Sunday, February 17, 2008


Written by Fantasma el Rey

Blue State is a nice little romantic comedy about a young man who decides to pack up and move to Canada after the 2004 reelection of George W. Bush. Along the way he discovers and grapples with who he is and what he is really hoping to accomplish in life.

We follow John Logue, (Breckin Meyer) a young man in San Francisco dedicated to the presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry as he gives his all in the hope that a Democrat will win the office. In disbelief that people want “Dubya” to remain in power, John makes a televised, drunken, election-night promise to move to Canada if Bush wins again.

Ah, the day after. John feels as if he’s in a surreal world, a nightmare he can’t wake from as Kerry has thrown in the towel after being dealt a knockout blow from the nation that voted Bush back in. John, head hung low, attempts to put his life back in order by getting back his job, which he quit, and his girlfriend, who he put on hold. Both are now unavailable and John begins to ponder the future as friends continue to hound him about the promise he made the night before. As the pressure mounts for him to keep his word, John starts to seriously consider the move as a political statement

Further sparked by a call from the founder of “Marry a Canadian,” John begins looking for a traveling buddy and finds the blue-haired, attractive young Chloe (executive producer Anna Paquin) and the trip begins. Along the way we explore John’s obsession with the evils of the Bush government as he yaps about it as often as he can. We also see how the two differ; John is the organized “tight ass” while Chloe is relaxed and blunt. We also discover their secret pasts that brought them to this point in life.

John comes from a hardcore Republican family, who we get to meet as the pair stops at John’s childhood home in Washington. John’s father communicates with his family like he’s hosting a right-wing call-in radio show while his mother plays obedient housewife as both are in denial of their youngest son’s death in the Middle East. All of this is what fuels John’s far-left, Democratic beliefs.

Then there is mysterious Chloe who stays quiet and reveals her secret moments away from the Canadian border; she is a U.S. soldier and only child from a long line of war heroes skipping out on her second tour of duty. Chloe tires to back out and return to her family and her troop, but John bravely pushes her forward. He couldn’t save his brother so he’s going to save her, so into Canada they go further into the adventure.

They meet two people in Canada that serve as guides to help the duo deal with their problems and the questions of what to do next in their lives. Gloria, the women who runs the “Marry a Canadian” service out of her house like a 1960s political, sex commune provides John with insight to what Canadians think of their “stupid, fat” U.S. neighbors. While showing John around town and taking him to get their marriage license, John begins to realize that his political statement may be flawed. After deciding that the citizen by marriage route is not for him, he grabs Chloe and makes a mad dash away from the chaos of the commune.

While on the run the pair meets the second guide, an older man who lives in a “Lincoln log” cabin. The wise old man reveals he is an American draft dodger and a former student of Columbia University involved in a student takeover sometime in the ‘60s. In this old man’s regrets John and Chloe both can see that they are only running from their own problems and personal issues. What to do? Like true Americans they buck up, stay strong, and head home to face their futures, one to a court martial and the other to four years of political despair.

Have no fear all your Hollywood hopes come true and (here comes the spoiler) they live happily ever after and drive off into the California sunset. Chloe apparently does some time in a military prison, while John stops running from his issues and runs for the state senate, setting him on the path to making a true political statement.

Even though the film became a bit hokey right about the time Chloe’s secret is revealed and as a romantic comedy it has to follow a template we are all to familiar with, I enjoyed Blue State because Breckin Meyer and Anna Paquin worked so well together.

The DVD comes with just a director's commentary and is a full screen/widescreen combo.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Becoming Jane wants to play out like a Jane Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice, Emma), with fierce wit, integrity, and romance; however, this isn’t a film about one of her characters, but about the authoress and her life, which doesn’t always translate to screen the way her novels do.

Directed by Julian Jarrold, Becoming Jane is a historical film based on Jane Austen’s life before she achieves her literary fame. Like one of her stories, Jane (Anne Hathaway) comes from a lower class family, where marriage is important in the security of a young woman’s future. Her father, played by James Cromwell, is the local reverend but never preaches at her to change her outspoken tongue and manner.

