Monday, January 28, 2008
Written by Pollo Misterioso
Director Aaron Katz comes from Portland, Oregon and arms himself with low budgets, handheld cameras and unknown actors. In his two short films, both a little more than an hour long, he has scripted and directed two very simple stories that are both satisfying and deceptively minimal.
Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, Quiet City captures the simplistic sophistication of two human beings just interacting. This sounds like it could be so easy to do, but the narrative has to go somewhere, be a pleasurable experience, and the film succeeds.
Jaime travels to New York from Atlanta to visit her friend. Unfortunately when she cannot get in touch with her, she is left not knowing where to go or what to do. She asks a stranger, Charlie, for directions to a certain diner and from there they begin their two-day stay with one another. In reality they don’t really do anything that is all that exciting; they drink wine out of cheap mugs, give each other haircuts, play videogames, etc. One of the most charming scenes has Charlie and Jaime playing music together on a run-down keyboard, even though neither of them plays the keyboard very well.
The characters are ordinary. Both Charlie and Jaime are not physically striking, but in the way they interact and slowly develop for the viewer and for each other, they become beautiful and interesting to watch. What may seem awkward at times, with extreme close ups on their chins, eyes or other facial reactions creates an honest relationship between the characters and the viewer—like we are a part of this everyday conversation.
What is so refreshing about this simple story is that the events that take place and each individual conversation means nothing on its own, it is a collective feeling that comes from getting to know someone.
Katz interjects the story development between our two main characters with shots of the city that initially feel out of place, but become small pauses reflecting on the simple beauty in everything in New York City. Katz does a wonderful job at making it seem like the city is asleep the entire time Jaime and Charlie are a part of it. It is as if they are the only people there.
Quiet City returns to a more simple kind of movie-making, where pictures tell the story and gratification comes from willing to believe that there is beauty in everything. Just like the final scene in which Charlie and Jaime take a metro ride home, allow yourself to just watch, let the story take you away.
Dance Party, USA, which Katz made first, again deals with relationships, but through the harsh and stunted eyes of teenagers. It focuses on two teenagers, Jessica and Gus and their interaction at a Fourth of July party that turns into them liking one another. Gus is hard to like because of the way he talks about women and his naïve and animalistic views of sex. As for Jessica, she finds peace in her solitude, never really being a part of anything. When they both decide to take a breath from the party, they confide in one another and a ride home turns into a deeper connection between the two.
Dance is realistically unpretentious and raw which at times makes it seemed forced and hard to watch. But keep watching, it will grow on you and you won’t know why. It is not as smooth a ride as Quiet City, but Katz writes like he has experienced it, making the awkward moments on screen reminiscent of our own awkward conversations in high school.
Dance has even less of a forward plot. Our characters just act in their worlds, simply coexisting, but like Katz’ other film, the characters are isolated and our focus is completely on them. He has returned to the simplicity of a boy-meets-girl scenario in both of his films and, especially in Quiet City, it is refreshing and easy to watch. Sit back and enjoy, you will be pleasantly satisfied.
Quiet City and Dance Party, USA are two courageous films that prove that you do not need anything more than a camera and a love for making movies. In fact, the extras on both DVDs include commentary by the director and cast members that explain the ideas and process behind the films. It is especially interesting to listen to Katz’s commentary for Dance simply to learn about the process for making this low-budget film. On the that DVD there is also a short film featuring music composer Keegan Dewitt called “The Lunch Hour,” which is a funny short that proves their love of filmmaking.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Written by Hombre Divertido
In anticipation of the release of The Aristocats - Special Edition on February 5th, Disney recently held a special showing of the film at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. The Aristocats marks a time of simple elegance for the filmmakers at Disney. The story is simple but fun, and the animation is elegant. Set in Paris, the animators capture not only the environment but the era as well by keeping it simple and allowing each cel to serve as an artistic impression. This is most noticeable in the scenes of the city. The story is quite simple and bares some similarities to Lady and the Tramp which Disney released fifteen years earlier.
In The Aristocats we meet Duchess, voiced wonderfully by Eva Gabor, and her three kittens (Marie-Liz Kitchen, Toulouse-Gary Dubin, and Berlioz-Gary Clark) that live quite well in a beautiful mansion that they have the run of. When their owner; Madame Adelaide Bonfamille (Hermione Baddley) makes out her will, she leaves her fortune to the cats, and nothing to her butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) who has served both her and the cats faithfully for many years. Upon finding out the contents of the will, Edgar decides to foil the feline fortune by disposing of the Aristocats. Edgar kitty-naps them in the middle of the night and abandons them in the middle of the countryside. Being the rich spoiled cats that they are, they are completely out of their element and unable to find their way home. Luckily they are discovered by O’Malley the Alley Cat voiced by the always enjoyable Phil Harris. With the help of O’Malley, and their friend from home Roquefort the Mouse, voiced by the legendary Sterling Holloway, the Aristocats manage to survive an adventurous trip home. During the trip, Duchess and O’Malley develop an appreciation for each other that leads to our happy ending.
Though an all-star cast of vocal talent was used on this film, including Scatman Crothers, Paul Winchell, and Pat Buttram, it is the inclusion of some that make for the primary flaw in this Disney effort. The use of Phil Harris and Sterling Holloway proved to be nothing more than distracting. These gentlemen are incredibly talented, but both had been featured prominently in Disney’s far more successful The Jungle Book just three years earlier, and Holloway had established himself as the voice of Winnie the Pooh long before that. Their roles in The Aristocats were not as demanding as previous projects, and certainly could have been handled by actors with less familiar voices.
With that said, the film is fun for the whole family, and a worthy addition to any collection. The animation is classic in its style, and the characters are fun with enough depth to allow each to be endearing to the audience. The new release features a virtual kitten game, a nostalgic behind-the-scenes featurette that showcases the music of the immortal Sherman Brothers, a deleted song, and more.
