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!
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