Jane is a fierce writer, always seen with a pen or book in hand, but she still searches for the inspiration to write from the heart, about the heart. Through family relations, the Austens are made to welcome Mr. Tom Lefroy, played by James McAvoy, after he has been made to spend his summer away from London and in the countryside as punishment for his lifestyle in the city.

Tom and Jane’s relationship begins in competition over the written word but grows into an ardent love for one another. But money, social status, and family will not allow them to be together. Like her novels, she is pursued by unworthy suitors, men that can promise her a comfortable life, but without passion. Even for Jane, a life without passion is not a life at all.

She wrote such complex and interesting novels that commented on society and gave women a voice, always having strong female characters. For Austen fans Becoming Jane turns into a guessing game, spotting her inspirations for her novels. Her close relationship with her sister in real life could be the basis for the strong bonds of sisterhood in her stories. Her playing cricket is explored in her writings as well.

Becoming Jane plays down the radical impact of Jane Austen being a female author. There are many references to her living off of her pen, but the film focuses on her relationship with Lefroy, making it out to be the most influential and traumatizing relationship of her life.

The problem with historical narratives is that real human drama does not always translate to the screen. As the title suggests Becoming Jane is a transformation into the person that will eventually write some of the most influential works to date, but the film only focuses on her love interests—not carrying the same weight that she writes about.

If you are an admirer of Jane Austen’s books, Becoming Jane is a fun and interesting look into her life, giving the viewer the satisfactory notion that even her life played out as a great read. But if one knows nothing of Jane, then don’t bother starting with this; pick up one of her novels instead. Becoming Jane is about getting to know the author behind the pen and Jane Austen’s immense talent cannot be overshadowed; for even the dullest moments of her real life became the foundation for her characters that found true happiness and lived with passion.

The DVD extras on the film are informative and very interesting to watch. The most appealing is the “Discovering the Real Jane Austen” which is a 16-minute piece on the creation of the film. It has interviews with the cast and crew, explaining the choices in costumes, cast, location, etc. There are deleted scenes and a feature that can be played during the film called “Pop up facts and footnotes” so that during the movie facts about Austen’s life and the period in which she was living appear.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Written by Fumo Verde

A quick summary of this Spaghetti Resurrection: Jesus dies, the day turns to night, and the Earth rumbles for the Son of God is dead. This disturbs the Roman Emperor and he sends one of his most loyal generals to find out if Jesus of Nazareth had anything to do with it. In doing this the general finds “the Way” as he sends reports back to the Emperor, and if it wasn’t for the Emperor’s power-hungry nephew Claudius, the world would have been different.

Wow, even the Christies will have a problem with this one. This story is harder to swallow than the Bible itself, but not by much. The claim to fame of this movie isn’t Jesus, but Dolph Lundgren. He may have had top billing, but this guy had twenty lines if that, and they were all kept to six-word sentences. Daniele Liotti plays General Tito Valerio Tauro, of which Lundgren is his captured Barbarian fighting slave Brixos (he is versatile) with Monica Cruz as Tabitha and Hristo Shopov as Pilate. About the acting, let me put it this way, at first I blamed it on the weed I was smoking. Then I watched this thing sober and it got worse. Max Von Sydow who plays Emperor Tiberius Augustus Caesar seemed like he phoned it in. It had that “bad dub” feel to it though it wasn’t, but maybe it should have been. Even Milli Vanilli wouldn’t have danced to the words put down in this script.

We begin with some tricky camera work going over mountains, probably someone holding a camera out the window of a fast moving Yugo or Rav4. In an instant, we are focused on Jesus. It must have been at the exact moment of death but we aren’t watching long enough to find out, I guess director Giulio Base thought Gibson took all the fun out of that. As Jesus dies, the earth quakes and the sky darkens, suddenly the camera jets over the water to the island of Capri where Emperor Tiberius is shaken from his nap, and this is the whole reason for this movie. At the same time, a young woman in Palestine searches for her mother asking why the day has turned to night as her mud and wood house rumbles under what I consider plate tectonics.