The special viewing at the El Capitan was attended by Gary Dubin (Toulouse) who was kind enough to answer a few questions. Dubin who continues to act and was most recently seen in a guest-starring role on 24 was only five at the time that he co-starred in The Aristocats, but you can still recognize the voice if you are standing in the theatre with him after just seeing the movie. Dubin, who was seeing the film for the first time since its original release, said that he had fond memories of filming the movie, and that he appreciated the simplicity of it and how that allows it to differ from the special-effects laden and computer-animated films of today. Dubin was accompanied by his wife who commented that he had grown up to be a lot like Toulouse. You’ll have to see the film to appreciate that comment.
Written by Senora Bicho
The Riches premiered on FX on March 12th, 2007. The first season consisted of 13 episodes and was a ratings success with 3.8 million viewers watching the pilot, which, in the history of FX, was only second to the premiere of The Shield. This was the network’s first Monday night original show and the ratings were more than double that of any other program they ever aired on Mondays. These results prompted FX to announce that it will bring the show back for a second season in the summer of 2008. The show also received critical acclaim for being original and thought provoking.
The series tells the story of the Malloy Family who has all of the normal problems of the average American family, but they are a family of thieves, gypsies who move from one con to the next. Series creator Dmitry Lipkin created the lead role with Eddie Izzard in mind. The first episode starts with Wayne (Izzard) conning the attendees of a high school reunion. His charisma and natural ability to lie are clear from this clever scene. After his successful heist, Wayne is off to pick up his wife, Dahlia (Minnie Driver) who is being paroled from jail after two years. Wayne and Dahlia have three children. Cael is the shy oldest son, Di Di is the typical teenage girl, and Sam is the youngest boy who enjoys dressing like a girl. The reunited family then meets up with the rest of their gypsy community.
The happy reunion doesn’t last long as Di Di is quickly being forced into an arranged marriage. Rather than force his daughter into that situation, Wayne robs Dahlia’s Uncle and takes his family on the road. On their way to the next town, they run into another family of traveling con artists and get into a high speed chase. In the course of the chase, they run the Riches, a wealthy couple, off the road which results in their death. Wayne quickly decides to make the best of the situation and comes up with a plan to assume their lives. The Riches were moving to a new home that they had purchased online which made that part easy. Doug Rich was a lawyer and had an interview set up for a new job. Wayne meets up with the head of another law firm and uses his excellent lying abilities to quickly land a job with a $200,000 annual salary. The family is now all set in a beautiful gated community and seems to have stolen the American dream.
The rest of the season includes all of the problems that any family deals in their day-to-day life along with all of the complications that arise with stepping into the Riches’ shoes. The finale finds Dahlia’s cousin catching up with them looking for the stolen money and one of Doug’s best friends shows looking for answers.
The show has a solid foundation in the amazing cast. Izzard and Driver play off of each other beautifully. Driver received an Emmy and a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. The children are all unique and provide interesting storylines of their own. Even the supporting roles, such as Wayne’s boss and the nosey neighbor, are perfectly cast and entertaining.
The Riches offers an original premise, strong writing, interesting characters, and good performances. Luckily, the show is worth watching, which makes up for the so-called special features. There are two commentary tracks, one for the pilot and one for the season finale, with Izzard and Lipkin which are interesting and informative. The rest of the extras include two featurettes and the dreaded gag reel. “Casting Session” focuses on the process to select the cast and “World Premiere” includes interviews with the stars of the show along with some behind the scenes information. Neither of these offers much of interest.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Written by Hombre Divertido
From a hit Broadway play, to a hit motion picture, to a hit television series, Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple has transcended major forms of entertainment and remains an endearing classic in all forms.
Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson brought the television show to television, and had many episodes directed by Jerry Paris who would later work with Marshall on Happy Days and on bringing another odd couple to television in the form of Laverne and Shirley.
Many televisions shows would follow with the premise of combining two characters that were fundamentally opposite, but few would have the success of The Odd Couple starring Jack Klugman as the sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison, and Tony Randal the incredibly tidy photographer Felix Unger.
The premise was still quite fresh in season three, and subsequently yields a lot of fun in the twenty-three episodes due out on DVD January 22nd. Klugman and Randal provide award-winning performances with chemistry that is an obvious reflection of their talent as actors, but also of their friendship off camera, which Klugman wrote about in his 2005 memoir, Tony And Me: A Story of Friendship.
The characterizations were allowed to go beyond the simple aspect of clean and dirty, but delve into different upbringings and education throughout this series, and that is what allowed it to last five seasons, and remain enjoyable still today.
During this season we get to watch our team appear on two popular game shows of the era, take a few trips, redecorate, fall in love with the same woman, and take in a few other roommates.
Wonderful supporting characters and guest stars throughout this season surrounded Klugman and Randal. Any appearance by a young Penny Marshall as Madison’s secretary was a treat, and Al Molinaro, who would later play Al on Happy Days, as the couple’s good friend and timid policeman Murray Greshler could always be counted on for a good laugh. Guest appearances by Howard Cosell, Deacon Jones, Wally Cox, Brett Somers (Klugman’s wife), Betty White, and game show hosts Allen Ludden and Monty Hall make this set well worth owning as well.
Unfortunately no extras in the set, and the packaging leaves a lot to be desired. We should not have to move the DVDs to read the synopsis of each episode.
Recommendation: This is wonderfully written classic comedy performed by two masters of the craft. Fun for the whole family that can be watched again and again.
