also leaving very little left for Tarantino. It shows. In what is, about, an 80-minute film, at least half of it is filling time with long-winded Tarantino-style dialogue that sounds cool, but does little to effect the plot or story, leaving long moments where there is nothing going on. I also felt a bit let down in seeing Marley Shelton's Dr. Block show up in Death Proof as it almost cheapens the moment. "Death Proof," then, is a tie-in to "Planet Terror," as opposed to being two stand-alone features as part of a double-feature. And not only does this moment take the film somewhere odd, but it just stops and begins the next portion of its story, leaving that particular plot thread hanging. Now, I will say that when he kicks it in the short pants and gives us the car chases, they are brilliant. The climax of the film is amazing and feels so triumphant. Unfortunately, there's a lot of nothing to wade through beforehand. I kind of wish Tarantino's half had run first, thus leaving a more uplifting feeling rather than giving me the film with the most to complain about last.

But I digress, this film is more than worth the price of admission. Not only do you get two films for a single admission, but the icing on the blood splattered cake lies with the faux movie trailers done by the likes of Rodriguez, Edgar Wright, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie. In fact, I really want to see "Machete," "Don't," "Thanksgiving," and "Werewolf Women of the SS." And I've heard rumors that Rob Zombie might even be making his trailer into a feature. This is the stuff that childhood dreams are made of. I don't know that I want kids, but I wish I knew that somewhere children were faking sleep so that they could sneak downstairs to watch "Werewolf Women of the SS" on HBO.

This film is a solid A-, a 9, whatever your preference in scale. What Rodriguez and Tarantino have done is greater than merely making a movie, they have given a lost experience to those that missed it, and dug it up and repackaged it for those that lamented the genre's passing. A movie is one thing, but a lasting impression that changes what you thought movies could be ... that's taking it to a whole new level.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

First Snow: Moments Don't Make a Movie!

It's a slippery slope when a film tells you in the first act that your protagonist is going to die. If I know within the first 15 minutes that my main character isn't making it, then the entire film becomes about the journey, rather than the destination. At the beginning of "American Beauty" we know Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham isn't making it, in fact, he's narrating this fact as we're looking at his dead body in the opening shot. Of course that technique wasn't new, having been lifted directly from "Sunset Boulevard," but the journey is what excites us about both of those films. Hell, "Penn and Teller Get Killed" tells you the ending in the title, but there ending is so damn clever, that the closing of that film, mixed with the journey leaves the viewer feeling fulfilled. The same cannot be said of "First Snow," starring Guy Pearce and written and directed by Mark Fergus (Children of Men).

From our opening scene Fergus uses his camera and script to indicate that our main character, Jimmy Starks, is a fast talker, not to mention rather vain. When Jimmy's car breaks down, the local mechanic can't fix it until nightfall so he needs to fill time by talking to a psychic who just happens to have trailer parked in the parking lot of the gas station/ bar. J.K. Simmons plays our psychic and is brilliant in the role, as always. He is very soft spoken and tells Jimmy of a coming windfall, specifically from Dallas. However, he ends the session quickly when the roads in his visions abruptly stop.

When the windfall of money arrives on the coattails of Dallas, Jimmy panics and needs to know what is coming next. And so we spend our second act with Jimmy trying to draw the lines and find out who would want him dead. He has two suspects, but does one of those suspects become a self-fulfilling prophecy? In a film that talks about fate, and roads travelled, so much of Jimmy's road happens due to his own actions upon finding out about his vague, but looming fate.

Between "The Lookout" and "First Snow" I really feel like neo-noir is more akin to no-noir. In the days of film noir it largely meant dark movie, this had much to do with the lighting as well as the story. But there was story in those films and it was our protagonist, often a detective, who stumbled into the story. What is being put in the theatres now relies heavily on camerawork and taking the single individual protagonist and trying to dig into their psyche with lots of long, slow shots. Perhaps this works for some, but I feel like too much time is being wasted in an attempt to make me feel what the director wants me to feel, rather than telling a story and actually letting me feel that emotion on my own. Ultimately, "First Snow" is too long. Too much time is spent showing us Jimmy's breakdown and fear of his own death. I would prefer setup, then a headlong slide to the conclusion. And it would help if the protagonist was mostly likeable.

Now, I will say that the third act succeeds for the most part. Fergus begins to allow usto settle in and watch Jimmy's destruction instead of shoving it down our throats. And his use of snow in those fleeting scenes feels bleak, yet fearless. I just wish he hadn't force fed us the conclusion and left a little more to the imagination. On a cale of 5, I can offer it little more than a 2. I didn't hate it, it's not a total waste of time, but it wastes too much time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Lookout: Confused, Noirish Tale Falls Short

The Lookout opens nationwide at a theatre near you this Friday, March 30. I had a chance to take in a sneak preview last night and, well ... it's not great.

