Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

08
Jul
10

“Kick-Ass” and Take Names

Or was that ass-kicked?

Starring Aaron Johnson, Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Lyndsy Fonseca, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz, and Nicolas Cage. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

I will say it over and over again: I’m not a huge fan of the superhero genre. For every good superhero movie (“Superman,” “Batman,” “Spider-Man”) there are the less-than-stellar attempts at bringing others to the silver screen (“Daredevil,” “Hulk”) as well as attempts to resurrect a franchise (“Superman Returns,” “The Incredible Hulk”). And let’s not forget the made-up/not so renown ones (“Blankman,” “Steele”). I’m writing this on the eve of “Iron Man 2,” which I suspect will be the popcorn blockbuster that the first entirely was and that’s fine with me.

“Kick-Ass” is based on a darker graphic novel and follows Dave Lizewski, your Peter Parker-ish high school quintessential 98+ pound weakling. He’s in love with the beautiful but impossible to have Katie Deauxma (Fonseca). His two best friends Marty (Duke) and Todd (Peters) hang out with him each day at Atomic Comics. Dave’s life is the epitome of boring and mundane: he goes to school, his dad goes to work, they eat the same brand knock-off cereal, etc. In short, blah.

Out of this stagnation comes a twisted idea: what if he became a superhero, like in the comic books? His friends dismiss it saying that it would be crazy. Unless a person happened to be like Batman or whoever else why would anyone want to do it? Again, crazy idea. But not for Dave…

Hopping on the Net he orders a green with yellow trim wetsuit and some batons. He adopts the name Kick-Ass and in the beginning he’s more the reverse: his ass gets kicked. He has no fighting skills or training or cache of money to rely on. This doesn’t deter him because he has the one thing that superheroes need: a heart. After an attempt to thwart carjackers leaves him bleeding from a stab wound, as well as getting hit by a car, he emerges from the hospital with enough metal inside him to rival Wolverine. This clinches his idea of becoming a superhero.

Enter the main bad guy, lumber supplier and drug kingpin Frank D’Amico (Strong). After a deal goes bad Kick-Ass is to blame and becomes his personal center of revenge. The kingpin’s son, Chris (Mintz-Plasse), concocts a plan to get close to Kick-Ass by becoming a superhero himself.

Kick-Ass finds allies in Hit Girl (Moretz) and Big Daddy (Cage). Big Daddy had been a cop who refused to bend to D’Amico and became framed. Sent to prison for five years his then wife OD’d on drugs but lived long enough to give birth to their daughter, Mindy. Mindy and father become reunited after he’s released whereby she becomes Hit Girl and he Big Daddy. Their mission: bring down D’Amico.

I’ll leave the story description there because let’s face it: you’ve seen the plot points before. What makes this movie differ from the rest is that it knows the source material that came before it and plays to the audience. Dave narrates the film with that “I’m telling you but you should probably already figure it out” sense of sarcasm. He knows that he doesn’t have the Batman story of revenge, or the Spider-Man story of being bitten by a radioactive spider. He knows and comes to terms with the fact that superheroes grace comic books for a reason: they are in an alternate reality. By finding his own humanity he does manage to become a superhero which is just as good.

My thoughts? I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. When Nicholson in “Batman,” exclaimed, “What this town needs is an enema,” he may as well have been talking about the superhero genre. After knowing the backstories to every-other Marvel or DC character and knowing the story arcs, we’ve become so accustomed to how the story is supposed to play out that all we can do is venture whether or not this set of characters did it well.

And these do. Kick-Ass goes from being the high school dork to superhero sensation. He befriends others trying to help the cause. He fights the bad guy and wins. And, there’s the offspring of a future nemesis.

