Friday, March 25, 2005

B-Movie haiku

my typewriter screams
at me i'm not fond of that
garden hose either

What I'm Reading: Wrigley Blues by William J. Wagner

Wagner, a Chicago sportswriter and life-time Cubs fan -- nobody else could have deployed such a acid pen against the team so tellingly -- spent 2004 writing about the Cubs season as it progressed. The Cubs were widely considered a good shot to win the World Series. Most famously, Sports Illustrated picked them to take it in their pre-season edition.

Well, it didn't happen, as I know all too well. I laid out a lot of money scalping tickets last year--a lot of money--and ended up seeing a mess of lousy ball, a Sammy Sosa who burned every last part of the gigantic bridge he'd built in Chicago over the last 10 plus years, and the best sports announcer in baseball chased out of town by petulant players and (even worse, because he should have told the players to shut up and mind their own business) the increasingly less impressive coach Dusty Baker.

This pre-season it's more of the same. Our two big pitchers are again hurt, as always, before a single game has been played. Even worse, in a way, our putative reliever, Joe Borowski, was injured in an exhibition game and will miss a month or two, at which point we'll find out if he can even muster himself in the time that remains.

However, reading Wagner's book recharged my batteries some. The book goes through the 2004 season series by series, and it all came back. Most especially, however, it came back that we blew chance after chance and still came within inches of winning the wild card and going to post-season. We might not be so lucky again, but it's a looong season, and its obviously too early to throw in the towel at this point.

Even with Prior and Wood out, and hopefully not for an extended period, we still have two great pitchers, Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux. We have the best infield I've ever seen the Cubs field in Derek Lee, Todd Walker, Nomar Garciaparra and (especially) Aramis Ramirez. And while we'll lose a lot of power in Sosa and Alou, hell, we never won with it. Maybe we'll do better trying something different.

I should warn folks, now that I'm blogging, that I will probably blog on the Cubs throughout the season too. Please feel free to skip over such posts and read the other crap I church out.

Anyway, I give a big thumb's up for Wrigley Blues, at least for Cubs fans. Look also for the upcoming Cubs Nation by Gene Wojciechowski, which covers a different issue or story about the 2004 Cubs for each of the 162 games played.

B-Movie haiku

my death is gruesome
yet onlookers only laugh
stupid sleeping bag

B-Movie haiku

beware, james brolin
belzebub's buick lurks
inside your garage

james bond sings a love
duet with Norman Bates' mom
it's quite disturbing

B-Movie haiku

mankind's destroyer
bubbles and a raccoon coat
I'm so embarrassed

B-Movies haiku

a texas sheriff
who likes opera music?
not really that weird

At the Movies, 03/25/05

As usual, it's a slow week at the movies as the studios wait for the summer movie season to start. Since that seemingly begins a week or two earlier each year, though, we shouldn't have to wait much longer for bigger movies. Like, oh, the highly anticipated Sin City, coming out next Friday, the first weekend in April.

The headliners this week are a couple of innocuous comedies starring mid-level stars. Both seem pretty middle of the road, quality-wise.

Guess Who features Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher in a riff on the ponderous Stanley Kramer movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? I had some thoughts on the film, which can be found here. Historians of the future will note that this was the first entry on this blog. The film inevitably earns a tepid Rottentomatoes.com rating of 52% positive ratings, and seems pretty much the acceptable time killer you'd expect.

Miss Congenialty 2: Armed and Fabulous...well, that subtitle really pretty much captures it. My thoughts can be found here. The critics, perhaps wondering why a triffle like the first film required a follow-up (hint: it made money), awarded the sequel a most non-congenial Rottentomatoes rating of 18%.

Oldboy is a grisly Korean thriller hitting the art house market, courtesy of the current vogue for Asian horror pics. From the reactions posted at Rottentomatoes.com (a quite decent 78% approval rating), this appears to be the sort of film you either love or hate. Put the Chicago Sun-Time's Roger Ebert in the former camp; he gave it four stars. Admittedly, he's not exactly stingy with those--his current release round-up features 6 four star ratings out of 30 films total. Oddly, he gave only four films three and a half stars.

