Sunday, May 31, 2009

The auto parts are delivered by Pony Express

Why is it that all "ex-CIA hit men" (or ex-Special Forces soldiers and the like) end up having their car breakdown in little towns that look ideal, but which always end up having a crooked sheriff in league with the local "land-grabber?" (Don't they have CIA-AAA?)

If you guessed Malone (1987), starring the gum-cracking Burt Reynolds, was playing on THiS TV, you guessed right. Burt is the wounded in the soul ex-CIA dude. Reynolds' pal Charles Durning must have been unavailable to play the sheriff, so they got Kenneth McMillan to do his best Durning impression, and Cliff Robertson is playing the Ben Gazzara role from Road House as the land-grabber. Big Burt even stays with a local widowed businessman and takes a shine to his daughter, the always cute Cynthia Gibb. He never does anything. I blame the high wasted 80s jeans Cynthia wears - she's obviously a girl, but they make her look boyish, I mean what's the message they're sending there?

And "land-grabber?" What is this, 1887? Well, this is basically a modern western, with the our ex-Bandit playing an aging gunslinger-type come to the small town, the corrupt sheriff and the terrorizing big city land-grabber.

The similarly-themed Road House had much more fun playing off and with the western motifs. Malone is all deadly serious, which mades it deadly dull.

Geez, it's a sad, sad day when Road House is held up as an example of a better movie.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Beaming in the profits

Yesterday, May 29, the new Star Trek movie quietly passed the $200 million dollar mark in domestic movie grosses to become a certified summer blockbuster. Not since Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (aka, the one with the whales) has a ST film broken out of its “Trekkies-only” mold and been so well received by mass audiences. This calls for a celebration.

Hey, everybody, BIG PARTY AT MY HOUSE!

It’s bring your own. (And no double dipping. You know who you are.)

Garbled Transmissions

The Signal (2007)

One day in the city of Terminus, every television, phone and other broadcasting device emits a mysterious signal that causes ordinary people to go bugnuts ape-shit and act like Scottish soccor hooligans when their favorite team is down by 13 points.

A girl named Mya (Aneesa Ramsey) is cheating on her bug exterminator hubbie Lewis (A.J. Bowen) by sleeping with David Hyde Pierce look-alike Ben (Justin Welborn). When the world goes to heck in a handbasket, Ben tries to find Mya to get her to safety but runs seriously afoul of Lewis. That’s pretty much the story.

The film is from a writing/directing trio, David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush, and they break up the film into three parts or "transmissions" in which they are each responsible for writing and directing their own piece of this puzzle. The first part is from Mya's point of view, the second from Lewis' pov and the third part is from Ben's perspective. The first and third parts are dead serious and follow the aforementioned story, but the middle plays like a community theater production of Shaun of the Dead (it’s a decent community theater production but a strange choice by the filmmakers, nevertheless). At first I was buying it, but the comedy/satire segment, where we follow some secondary (or perhaps "superfluous" is a better word) characters at a New Year's Party before Lewis drops in, seems to go on forever; it ultimately seriously disrupted the flow of the movie.

And what a strange flow it is. I had no idea what the filmmakers point was to all this mayhem. There is so much brutal violence in the movie that I felt bludgeoned. And just when you think the bloodied up characters will get a break, and maybe tend to all that running/dripping blood, they end up MORE bloodied and beaten around. The movie is just over 100 minutes long, and by the third chapter I was sick of all the violence, even the comic stuff, and just wanted this to end.

The film looks decent for a very low budget movie (shot in 13 days according to one of the supplemental features). The acting was good, the movie has impressive production design and the gore effets are well done, so I applaud them on those fronts. But other than love makes you do dumb things and violence is bad I have no idea what their story was about.

[I do look forward to seeing what these filmmakers do in the future, but please guys have a real, concrete idea in your heads - and in the script - as to what you are trying to accomplish with your movie.]

Friday, May 29, 2009

Speed of Sleep

The following regarding the Speed of Sound is taken from a NASA website:

Air is a gas, and a very important property of any gas is the speed of sound through the gas. Why are we interested in the speed of sound? The speed of "sound" is actually the speed of transmission of a small disturbance through a medium. Sound itself is a sensation created in the human brain in response to sensory inputs from the inner ear.

Disturbances are transmitted through a gas as a result of
collisions between the randomly moving molecules in the gas. The transmission of a small disturbance through a gas is an isentropic process. The conditions in the gas are the same before and after the disturbance passes through. Because the speed of transmission depends on molecular collisions, the speed of sound depends on the state of the gas. The speed of sound is a constant within a given gas and the value of the constant depends on the type of gas (air, pure oxygen, carbon dioxide, etc.) and the temperature of the gas. An analysis based on conservation of mass and momentum shows that the speed of sound a is equal to the square root of the ratio of specific heats g times the gas constant R times the temperature T.

a = sqrt [g * R * T]

Notice that the temperature must be specified on an absolute scale (Kelvin or Rankine). The dependence on the type of gas is included in the gas constant R. which equals the universal gas constant divided by the molecular weight of the gas, and the ratio of specific heats.

I bring this up because last night the couple (and their female friend because I heard a male and two female voices) in the apartment complex directly across from my building decided to test the "Speed of Sound Through Air" by having a loud argument with all the windows open from about 11:30pm to nearly 12:30am!