Aside from this, “Kick-Ass” is a film I would suggest to young filmmaker wannabes/gonnabes because there are so many styles put into this film. Director Matthew Vaughn’s debut movie was “Layer Cake,” but this plays closer to “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” and “Snatch,” both movies he produced with Guy Ritchie. For those who miss the sense of humor those movies had in Ritchie’s current work check this one out; you’ll find the person it came from. Whether the movie plays like Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” or like “A Scanner Darkly,” or even like a video game, it keeps you on your toes for what to expect. It may not be the greatest achievement in film but I can liken it to “Kill Bill Vol. 1” in terms of mashing together various styles.

Aaron Johnson does a great job at being the high school dork-come-superhero with heart and I expect that he’ll get a lot more work because of it. I’m not going to guess what his range is but he played the part perfectly. Nic Cage does an interesting turn as Big Daddy, a Batman wannabe down to his lookalike custom and Adam West-pregnant pausing sentences.

The real thing about this movie is Mindy/Hit Girl. She’s twelve, cusses worse than a sailor, and could out-John Woo any situation. A lethal killing machine that hasn’t even gotten to high school yet. I’ve heard friends say that this is controversial in other cities and maybe they’re talking about it here. But hey guys: it’s just a movie. Sit back, relax, and try to have fun watching it.

I wish I could recommend this to everybody but I know that tastes vary and that there will be a lot of people offended by this one. So I’ll recommend this one to those who love superhero movies, those who like them, and those who are all about satire.

My grade: B+

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

Advertisements
09
Jun
10

“Alice in Wonderland’s” Queen Trumps the Mad Hatter

Parable or allegory?

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Crispin Glover. Directed by Tim Burton. Based on the books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll.

NOTE: I watched this in Disney Digital 3-D.

I’ve never been a big “Alice in Wonderland” fan. I know the gist of the story: girl follows a white rabbit into a hole and enters a strange land inhabited by the translucent Cheshire Cat, the insane Mad Hatter, befuddled twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, March Hare, blue hookah-smoking Absolem the caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts with the signature phrase: “Off with their heads!” That’s as much as I remember.

As of late there has been a lot of discussion about Alice’s adventures and whether or not it was really kid story material. Granted the initial novel was written over a hundred years ago, and yes times have changed, but what was the story about? The current consensus is that it’s a weird tale of a girl running into even weirder characters, moving from event to event. Tim Burton saw this challenge and decided to give his own spin and story structure to Carroll’s famous characters.

When this tale begins, Alice is four years old and confesses to her father that she’s been having a weird dream filled with these various characters. Her father reassures her that even though she may be mad/bonkers/off of her head, some of the best are a little mad.

It’s now fifteen years later and Alice’s father has recently passed. Alice (Wasikowska) is now nineteen years of age and being taken by her mother (unknowingly) to an engagement party. Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) is a red-headed Lord with digestive problems who plans to propose to Alice. Everyone at the party knows that he plans on asking for her hand in marriage at the gazebo. Hamish has title and money and in interest of those times, Alice would be a fool not to accept. Her only other option is to wait and end up like her Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour), a woman physically in account but mentally in her own world, forever waiting for her prince to come. Standing at the gazebo, Hamish on his knees proposing, Alice is emotionally overwhelmed and runs away, chasing after the white rabbit and falling into a hole.

After getting past the “cake makes you bigger, potion makes you smalle” debacle, Alice enters Wonderland and finds a weird wasteland that unfolds. She’s escorted by the chubby, dimwitted twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (voiced by Matt Lucas) and the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) to Absolem, a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. The White Rabbit swears that she’s the correct Alice and Absolem replies that she’s not quite Alice yet. The Oraculum,” a scroll detailing the chronological history of all events regarding Alice, is produced and Alice is foretold to be the one who will save Underland by slaying the Jabberwocky, the Red Queen’s dragon.