While all this is going on, a Roman General Tito on the Empire’s northern frontier also feels the shaking of the world along with his legion, the 7th Gemini. Don’t even get me started on the topic of Roman Legions and where they were based or for historical accuracy, but then again the target audience doesn’t care about details like that anyway. As the Romans dismount the Barbarian force descends upon them in this heavily wooded forest and a battle ensues. Enter Lundgren and his heathen kin. There is this one moment in the film that tripped me out and I actually had to replay it a few times to make sure I got it. With the earthquake and the sunlight being blackened out, every character so far in this film considered that to be a “bad sign” except Lundgren’s Barbarians; they thought it a good time to fight, and normally the Barbarians would have had the advantage on the Romans in a thick forest, but not this time. Now this is what I liked the best in this scene; as the Romans torch their enemies’ temple where the High Priestess sat, Lundgren exclaims to his adversary, “Your Gods will someday die too.” Oooh, foreshadowing. Did we really have to waste Lundgren’s breath here?

After defeating the barbaric horde and taking Brixos as his slave, Tito is charged by the Emperor to make an inquiry about Jesus and find out all that he can about the man. So Tito goes off to Palestine with Brixos in-tow. They are sent there undercover because the old Roman Caesar is curious about this man and wants some inside info and he can’t trust Pilate. Okay, to the Romans, the death of Jesus was like the thousands of other criminals the Empire put to death each day. Tito meets up with another undercover agent Caesar had planted to keep an eye on Pilate, and why this kat couldn’t get the skinny on Jesus and report it back with his other reports doesn’t come up for debate. The agent gets shanked just before Tito can ask him what he knows; all he says is go to Judas’ house.

Once there, Tito and Brixos find out that Judas is dead and that all his friends would kill him if it weren’t for what he did to Jesus. The new owner of Judas’ shack tells Tito to go into the city and there you may find some of Jesus’ followers. This is where Tito meets Tabitha who has just come back from a fresh stoning. Unfortunately the person who got stoned was her mother and the leader of the stone throwers was her father, but he backed out at the last minute because he had no balls. Don’t worry, Pops, that’s why crowds gather. Tabitha cannot talk to Tito in the streets or else by law she’ll be stoned (the good ol’ days), but she still conveys that she knows something he may want to know of which the audience already knows. Wait, this is sounding like a Rumsfeld press conference.

To make things short, Tito finds out all he wants to know before going to Pilate’s house for dinner; how I don’t know. He never asked any questions about the death of Jesus, let alone the life of, or why anyone is following him. He even watches an older brother get the beaten by Saul, and when Tito asks the fleeing younger brother, “Why won’t you defend your brother?” the answer gives no clues to Tito, but somehow he knows that Jesus was resurrected. Pilate and the Jewish leaders go to extremes to show Tito that what Jesus did was a magic trick and that his followers are a bunch of loons.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Tabitha’s father told her to shut up, and since she didn’t, he clubbed her till she was almost dead. Tito goes to find Shimon Peter (Enrico Lo Verso), who has a seedy smile and sweats like a used car salesmen on crystal meth. Saving her life, along with her soul, Peter performs a miracle and converts Tito. The two lovers go off with the followers of “the Way” and live a meek existence. Each report Caesar gets pushes him closer to believe that Jesus was the true son of God and that he’s about to throw all of the Roman beliefs out the window, including the one where it says that Caesar is part god. This ticks off his nephew Claudius who believes this new religion to be dangerous because it calls for men and women to be equal and that slave and freemen are equal.

I know what you are thinking. Whatever happens to Brixos, the poor bastard who served as a loyal fighter-slave for Tito? Well, Tito tells him that after all the fun they have had and all the adventure they have been through that the official papers were signed and sent in giving Brixos his freedom. Unfortunately this comes out on Brixos’ deathbed. Here Lundgren and Liotti pull together and make a very dramatic scene become a train wreck in motion. I can only thank the gods this thing was almost over.

For true believers, there isn’t much here that would really excite you. An orator with a passion for scripture would be time better spent and you would take away a better Biblical view of your world. Heathens like me will not get anything out of this besides a headache. The sets are fantastic and the costumes look authentic, but not enough to cover the dull and uninspiring script. This has to be one of the worst things that I’ve ever had to review.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

THE ARISTOCATS (Special Edition)

Written by Senora Bicho

The Aristocats has always been one of my favorite Disney cartoons, so when given the chance to review this new special edition DVD, I pounced! The film was originally released in 1970 and then re-released in 1980 and 1987. It was first made available on VHS in 1996 and then on DVD in 2000, which was then discontinued in 2006. This new special edition set was originally announced as a 2-disc set but upon release is actually only 1-disc.