I don’t know how many times I heard one chick say, “Don’t tell me my feelings are not valid!” but I know how QUICKLY I heard it.

Shot Down In Flames

Soldier (1998)

Director Paul W.S. Anderson must be stopped. I’m not proposing killing him, merely that someone go back in time and prevent his parents from ever meeting and conceiving this douchebag.

His movies are often just blatant rip offs of much better movies: Event Horizon was Roger Corman’s Galaxy of Terror with a bigger budget, and Sam Neill in place of the giant raping worm; Resident Evil was a dimwitted videogamer’s version of George Romero’s should-be-trademarked Dead world; Alien vs. Predator – the less said about this piece of garbage the better.

Soldier is simply one man’s “vision” of fucking up The Road Warrior (with a little preamble that seriously cribs from Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers and its goofy fascist future propaganda, which came out the year before). Writer David Webb Peoples’ opener inexplicably shows children in 1996 being taken by The Fascist State (we know they are fascist because they all wear smart gray nazi wool uniforms) and raised to be nothing but SOLDIERS. They are taught the usual: pain is your friend, war is good, obey your superiors, crush da enemeese (Holla, Conan fans), yada, yada. Even the alphabet tape that runs across the top of their blackboards helpfully tells the tykes things such as H is for Harm, J is for Jerk, K is for Kill (I guess Reading, Riting and ‘Rithmetic are OUT!).

Then when our boy Sgt. Todd (Kurt Russell) is a man we see a compilation of his greatest victories, which almost made me fall out of my chair laughing. These are supposed to be the ultimate soliders – trained from birth to be unequaled warriors. They show this by having Russell and the others walk across various battlefields in the same stunted Frankensteinian manner, as if their legs were wearing splints. They move slowly, totally out in the open, never seeking cover or doing anything real soldiers might do. They go from campaign to campaign, culminating in them wearing space suits on some planet with Fortress of Solitude crystals poking out here and there. Kurt and the others are so bulked up they always walk as if they are wearing spacesuits - they act like they are in a 9 year old boy's idea of warfare! (I thought it should have been done with Russell walking on a treadmill in front of a blue screen or weatherman’s chroma-key backing, so they could superimpose the various locations behind him.)

After Jason Isaacs shows up playing the early 90s Jason Isaac role of the dickhead, Sgt. Kurt is quickly found to be obsolete, replaced by the new, DNA enhanced (with flames painted on his hood) Jason Scott Lee, looking really, really roided out (and he looked so tight as Bruce Lee).

From this point on it’s The Road Warrior rip off with the Sarge falling in with a group of people on the Garbage World (that’s right, in this stupid ass future, The Fascist State flies its garbage – including small things like aircraft carriers – to the other side of the galaxy. Seriously, there’s a spiral galaxy out in the distance.). The people look and live exactly like the Mad Max folks, scavenging and scrounging to create a life. But the production design and costuming is nowhere near as cool and inventive as the Mad Max films. It’s really second rate.

Then Jason Isaacs decides to hold training exercises on the Garbage World. No real good reason is given by the movie, it’s completely arbitrary. And when he’s asked what their soldiers should do if they encounter civilians Isaacs orders them to be treated as “hostiles.” See, Jason Isaacs in another total douche role.

Sgt. Kurt decides to stick with the Garbage Folks and help them protect their oil – oops, sorry, wrong movie -- protect their garbage so he takes on Jason Isaacs’ new breed of soldiers in the most boring battle and fight scenes I’ve seen in quite some time. They looked like lesser outtakes from Rambo II; in fact, at least one scene was cribbed from THAT movie with Kurt blending in with the metal and junk and only revealed with a flash of lightning. The final battle between Kurt and Jason S.L. is hilarious. How do we know it’s a FINAL BATTLE. It’s raining. There are explosions going off around them. Smoke fills the air here and there. And lightning is going off. (Guess they couldn’t just have them fight at a Steam and Flame Factory, this being a Garbage World and all.)

I guess when The Fascist State grooms its soldiers they don’t teach them how to speak, which is why Sgt. Kurt only uttered like 8 words in this movie. The rest of the time he was Mr. Stoic Face - Kurt Russell would have made a pretty good Terminator. Then again, with the serious bulk up and the buzz cut hairdo, the filmmakers made him LOOK like Terminator.

The visual effects look like something from Britain in the 1980s (and not the Britain that made Space: 1999 either). The starfield backgrounds look like something out of 1940s paintings. The ship that brings Jason Isaacs to Garbage World swoops over the camera at one point and it made me think of nothing so much as a few door locks cobbled together. When seen from above, the ship looks worse - like a shitty model thrown together by Italian kids who thought the spaceships in Star Crash were grandioso.

In case you haven’t guessed, this is a terrible movie, with not an original idea in its little celluloid head. It’s not fun to watch. Or interesting in the least little way. And Connie Nielsen keeps ALL her clothes on.

That last sentence shows you why Paul W.S. Anderson is a total moron.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Forget the Swine Flu, Here's Miri

Star Trek. I haven’t watched it since the late 80s. Now it’s been Remastered.


Bonk, bonk on the head (which is exactly how I feel right now - frakkin' cold/flu/whatever).