Meanwhile, we meet the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), a small tyrant with a giant, heart-shaped head of red that has a moat filled with the heads of the beheaded including her husband, the former King. The Knave (Crispin Glover) is her right-hand man. He’s incredibly tall with a scar across his face and a heart-shaped eye patch that changes from black to red. After retrieving the Oraculum, he commissions a bloodhound named Bayard (voiced by Timothy Spall) to find Alice. Alice must evade the Knave and slay the Jabberwocky, along the way befriending the Mad Hatter (Depp), March Hare (voiced by Paul Whitehouse), and Mallymkun the Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor). She must also get the Vorpal Sword and conquer the dragon, Jabberwocky.

But the real question is: does it live up to the hype?

If not for the fact that this is based on books whose characters have permeated pop culture history (“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, anyone), probably not. If not for the fact that Johnny Depp is in it, probably not. If not for the fact that Tim Burton directed it, probably not. If one were to take out any of these three crucial elements, the film would’ve suffered. All three, and no one would have bothered to go see it.

Which brings me to say that as it lays, “Alice in Wonderland” is a good movie. Not great, but good enough. There’s a solid structure to the story going on which plays as either a parable or an allegory; you be the judge. The characters Alice meets in Underland are abstract caricatures of those back in the real world and just like the real world, Underland is forcing Alice to grow up; no more living life on her own terms of what she does or doesn’t want to do.

As noted in the title, the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) really sets this movie moreso than Depp. Depp is an interestingly complex Mad Hatter, sure enough, but this film really rests on the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and in that department, Carter delivers. The Queen is more of a brat than a bitch per se which makes sense in Alice’s world.

On a filmmaking level this movie probably harkens more to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” There is a level of kid-friendliness to it, mixed with Burton’s grasp of visual desolation, but underneath it all is a heroine who needs to come to bat in order to save the world/grow up. On a visual level it’s not “Avatar” nor is it meant to be, but Burton does a well-enough job mixing live action green-screen technology and CG characters.

One problem I had with the film was The White Queen (Hathaway). Imagine if Arwen from “Lord of the Rings” danced around prim and proper and was shot with a creme-colored filter. I have heard that the White Queen was supposed to be as mad as the Red Queen but not show it, and that’s acceptable, but the character just didn’t work for me; she seemed to belong more to Middle Earth.

The other problem I had with the film was in the final act, and there are two: first, the Mad Hatter is supposed to do a dance better than anyone else. He does a funky jig (infused with some hip hop music) that just looks too goofy for any seriousness. Then again, I might be taking it too seriously. The second problem is that attention is diverted from Alice trying to slay the dragon to the battle between the White and Red Queen’s armies. This was unneeded, seeing as the movie was about Alice learning to grow up and take responsibility as opposed to two sides waiting eternally for some prophetic day when both will battle for sole control of wherever.

One final note: my favorite character was the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry). Great, cool character that was well done.

TRIVIA: Christopher Lee does the voice of the Jabberwocky. And for those who didn’t know, Lewis Carroll wrote that, too.

My grade: B

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

11
May
10

Mythology Returns to the Movies with “Clash of the Titans”

A black pegasus?

Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Gemma Arterton. Directed by Louis Leterrier

NOTE: I watched the film in Real 3-D.

I was all of four years of age when the original “Clash of the Titans” was released in 1981 and like every kid who grew up in the Eighties, I’ve watched the original at least a dozen times. Not to have a “back in the day” moment, but mythology was one of those cool things that sprang up on occasion. There was only one universal book on the subject by Edith Hamilton and aside from the fact that my “gifted”/really intelligent kids program did a unit of study on it, I might not have known anything about it save for the fact that the movie production company Orion was named after the constellation named for the mythological character. I have no idea or clue if kids are interested in it nowadays.

This remake directed by Louis Leterrier (“The Incredible Hulk”) brings back that since of nostalgia for Perseus, Zeus, Athena, Io, and the myriad of characters that deep down we find fascinating. Mythology envelopes us in a time and place where incredible feats were accomplished and the gods did way more than just place dice with the universe.