The spoofy D.E.B.S. is apparently "Tatu, the Action Movie." A team of hot girls in catholic schoolgirl outfits fight crimes or spies or some damn thing. I guess one of the girls is lesbian and so is the main villain. Ebert dubs it "no more than lesbian [Charlie's] 'Angels'", which based on his reviewing record over the last few decades would seem to ensure it a newly invented five-star rating. Instead, amazingly, he gives it one and a half stars. On Rottentomatoes it earns a flaccid 32% approval rating, and what passion the film inspired seems amongst those who didn't like it. Should make a lot of money on home video when the middle-aged raincoat crowd can buy it anonomously over the web without risking repulsed glares from the ticket sellers at their local cinema.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

B-Movie haiku

the future is bleak,
man-scrunchies and the terror
of inline skating

B-Movie haiku

lady, i've listened
to your pug-faced boyfriend sing
go with the caveman

B-Movie haiku

i can understand
a murderous robot cop
but why the mustache?

B-Movie haiku

thor acts worse than sings
wait, it's the other way 'round
I go back and forth

B-Movie haiku

The titular lack
of punctuation aside,
the answer is 'no'.

B-Movie Haiku

she dies, his soul fixed
yes, I know it's hard to tell
take our word for it

B-Movie haiku

am i to be scared
by those embiggened bunnys?
you guys are dicks

B-movie haiku...

criminals run loose
an elderly avenger
when's Wildey get here?

B-movie haiku

her clothes hurt my eyes
yet I wish she’d keep them on
when snapping photos

B-Movie haiku...

a goofy puppet
it flies around in circles
like a battleship

B-Movie haiku

I made a perfume
but regret the deal I signed
kindly no longer

Not Mad so much as irritated...

As I have mentioned, I work in a public library. The majority of my job involves processing the library’s magazines and serials. One perk of this job, obviously, is that I to get to look at a lot of periodicals.

Our Young Adult department subscribes to the venerable humor magazine Mad. Sadly, ‘venerable’ doesn’t mean funny. Part of the problem is that Mad doesn’t really seem to have a firm market niche anymore. It’s not a little kid’s humor magazine, but it’s not ‘adult’ either, as with the old National Lampoon.

I think ‘Young Adult’ is probably about right. The magazine has gotten somewhat raunchier over the years, too much I think for actual youngsters, but the humor is just too juvenile to amuse adults (or at least this adult). I can’t imagine that many people over the age of, say, sixteen read it, unless it’s purely for nostalgia purposes. And such readers will probably find the markedly increased level of bathroom-level humor somewhat off-putting.

Perhaps I’m just projecting. However, about the only thing I find myself reading every month are the three or four page spreads of dialogue-less cartoons by old-timer Sergio Aragones, on whatever subject grabs his fancy this month. His stuff remains as funny now as it was thirty years ago. With the recent passing of fellow oldster David Berg, Aragones’ cartoons are about all the magazine offers that faithfully captures the magic Mad once had. Even the classic fold-up back cover gag is of mostly nostalgic interest. Then there’s the generally unsuccessful update of Spy vs. Spy—the latest issue prints both one of the new style entries and a ‘classic’ one. See which you think is funny.

I found it nearly surreal that the April 2005 issue of Mad would have a parody of the HBO television series Deadwood. Deadwood is a great show, but it’s most definitely ‘mature’ in every variety of content imaginable. It’s not for kids, and I mean up to mid-teens, and thus I found its appearance in a magazine also offering up a Lemony Snicket parody more than a little strange.

Moreover, it’s just bizarre to read such a stale, chestnut-ridden satire of such a sophisticated and brilliantly written program. There’s the lame pun title (“Dreadwood”), along with the obligatory puns on the character’s names: Wild Bill Hickok becomes Wild Bill Hiccup, a prostitute named Trixie is redubbed Trickie, a henchman named Dan becomes ‘Dank,’ etc. Oh, my sides. Seriously, does anyone think that humor of that level could appeal to anyone over the age of twelve? Then there’re the one punch line per panel gags, half of which could have come from a parody of The Outlaw Josey Wales or some other decades-old Western, and the rest generally just make fun of how much swearing there is on the show. Har de har har.