Disclaimer: Star Trek is Copyright 2009 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied.

Thanks to for the Star Trek screencaps.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Butthead The Franchise Slayer

Have you seen the news (thanks to Pop Candy for the heads up)? I’ll bet you already have if you’re a “Whedonite,” but for the rest of you here’s what’s what: the folks behind the 1992 feature film Buffy the Vampire Slayer want us to go to the movies to see their Buffy again.

At least their theatrical version of a Buffy reboot/relaunch/remake/ reimagining.

And apparently without Joss Whedon’s creative input/direction (the fact they didn’t go to him first is a very telling thing – after all he only CREATED the character). That sound you hear is the Internet TRAINWRECK resulting from this decision.

Here’s a very simple question: WHO is the audience for this thing? That’s a very basic question every producer/studio and their marketing peeps ask or should be asking with regard to their film/TV shows. It’s not Joss Whedon’s rabid, though not as large as it should be, fan base since he’s not involved. It’s not the ’92 feature film’s audience, because there really wasn’t one (and that was more of a Kristy Swanson fan base anyway [I’m Kristy Swanson card carrying fan No. 38272], and her time has long since come and gone – even her Playboy spread, done too late in her career, couldn’t save her). They want to use the basic concepts or premise but none of the established characters or storylines.
You know they are only digging this up because of what happened with the Twilight film (and what happened was swooning ‘tween girls and their moms giving up their $$$). The ’92 Buffy film director Fran Rubel Kuzui totally disregarded the tone and intention of Joss Whedon’s original vision – after all he was only the writer/creator (and what has she directed since then - zilch). When Whedon brought Buffy to the WB network in 1997 he was in charge (although Kuzui received an Exec. Producer credit, as a rightsholder and not a creative force on the show). When the "Buffyverse" spun off into comics, Whedon was the guiding force over the established characters, when he was not the credited writer. And when he created an all new Slayer comic book character in Fray, it was still Joss Whedon writing it.

But now, no Buffy Summers, no Buffyverse, and most importantly no Joss Whedon. Yeah, this new movie has “success” written all over it. It's a Hollywood first, a movie made for no one!

Ms. Kuzui and the producers/studio behind this, start playing cricket sound effects in your offices now. Because if you make this movie this way, that is the sound you will hear in empty movie theaters.

Monday, May 25, 2009

CGI - Canine Generated Image

Bolt (2008)

Bolt is a CGI feature created by Walt Disney Animation, which is not to be confused with its sister (cousin?) animation outfit Pixar Animation Studios.

Bolt is the canine star of his own action adventure TV series, which from the clip they show at the beginning of the film has to be the MOST expensive TV program in history. The opening sequence looks like the highway chase from The Matrix Reloaded mixed with every other James Bond movie and big budget summer action film. It’s big, loud, fast and totally outrageous and impossible (and as it's played totally straight, more than a bit boring). Bolt however believes it’s all real, making him a sort of canine Truman Show subject. It also makes him a very sad pathetic character. At least at the beginning.

This movie really takes a freakin’ while to get going, something like at least 40 to 50 minutes. It picks up right around the time Bolt (voiced appealingly by John Travolta) gets together with Rhino (voiced by a very funny Mark Walton), the chubby hamster in a clear plastic ball and the sassy alley cat Mittens (well voiced by Susie Essman) and go on their road trip across America to get back to Bolt’s owner and TV co-star Penny (Disney mainstay Miley Cyrus). Bolt learns about the real world and how dogs really act, so instead of shooting laser beams out of his eyes he learns to fetch and drink out of a toilet.

Bolt was much more fun than I was expecting, with the exception of those first 45 minutes. You could just start the movie at the 45 minute mark and have a much better time. (Do that and let me know how it goes.)

Come for the dog, but stay for the hamster in the ball.

On Pins and Needles

Splinter (2008)

Using the old reliable horror movie stand by of trapping a handful of people in a remote location and having them attacked by somebody or something, Splinter is one of the better low budget examples of the genre. (This set up has been used in movies such as The Evil Dead, Feast, Alien, John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, and even the John Wayne classic Rio Bravo.)

Splinter really pares down the cast though, having only four main characters and one small main set. At 82 minutes, there’s really not a lot of fat or wasted screen time. Polly and Seth (Jill Wagner and Paulo Costanzo) have their romantic anniversary camping trip in Oklahoma ruined when they are carjacked by ex-con Dennis (or Dee) and his strung out gf Lacey (Shea Whigham and Rachel Kerbs). After running over a weird, spiky animal and developing car problems the foursome wind up at a remote gas station. Something unknown is infecting animals and even people, causing them to sprout splintery spikes from their black and puss-y infected areas. Weirder still, infected limbs seem to have a life of their own, which in the movie comes across as funny and scary at the same time. (Come to think of it, it's like the premise of this movie was inspired by the Evil Dead 2 scene where Ash's hand is possessed by the demons and tries to kill him while still attached to his arm!)