Loosely following the structure of a film that played pretty loosely with actual mythology, the story opens with the constellations in the sky and explains the creation of the Kraken (which comes into play later, if you didn’t know) as well as what happened between the god brothers Zeus and Hades. After creating the Kraken (a hideous, evil creature) Zeus sent Hades to sit immortality out running the underworld (a little Christianity with your Greek mythology, folks?)

Perseus is a baby laying on his dead mother’s body inside a coffin when he’s picked up by a fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) who brings him up as his own son. On a particular trip in his late teens Perseus (now a grown Sam Worthington) and his family watch from their boat as the tides of change have enacted against the gods and a ginormous statue of Zeus is being toppled from a cliff by soldiers. The world of men no longer needs the gods; they can make their own.

Which doesn’t bode well on Mount Olympus where Zeus looks down to see that Man has turned against him. He needs the love and worship of Man to have power and he’s quickly losing it. When his brother Hades (Fiennes) shows they make a deal to teach mankind a lesson, not knowing that Hades has bigger plans. In the meantime Zeus sends winged creatures to pick-off the soldiers and Perseus’s family drowns when their boat is capsized by the falling statue.

At Argos a ceremony is being held by the king and his wife who decry the gods and goddesses. When the queen states that her daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is better looking than the goddess Athena, Hades makes his play on the kingdom of Argos: unless the king sacrifices his daughter for his wife’s insolence to Athena, the kingdom of Argos will be destroyed in ten days. Oh, and by the way Persues, the guy they pulled from the ocean, is a demi-god. Thanks.

Which causes Perseus a lot of problems. First off he blames Zeus for the death of his family. Second, the gods aren’t exactly winning any population contests with the people. Third, he’s just a fisherman and really doesn’t want to answer to being any more than what he is (an ongoing theme in the film). Meanwhile, we find out more about the birth of Perseus. His father Acrisius (Jason Flemyng) got screwed-over by Zeus in the beginning of Man’s war against the gods when Zeus came to Earth in the form of Acrisius and made out with his wife. Acrisius finds out, Zeus flees the scene and Acrisius waits until Perseus is born before putting his wife and him into a coffin and throwing it into the ocean. The demi-god Io (Arterton) guides the coffin to the boat of a fisherman while Zeus punishes Acrisius by deforming him (he now becomes Calibos) and banishing him to be Hades’ neighbor. Speaking of, Hades hires Calibos to kill Perseus because he has big plans.

Perseus meets Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) the leader of the Argos soldiers sent to prevent the death of Andromeda by… whatever. We in the theater (and at home) know it’s the Kraken, but the characters aren’t exactly sure what’s going on or really where they’re going; for all they know they could be on a suicide mission to chuck a ring into a volcano. They pick up two travelers and a Djinn (decrepit guy who can wield ancient magic) on their way to the witches and to Medusa and finally back to Argos to save the princess and keep Argos from being obliterated by the Kraken.

It’s better than I thought it would have been. Honestly. I loved growing up watching the original and was more than cautious on seeing this one. Having picked up the original on Blu-ray I can see it through a different set of eyes and –yes- it’s not the greatest movie since the train station one by the Lumiere Brothers, but it’s good and worthy of seeing at a theater.

Leterrier’s remake parallels the original but keeps its distance. Instead of “one man making a journey” it becomes a sort of “Fellowship Against the Kraken.” In the original Perseus went through self-imposed training to become PERSEUS and save the day whereas in this version the character doesn’t want to answer “the call of destiny” opting to rebel against it either because he just wants to be a fisherman or his self-esteem really is that low. The white Pegasus was traded for a black one, and the Kraken is a verifiable sea monster with tentacles as opposed to the giant Harryhausen creation.