Deadwood honors the past...the TV past...

As I’ve opined previously, one of the great things about DVDs is season sets of TV shows. It’s nice to own series you love in their entireties (Futurama). Even better, for those shows I merely want to watch, but not own, I can rent them from Netflix (like, say, all eight seasons of Homicide: Life on the Streets, perhaps the finest American dramatic television series ever.). This is especially true for cable series, since I don’t have cable TV. I’m a big fan of The Shield, for instance, and I just last week watched the third season on disc. Now I’ve just got to wait another year for the fourth season shows, in which Glenn Close has joined the cast.

I also have just recently watched the first season of HBO’s Deadwood. It’s terrific stuff, although (or more probably because) it’s a short slate of only 12 episodes. It’s definitely a modern show, chock full of graphic violence and sex, while its employment of the most profane language is so omnipresent that it becomes almost poetic after a while.

The greatest pleasure I’ve gotten from the show, however, is a throwback to the great Western TV series of old. Sitting down to watch any random episode of Have Gun Will Travel or Gunsmoke or Bonanza meant you were likely to see a guest appearance by some familiar character actor. Sometimes you knew their names—“Hey, William Schallert”, or “Cool, it’s John Dehner”—and often you didn’t, but knew exactly who the guy was and that you’d seen him a hundred times before. We don’t seem to have a pool of actors like that much anymore, who are constantly working in small parts in movies alternated with TV guest appearances.

Deadwood goes back to that tradition, however. Aside from many familiar faces in the regular cast, such as Keith Carradine, William Sanderson, Powers Booth (who now looks almost exactly like Cesar Romero, circa the mid-‘60s), Ricky Jay, Jeffrey Jones (although I’m having trouble getting past the pedophile thing) and most especially Brad Dourif, one of those great actors who gets stuck in so much crap that you almost fall to your knees in thanks when he’s given an opportunity to appear in something this good*. I also want to give a shout out to the little girl in the show, who is as cute as the dickens and who also gives a brilliant performance for someone so young.

[Last night I watched the first two episodes of Carnivale, and I can now say the same thing for Clancy Brown.]

Moreover, as in the great old Westerns, nearly every episode features a familiar face, if an unknown name, in some guest part or other. Sometimes you know who they are, as when Peter Coyote shows up. Other times, though, it’s one those actors you’ve seen a hundred times before, but most probably will never know the name of. Titus Welliver, for instance, has starred in a series of good but short-lived cop shows over the last ten years; Brooklyn South, Falcone, Big Apple, etc., as well as appearing in recurring roles in That’s Life and NYPD Blue. However, even if you know the face, you probably won’t know the name. I didn’t; I had to look it up.

Long may the show last. After all, it’s only a matter of time until Lance Henriksen appears on it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Happy Birthday Akira Kurosawa

Here's to the world's greatest film director, gone but never to be forgotten. Anyone who hasn't seen his work, start with the Seven Samurai and then work through every film of his (quite a few) available on DVD.

For those who have seen his work...start with the Seven Samurai and then work through every film of his (quite a few) available on DVD.

Star pathetically attempts to stretch out 15 minutes with salicious stories...

"Shy actress Jessica Alba was so terrified about stripping off for revealing scenes in new comic book adaptation Sin City she got drunk and visited strip clubs to prepare.

"The sexy Dark Angel star was supposed to strip completely in select sequences but insisted on peeling off to a revealing bikini instead. But Alba did promise director Robert Rodriguez she'd pull off the dance routines despite her shyness - and her no-nudity clause. She says, "I'm not someone who likes to go onstage and be a star. So, I just went to a bunch of strip clubs to do research. I would have to get a little tipsy, though, because it's kind of intimidating talking to these women with incredible bodies who are writhing in front of you. I hit about four strip clubs in LA, two in New York, and two in Texas."