The movie is largely effective, and tries to have some degree of intelligence about it. Only one sequence caused us to rise out of our seats in protest. POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD. After discovering the infected creatures zoom in on body heat, one of our survivors tries to lower their body temperature to mask themselves long enough to get to a sheriff’s car in the parking lot and call for help. Of course when you lower your body temp you become slow, uncoordinated and more than a bit disoriented - this is of course the perfect state in which to launch a rescue attempt. At this point we were all yelling our disbelief at the movie; I felt like a heckler at the worst stand up comedy routine of all time, sort of the Michael Richards of low budget horror heckling. END POSSIBLE SPOILERS.

But the cast and crew had fun making this movie and it shows on screen. So that one “speed bump” aside, if you want to watch a creepy, fun movie, and spill some popcorn along the way, get pricked by Splinter.

Talk to the Hand

THiS TV is running the original Outer Limits TV show weeknights (at 1 am for you insomniacs). You remember this one right? It is the 1960s show that is most often confused with The Twilight Zone, but whereas TZ often did allegorical sci-fi and fantasy stories The Outer Limits was a monster show; every week (at least for the first season) some new, weird, crazy, alien monster thing would terrorize viewers.

The other night they aired the famous episode “Demon with a Glass Hand,” written by noted grouser Harlan Ellison, in which a man with a talking robotic computer hand and no memory of his past is pursued by a group of hostile aliens called the Kyben. The man, named Trent, was played by a pre-I, Spy (or pre-Greatest American Hero for you 80s babies) Robert Culp and the action was set largely in the famous art deco Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles (the Bradbury is perhaps best known from its use in the film Blade Runner). The episode was directed by Byron Haskin, who also helmed The War of the Worlds (1953) and the less well-known but still terrific Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964).

There is a nifty little story here involving time travel, aliens from 1,000 years in the future, and one of the coolest scifi ideas* EVER.

*SPOILER. If you want to know, the human race in the future was about to be conquered by the Kyben so the remaining humans, some 70 million people, “transcribed their electrical components” onto a wire (it sounds somewhat similar to beaming in Star Trek) in the robot Trent. Seventy million people transmuted into electrical impulses and "stored" on a small piece of wire – what an amazing concept.

It’s a great story, with a terrific performance by Robert Culp as the determined Trent. But remember I said The Outer Limits was a "monster show" and the alien Kyben are the monsters. And they are gawd awful.

The Kyben all wear leotards. They all wear little shower caps that look like kids Underoos. They all wear medallions. And they all have “raccoon eyes” make up! RACCOON EYES!

The Kyben leader, Arch, was played by Jewish American actor Abraham Sofaer. As Arch he wears the leotard, shower cap, raccoon eyes…and a cape. And not to sound racist or anything, but Mr. Sofaer looks Jewish with a very large distinct nose and ear lobes. He looks like a Jewish grocer or tailor. With raccoon eyes.

One funny bit on top of the make up is that the other Kyben are often yelling things around the Bradbury Building like, “Arch, where are ya?” The Kyben all sound like they grew up in the Brooklyn borough of Kyber.

So a great little story, some cool sci-fi ideas and a nice Robert Culp performance totally undermined by the most cut-rate costuming and makeup I have ever seen.

Even cheesy, shitty Italian sci-fi - with their funny hats, glitter and spandex - stayed away from raccoon eyes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Boldly Reviewing

Star Trek (2009)

I am not one of those who cry out THEY CAN’T DO THAT the moment they hear something they love, a film or TV show, attempts to do something different. It all depends on HOW they do it. The James Bond film franchise has not only survived for over 40 years but thrived by recasting the lead role several times and by changing the tone of the series, bringing it back to seriousness when it strays too far into comedy. The Batman films have had four actors over 20 years portraying the Dark Knight. The Bat-films started with Tim Burton’s quirkiness, followed by Joel Schumacher’s cartoonishness, and now we currently have Christopher Nolan’s dead-serious realistic take. For decades Lawrence Olivier was seen as THE Shakespearean actor for stage and screen, but then a young man named Kenneth Branagh came along with a passion and dedication, and arguably a talent, nearly equal to Olivier’s. Now 43 years after it debuted on television, the original Star Trek series is remade for the big screen.

Why did we have to wait so long?

Like the first films of recent superhero movie series, this Star Trek film is an “origin story” showing who these people are and how they came to be together. It centers on Kirk and Spock, but the rest of the Enterprise crew, especially McCoy and Uhura, is also given their due. The plot is simple enough on the surface: Captain Pike, commander of the new flagship U.S.S. Enterprise, is tasked with leading a small armada of ships crewed by young officers and cadets to answer a distress call from planet Vulcan. Unknown to them Vulcan is really under attack by a renegade Romulan named Nero, who wants to destroy the planets that make up the Federation, starting with Vulcan, then the Earth.

In addition to an origin story, it is also a classic heroic quest film, following a young James T. Kirk from aimless brash Iowa farm boy to focused brash Starfleet cadet, then on to his adventures on and off the Enterprise. (There have been some criticisms that this Star Trek tale rips off the original Star Wars - what with the farm boy, old mentors and monsters along the way - but they both were simply following the classic heroic quest “template.”) The story also focuses on a young Spock, showing his great difficulties growing up as literally a child of two worlds (in a touching scene that must have been inspired by the Star Trek Animated episode “Yesteryear” written by D.C. Fontana, we see a 9 or 10 year old Spock being bullied by Vulcan boys, tormented and harassed for having a human mother).