My main complaint on the movie is that it lacks imperative nature. At no point in the film is there a time countdown; in fact, the film feels like it took place over two or three days at most. While there is camaraderie among the rag-tag group, they’re all sure of pursuing certain death so that Perseus can become who he needs to become in order to save Argos/the Princess/the day but Perseus doesn’t believe in himself nor what he’s being expected to do. Meanwhile, those around him get killed. And at the end of it all everything is righted again but it doesn’t stop from feeling underwhelming.

And that’s a concern: that our culture has divided everything into being either super-soft touchy/feely or super-action hero incredulous; there seems to be no middle ground. This is a movie for a generation of kids who grew up on “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” antidepressants, etc. On one hand not having more anima hurts this film and keeps it from being great. On the other, Leterrier makes a case about friendship, love, worship, the gods, and becoming one’s own self, regardless of fate or destiny.

Another minor adjunct complaint: everyone in the movie seemed to know what was going on/what they had to do but ignored the audience. Maybe this is a “gutsy” move to make audiences think, or maybe Leterrier is harkening back to olden days when everything wasn’t explained to its final detail. I don’t remember what led them from one place to the next except for a clue, and not one person questioned what was going on. Maybe I’ll chalk that up to “lack of character development” and letting the characters serve the story.

Special effect fight scenes were really well done. Acting was pretty good. The filmmakers attempted to take the original and make it their own and for the most part (given the source material) they did so. As for 3-D content… I have problems with 3-D glasses. Aside from putting them over my own I have a stigmatism and it takes ten minutes for my eyes to adjust to the image and as long as the picture stays in place I’m fine. The problem with 3-D (and me watching it as well) is when quick-cut fast-paced action sequences occur; they give me a headache. If you have the same problem, you may wanna skip seeing it in 3-D.

I can recommend this as a good matinee film or you may want to opt for full-price. It’s good for a remake and I would consider seeing it again.

Watch for Bubo (the mechanical owl) to make an appearance.

My grade: B

25
Feb
10

Movie Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Visually fascinating and bleedin’ boring.

Starring Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Andrew Garfield. Directed by Terry Gilliam

I’m not a big fan of fantasy movies. There are a few I’ve liked such as “Legend” (Tom Cruise, Tim Curry, Mia Sara) the “Lord of the Rings” saga, and even “Stardust,” but Terry Gilliam is a different type of fantasy movie director. On one hand I can appreciate the fact that the guy can craft a scene and make it feel three-dimensional through the use of various lenses. On the other his ambition can exceed his grasp and the story he’s trying to tell suffers. Such is the case with “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”

The film opens with a wagon that’s seen better days navigating the streets of London like a naval carrier. It stops outside a bar and the stage unfolds. A guy (Garfield) dressed up as the messenger god Mercury traverses the stage, calling for people to hear of the exploits of the 1,000-year-old Doctor Parnassus (Plummer). A drunken guy climbs onstage and is thrown into a mirror. Once inside he is treated to a few punches from Valentina (Cole) and his undoing is wherever his imagination takes him, which happens to be jellyfish aliens that release him to crash to earth where he stumbles into a bar that explodes soon after he enters it.

And who is Doc Parnassus? Parnassus was once a monk living a thousand years ago. He held a sacred order in one of those inaccessible mountain areas where it snows all the time. On a personal note I’ve always wondered how these places are made, why they have a fairly decent population, etc. (movies never explain this). The monastery’s monks share a magic that allows them to float on carpets and their one mantra is that by telling stories the world continues to perpetuate existence. Hence, if no one tells stories then the world ceases to exist. The Devil (Tom Waits, wouldn’t ya know?) visits the Doc and gets him to gamble. The Doc wins and the Devil gives him immortality as well as the “itch” and in return, Parnassus becomes the Devil’s pet project.

Fast forward to modern day where Parnassus falls in love with a woman at first sight. He makes another deal with the Devil to become young and youthful again but the Devil puts in a stipulation: his first child would become the property of El Diablo once they turned 16. Parnassus’s wife turns 60 and dies during childbirth. Parnassus now finds himself an aged, immortal single father who has to keep the secret of his pact with the Devil from his daughter. This little fact becomes the subtext the movie rides on.