Time to make that sequel/remake of Showgirls, I think.

Even more comic book news...

Apparently they are shooting an adaptation of Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. If they pull that off right, it could be really cool.

And for those who think I consider most show business people to be overpaid boneheads--which I do--I must report being impressed by this:

"Actress Natalie Portman impressed everyone on the Berlin set of her latest film V For Vendetta when she started speaking fluent German. Unlike many actors, who would be silenced by the language barrier, linguistic Portman, 23, immediately started communicating in the native language. A source says, "She just turned up one day talking German. It has made her very popular with the Germans on the crew." The Star Wars actress, educated at top American university Harvard, is fluent in Hebrew, French and Japanese, as well as German. V For Vendetta explores how different life would be if Germany had won World War II."

Her politics are probably still as reflexive and hairbrained as most of her comrades, but damn, that's something.

Get ready for a hilarious punch line...

Per the IMDB: [Ben] Affleck To Make Directorial Debut

Really? When does he makes his acting debut?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Man, with jokes that good, this blog will take off in no time!

Actually, GAAK, the joke's on me, because it turns out that Affleck will be directing and starring in an adaptation of one of my favorite, and certainly among the best-written, detective series. It's a Dennis Lehane book, the guy who wrote Mystic River, as brought to the screen by Clint Eastwood. Seriously, if you at all like detective novels, this series is a corker. Sadly, Lehane has abandoned it since moving on to 'serious' literature.

I hope the author isn't counting on another film as good as that good.

That Oscar Magic...

How much does winning a Best Actor Oscar help one's career? Let's take a look:

Jamie Foxx, Ray -- Too soon to tell.

Sean Penn, Mystic River -- No discernable career impact.

Adrian Brody, The Pianist – In higher profile fare than before winning (The Village, The Jacket) but not exactly a household name. Has a chance, though, perhaps, after starring in Peter Jackson’s upcoming King Kong. (On the other hand, Sam Neill didn’t exactly take off after Jurassic Park.)

Denzil Washington, Training Day – Was a mid-level star, still a mid-level star.

Russell Crowe, Gladiator – Was a star, still a star.

Kevin Spacey, American Beauty -- Career nosedive.

Roberto Benigni, Live Is Beautiful – Was off the map, still off the map.

Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets -- Remains Jack Nicholson.

Geoffrey Rush, Shine – Remains respected character actor, probably some marginal effect. Box office of Pirates of the Caribbean probably as important to his career as his Oscar win.

Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas – No apparent career impact.

Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump – Still Tom Hanks.

Tom Hanks, Philadelphia – Still Tom Hanks.

Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman. No apparently career impact.

Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs. Film’s box office probably more influential than his Oscar, to whatever extent it was.

Hmm...

Hilary Swank is following up her Oscar win for Million Dollar Baby by signing for a horror flick called The Reaping. I hope this works out better for her than The Jacket did for Adrian Brody. The fact that the film will be produced by Joel Silver doesn't reassure me any.

Morons

I just saw poster art for the new, in-production animated movie about Curious George, and it looks like they changed George's face. Idiots.

Man, I really wish Schwartzenegger would have made that live-action CG movie. Just seeing him in the Man in the Yellow Hat outfit would have been a scream.

Racial controversy...

I continue to fall deeper in love every week with ex-Survivor contestants/winners Boston Rob and Ambah on the latest edition of the Amazing Race. Certainly they have an important psychological edge, in that winning doesn't mean quite as much to them. Amber won a million bucks in Survivor: All Stars, Rob came in second, which I think means he got a hundred grand. Plus, he got Amber, proposing to her on the All Star reunion show. Moreover, I suspect they are cashing in on their celebrity in different ways, so that just being on The Amazing Race earns them money by keeping them in the public eye.

That said, there are several factors that are making them perhaps my favorite Amazing Race couple ever. First, they are smart and exhibit unexpected competence. Once there was a challenge involving carrying about 200 books on a dolly to a location some blocks off. Rob noted he had construction experience, and stacked the books in such an efficient and stable way that he and Amber were able to do the whole thing in one go, whereas most of the other teams had to go twice.