They really hit the nail on the head with the cast. The moment they announced Zachary Quinto, the villain Sylar from TV’s Heroes, was playing Spock they had me. He doesn’t simply parrot Leonard Nimoy’s performance, but makes it his own. Karl Urban does inspired work as Dr. McCoy (he makes me miss the late DeForest Kelley, the original “Bones,” something fierce). Zoe Saldana as Uhura is given more to do in this one film than Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura in the three years of TOS and six feature films. Saldana is beautiful and her Uhura comes across as smart, more than capable, and spunky. John Cho of Harold and Kumar fame shows promise as Helmsman Sulu and he handles a pivotal action scene quite nicely. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is the movie’s comedy relief, sort of Shaun of the Engine Room. Anton Yelchin is the very young Chekov (now a physics or math whiz kid). He also brings the funny in an honest way. The always reliable Bruce Greenwood shines in his few scenes as Capt. Pike. The weak link though is Chris Pine as Kirk. Pine’s voice grated on me: it was far too high-pitched, making him come across as whiney. I didn’t buy him as someone who could command a huge vessel with so many lives at stake, especially since director J.J. Abrams has apparently DOUBLED the size of the Enterprise and her crew. Matt Damon in the Jason Bourne movies was able to generate an air of authority, intelligence, competence and conviction – often without speaking - which is something Kirk needs and Pine was not able to do. That’s why Hollywood coined the term “leading man” – some people walk into a room and you know they are in charge. Unless Pine does some serious fine tuning, he will always stick out as a sore thumb in future Star Trek films.

The visual effects of six of the previous Star Trek films were handled by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, but as good as they were, they never matched ILM’s work on the Star Wars series. I always thought they used ILM’s “B Team,” leaving the “A Team” on Lucas or Spielberg projects. Well, the “A Team” definitely worked on this Star Trek. Holy cow! The CGI Enterprise and Kelvin starships looked and “felt” real, even though they were only pixels in a computer. I just hope they continue to do the Star Trek films, especially if they "boldly go where no man, etc."

I think the biggest problem with this movie is that the filmmakers felt they had to throw a bone to the rabid, hardcore fans, specifically those people that worship the Star Trek “canon.” Simply put, canon is everything that has come before - it’s continuity from not only the original Star Trek series and movies featuring Kirk and company, but also includes the sequel and spin off series The Next Generation (plus its feature films), Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. That is over 700 hours of Star Trek back story to file and get straight! They do it with a time travel story that segues into an alternate reality story.

I would have preferred they simply start from square one by telling the story of how these characters met without this film’s convoluted time travel and alternate reality angles. They could be true to the original characterizations, the universe and themes of Star Trek, but without having to be a slave to every little detail that came before it. For example, it’s important to the character that Spock grows up having difficulty balancing his human and Vulcan halves – this was established in such TOS episodes as “Journey to Babel” and is carried over to the new movie. But I don’t give a shit if they show Vulcan with or without moons - in Star Trek: The Motion Picture they depicted Vulcan with at least two large moons in orbit, which contradicted Spock’s line in one early episode that “Vulcan has no moons” and a lot of canon fans went bananas. Too many fans are so infatuated with such details, minutia really, that they forget the best parts of this franchise: the wonderful characters and the types of stories that only Star Trek can tell.

I’ve seen this film twice now, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. It’s fun, it’s touching at times; it has great characters that are true to the originals, and thrilling action and effects. The music is rousing.

It’s the original Star Trek. And it’s back.

Girlbots Just Wanna Have Fun

Star Trek. I haven’t watched it since the late 80s. It’s been Remastered, and it's on five nights a week here in Los Angeles courtesy of station KDOC.

"What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

It used to be "sugar and spice and everything nice," but in Roger Korby's world it's more like "circuits and servos and programmable acutators."

It's his world, we're all just cybernetic squirrels trying to get a bionic nut.

Disclaimer: Star Trek is Copyright 2009 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied.

Thanks to for the Star Trek screencaps.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wrong vintage

Another movie from the shelves of the L.A. Library system.

A Good Year (2006)

Maximus Decimus Meridus the Gladiator (Russell Crowe) is a sleazy bond trader in London. Well he’s sort of sleazy – what he does at work might be illegal and he seems to go through hot women like a starving person with two forks at an all you can eat buffet, but he does it with a twinkle in his eye. He’s more playful than disgusting.

Max (his character’s name is Maximillian) gets word that he has inherited his Uncle Albert Finney’s French chateau and winery. So to escape his latest bond trading shenanigans, he spends a week in whine country, pining for his lost adventurous youth (when he was played by Freddie Highmore) and the eccentric man who raised him after his parents died.

Max soon meets French hottie Marion Cotillard, who run a little bistro (who in France DOESN’T run a little bistro). Zaniness ensues as Marion hates Maximus because he almost ran over her in his tiny wheelbarrow-sized rental car while she was out bicycling. She should be grateful he didn’t run her through with his sword in the arena!