Written by El Conquistadorko
It all started in Novato, a working class suburb of San Francisco, on July 4, 1969. Two teenagers, Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau, are making out in their car at a lover's lane cul de sac, when a car speeds along the road towards them. Ferrin has a jealous ex-boyfriend, and she's convinced he's been following her around. The car pulls up and idles menacingly ten feet away, its headlights blinding the couple. Then it speeds away. And then the car returns, a man of average height and build jumps out, walks calmly toward Ferrin and Mageau, and starts shooting.
Ferrin died of her injuries but miraculously Mageau survived. Ferrin's supposed boyfriend had nothing to do with the murder; there's no indication he even existed. But a few days later, a letter arrives at the San Francisco Chronicle from the killer, who calls himself Zodiac. Thus begins a crime spree that left five known victims dead and which, along with the Manson family and Altamont, became part of California's dark departure from the halcyon 1960s and inspired the fictional serial killer depicted in Dirty Harry. Part of the public fascination with Zodiac is that he left an elaborate web of coded clues to his identity. The other part, of course, is that nobody ever completely cracked the code and caught the guy.
It doesn't ruin the enjoyment of watching Zodiac to know all this from the get-go. In fact, the lack of resolution in this film is exactly what makes it so intriguing and terrifying. Director David Finch's masterful storytelling propels what in many ways is one of the most subdued thrillers ever made, a film where the actual murders, which occur on screen are often less creepy than the scenes where the police and reporters interview suspects who turn out to be innocent.
Zodiac isn't a short film, but unlike Munich, for example, where the cat and mouse game between Israeli commandos and PLO terrorists seems to grind on as long as the Arab-Israeli conflict itself, the film's pacing only grows in intensity as the cops seem to close in on the culprit only to realize they're no closer to finding the killer than when they started. These blind alleys and near-misses are exactly what makes the film so suspenseful and realistic. In fact, as the Director's cut reveals, every detail in the film is based on fact.
The two-disc set comes complete with a feature-length documentary, “Deciphering Zodiac,” that includes exclusive interviews with witnesses, police and even two Zodiac victims who managed to survive their encounters with the killer. There's also a feature, “His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen,” that profiles David Leigh Allen, and at the end of the film, despite knowing police could never link him to the crime and in fact established he couldn't have been the killer, you still feel like he was involved.
In the film itself, there's one scene toward the end where a San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who helped crack the Zodiac's legendarily bizarre coded messages, which were sent to both the newspaper and police, confronts suspect David Leigh Allen long after police have closed the case and ruled Allen out as a suspect. Allen, played by the normally benign seeming John Carroll Lynch (most recognizable as the wooden duck-painting Norm Gunderson in Fargo), knows that Gyllenhaal's character believes he's the Zodiac and Gyllenhaal's character knows he knows. No words are exchanged, but the scene deserves to be celebrated as one of the most intimately disturbing conversations ever put on film.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Family Guy Meets Star Wars in a very entertaining forty-five minutes of laughter and fun that had me rolling from beginning to end. It might seem that one has nothing to do with the other and anything of this nature would be pure nonsense and a disaster. Not so, as Family Guy creator and lifetime Star Wars nerd Seth MacFarlane proves along with his wonderfully talented writing staff. Merging the two works well in his hands and bares the stamp of approval from Mr. Lucas himself, who is a long-time Family Guy fan and was pleased to let McFarlane run amuck in his far away universe of long ago.
MacFarlane wisely chose the space epics true beginning Episode IV: A New Hope as the stomping ground for his characters to retell this tale in their own comic style, which includes many over-the-top jokes and gags at other television shows expense. His choice of “casting” is great as well; MacFarlane perfectly matches his characters with Lucas’. Mother Lois plays Princess Leia while father Peter is placed as smuggler captain Han Solo. Son Chris is young Luke Skywalker and baby genius Stewie is simply masterful as Darth Vader, while daughter Meg, who is the constant “butt” of jokes, is only seen as the garbage compactor creature. Rounding out the space players are the perverted Quagmire as C-3PO, Cleveland as R2-D2, family dog Brian as Wookiee Chewbacca, and Herbert (the creepy old neighbor) as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The story begins with a power outage that causes the family to focus on each other. Rather than light candles and read or tell the story of Meg’s birth, Peter steps up to tell a tale of “Love and loss, fathers and sons, and the foresight to secure international merchandising rights.” Thus begins the retelling of SW:Episode IV. The Family Guy crew does a fine job in recreating the storyline by bringing to cartoon life the moments that captured the world thirty years earlier. The Mos Eisley cantina scene where we meet Han Solo and witness his ever-popular shootout with Greedo is a hoot as well as the opening shot of Darth Vader walking through the halls of the rebel base. The opening sequence is fun for the fact that Leia is having problems saving her message to Obi-Wan on R2’s hard drive. Throughout there are these sorts of pokes at modern technology and how they could have applied and malfunctioned in the Star Wars universe.
Great pop culture gags is what Family Guy is known for and Blue Harvest is stacked with them. Restored scenes on the DVD present Judd Nelson briefly reprising his role as John Bender from Breakfast Club giving his attitude at detention while adding on future Saturdays in the library. During the assault on the Death Star we get to see a “red role call” of a different kind that includes Red Foxx, Red Buttons and Simply Red. Smaller sight gags may be missed if one is not watching closely. For example, during the stormtrooper wedding Jesus along with everyone else has a stormtrooper helmet on. Keep yours eyes open for the unwanted advances of one soldier to another as the Millennium Falcon is being pulled into the Death Star and keep an ear out for the numerous Airplane jokes made along the way, including the quick appearance of Leslie Neilson.
Special features stand out on the DVD as well. The audio commentary is hilarious and gives insight into the warped minds of the Family Guy crew while providing behind the scenes secrets. The making of Blue Harvest is where we get to see that the entire production crew is comprised of gigantic Star Wars nerds and how that brings them all together. Yet the mother of all extras is the sit-down interview that Seth MacFarlane has with George Lucas. You can see it on MacFarlane’s face that he’s like a child sitting next to his big-screen idol. It is a good laugh to see MacFarlane stump Lucas on his game of “match the music to the scene” where MacFarlane will hum a few bars of music and ask if Lucas can remember where it goes in the film. It is here as well that Lucas revels that he is a big Family Guy fan giving MacFarlane more reason to look like a kid in awe of his hero.