Fate or fortune intervenes when the crew of Anton (Garfield), Valentina (Cole), and Percy (Troyer) find a man (Ledger) hanging from the bottom of a bridge. When he comes to he can’t remember who he is, why he was hanging from the bottom of the bridge, etc. He exerts his wile, professional demeanor, and smooth capacity for salesmanship and brings money and attention to the traveling troupe’s show. It also attracts the Russian mobsters that tried killing him by hanging. He throws himself through the mirror (the entrance/exit of Parnassus’ mind) to get away from them.

For a moment let me discuss the mirror. The mirror allows people to enter a world they imagine. If more than one person enters the one with the most vivid, or prevalent, imagination trumps any other imagination. Otherwise the world is whatever the main person’s makes it. Eventually the “ride” ends when the Devil comes to claim the souls of the pure, part of the pact Parnassus makes with him.

Back to Ledger’s character Tony Shepherd. Tony apparently took money from the Russian mob for a children’s charity and didn’t know they were laundering their money through it. Or that’s the story he tells. While in the “mind” of Parnassus, Tony’s face keeps changing and it symbolically reflects the changing of his lies. He goes from looking like Johnny Depp, to Jude Law, then finally Colin Farrell. All the while he tries holding onto his flute which he shoves down his throat in order to keep his windpipe from crushing while hanging.

Note: this probably makes more sense while you watch it as opposed to me translating it on the page here.

So how did I feel about this one? If you’ve worked a full 8-10 hour day you would seriously need some coffee to get through this one. There are some really cool visual moments but Gilliam’s leaning on CG environments doesn’t always work and some instances look as if the graphics weren’t completed. The story flounders majorly and Ledger’s death caused various shifts in the movie. Or maybe Gilliam isn’t great on directing the “quiet moments” of the movie as opposed to the fantastical sequences. Whichever it may be I was hoping for more “umph” from the movie or at least something that felt more magical. This felt like someone going through the motions interjecting sad footnotes along the way.

And hey, I may not be the audience on this one; this plays more for those fans of Gilliam’s work. I liked “Tim Bandits,” and “Brazil” is almost a guilty pleasure for me, but that’s it. If you’re a Gilliam fan, this may be your movie.

Most of the actors do well with the parts they have to play. Plummer is good, Waits as the Devil was interesting, and Ledger worked for the scenes he was in but again, the tonal shifts with the various actors playing his character throw the story off. Lily Cole was beautiful and did a great job. Then again, the story didn’t really feel complete to begin with. My friend John said that it’s a literal re-translation of the Parnassus tale and I’ll have to research that…

Can I honestly recommend this? I recommend coffee (or some form of caffeine) before seeing it but if you’re a true blue Gilliam fan, go for it. Otherwise you may want to rent it.

My grade: C

13
Apr
09

Movies on DVD Review: Slaughterhouse-Five

slaughterhouse_five

 

I have become unstuck in movie reviewing…

 

Stars Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, Eugene Roche, and Valerie Perrine. Directed by George Roy Hill. Based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

 

Billy Pilgrim (Sacks) is sitting, typing out a letter to the editor telling him stating that he has become “unstuck in time.” From that moment he time-trips to the future and his life on Tralfamadore, then back to himself as a young chaplain caught by the Germans and sent to Dresden. We see further glimpses into his life as he survives a plane crash, becomes an optometrist, survives the bombing of Dresden, gets married, has kids, and winds up as part of a human zoo on planet Tralfamadore.

 

The most effective parts of the movie are the one based in Dresden. Dresden was a civilian city not thought to be a military target. Vonnegut based this on his experiences in Dresden which include surviving the bombing. We are also shown that when the Nazis say you will be shot for taking any merchandise, they keep to their word.