The story takes place in Paris in 1910 and revolves around a high society cat, Duchess, and her three kittens: Marie, Toulouse, and Berlioz. They are owned by Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, a retired opera singer. Since she is getting up there in age, she asks her lawyer to draw up her will leaving everything to her cats with her butler, Edgar, to inherit once the cats have all passed. After overhearing this information, Edgar decides to get rid of the kittens to clear the way to his inheritance. He drugs the cats and heads out into the country to drop them off. A run-in with some country dogs causes Edgar to lose the cats and go running back into town. The cats, now lost, are on their own. Luckily, they run into a friendly alley cat, Thomas O'Malley, who rescues them and takes them on the adventure of their lives. This wouldn’t be a true Disney animated film if there wasn’t some romance thrown in too.

The Aristocats offers a host of well-known and beloved Disney voiceover regulars along with some new ones. Thomas O’ Malley is voiced by Phil Harris who voiced Baloo in The Jungle Book and Little John in Robin Hood. Pat Buttram perfectly plays the hound dog, Napoleon, and can also be found in Robin Hood, The Rescuers, and The Fox and the Hound. Paul Winchell, the famous voice of Tigger from the Winnie the Pooh movies, makes a brief appearance as a Siamese cat. The newcomers include Eva Gabor, who beautifully plays Duchess as an extension of her character on Green Acres, and Scatman Crothers as Scat Cat, the leader of an alley cat band.

The music in The Aristocats is definitely not as strong as other Disney films. The best song by far is “Everybody Wants to be a Cat”. It is a great jazz number and while the song is great on its own, the scene accompanying it is the best part of the film. The colors look fantastic and it is fun to watch. The only other song worth mentioning is the title song sung by Maurice Chevalier. This was his last performance and the songwriters were able to talk him into coming out of retirement to sing it. He is perfect in setting the tone and atmosphere during the opening credits.

The new Special Edition looks great. While the animation is older and rougher, the visuals work to create the look of Paris 1910, more specifically the paintings of the time. The extras are not overly exciting unless you have small children. There is a deleted scene, which one of the songwriters discusses, and the original sketches and storyboards are shown during the song. It was a good decision to cut it from the film as it didn’t really add anything. A cartoon featuring Figaro, the cat from Pinocchio, is also included, it is a weak choice and I would never watch it again.

“Music and More” provides the ability to jump to any song and play that scene. You can also add lyrics to the bottom of the screen during all of the songs while watching the movie to make your own karaoke.

“Backstage Disney” includes “The Sherman Brothers” which provides interviews with them and additional information on the film’s music. The Sherman brothers were staff songwriters at Disney for many years and their additional credits include Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and many more. There is also a scrapbook and an excerpt from an old show entitled The Great Cat Family hosted by Walt Disney.

“Games and Activities” allows viewers to adopt their own kitten and care for it while playing “Disney Virtual Kitten,” and kids can play along and learn the names of musical instruments in “The Aristocats Fun with Language Game”.

The Aristocats is not as good as lot of the other Disney films released around the same time such as The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, and The Rescuers, but it is still fun and entertaining for the whole family.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Robert Benton’s film Feast of Love makes a valiant attempt to satisfy any appetite when it comes to love. Unfortunately, some of the life lessons that are to be taken from the movie make it seem more like a buffet line—ordinary, stale, and the choices are already made for you.

It is based the 2007 novel by Charles Baxter and boasts a great cast, with leads played by Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear. Freeman’s Harry Stevenson begins the film, narrating his thoughts on what it means to be human as he walks around town in the middle of the night. We then flashback 18 months before this as we see him meet up with friend Bradley Thomas (Kinnear) on a softball diamond. Here we see Bradley’s wife Kathryn, played by Selma Blair, about to go up to bat.

As a witness to the daily activities of these Portland folks, we also see how these people fall in love, and it as quick and perfect as the movies make it out to be. Our first run-in with love comes when Kathryn falls for another softball player in a bar, while she is still in the arms of her husband. In case we didn’t see it happen, Stevenson tells his wife that he saw two people fall in love that day.