Family Guy: Blue Harvest is a complete joy to watch from start to finish the movie itself is great and the DVD extras are worth watching a few times more. So be you a Star Wars nerd, a Family Guy freak or both (like Fantasma) you’ll dig the imaginative merging of what seem to be two different worlds.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Written by Anonimo
Waitress is a chick flick done well starring Keri Russell (best known for her former role in the TV series Felicity) as Jenna, a southern gal in a bad marriage with a knack for making out-of-this-world pies at a hole-in-the-wall pie shop. The movie stars off with Jenna finding out she’s pregnant by her controlling abusive husband, Earl, played by Jeremy Sisto. Jenna forces her best friends and co-workers Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) to keep the pregnancy a secret due to the fact that she hates Earl, and she is only pregnant because he had his way with her on a drunken night. The pregnancy only complicates Jenna’s plan to participate in a pie contest in which the prize money is just enough for her to skip town and leave Earl for good.
Jenna is not at all excited about motherhood and much less the fact that she must see a doctor. She goes to see her long-time female OB/GYN only to find that Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion) has taken over the practice. Although married, the doctor is immediately infatuated with Jenna and it isn’t long before sparks fly and they begin to have an affair.
The love affair continues as Jenna’s stomach grows, and Earl, stuck in his own little world remains clueless. Jenna knows she cannot continue the affair or remain with her husband. It is only with the advice of Joe (Andy Griffith), the elderly but quick-witted pie-shop owner that she manages to keep her head on straight.
We think Earl has discovered Jenna’s affair during a raging outburst at Dawn’s wedding reception, but he only found cash hidden around the house, the money Jenna would have used to ditch Earl, race to the pie contest, and hopefully win the grand prize.
Soon enough, Jenna is in the hospital room where she will give birth to a baby she stills doesn’t want. Joe suddenly comes in to say hello and drops of a card before going into surgery himself. Things couldn’t be more awkward for Jenna when she gave birth with the man she married and the man she is having an affair with both in the same room during the delivery of her baby.
Jenna has a girl whom she magically falls in love with at first sight. Earl is unhappy it’s not a boy and demands Jenna love him more. It is at this point where Jenna finds the courage to tell “Earlie” that she doesn’t love him anymore and wants him out of her life. Earl is pushed out of the room by hospital staff and Jenna remains with her new bundle of joy.
On her way out of the hospital, Jenna breaks off her affair with the doc, reminding him that he is after all married. Not before leaving the hospital does Jenna open her card from Joe to discover a check for two-hundred seventy odd some-dollars. She uses this money to fix up the pie shop, renames it Lulu’s after her daughter and lives happily ever.
I took on this movie reluctantly and ended up liking it in the end. It is funny at times, but takes on a more serious tone. It’s good, definitely a great rental to watch with the significant other on Friday night.
Extras include audio commentaries by Russell and producer Michael Roiff and features about the actors that aired on Fox Movie Channel, the making of the movie, and a memorial to writer/director Shelly.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Written by Fumo Verde
Available exclusively at The History Channel Store, The 300 Ultimate Collectors Set contains 300 (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition) and The History Channel's feature-length documentary Last Stand of the 300.
Seeing 300 on the big screen when it came out was amazing. Being able to sit in my living room and watch it on my new plasma flat screen is even more incredible than the movie house. Like Frank Miller’s comic book, the movie is dressed in beautiful artwork via blue screen, green screen, and CGI. To see this in HD would really blow you away, but even in its standard form, the DVD is still awe inspiring, and so is The Last Stand of the 300 brought to us by The History Channel (my favorite channel). An hour and a half of who, what, and how the tiny Spartan force held up the mighty Persian army, and why this story still resonates today.
My feelings about 300 have not changed since I first saw it, and I still believe that this was one of the best movies to come around in a long time. Sure it was over the top, gushing testosterone at every level, but who do you think comic books and graphic novels are made for, 96-year-old women? The vision director Zack Snyder had was to bring to life the images and ideas Miller gave us in panels and to do so took a lot of time and talent of which the cast and crew of this movie gave heartily. The picturesque landscapes and the gruesome, bloody battles brings us back to a time where heroes gave us hope and courage meant standing up for something that you felt was right. This movie affected me so much that even now while surfing when I take off on really big waves I yell out, “THIS IS SPARTA!!!” in hope that if I die at least I had the courage to charge it. Though this story has been told a million times over, Snyder’s interpretation of Miller’s take on the story portrays it in a way that King Leonidas would have been proud to watch.
Disc 1 of 300 has the movie along with a few other extras that includes director commentary, which is always interesting. Disc 2 has the making of the movie from beginning to end with interviews with Snyder, Miller, and even some of Miller’s comic book mentors. The disc also includes a five-minute collage, which, if you watch carefully, you can see them make the whole movie from the first shot to the final wrap. I thought this was cool because you see how much work truly goes into making a movie.
For anyone interested as to what happened and why it still affects our world today, The History Channel’s The Last Stand of the 300 gives great insight. Loving history as I do, I will now shamelessly promote this DVD because I think we all need to understand history. Last Stand takes some of the premier scholars of Greek history and lets them tell us the story while deconstructing the movie 300. By doing this, we get a great historical lesson that is interweaved with an exciting and energetic film. Though some film myths are disposed such as Leonidas killing a wolf to become king and Ephialtes being deformed, most of the professors agree that Miller’s description was the way they would have told it, embellishments and all.