There are a couple of zany characters, namely Duflot the man who tends the vines and his wife Ludivine, who makes a mean croissant and knows a thing or two about scorpions. Rounding out the cast is Indian/British hottie Archie Panjabi as Maxie's assistant/den mother/Mission Control Chief Gemma and Aussie hottie Abbie Cornish, playing a hot (see the theme wit wimmen?) American chick that may or may not be Albert Finney’s illegitimate daughter and, therefore, the true heir to his estate. One funny recurring bit was whenever Max drives past a French bicycling team on the road, he yells out, "Lance Armstrong!," much to their French chagrin.

Through it all, Maximus the Gladiator soon learns to enjoy chateau winery living, stop being a mixed up zombie, and of course love Marion Cotillard.

This is all pretty slim pickin’s. I wanted to see what Mr. R-Rated Dramatic Movie, Ridley Scott, would do with a romantic comedy. The movie is as light as a croissant, but doesn’t have the layers. I think Maximus the Gladiator, or rather, Russell Crowe, has mellowed more than a bit after he got married and had a child. (He would have tackled this role a lot differently if he took it on right after L.A. Confidential.) Also it was odd to watch a Ridley Scott movie that didn’t have a night scene where the air was thick with smoke and shafts of light.

Leave this on the shelf and rent Gladiator instead. Croissants are optional.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Think what you will about the new Star Trek movie: love it, hate it, or everything in between, at least it's grossed more in theaters than Paul Blart - Mall Cop ($155.5 million as of 5-19 versus Blart's $146 million).

Thank Ipthar!

ps: I know what you're thinking, "Now if we can only get Paul Blart onboard the Enterprise as a "red shirt"...."

Monday, May 18, 2009

They don't make them like THIS anymore

THiS TV is in the middle of showing Black Mama, White Mama with Pam Grier, one of those rare crossovers where "blaxploitation" meets a "women in prison" movie. The tag line: "CHICKS IN CHAINS! Where they come from, this!" (Man, you gotta love the early 1970s!)

It was shot in the Philippines. In 1971. Two sure signs that quality was not a consideration (do you know how many women in prison and just plain shitty low-budget action flicks were shot in the Philippines? A LOT). It also stars Sid Haig. Need I say more?

First THiS TV showed the Blackula movies, now Black Mama, White Mama. It's obvious that whoever's in charge of programming there loves him some shit.

Somebody ought to give him a medal.

More power to the low-power stations

You know how in every movie that is set in a small town in the middle of nowhere, there's always that scene of someone watching a really crappy old sci fi or horror movie on late night TV?

Well, I was perusing's TV listings and station KFLA, a "low-power digital station," is showing The Trollenberg Terror, starring Forrest Tucker(!), at 8pm tonight. This 1958 gem about "an Alpine sleuth and a woman with ESP fighting a space cloud containing a big eye with tentacles" was sent up under another slightly more well-known name, The Crawling Eye. on a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode.

A bit of Googling tells me that KFLA broadcasts to the Indian Wells Valley, wherever the heck that is. (A bit more Googling tells me it's about 3 hours northeast of L.A.)

An old 50s B-movie about a space cloud with a big eye and tentacles. With Forrest Tucker.

Man, this is one of the very, very few times it pays to live in Nowhere, U.S.A.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

You shook me all night long.

Image copyright 2009 20th Century Fox Film Corp. No infringement is implied.

Fur Balls

"The Trouble with Tribbles"

You got your space station.

You got your swarthy, non-bumpy-headed space Klingons.

You got your space merchant, Cyrano Jones.

You got your William Schallert and Whit Bissell guest space star appearances.

You got your space gerbils.

And best of all, you got your space laughs in this one. Lots of 'em.

Disclaimer: Star Trek is Copyright 2009 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied.

Thanks to for the Star Trek screencaps.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

They used the funny script for rolling papers

Pineapple Express (2008)

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

It was my understanding that this was a funny movie. I had seen several online headlines of positive reviews.

What the hell were they smoking?

This is another in the latest line of “bromance” movies where two unlikely dudes bond together, in this case process server Seth Rogen and small-time pot dealer James Franco, after Rogen witnesses the city’s main drug dealer murder a rival with the aid of a crooked cop. That’s a recipe for good, fun times if I ever heard any.

I usually like Judd Apatow-produced films; this is one of the few exceptions. I blame indie darling director David Gordon Green. His previous movies all sound like long, slow, boring dramas, combine that with Apatow’s patented improv techniques and you have a long, slow, boring comedy, with scenes that go on way too long and beat around the bush getting to the point. It's a bad sign when you look at the DVD counter and think, "It's been 25 minutes, WHEN is this gonna start getting funny?"

This is the second script from Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg, their first being the charming teen bromance Superbad, which was more than a bit autobiographical. Here starting out of whole cloth, they create unsympathetic characters. Rogen plays another fat slacker, who only seems to have a job to support his pot habit, and he smokes A LOT of pot. His character also has a hot 18 year old girlfriend, which, you know, most fat, poor pot heads have. Yeah, right (that’s when it pays off being the movie’s co-writer and co-producer). Danny McBride plays the Danny McBride character, a combination (perhaps "oscillation" is a better word) of his moronic loudmouth from Tropic Thunder and loudmouth moron from Foot Fist Way. James Franco, never my favorite actor, is the most sympathetic character as the pot dealer, perhaps because he’s always talking about his aged grandma. The great Gary Cole is wasted as the drug kingpin (he does fantastic impressions and voices for cartoons, but never seems to do that in his live action roles, save for Mr. Brady in the first two Brady Bunch films).