When Chris Pratt, the star hockey player, and spoiled rich kid, is out cruising with friends on a dark highway, on prom night, with no headlights, and crashes the car, his life is drastically changed. Two of his friends have died, one will no longer speak to him, and he doesn't remember the accident. He doesn't remember much due to his closed head injury, he is forced to keep notes in a small notepad. In fact, his whole apartment is labeled with instructions.

Do we feel sorry for him? The director, Scott Frank, seems to want you to feel sorry for him with all of the long takes, silent shots of Chris dealing with his plight, feeling sorry for himself in a lot of ways. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance makes you want to feel sorry for him. He is, after all, our protagonist, so we really want to feel sorry for him. But he wasn't much of a good guy in his previous life, where we are told that he once slashed a nobody player in a championship hockey game knowing he wouldn't get the penalty and suspension; this tale also looms as a sort of lost plot thread.

In fact, a lot is lost. Isla Fisher's character, Luvlee, is either bait or really falls for him, but it is all unclear. She delivers lines that seem both in awe of the legendary Chris Pratt, and yet vengeful at the same time. And as quickly as she has arrived to, and then driven the plot, she is gone. Was this film edited to hell, or is it just sloppy? Hard to tell.

The Lookout is really well acted, but the directing sort of steps on itself. The film is never really sure if it's a character study of a man with a closed head injury and the people in his life, and how he and they deal with their problems, or if it's a bank robbery film. It never truly feels like either. The bank heist plot is a really slow build that doesn't really get interesting until the third act, and the film is paced so slowly that at 99 minutes it feels like two hours. This mostly lies in the fact that it doesn't begin it's "plot" until more than half way through.

I really wanted to like this movie, the trailer looked good, I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but it just wasn't everything I hoped and dreamed it could be. Perhaps my expectations were too high, and visions of "Brick" were dancing in my mind's eye. It's not "Brick," and doesn't quite feel as comfortable within the genre of noir, as does the aforementioned. I needed The Lookout to find its identity and become one or the other of its dual personalities.

There were things that I liked. I did like some of the shots, even if they do confuse the mood. And there is a major standout acting performance by Jeff Daniels. His character, Lewis, was blinded by overexposure to meth fumes, and now serves as best friend, roommate and sort of mentor to Chris. Daniels brings an air of acceptance to his character's fate. He is comfortable with himself, and has accepted his own hand in that fate. Chris, on the other hand, hasn't really accepted himself, still showing signs of that selfish rich kid, which makes it so hard to feel sympathetic when he makes the really bad decision of helping out in a bank robbery where he works as a janitor -- his self-imposed "pennance" for killing his friends.

By the time this film climaxes, it's just too late, regardless of shootouts and double crosses. And what the hell's the deal with Bone? That one character also leaves a looming feeling of over-the-top.

I'm sort of left confused as to why it is that this is getting a wide release. It feels more like straight to DVD, and then ready for cable viewing on a hung-over Sunday afternoon when you can't reach the remote. I give it a 6 out of 10 ... a solid C. Stay at home and watch "Brick" instead ... or just wait a week for it to hit your local second run dollar show ... maybe a week later for DVD.

Friday, March 23, 2007

TMNT: A Must See, Even Without Vanilla Ice!

Every time the subject of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes up, a friend of mine laments the day he was in a comic shop in California and his friend held up a copy of some new indie black and white comic with four turtles, and he merely responded, “No one is going to buy that, it’s oversized and in black and white …” Well, it turns out several people bought it and after two animated series, and three live action films, the Turtles are back in action, and here to stay. This time, in CGI.

Now I am really tempted to tell you what a shell of a good time this film is, or how it kicks shell and takes names … but I’ll resist the urge and spare you the bad puns! The thing about the Turtles is that the majority of fans grew up with the 90s cartoon show and, therefore, expect to see Shredder fighting it out with our four heroes. But anyone who has read the comics know that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird went on to some very strange tales after Shredder’s defeat in the first story arc. The live-action movies attempted this, but fell a little short with the sequels. However, this new incarnation in CGI follows the map set out in those films, and with the general feeling of family felt in the comics, extremely well.