We also learn that to be such great warriors as the Spartans were, the men had to dedicate their full time to being warriors. This meant that slaves had to be used to maintain the farms and to make weapons and slaughter the animals. Freedom is the ever present theme of not only the movie but the story itself, so how can a slave state as Sparta consider itself a free state? Though Spartans had slaves, their slaves were considered equal in partnership with the state. You could call Sparta the first communist experiment where all shared in the wealth. Honor and pain were the themes of Sparta as we come to understand that only two types of people were allowed to have headstones at their graves: men who died in battle and women who died in childbirth for both acts were not for themselves but for the state.
A very brutal way of life but one that had a great honor to it was the life of a Spartan and as the scholars teach us this, we come to understand why these people were glad to lay down their lives for what they believed in. Spartans were the professional soldiers of their day but they weren’t only taught to fight. They learned math, poetry, music and dance, and were a very ultra-religious people who would only fight when the gods approved. They were smart and were taught to have a quick wit about them. The other city states of Athens and Thebes thought the Spartans crazy. Greece was not a country at the time and the city-states of Sparta and Athens hated each other, yet they hated the Persians more, and the Spartans were ready to die for their way of life. How many of us would do that today? Spartans had honor and pride, not fear and hatred.
One would think 300 Spartans and around 1500 other Greeks would be crazy to try and fight 300,000 Persians but they tried, and though it was a military failure, the moral victory sent a shockwave through the city-states, bringing them together to finally defeat the Persians. Leonidas wasn’t a hero. He was a practical king who was bred to die on the battlefield for his state. He knew he wasn’t coming back to Sparta but he did know that if he gave his allies some time, Sparta and all Greece might be saved.
The reason this story stays with us is because here we have a man who knowingly has sealed his own fate, because it is the right thing to do. In this day and age who would do that, who would lose their job or house or life to do the right thing? The Last Stand explains who the Spartans were and why they felt that following a righteous and just path is far better than living in comfort.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Written by Hombre Divertido
Hawaii Five-O was a series well ahead of its time as it used the beauty of the state long before Thomas Magnum took up residence there. It also had well-crafted scripts with intricate details that viewers have become accustomed to in the crime-solving shows of today.
Not only did Hawaii Five-O take place in the same locale as Magnum P.I., it was also focused on one character. Though titled after the special unit of the State Police that answered directly to the Governor, this was Steve McGarrett’s show. Played stalwartly by Jack Lord for the entire twelve seasons, McGarrett was the star of the series, and though Danno (James MacArthur as Danny Williams) brought a great deal of youthful energy to the show as McGarrett’s right-hand man, Danno and the rest of the team simply did as they were directed.
Season Three contains twenty-four episodes that are a solid reflection of what kept this show on the air for twelve seasons, showcasing an endearing cast and excellent writing that are at the heart of the success of this series. Though women are noticeably absent from the team, and would be until the final season, this group of guys were macho, smart, and fun to watch, which allowed them to fit in well in the television landscape of the seventies. During the third season the cast included the previously mentioned Steve and Danno, along with Kam Fong as Chin Ho, the well-respected senior member of the team, and Zulu as Kono, the muscle.
Most of the episodes were constructed primarily the same: an opening sequence where we are shown the crime, followed by an introduction to our suspects, and then we would follow along with the Five-O team as they tried to solve the crime. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s much like many of the successful shows of the day.
There are not a lot of extras in this set, but it does include the episodic promos that would be used to advertise the next week’s episode. They are great fun and will definitely thrust any fan of the show back in time, as each one is narrated stoically by Jack Lord, and ends with the classic line: “Be there. Aloha.”
The third season includes some fun guest appearances including one by Hume Cronyn in one of the most enjoyable episodes of the season (“Over Fifty? Steal.”) as it shows a softer, almost comedic side of our cast. You can also look for a young Martin Sheen in an episode entitled “Time and Memories” though it is one of the worst episodes of the season. I guess every show has to have a clunker and this is it. Poorly written and directed, the solution is obvious, and the editing is awkward. Look for a line added in post production when Sheen’s character gets off the plane and hugs his fiancée, which clearly does not come out of his mouth.
Recommendation: As soon as it becomes available, book it, Danno! Tons of fun for the whole family whether you were a fan when it was originally on or not. This is classic cop television and the theme song rocks. The third season is scheduled to be released on January 22nd.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Written by El Conquistadorko
Che Guevara: Where You'd Never Imagine Him, a 108-minute documentary by Cuban director Manuel Perez purports to be a surprise-filled expose of the famous Argentinean revolutionary, but it's little more than a propaganda piece that shamelessly aims to use Guevara's legacy to bolster Castro regime's increasingly pathetic efforts to prolong the first and probably last socialist worker's “paradise” in the Western Hemisphere.
It's all the more frustrating because Guevara would be rolling in his grave if he knew the Cuban government was milking his life for propaganda value, seeing as how Guevara quickly figured out Castro was more interested in keeping power in Cuba than using the island as a base to launch a hemisphere-wide uprising. That's why Guevara left Cuba in 1965 for the Congo and finally Bolivia, where he died two years later in an ill-fated effort to inflame local Indians that led to his arrest and execution by CIA-trained Bolivian army rangers.
Anyone interested in learning about the real Che Guevara, the one behind the scraggly goatee and defiant eyes in the posters and t-shirts that have immortalized him should read John Anderson's fantastic biography, Che: A Revolutionary Life, which was published in 1997 and remains the best account of the man. In that book, Anderson provides amazing details on why Guevara was such an interesting persona, and one who, despite being an unrepetentant commie, remains idealized by ideological foes. (In the 1990s, there was even a right-wing death squad in Columbia that named itself after him).