 

I enjoyed the movie. It’s dark, funny, tragic, interesting, intriguing, weird, and poignant. Hill (I am told) stayed loyal to the novel. I apologize upfront; I have not read the novel (sorry to disappoint). If that’s true, this is one fantastical stream of consciousness. Kudos to Vonnegut for the story.

 

Why should you watch it? If you’re a film geek this fits two categories: cult movie and non-linear editing. On the “cult” side, this movie was not critically acclaimed nor a big box office draw however, it’s weird enough and has a following. As for non-linear editing, think of this movie as an inspiration for films like “Memento” and “Pulp Fiction.” If you are a bookworm, this is one of the most loyally adapted book-to-films.

 

On a trivia note, George Roy Hill also directed “The Sting,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Slap Shot,” “The World According to Garp,” and “Funny Farm.” Valerie Perrine is still acting. And Michael Sacks, who beat out Dirk Benedict for the role of Billy Pilgrim, retired from acting in 1984 and is now Head of Global Applications Development at MarketAxess.

 

My grade: B

 

12
Mar
09

Movies on DVD Review: The Wicker Man

 wicker_manI won’t be looking for a missing girl anytime soon…

Stars Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Eckland, and Britt Ekland. Directed by Robin Hardy.

Note: this is on the original 1973 version, not the 2006 remake.

Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) is a conservative Christian cop from the mainland (England) He’s probably the most conservative Christian in all of Great Britain. When he arrives on Summerisle, a small Scottish island community known for apple exportation, he is searching for a little girl named Rowan Morrison. The isle’s residents are far from happy to help, citing that they have never heard of the girl (including the purported mother). With pagan rituals surrounding him, he gets more and more irritated as he finds there may be a link between the upcoming May Day Festival and the little girl’s disappearance. At the end he finds that what he was investigating wasn’t what was going on at all.

My two cents: this movie is on an entirely different plane of existence.

The cover of the DVD uses the quote, “The ‘Citizen Kane’ of horror films.” That might be stretching it a little, but “The Wicker Man” is a movie that holds its own. From the opening music and dance rituals, to Britt Ekland seducing Woodward in song, to Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle, to the end (you know it’s coming but the how and why you have to see for yourself) this movie delivers. Haunting, mesmerizing, fantastical, horrific, and suspenseful, this is a movie I recommend seeing at least once.

The version I watched clocked in at 95 minutes. Most cuts of the film are at 88. Supposedly there is a 102 minute version available on videocassette which includes scenes prior to Howie getting to Summerisle, as well as confrontations with the people.

This DVD version (by Anchor Bay Entertainment) contains “The Wicker Man Enigma,” a documentary about the making of the film with Robin Hardy, Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, and Roger Corman. This is worth watching for the trials and tribulations of the film getting released. Also included are TV spots, trailers, and a DVD Easter Egg of a video interview Robin Hardy and Christopher Lee by a Southern film critic during the movie’s initial theatrical run.

Of note the movie “Hot Fuzz” pays homage to this movie, as well as featuring its star Edward Woodward.

My grade: B+

 

12
Feb
09

A Salute to Anthology TV of the Eighties

Being a kid in the Eighties my TV watching consisted of Transformers, He-Man, and G.I, Joe in the afternoon, Knight Rider and maybe Alf in the evening, and then there were the scary shows, the ones I had to sneak away and watch, telling myself that my parents didn’t know I was watching them (when they probably did). Since my childhood was skewed toward sci-fi/ horror genre, so is the following:

 

“Hammer House of Horror” – Running for only one season (13 episodes) in 1980, the British Horror production company Hammer Film Productions released this foray into ghosts, demons, and the supernatural.