Kevin Munroe has brought the TMNT back in a big way. It has a similar dark feel to the first live-action film, but it’s not dark in that you can’t see the action, which was a major complaint that many had with the live action picture. When I spoke with Kevin Munroe at last year’s San Diego ComiCon he mentioned having sat down with the animators to watch The Third Man for specific lighting cues, and it is evident. The film is lit beautifully and “shot” really well. It doesn’t feel like just another animated feature. It feels very cinematic and very BIG!

Munroe uses the live-action films as a jumping off point, and even drops some props in there for reference to those films. Where we start is that Leonardo is living in South America to complete his training, but has stayed too long, which has resulted in a sort of breakdown of the family element; Michaelangelo is a “costumed” turtle for kids’ parties, Donatello is an IT Guy, and Raphael, unbeknownst to his brothers is taking on crime at night as an armored, motorcycle riding vigilante. However, something is brewing that is going to require the brothers to learn how to work together again, and they’re going to need the help of April O’Neil (who is a bit of a ninja herself this go ‘round) and Casey Jones.

There is a really neat story here that involves some monsters, The Foot Clan and an ancient General trapped for all eternity by his own immortality. At times it is difficult to determine who, amongst the non-turtles, is our antagonist, and in that, this film really held my attention. It’s fun, looks great, and just feels right. With each new incarnation of Turtles, something changes, but Munroe doesn’t seem to have missed a beat. I am really hoping there’s a sequel that captures the tone that has been set here. And, of course, I can’t wait to see the return of The Shredder via CGI!

I’m going to give this film a 7.5 or a B+, however you prefer to look at it. If ever there was a Turtles fan that dwelled within you, get yourself out to the theatre and see this movie. TMNT opens nationwide today!

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Last Mimzy: Silly Rabbit, Quantum Physics Is For Kids?!?

Upon seeing The Last Mimzy, I can't help but describe it as E.T. with a stuffed rabbit, under the influence of John Titor (look him up!). When two siblings, Noah and Emma, find a bizarre chest near the family beach house they discover that it is filled with all sorts of quantum wonders, which seemingly increase the kids intelligence, give them bizarre metaphysical powers, and alienate them from their parents.

This film is very interesting, but sort of misses its target audience. In a film that explores Tibetan ideology, quantum physics, and the space time continuum, it seems very strange to have the heroes as children. This angle does allow the fillmmakers to explore theories about how children often see things beyond adults because their brains work at a higher level, but they're also pitching this theory to children who don't have enough life experience to understand any of it, and adults who, well, are operating at a lower level of brain activity than the children.

The name Mimzy comes from one of the toys, a stuffed rabbit, that Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) quickly becomes attached to, and believes is telling her things. Noah (Chris O'Neil), on the other hand, becomes intrigued by the box's "engine," and soon finds that he can hear spiders and teleport cans of soda.

As all of these things begin happening, a larger puzzle looms and Noah's teacher (Rainn Wilson in a typical, but enjoyable role for him) starts to believe that Noah may be a special child as indicated in certain Tibetan beliefs. The children's parents, however, are not ready to buy into any hippie mumbo jumbo and are concerned for their children who only seem to interact with each other.

Add Michael Clarke Duncan as an operative of Homeland Security and you have a presumed terrorism plot that puts the children and their toys at the center. But there's nothing terrorist about it. In fact, I wouldn't have minded the children having found Mimzy at the Circle K as all of their actions in the days that follow, will effect a doomed future.

As someone who loved What The Bleep Do We Know?!?, devoured the books of Carlos Castaneda at the pace of a fat kid left alone in a pastry shop, and loved the darker fairy tale elements of Pan's Labyrinth, I really enjoyed this film. Somewhere it is missing something that would make it perfect and I really believe it's the mixing of a perfectly good quantum tale with childrens' fare, but I really can't think of any other way to tell the story. It has a fairy tale element and even touches upon the magic of Alice in Wonderland, as our heroes themselves seem to be following Mimzy down the rabbit hole.

Feel free to take the kids and enjoy a great family adventure, but be ready for the younger set to shift and squirm, possibly becoming bored ... if it's children over 12, though, this is going to be a fun discussion-filled car ride home!

Disturbia: Missing One Crime-Solving, Talking Dog

And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for those meddling kids and their stupid dog ... okay, there wasn't a dog in this particular mix of the Scooby-Doo gang, but there should have been. Disturbia, which is being billed by the rabid movie-going public as a teenage remake of Rear Window, owes as much to Hitchcock as they do Hanna-Barbera.