Similar to the classic comedy Beverly Hills Cop, they go WAY overboard with the violence. In a comedy, even an R-Rated one, I don’t want to see people being shot execution style, with their brains going splat on the window, or see another character lose part of his ear (what is this, a Quentin Tarantino movie?).

That’s not funny. Unless maybe you were totally high when you wrote it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bet he wore Corinthian leather underwear

“Space Seed”

The brand new Star Trek feature is flying high at the box office, busting up all the previous Star Trek film records.

But one thing everyone says is that the film’s "Big Bad" is no Khan Noonian Singh, arguably the franchise's best villain from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

With that in mind, here is the fumetti for “Space Seed” the Original Series episode which introduced the genetic superman to audiences.

Disclaimer: Star Trek is Copyright 2009 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc.
Muppet character Beaker Copyright 2009 Walt Disney Company. Steve Miller song Copyright 2009 by the Respective Rights Holder. Mighty Thor is Copyright 2009 Marvel Characters. No infringement of these rights is implied.

Thanks to for the Star Trek screencaps.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Neither here nor there

This has to be the quote of the week, from io9, "Despite bombing with the critics, Jumper, the 2007 movie about a teleporting asshole, was a modest success financially, and may get a sequel."

"Teleporting asshole?" That would make a great band name, The Teleporting Assholes.

Now I really want to see this movie!

Sharks, Octopi and CHEESE

Whitney Matheson at Pop Candy posted this link to a trailer to another outstanding production (read the sarcasm) from The Asylum, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

Just look at that title. Mega Shark. Versus. Giant Octopus. It stars Lorenzo Lamas, who is getting so long in the tooth that his claim to fame, TV's Falcon Crest, is now but a long forgotten footnote at best in the TV history books. (Oh, and he played "Reno Raines" - LOVE that name - in TV's Renegade.) Now Lamas is over 50, looking tired and bored while fighting crude CGI sharks and octopi. I guess he's not following his father, Fernando Lamas', credo (co-opted by Billy Crystal) that "it's better to look good, than to feel good."

And who else would a producer get to stand alongside Lorenzo Lamas and fight giant sealife, but one time 80s pop tart, Debbie, sorry, Deborah Gibson (who's almost 40!). At least she looks like she's having fun with her role. I wonder if she'll sing "Shake Your Love (Love theme from Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus)" over the end credits?

Shark. Octopus. Now I'm hungry for sushi.

Monday, May 11, 2009

This article is down to 60%!

Here is an excerpt from Roger Ebert’s review of Star Trek: Nemesis, released in 2002:

“I've also had it with the force shield that protects the Enterprise. The power on this thing is always going down. In movie after movie after movie I have to sit through sequences during which the captain is tersely informed that the front shield is down to 60 percent, or the back shield is down to 10 percent, or the side shield is leaking energy, and the captain tersely orders that power be shifted from the back to the sides or all put in the front, or whatever, and I'm thinking, life is too short to sit through 10 movies in which the power is shifted around on these shields. The shields have been losing power for decades now, and here it is the Second Generation of Star Trek, and they still haven't fixed them. Maybe they should get new batteries.”

So that explains why he didn’t like J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie!

Put the Dolls back in their boxes

According to the television ratings, Dollhouse had its lowest-ever ratings for its season (and likely series) finale.

I had told you in a previous post that I was giving up on this series, but being a Joss Whedon creation (and those being rare and precious things) I stuck with it to the end. Dollhouse DID get better, but with such a crappy start as its first six episodes, how could it not?

Apparently Fox, the production company and network behind the series, asked Whedon to make those early episodes more standalone stories, so viewers could drop in at any point and not have to bother with a complex back story, such as the extremely intricate storyline on Lost. However, Whedon designed this series to have a complex storyline, or “mythology,” so the standalone stories weren’t doing the series any favors. After a month and a half, viewers think a series knows where it’s going, so when Whedon pulled an M. Night Shyamalan-like game changing “surprise” during episode six, it was too late. The audience that stayed loved it, but you weren’t going to get any new viewers to jump in at this point.

At this point I gave the series props for its storytelling, but I believed it still had a major problem in star Eliza Dushku as Echo. She is simply not a strong enough actress to carry such an emotionally complex show as Dollhouse, one that deals with such issues as identity, personality, slavery, sexuality and personal freedom.

Those first six episodes were often like a goofy update of Charlie’s Angels: Echo goes undercover as a back up singer for a Beyonce-like pop diva who is receiving death threats; Echo, with the mind of a murdered millionairess implanted in her, poses as a friend of the dead woman to solve her own murder; and Echo goes undercover as a blind woman to topple a crazy religious cult. All that was missing was the little speaker box and the Bosley cameos!

And yes, Eliza Dusku is a very pretty girl, but they did NOT do the show any favors by constantly dressing her as, well, a tramp in so many of her adventures. It's as if Echo is auditioning for a "reality dating" show - Skank of Love.