 

“Tales From the Darkside” – Produced by George Romero (with Stephen King writing at least 2 episodes), “Darkside” ran from 1984-1990. Each episode was 30 minutes in length and began with a normal situation that would get crazy quickly and end with a twist. Then again, there were a lot of series like this. What set “Darkside” apart from the rest was its dark sense of humor. This show has recently been released on DVD and I’m having a blast watching it. My favorite so far is the one which starred the guy from the Dunkin’ Donuts commercials from the Eighties. He has back problems and goes to see a doctor, who tells him that in order to get rid of the back pains he has to get rid of the stress in his life, which means that his wife has to be killed. After his will is killed in a car “accident” he’s summoned to the doctor to find he now has to kill someone to “pay” for his back pain “cure.”

 

“Amazing Stories” – Steven Spielberg decided to take his childhood watching of “The Twilight Zone” and reading “Amazing Stories” and helped create this series. While “middle of the road” to critics, it wasn’t bad for what it was: a family version of “The Twilight Zone,” so to speak. I remember watching the very first episode, “Ghost Train,” about an old man who, as a kid, placed a penny on a railroad track, derailing the train. The train returns to claim him as he nears death. Also, there was the episode about the cartoonist trapped in a gun turret of a Word War II Bomber, Santa being jailed, and a kid who becomes magnetic after a piece of meteorite falls in his back yard. It ran for two seasons: 1985-1987.

 

“The New Twilight Zone” – This ran on CBS from 1985-1989. CBS had what they thought was a good idea: resurrect “The Twilight Zone.” Problem was that this retreading tanked and was cancelled after two seasons. Unfortunately they had pre-sold the series into syndication and had to continue making episodes to honor the contract. Hindsight is 20/20… Trivia note: J Michael Straczynski, creator of “Babylon 5,” wrote 12 episodes for the series. I remember watching the episode where two children were taken to an amusement park and led to a tunnel with rooms, and each room had a different set of parents interested in adopting the kids. Also, the episode where the couple was caught “in between” time and blue men ran about town changing everything for the next upcoming minute.

 

 

“Freddy’s Nightmares” – Based on the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, this one had Freddy himself, Robert Englund, hosting tales of evil and death occurring on Elm Street. Remind me not to live there… The series 1988-1990.

 

 

“Monsters” – As “Tales from the Darkside” was neared its end, several of the directors and writers worked on “Monsters.” “Monsters” was similar to “Darkside,” but the main difference was that each episode of the series literally dealt with a different monster. It ran from 1988-1991.

 

 

“Friday the 13th” – Unlike “The New Twilight Zone,” this show shares little with the actual movie franchise except the title. The show was about two cousins, Ryan Dallion and Micki Foster, who inherit their uncle’s antique shop. Unbeknownst to them the relics are cursed and they must retrieve them from the buyers before too much damage and harm is caused. The series ran from 1987-1990.

 

 

“Tales from the Crypt” – Finishing out the Eighties was another personal favorite, “Tales from the Crypt.” Each episode began with The Cryptkeeper, a skeleton narrator who provided kitsch humor to the episode about to be unfolded. It had great theme music and was fun to watch. The episode I remember was when the old millionaire man had a young wife. Finding a younger bodybuilder, he pays to exchange body parts piece-by-piece. At the end he has the body of the bodybuilder, but no money. Meanwhile, the bodybuilder now has the money, and the wife, of the former millionaire. The Cryptkeeper dominated HBO and syndication from 1989 until 1996.

 

“The Ray Bradbury Theater” – Hosted by scifi author and based on several of his short stories, this series ran from 1985-1986 and 1988-1992. The subjects ran from science to supernatural, from childhood memories and fears to being grown up. One of my favorite episodes was called “The Town Where No One Got Off.” In it a writer (Jeff Goldblum) exits the train at a town where the train only stops to drop off supplies. He’s followed around by a retired sheriff (Ed McNamara) who traps and confronts him about what he’s doing there. Trivia note: Larry Wilcox (Officer Jon Baker on “CHiPs”) was an executive producer on the series.

 

Some of these are available on DVD, and some are still on video.

 

Don’t stay up too late…