Just one example: as a guerrilla comandante in the hills of eastern Cuba, Guevara would personally execute his own troops if they raped women or looted goods from local villagers, but he'd spare the life of enemy soldiers who fought bravely. If they begged for their lives, however, he'd call them cowards and shoot them. Guevara also made a point of personally carrying out executions of Bautista-aligned officers and policemen who'd been convicted of crimes against humanity in Castro's kangaroo courts. Sure, a lot of those guys had tortured, raped, and murdered innocent Cubans, but as Anderson notes, Guevara seemed to take an almost perverse pleasure in shooting them. The way he saw it, the Cuban revolution would only succeed if it murdered all potential enemies before they could form the inevitable counter-revolution.
It's a lesson he apparently learned in Guatemala five years before the revolution, when the CIA recruited right-wing dissidents in the military led by Colonel Castillo Armas to overthrow the democratically elected Arbenz regime. But you'll hear nothing about any of this in Perez' fawning film, which simply says that the notion that Guevara murdered anyone during Cuba's show trials was an invention of the imperialist US media. The movie does a decent job of tracing Guevara's life from Cordoba, Argentina, where he studied medicine, through his journeys around South America on motorcycle, which have already been chronicled in the enjoyable Motorcycle Diaries, and from there to Guatemala, Cuba, the Congo, and Bolivia.
Just about all the film has to offer is a nice collection of previously unseen archival footage, most of it grainy black and white, and one funny anecdote: Guevara unwittingly volunteered to become president of Cuba's national bank when he was in a room full of head-scratching apparatchicks, one of whom said, “Is anyone in the room an economist?” Che raised his hand. “You're an economist?” the comrade asked, bewildered. “Oh,” Che said. “I thought you said 'communist.'” If there were more such insights to Che's personality, the movie wouldn't come off like the pure propaganda that it is. Someday somebody will make a great film about Che Guevara, one of the most enigmatic and engrossing personalities in the history of the planet, but this isn't it.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Written by Hombre Divertido
Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman try far too hard to make this simple story seem like an avant-garde independent film from its quirky animated opening credits to its eclectic sound-track; their efforts are simply too obvious. It’s full of characters that aren’t as developed as they could be, and dialog filled with witty banter that will leave you wondering what you have gotten yourself into in the first fifteen minutes of the film. Luckily the dialog settles to a more realistic level while the performances reach new heights of talent and skill. The performances are what carry this film and inevitably endear the audience to this brilliant cast.
With Ellen Page channeling a young Linda Cardellini from her days on Freaks and Geeks, she gives a solid performance as the quick witted Juno who, along with the majority of the rest of her family and friends, deals amazingly well with the unplanned pregnancy and planned adoption of the child fathered by Juno's friend Bleeker, played by an underutilized Michael Cera. Juno seems to have something interesting to say no matter what the situation, but as the movie progresses you are left to wonder if she is really that much smarter than everyone else, or just too emotionally guarded and immature to deal with the situation in which she has found herself.
With the help of her best friend Leah, played spot-on by Olivia Thirlby, Juno manages to find in the Pennysaver, the perfect couple to adopt her baby. After breaking the news of the impending arrival to her father (J.K. Simmons) and step-mother (Allison Janney), she heads out to meet said couple: Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) accompanied by her incredibly understanding father.
There are predictable aspects to this film, such as the note for Mark and Vanessa left by Juno that is not shown to the audience when it is read, only to be shown at a more significant time later in the film, but like most successful movies, it leaves you wanting more. When Juno comes to realize that it is truly Bleeker she wants, you may be left to wonder where said feelings have been hiding, and want to see more of their relationship. By the same token we are left to wonder what Mark's (Jason Bateman) true motivation was for seeking a divorce from Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and are left wanting more depth to that aspect of the story as well. From a positive perspective we are left wanting more of these people. This cast is amazing and delivers wonderful performances from start to finish. Janney does an amazing job with a limited role as she steals every scene she is in with a subtle portrayal that is worthy of award consideration.
Though some may be bothered by the casual way that such an important issue is dealt with, you can’t help but find favor with this endeavor regardless of which side of said issue you stand on. That in itself is a huge accomplishment.
Recommendation: A simple story filled with performances that should not be missed. This is the type of movie you will want to watch more than once, so see it first on the big screen with the whole family.
Monday, January 07, 2008
It's difficult when Carmen Electra gets mentioned not to think of things in pairs, so it's only fitting that Paramount adds to her video series by releasing not one workout DVD of hers, but two innuendo-ridden showcases of pure teasing power under the guise of aerobics.
Carmen Electra's Aerobic Striptease: In The Bedroom begins with an introduction by the diminutive bombshell whereby she thanks you so much for bringing her into your bedroom. A fairly standard “warm up” starts you off and they're mostly pretty standard stretches and such. Great eye candy for sure, but she's also laid a voiceover on this part that I found kind of annoying (it's a fairly short segment, so no worries though).
For the actual workout that follows, she dons a much sexier outfit and the locale changes to her and a bed, both of which look lovely together. Through an endless series of counting (yes, ladies, here's proof that Carmen can at least count as high as eight), she demonstrates an assortment of stripper moves on and around the bed. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8...again! If every ligament in your body is as elastic as hers seem to be, you should be able to do just fine.
Carmen Electra's Aerobic Striptease: Vegas Strip is “all in the hips, girls.” Carmen is joined by two young women in this one, and they get right into things. Whereas In The Bedroom is just that, Vegas Strip is straight up dance moves with a stripper twist (not that I know what goes on at a strip club by any means). This is definitely a legit workout compared to the previous title's concentration on seduction moves. There’s more counting, more rolling hips, and much more legwork. Think Pussycat Dolls video and you'll kind of get the picture. Vegas Strip is the way to go if you're looking for a real workout while In The Bedroom is all about the titillation. I know, but there was no way I was not going to use that word in this review.