I don’t know how much longer Joss Whedon has on his production deal with Fox, but for frak’s sake, someone on cable – HBO, Showtime, FX (which is owned by Fox!) – give the man a holla. Whedon has become, whether he likes it or not, a “cult series” creator – Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and now Dollhouse. Shows which don’t bring in a huge audience, but a small, VERY devoted one. That spells C-A-B-L-E.

I can’t wait until the next Joss Whedon series (a Firefly resurrection would be SWEET). But, please, leave out the skanky wardrobe.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


You really need to watch Torchwood. This BBC series, a spin off of the latest revival of Dr. Who, has it all.

The premise is simplicity itself: a five-person team polices a rift in the space-time continuum that is centered in Cardiff, Wales; whenever hostile alien life forms or dangerous alien artifacts come out of the rift, the Torchwood team springs into action.

Torchwood is lead by the charismatic and enigmatic Captain Jack Harkness, played by Tom Cruise look-alike John Barrowman (Harkness is American, while Barrowman is Scottish born, but raised in America). This Captain Jack has been around a long time, and seen and done even more, including doing a stint as one of the Doctor’s companions. Owen Harper, played by the Willem Dafoe-esque Burn Gorman, is the team’s cynic, physician and specialist on alien physiology. Toshiko “Tosh” Sato, played by the lovely Naoko Mori, is the computer specialist. Gareth David-Lloyd plays Ianto (Yan-tow), the team's dapper support officer. New to the team is Gwen Cooper, a former Cardiff police officer, played by Eve Myles who has the most soulful eyes. It is through those eyes that we, the viewers, see the team and its amazing adventures.

Similar shows like The X-Files and the current series Fringe are generally story-driven “procedurals” but Torchwood has always put its characters at the heart of its stories, which makes its impact that much greater. For example, we have seen in other series the “man or woman out of time” stories (usually someone from the past comes to the show's present). Torchwood’s episode, where a plane from 1953 flies through the rift and lands in Cardiff today, makes you feel what the characters, both the regulars and the guest stars, are going through. (EPISODE SPOILERS ALERT) Gwen becomes a surrogate big sister to 18 year old Emma, who led a sheltered life in 1953, but is much stronger than she knows. Owen falls in love with the plane’s pilot, Diane, a free-spirit who it seems had more freedoms in 1953 than in today’s over-regulated world. Jack has perhaps the hardest time with John, a man in his 50s who had a wife and son. He discovers his wife is long dead and his son is now an old man who has no chance of remembering his father as he is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. In the end, Gwen learns to stop being overprotective of Emma and lets her go to seek her future in London. Owen watches as Diane flies off, to either fly through the rift if she can find it and return to 1953, or soar away to explore our world and time. John finds himself unable to function in today’s society; he has no relatives, no friends, no hope. His attempt to kill himself if thwarted by Jack, but he tells him he will only try again, and again until he is successful. John asks Jack to help him die with dignity. And Jack does.

That last story is what won me over completely on this show. Any other series would have lectured John about the value of life and won him over, and would have ended with John taking care of his Alzheimer’s afflicted son. But Torchwood had the guts to tell the story of a man who simply could not go on, who could not live this new life in this new time, and wanted to end it all. And one of our heroes helped him do it. John sealed himself in a car in a garage and let the carbon monoxide fumes do him in. Captain Jack Harkness sat beside him, talked to him and held his hand so he wouldn’t die alone or afraid. (You see, Captain Jack Harkness cannot die (for reasons that haven’t been revealed), so the fumes didn’t affect him.)

That’s just one story. Torchwood has two seasons (or series as they call them) out on DVD. Each story is grounded by at least one team member’s involvement. They look out for each other, bicker with each other, laugh with each other, and trust each other. The show is innovative and fun, scary and sexy.

Torchwood is a great show. You really should be watching it. (BTW, if you haven't figured it out, Torchwood is an anagram for Doctor Who!)

Friday, May 8, 2009

bud dum, bud dum, bud dum, BUD dum

Star Trek. I haven’t watched it since the late 80s. It’s been Remastered. Now it’s being Re-viewed.

“The Doomsday Machine”

I’m jumping the gun a skosh here as this episode isn’t scheduled to air until 4 ay em this Sunday morning, but I wanted to post the fumetti for the weekend.

“Doomsday Machine” is one of the great ones, certainly a Top Ten of All Time episode, written by noted science fiction author Norman Spinrad. We get a simple concept: the ultimate “loose nuke,” one dangerous enough to assure both sides buy the farm in mutually assured destruction (“we may have lost, but you don’t get to win”). Guest star William Windom plays the obsessed Commodore Decker, who was crushed mentally and spiritually when he lost his entire crew. We get several great, tense sequences involving Kirk and Decker, Spock and Decker, and even McCoy and Decker (geez, that guy rubbed everyone the wrong way). All this wrapped in a gripping, fantastic musical score that works on the viewer in a manner similar to the Jaws theme, filling you with anticipation and dread.

I can’t wait to see the new CGI effects. That was always the one weak point with this episode, the special effects. I give them huge props, the visual effects guys did their darnedest, but the limitations of time, budget and equipment of the mid-1960s really worked against the concept of starships battling a giant planet killer (Decker’s damaged ship totally looked like the tiny 18” plastic model kit that it was).

Disclaimer: Star Trek is Copyright 2009 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied.

Thanks to for the Star Trek screencaps.