Then, last night, Rob had to ran a horse through some paces on an obstacle course, and did so in quick order. "I'm a mastah horseman!" he laughed. Rob also showed why he's a master gamesman by opting out of an epically obnoxious challenge last week and taking a four hour time penalty. He then brilliantly mitigated the disadvantage by talking some of the other teams into doing the same thing. In this manner he made sure that despite the penalty, he and Amber didn't leave in last place.

The most important reasons I like them the most are that they seem to actually be enjoying the race, and that they really, actually seem to like each other. Not once up to now, even when they fall behind (at one point last night they got lost driving around) do they point the finger at each other or start freaking out. This is extremely rare, and in fact I can't remember another duo in which at least one member didn't occasionally rag out the other. Then there's the fact that while they generally go pretty well on things, they don't grouse when things go bad. And when they just luck out, Rob will generally laugh and acknowledge, "We are so lucky!" If he were as arrogant as some seem to find him, he wouldn't be making that admission so easily.

Finally, a bunch of the other teams I don't like are getting extremely pissy about competing against Rob and Amber. Rather than resenting it, the two find it funny. Last night there was an early flight to catch and a later one. Four teams got on the early one and then sat in their seats and gloated endlessly about Rob and Amber missing the flight. "Survive that!" one japed. However, we viewers knew that Rob and Amber were going to make the plane by the last second. As they approached the plane, Amber laughed about wanting to see their faces when she and Rob walked on, and they were indeed hilariously doleful and angry.

The funniest thing about this is that both Rob and Amber realize that it works to their benefit. Except for being caught by a game mechanism that allows one team to pick another couple to lose an hour on the race (this will happen twice more), there's really not much one team can do to directly effect another team. Therefore, the other teams' fixation on screwing Rob and Amber over is just taking their minds off of the game. That alone could net the couple another championship.

Postmodernism Dept: Jeering Cheers & Jeers.

The Cheers & Jeers page of the March 27th issue of TV Guide is typical fatuous.

A Jeer is awarded to Tyre Banks for not having any fat, sorry, "plus-sized" women on America's Next Top Model. Yes, and what about ugly ones? Also, I want a thin person on America's Biggest Loser, and someone really, really out of shape whenever they do a reality series about someone trying to win a slot on a professional sports francise.

A Jeer is awarded for a supposedly sedate final episode of NYPD Blue, which the column's author wittily notes could have been called "NYPD Snooze." Ha ha! That's gold. That's why these folks make a living with their pen while I only have a crappy little website.

A Jeer is awarded to TBS for picking up a second season of The Real Gilligan's Island. After noting the first edition "did well in the ratings," they ask, "who wants to meet more real-life versions of Gilligan, et al?" Uhm, perhaps the people who watched the first show enough to give it good ratings? That's just a guess.

A Jeer is awarded to Hootie for those Burger King commercials. "Are you really that hard up for cash, Hootie?" they ask. Nice. Hey, the commercials are at least really weird, and you don't forget them. Also, if Hootie had done the same shtick on Peewee's Playhouse, the same people would be calling him a genius.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Jason 'Herb' Evers passes away...

Jason Evers (aka Herb Evers) passed away on March 12, Fangoria.com reports. Mr. Evers starred in several interesting genre films, including the lead role as the obsessed scientist who keeps his fiancee's head alive in a kitchen pan in the sleazy gorefest The Brain That Wouldn't Die. The film earned a place in B-movie history by providing replacement host Mike Nelson with his first subject on TV's Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Other highlights of Evers career include the inane killer bear movie Claws, the paranoid Jaws knock-off Barracuda, the John Wayne turkey The Green Berets, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, the killer-snakes-on-a-sub telepic Fer-de-Lance, and the Ray Bradbury inspired The Illustrated Man. His last appearance was in Basket Case 2.

My interest in Spider-Man 3 squashed like...uh, something squashable

Rottentomatoes.com reports that Thomas Haden Church has been cast as the villain in the next Spider-Man movie. Good enough.