Carmen really is genuinely pleasant in both. The workouts are as low impact as you can get, short of those shows where old people sit in chairs and curl soup cans, and it follows a pretty safe path of sexiness. These are all moves that a guy might try to make light of if his lady actually used them, but he'd just be trying to act cool while he was freaking out at how damn awesome she was for learning them in the first place!
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Written by Fumo Verde
JFK was assassinated over forty years ago and still the conspiracy stirs like a watered-down vodka tonic. In late November of 1963 the question on everybody’s lips was “How could someone as inconsequential as Oswald kill someone as consequential as John F. Kennedy?” This DVD doesn’t answer that question nor does it bring to light any new evidence or give us any deeper clues then what we have had over the decades. Director Robert Stone doesn’t uncover anything revealing about Oswald and he isn’t trying to; what he is trying to do is follow the fallout that still breeds with in the American psyche today.
He isn’t trying to side with either camp, though for the first thirty minutes I was little pissed, “Great, another fracking conspiracy flick” I thought, but as the documentary rolled on I got the sense that Stone was showing what happened and how it became what it is now. He interviews people who were there at the time like young news reporter Dan Rather and attorney Mark Lane, who represented Oswald’s mother. Others, who lived through those “dark times” when leaders were being picked off one by one, were authors Edward J. Epstein and Norman Mailer who both first believed conspiracy but have come full circle and know that Oswald was the lone shooter. It was Epstein’s book that asked if the Warren Commission had moved too quickly through the evidence to come up with the lone-shooter verdict. Lane opened up the Pandora’s box of conspiracies with his own book concerning the JFK assassination and gave way to the floodgate of books, well over two thousand have been written telling the real story of who shot the President.
Some of the things that I liked about this film were the way Stone laid down a great background of what the fears, hopes, and aspirations or our nation were at the time before the death of the President. Fears of the Soviets and Red China along with Castro’s Cuba less than ninety miles away, it was the age of the atom and the atom bomb and we were scared shitless. Mailer and Epstein are the voices of reason throughout the film and Mailer, who knew a lot about covert actions, explains one of the many reasons he finally concluded that Oswald acted alone, and I have to agree: after forty years not one person has come forward, not a single shred of new evidence has ever panned out. Computer simulations recounting the direction of the bullets along with scientific forensics have prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the kill shot exited out the front of the president’s head. And yes, a former Marine can get off three shots with a bolt-action riffle within the period of less than five seconds.
We get taken again on the ride that our country is obsessed with and yet while watching this we still don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we want to believe the leaders we elect to speak for we the people are good and honest and as a nation we stand for truth and justice. Even today the conspiracies about 9/11 circulate like bad air in a DC-10. You either believe Oswald did it alone or you don’t, but this isn’t the question. The question should be why don’t we believe our leaders anymore? Oswald’s action has repercussions that reverberate today, and if anything, it’s Oswald’s Ghost that have us asking the questions we ask today.
Written by Puño Estupendo
Being a comic book reader, I'm always curious about any film adaptation of the medium. Most seem to be mediocre at best but I'm usually compelled to see them nonetheless. Sometimes this curiosity can lead me to a bad place. It's quite a kick to the shins seeing a character that you're really fond of on the printed page be watered down or neutered into something that only vaguely resembles the source material. Granted, this story was also in novel form (which was also written by Gaiman) but all of my preconceptions were based on the comic book version, which is very stylish and pleasantly hearkens back to old school fairy tales and myths. Matthew Vaughn's directorial version of this handles itself pretty well.
Stardust tells a tale that begins with a young man that dares to go through to the other side of a wall that borders his village. An old guard is posted by the one place that has a break in it and he reminds him that it is forbidden to cross into the land that lies on the other side. Through a little moment of humorous trickery, Dunstan Thorn gets past the old guard and discovers a village, very unlike his own, on the other side. Carnival like and quite literally magical, Dunstan sees a beautiful girl and is immediately smitten. This quickly leads to a commencement of that passion and then Dunstan must return to his home, leaving his new love behind. Cut to months later and a newborn baby is presented to Dunstan, his son Tristan.
What follows is a tale of Tristan off on a journey that goes in his father's footsteps for reasons of the heart. As clichéd as it sounds, a fairy tale of wonderful proportions plays itself out. Stardust takes the viewer on a welcomed journey of the fantastic and all under the umbrella of classic storytelling. Evil witches, misplaced love, magic, and even a little bit of a coming of age. It's a tale of escapism and is crafted very solidly from Gaiman's well-devised source material.
Though the look of the film could have benefited from more inspired presentation, Matthew Vaughn still delivers a story well worth watching. Everything could have visually been more fitting were it in more of a Terry Gilliam-type fashion, but it still comes through because of the solid plot line. Totally ignore the Robert DeNiro plugs from all of the press; he's miscast and has one of the most poorly delivered takes on a character that I've seen in quite a while, but the film is still solid despite these weaknesses.
You can even watch this one with the kids without having to roll your eyes too much. It'll keep you more than hooked and you'll be glad you followed through with Tristan's journey.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Written by Musgo Del Jefe
It's hard to know how to classify the latest release in the Indiana Jones universe. The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones, Volume Two - The War Years is a mouthful to say and even harder to label. When you've got 12 hours of "adventures" and over 13 hours of historical documentaries, which one is the "mother" and which one the "son"?