Our next couple de jour is between the barista Oscar, played by Toby Hemingway, and Chloe, played by Alexa Davalos. They meet and it’s love at first sight. Their love is pure and strong, something that Oscar always acknowledges—they have nothing to fear.

Bradley represents the bumbling fool when it comes to love, for he loves blindly, and with the end of his first marriage, his approach doesn’t seem to work out for him. He keeps on loving, trying again and again to find a true a love that will love him back. His second attempt comes in the form of a real estate agent that comes into his coffee shop on a rainy day. Diana, played by Radha Mitchell, is another flawed woman that cannot seem to stay away from married men. Bradley is doomed, but even though Diana loves men that are already attached, it seems that it still works out for her.

Throughout Feast Stevenson plays the all-knowing guidance counselor to these younger couples, giving them advice from his table at the coffee shop. Interestingly, he is flawed himself, he has lost love in his life and it still haunts him. Of course, Freeman is perfectly cast in such role, but his character only gets so troubled, we never see what goes on under the surface.

The film interestingly breaks up the interaction between the couples. It is not until the end when we have caught up with our 18-month time lapse and then everyone is seemingly connected in some way. Actually, the editing between couples is a fresh approach to the story, making them seem like short films intertwined into one.

If we take it at face value, Feast indulges the viewer with many different outcomes to love, but they all end with this notion of “true love”—if one waits long enough true love will come along, one cannot be angry at someone for finding their true love. Personally, if I found out I was cheated on, I don’t think I would shrug it off and tell myself that it’s okay because they found true love, but I guess the subject of love is often taken with spoonful of sugar.

Love is painful, in the sense that those that we love may pass away, we may not always be in love, and sometimes our love finds someone else. Feast makes light of other forms of love and says that everyone will find true love, if we just keep looking. The DVD extras only include interviews with some of the cast. Feast of Love proves to be a good meal; it’s just not as nourishing as I had hoped.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Pioneers Of Television

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

The latest PBS series, Pioneers Of Television, is a four-part love letter to the first and second generation of TV personalities. The series consists of four, 55-minute episodes built around a specific genre. There's a single episode for "Game Shows," "Sitcoms," "Variety," and "Late Night." At less than an hour apiece, this isn't exactly Ken Burns' level of historical storytelling. In fact, it ends up feeling like a mere table setter, a sampler platter that in each case could lead to much further exploration.

It's interesting to take a look back to these shows from 40-60 years ago and see how they reflect upon the shows of today. Are their influences still felt today? How do today's shows differ from their predecessors? One genre has been dead for twenty years already. The "Variety" episode focuses on the rise and fall of the sketch/music/dance genre. The variety-show story is one that branches in two different directions. There is the long survival of shows by Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton and Carol Burnett. There's also the meteoric rise and just as quick fall of hosts Milton Berle (the man reached a 95 share at one point in his career!), Perry Como (beat The Honeymooners in the ratings), and the controversial Smothers Brothers. Like most of the genres in this series, there isn't one blueprint for success. The common thread seems to be putting together a talented ensemble, like Sid Caesar's Your Show Of Shows, with a large stable of characters that can keep the audience interested week after week. Saturday Night Live is the last remaining vestige of this tradition, although that show doesn't have a singular personality upon which the show is built.

Game Shows are the polar opposite of the variety show. The game show and its close cousin, reality television, have been around since the beginning of TV. The variety show and the game show composed most of TV in the '40s and '50s because they were easy, cheap programming that filled all the open inventory on the networks. In fact, little has changed today; game shows and reality TV fill the airwaves mostly because of their bargain compared to scripted TV. The game show succeeded beyond the variety show because of the added excitement of instant riches, the fun of playing along at home, and the edgy, often risque, humor. This episode covers the rise and fall of a variety of game shows, including Truth Or Consequences, Password, What's My Line, and Let's Make A Deal.