Kale (Shia Labeouf) is your typical 17-year-old high school kid until his life is thrown into a top spin when his Dad is killed in a car accident while the two are returning from a fishing trip. That sort of thing, understandably, changes a kid. So, it is also understandable when Kale punches his Spanish teacher in the face for making inappropriate comments about the aforementioned dead father being disappointed in his son over missing a Spanish assignment. Understandable, not reasonable, the entire incident is ridiculous, but also serves to put Kale under house arrest during the summer before his senior year of high school. Now, when Mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) cuts off the XBox online service, as well as his iTunes, what is a boy to do, but pick up a set of binoculars and begin living a life of voyeurism, watching his neighbors swim in bikinis, do yoga in their bedroom, conduct extra-marital affairs, and kill unsuspecting local women.

First of all, let's remind ourselves that this film is PG-13, and is, therefore, a horror movie for the younger set. It isn't gory, there's little blood, there isn't any real scenes of murder. It does, however, build some decent suspense, and the Scooby gang here is good looking and charming, but I shouldn't see the boom mic once, let alone 4 times. I understand that this was an early screening, and I hope the problem is fixed prior to the actual release date, because I cannot suspend my disbelief and feel scared by the slow build when I'm staring at a boom mic.

Moreover, I have an equally hard time believing that our killer can be taken down by three teenage kids, after alluding the police for nearly seven years. Nor can I believe that a killer who has been active for so long would suddenly become so sloppy in dismembering bodies without a shade properly pulled. David Morse is scary enough, and even downright creepy, but at no point do we really feel that he might not be the killer and merely suspected because of a stir crazy boy and his wild imagination. This guy is definitely the killer, but why is he so damn sloppy?

There are a lot of things that I liked about this movie, but they are far outweighed by the things I didn't like. The fun little relationship that develops between Kale and neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer) is cute, but it's not enough. And all of the psychological pressures that Kale should be feeling are not only overlooked by the adults in his life, but the filmmakers as well. After foiling a crazed serial killer, this boy should be completely unravelling, not looking for some smoochie time, no matter how hot that neighbor is.

This movie will do well at the box office as long as its intended audience finds their way there. Teenagers that have never seen Rear Window will be looking at some fresh concepts, but let's just hope that their time spent with cartoons helps them see through this drivel and demand more from these types of movies.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Moan For Me, Baby! Black Snake Moan is the Perfect Cure For the Blues

I recently had the opportunity to attend a screening of Black Snake Moan, followed by a Q&A with director Craig Brewer, and then when the opportunity for a screening popped up again last night, I jumped at the chance. Black Snake Moan is a beautifully made, incredibly acted film. And yet, it has this dirty quality to it where you can feel that Memphis heat, you can smell the sweat ...

However, Craig Brewer contends that this is not at all an exploitation film, but a very southern film. He describes it like a Saturday night in Memphis with folks being very religious, but also having a penchant for booze and sin, so you go down to the local juke joint, dance, sweat it out, then get up for church on Sunday. Hearing that made me realize and see, upon the second viewing, just how personal this film is.

The film opens on Blues Legend Son House talking about love and how that deep love that you feel deep in your heart, that's what can destroy a person. Then ... BAM! We dive headlong into our tale, opening on the manic lovemaking of Rae (Christina Ricci) and Ronnie (Justin Timberlake). We then are introduced to Lazarus (Sam Jackson) and begin the parallel journey of lost love, booze, sin and redemption for both Rae and Lazarus.

There are a lot of very interesting religious themes that play themselves out through the course of the film, such as Jackson's Lazarus who is a character who is seemingly resurrected by the relationship he forms with Ricci's Rae, a nymphomaniac with a history of abuse. Together, they find redemption even if it does take chaining Rae to the radiator to get there.

There are many moments in this film that feel exploitive. Again, it's dirty, it's sweaty, Ricci is half naked, chained to a radiator and Jackson feels it necessary to get the devil out of her. It has a certain over-the-top quality that certainly has some light, laughter-filled moments, but that's not what this film is about. It's a personal journey for Brewer, who admits to having anxiety attacks and says that his wife has to lay on his back with her flesh against his, arms wrapped around his shoulders, holding hands, in what they referred to as the Black Snake Moan. Brewer also tells of dreams in which he, himself, is chained to a radiator. And he then uses this radiator as a symbol of forboding, as well as a sort of altar where the hardest decisions are made.

Brewer has really arrived with Black Snake Moan, creating such wonderful, emotive imagery, with a cast that delivers his "show, don't tell" dialogue with a very real quality. The chemistry between Rae and Lazarus is really felt by Jackson and Ricci. These two people need each other, and come to learn that as the film evolves, because it isn't just the film that moves on, but these characters, this town ... and even when you feel a real conclusion, much like life, nothing has changed that much.

So, go feel some sin and sweat it out with Black Snake Moan.
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