The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones series has taken a long, interesting road to DVD. The 1989 film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade featured River Phoenix as a 12-year-old Indiana Jones in 1912 as part of the back-story. The possibility of telling these earlier stories of Indiana Jones led George Lucas to outline the treatments for roughly 70 episodes of a show that would take place between 1905 and the start of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. As conceptualized, the series was practical and adaptable. The series would not tell its stories in chronological order. Instead, the stories would primarily take place with Sean Patrick Flanery as Indiana Jones between ages 16 and 20 and with Corey Carrier as Indy between the ages of 8 and 10. Each episode would be book-ended with narration by a 93-year-old Indy played by George Hall. Every two episodes would be filmed in such a way that they could be aired as two one-hour episodes or as one two-hour TV-movie. This allowed for multiple directors to be filming episodes at the same time and for multiple episodes to be completed in just over the time to complete one. The series was shot in stages between 1991 and 1994, with footage shot in 1996 to seamlessly edit the episodes all into feature-film length. In all, roughly 30 of the 70 episodes were filmed.
This latest release, The War Years, includes Chapters 8 through 15 on the series. The remaining episodes will probably be released to coincide with the release of the latest Indiana Jones movie this spring - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There are eight discs in the set that contain one of the films and at least three documentaries that relate to the subject of the episode. With anywhere from 90-120 minutes of special features for each movie, we start to get to the heart of the series. Each film strives to serve as a mini-history lesson. Young Indiana Jones either encounters famous historical figures or is involved in famous historical events in each episode. The special features on each disc expand upon the history behind the fictional story. So, do the "adventures" become education or entertainment? A quick look at two episodes may give better insight.
"Trenches Of Hell" takes place in September of 1916. The episode was meant to have a lead-in episode where we see Indy and his Belgian troops fighting in Flanders. That unfilmed episode leaves the viewer feeling like you've been dropped into the middle episode of a mini-series. There are references to previous battles and questions about how the Company's officer came to be killed in battle. The first half of this movie plays out like an alternate version of All Quiet On The Western Front. To save money, the series was filmed in 16mm instead of 35mm. The dullness of the colors doesn't work so well in smaller settings later in the series, but here it fits the mood of the battle for The Somme.
Although there is no blood or flying body parts, the horror of war is brilliantly illustrated. The futility of Indy's company taking the same trench two or three times over the course of a few days is exasperating. The scenes are set up well, with the goal (a house on the hill) always seeming close and yet never really attainable as we move from trench to trench. The illustration of the gassing by the Germans and their appearance, like fire-breathing monsters, through the clouds with flamethrowers is terrifying.
The second half of the episode becomes The Great Escape. Indy ends up in two different prisoner-of-war camps. The first half of the movie feels more like an exposition on the horrors of war and Indy plays merely a supporting role. This half is more of the Indiana Jones that we've come to know in the Indy mythology. His pride and sarcasm in the face of danger are present. Indy eventually teams up with historical figure, Charles de Gaulle. Their escape is fun but not on par with any feature film type of budget. It's nicely constructed but the 16mm film here betrays the beauty of the German countryside. We leave Indy at the end of the episode as a free man but deep in the heart of Germany.
The disc has four features. There's a documentary "The Somme - Storm Of Steel" that puts the battle we just saw into perspective and illuminates an important part of WWI. There are two features on poets that Indy met while on leave - "Siegfried Sassoon - A War Poet's Journey" and "Robert Graves and the White Goddess." Lastly, there's an informative piece called "I Am France - The Myth of Charles de Gaulle." The level of detail of these documentaries is so precise that I feel they would've been best watched before the main feature. Knowing more details of the characters and setting would've informed what was going on much more. That's the core problem here. In an effort to meld together historical events and characters with the adventures of our non-historical character, Indiana Jones, the writers have a dilemma of how much back-story to include.
The next film, "Demons Of Deception" starts in Verdun. There is a missing episode that was never filmed that bridges the gap between Indy's escape and appearance with the army in Verdun. Once again, it feels like I've missed a night of the mini-series and that I'm playing catch up the first half hour of the show.
The episode looks better than "Trenches of Hell," but that could be because Nicolas Roeg directed the second half of the episode that was written by Carrie Fisher. The first half again addresses the horrors of trench warfare. This time instead of the horror of the new warfare (gas, flame throwers, etc), we see it from the futility of the officers who are willing to sacrifice their troops when little is to be gained.
The second half takes place back in Paris. Here we get some good clues into the future Indy through his heated love affair with the famous Mata Hari. Our young hero finds that love is another form of warfare without civilized rules. Having his heart broken opens his eyes as much as the war and it's an interesting juxtaposition to the first half of the episode. Loss of innocence is a wonderful theme for the small screen; it doesn't have to take place on the same grand scale as a WWI battle to make its impact.
This disc also has four features including "Into The Furnace - The Battle Of Verdun," "Marshal Petain's Fall From Grace," "Flirting With Danger - The Fantasy of Mata Hari," and "Reading The Enemy's Mind- Espionage in World War I." Once again, these documentaries add a level of depth to the stories that can't be conveyed in just 90 minutes.
So, what's the verdict when the Special Features and the actual Features are so closely intertwined? The series does not hold up well as presented alone. The narration, the book-ending, of the original series is gone and that's what gave the viewer their moral compass. The older Indy had a reason to tell each story; there was a lesson we knew we were to take from each story. Without that voice, we only have the story to lead us. Often we are dropped in the middle of a story and leave before it feels finished (like in "Trenches From Hell").
That's where the special features make the difference. They are all well done and informative. The in-depth knowledge of the historical importance of the settings and the rich backgrounds and futures of the characters that Indy interacts with make for better stories. Knowing that the Germans envisioned the Battle Of Verdun as a battle of attrition, a battle to create deaths, not to gain any strategic ground, is an important turning point in the history of warfare and it informs the futility that Indy feels in the episode.
So, this vision of Lucas' of edu-tainment has come to fruition. One needs to be more informed to enjoy his entertainment and while enjoying his entertainment you can't help but become more educated. It's not for everyone. You have to want to make the effort to learn in order to enjoy. Watch the documentaries first (I know, it feels like eating dessert first to me too) and you'll find the episodes much richer for your effort.