Most Prime Time game shows today follow the blueprint of later successes like Jeopardy and The Newlywed Game. The humor comes from ordinary people playing a game hosted by charming, funny male emcee. Watching scenes from Hollywood Squares and Password remind me that my favorite games as a kid were ones that mixed celebrities and everyday people. Bringing celebrities down to "our level," showing their imperfections, was refreshing and made me love actors like Betty White, Florence Henderson, Jonathan Winters and Rose Marie. I'm surprised that this kind of game show hasn't made a comeback in recent years. The rebirth of this genre really started with Survivor and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and I expect the continued success of Deal Or No Deal and Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader to keep this genre alive for many more years.

The two best episodes of this series focused on "Late Night" and the "Sitcom." Each episode focuses on four of the important landmarks of each genre. Neither genre is doing as well in the ratings as they once did and certainly neither has a "pioneer" of its genre currently working.

The sitcom has been dying a slow, painful death since Seinfeld left the air. The only sitcom ranked in the Top Twenty over the past few seasons has been Two & A Half Men. The shows featured in the "Sitcom" episode are the giants upon whose shoulders all future sitcoms have stood. These shows define the genre upon which we are able to categorize all current programming. They are the shows that made Nick-At-Nite a must-see network in the early 1990s.

The Honeymooners
was an offshoot of the variety show genre. Jackie Gleason wanted to concentrate on one character instead of the multiple characters he played in his variety show. There's a brilliance in the Ralph Cramden character that Archie Bunker and Fred Flintstone and Homer Simpson could never completely capture. Jackie did not rehearse with the cast, and the performances are as fresh and raw as anything of TV today. Interestingly, Jackie ended his run on The Honeymooners after 39 episodes of the first season because he had "run out of ideas."

I Love Lucy
would succeed during the same time period despite being almost a polar opposite. Lucy was the first sitcom to be filmed in front of a live audience. It relied often on physical comedy. And there was not a line or movement that wasn't rehearsed and over-rehearsed. Lucille Ball's approach would dominate the ratings, compared to The Honeymooners that never won its time slot, for over a decade.

The other two shows featured in this episode, The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show, would expand the possibilities of the genre. The former would not rely on its central character to carry the show. Mayberry was a town of "real people," a town that many viewers would want to live in. Andy was the "stable center" upon which the other characters interacted. The latter took this concept and mixed it with the slapstick parts of I Love Lucy. This urban comedy did not have to focus all of its energy on its lead character because of the strength of the supporting cast. This formula worked similarly for Seinfeld by letting the supporting cast shine as much as the title character.

The episode on "Late Night" was the most interesting to me. It's a deceptively hard genre. Steve Allen called it "the art of conversation." It's a rare personality that can make everyday conversation seem entertaining. The ratings for Jack Paar and Johnny Carson were routinely higher than those of Leno and Letterman combined today.

It's an interesting progression of Tonight Show hosts that are profiled. Steve Allen had perfected his show on radio but found when he moved to do two hours of television that he just couldn't write skits fast enough. So, he decided to just talk with the audience. This "off the cuff" style allowed him to do a whole two-hour show with just a single page outline. He was not a great interviewer and often supplemented his show with various acts including jazz performances. Jack Paar took over after Allen. Jack was very much the opposite. He perfected the art of the personal conversation. Jack did not do pre-interviews or prepare for his guests. This relaxed, often emotional style seems alien when I view clips today. It's just Jack and his guest; the interviews don't seem canned or as just promotional vehicles. Who else could have Castro on their show and talk about how they both have 9-year-old daughters?

Johnny Carson combined the talents of both Steve Allen and Jack Paar and then worked them to perfection. Johnny's early days as a magician gave him the monologue skills and his work on game shows perfected his interviewing technique. Watching Johnny's work now is refreshing. He took on Jack Paar's relaxed style, but never forgot that he was there to entertain. Like Andy Griffith, he could be the "stable center" of the show while crazy things happened around him, but he knew when to be Lucy or Milton Berle, taking over the show with his physical presence.

For those unfamiliar with the early days of television, I can't recommend this enough as a starter kit. This should direct you back to DVD sets of some of the great sitcoms, but so much of this era is lost or will never find a home on DVD. If you lived through these shows in their first or second runs, there's plenty of great interviews to entertain. I'd sit through a whole series of just stars like Dick Van Dyke (love his story about his reaction to trying out as host for The Price Is Right), Milton Berle, Tim Conway, Phyllis Diller, and more telling stories of these early days.

There's a good mixture of trivia and information in these episodes, although while the interviews are labeled, we do not get any identification of the shows or actors being shown on the screen. I'd love to have that info for future research. What sticks with me is the variety of styles that succeeded in each genre. It's not one style that always wins. Ultimately it's letting the performer's style speak for itself. Dick Van Dyke couldn't succeed by copying the style of The Honeymooners, but he could succeed by applying his strengths to a concept he believed in. I only wish these beliefs and faith were as widely held today. Maybe it'll take something like a Writer's Strike to reset the system.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

LAKE PLACID 2 (Unrated)

Written by Guest Reviewer Mel Odom

Back in the 1970s, Betty White and Cloris Leachman starred in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was at the top of the heap in sitcoms. Both women played solid comedic roles and helped shape the series by giving Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) someone to play off in different scenes. White was a Jekyll-and-Hyde, homemaker-show hostess and Leachman was the crabby/occasionally soft-hearted landlady.

Never in any of those episodes did viewers learn that both women harbored secret alligator fetishes. It wasn’t until Lake Placid and Lake Placid 2 that we discovered this. I have to admit, watching White feed her “precious” alligators in the first movie went totally against everything I’d ever seen of her, and it made the movie even more twisted. Watching Leachman perform the same function in this made-for-SciFi TV sequel just didn’t have the same impact. I expected it, and because of that seeing Leachman onscreen was a bit disappointing.

In the original movie, Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, and Oliver Platt end up trapped in the area as the alligators stalk them. The CGI was well done and the acting was solid. There was a lot of comedy and off-hand remarks that make these kinds of creature horror films work – the movie just didn’t take itself too seriously. The capper, though, was when they lowered the cow into the lake to use as bait. At best, the movie was uneven, though, and had trouble finding an audience. I enjoyed it because I didn’t have any high expectations.

When I found out there was going to be a sequel, it wasn’t cause for intense celebration, but I figured it would be worth a look. Sadly, the sequel misses the boat nearly all the way around. The movie in no way feels “fresh” or different. Its more like a rendition minus a lot of the interesting and comedic parts, and definitely without the budget for special effects. But it’s twice the alligator-killing frenzy because there are four predators this time instead of two. If you saw the first movie, just remember the final scene where Betty White is feeding the young alligators and you’ll realize this film was set up then.

In addition to Leachman, the film also stars John Schneider (The Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville) as Sheriff James Riley. The rest of the principal cast is rounded out by Sarah LaFleur playing Riley’s romantic interest Emma Warner, Sam McMurray playing big-game hunter Struthers, and Chad Collins playing Riley’s son Scott. I looked at those names and couldn’t think of a single thing I’d seen them in. I knew the prospect of a break-even sequel was dimming.

The budget for the original show, probably because producer David E. Kelley (Boston Legal) wrote the original script, was just short of $30 million. The sequel’s budget was $2 million, and it shows drastically. Kelley’s lighthearted and twisted approach to the material is also MIA.

The movie quickly devolves into predictable action and special effects, really weak special effects. The cutting one-liners, almost asides to the audience, are missing. And the tension just never really exists. It’s a vapid chomp-fest from beginning to end, and just never comes close to the original. Everyone, monsters included, simply go through the paces.

Interestingly enough, the film was made-for-television but at some point had nudity shot to add into the Unrated version of the film. That accounts for about four additional minutes of naked soon-to-be ‘gator bait that harkens back to that old horror standby: get naked, have sex, and die.

There are making-of featurettes included on the disc that present some of the background of the film, but it's hard to talk about any cool CGI work when there wasn't any, or any spell-binding scenes. I felt bad for the people involved because you could tell they were earnest and had worked hard on the film.

I didn’t care for Lake Placid 2. I never once got involved with the action or the characters. The presentation is purely paint-by-numbers with few saving graces. Watching Cloris Leachman take over the Betty White role was funny, though, but I think by that point I was desperate for anything that even came close to funny. If you’ve seen the first movie, you might want to see this one, but once you’re finished I doubt you’ll ever want to see it again.