Then there's this: "If you read this interview with special effects artist Tim Phoenix, you'll come across the following passage: "He's under contract not to talk much about Spider-Man 3, but Phoenix did say that the crew is in the conceptual design process for the villains, who are Man-Wolf and Venom."

Obviously Church will, if this is accurate, play Venom. As an old-school fan, I couldn't care less about Venom. And Man-Wolf?! OK, they introduced Jonah Jameson's kid, the astronaut, in the last film, and he's Man-Wolf in some of the less inspired comic books, but what a lame villain! Plus, he's really kind of a knock-off of the Lizard, a classic Spidey foe, and we've already met his alter-ego too. So why not bring him in?

I really hope this report is all wrong, but the kids dig Venom (and Carnage), so I'm sure that part will be correct.

What I'm renting: Henry VIII

Although I am woefully ignorant of English history, I have always enjoyed their lush costume dramas. The Lion in Winter has always been a favorite movie of mine, and A Man for All Seasons sits on my DVD shelf and is one of a comparatively small fraction of my collection that I’ve actually watched. Meanwhile, although it doesn’t come to mind necessarily when I think of ‘my favorite movies,’ at least once a year I pull down my disc of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and give it a watch. It’s much better than Olivier’s version, I think, and is probably my favorite Shakespeare adaptation.

Henry VIII is a recent British TV drama, a three-plus hour dealie revolving around Henry’s notorious marriages. It’s hardly a classic, but it has its moments. And although I suspect the history is not quite up to snuff—an impression borne out by several nit-picking reviews at the IMDB—it wasn’t ludicrous either. In fact, it made me want to watch the purported superior 1971 multi-part Six Wives of Henry VIII. Luckily, the library I work at carries this on video, although I’d prefer it on disc. However, Netflix doesn’t carry it.

The film opens with Henry as a boy, brought in to speak with his dying father. He instructs Henry that his greatest duty as king will be to sire a strong son to carry the throne after he himself is gone. Pretty much the rest of the movie centers on Henry’s increasingly frantic attempts to see this accomplished.

The adult Henry is play by Ray Winstone, who is often over the top, but not so much as to become ridiculous (generally). Of course, Henry isn’t a role that properly calls for much restraint. Henry’s viewed as a problematic character, being a great warrior and a ruthlessly successful king, but also a bit of a dullard who’s obsession with begetting a son allows those around him to lead him by the nose. The irony, though, is that they all gain this power only to lose it, and pretty near half the cast is executed at one point or the other. So many people are led to the chopping block (and those are the lucky ones, as the rest were burned at the stake) that the film at times would veer dangerously close to black comedy if not for this fact that this all pretty much really happened.

The show appears in two halves, each anchored by a name actor. Helena Bonham Carter gets the juiciest of the wife roles, as the conniving Anne Boleyn. Like most everyone else, she out-connives herself. By denying Henry her body, she prompts him to the extremes of breaking with the Catholic Church so that he can divorce his first wife and marry her. The frustrated and perpetually yearning Henry’s round face is kept flushed and reddened during all this, and one can almost see the phrase “looking like an erect penis” in the script.

However, Anne quickly makes a fatal error. Wishing to fully consolidate her personal power, she forces Henry while he’s still in her thrall to execute his closest advisor, Cardinal Wolsey. This proves a mistake. As Wolsey had warned her, her own position would become precarious should she also fail to give Henry a son. Wolsey was the smarter politician, and wanted to ally himself with Anne to keep Henry’s impulsive nature in check. By dispatching Wolsey, the final constraint on Henry’s ego was removed, and Anne famously ends up getting a rather low haircut.

In the second half, Sean Bean appears as a rebel leader who threatens civil war following the state depravations against Catholics inaugurated under Henry’s minister Cromwell. Indeed, religious battles occupy much of the politics here, as the Catholics and the Protestants seesaw back and forth in Henry’s favor, depending on who is providing him with his latest bride, and each of who take advantage of their moments of advantage to horribly retaliate against their opponents.

As with Paris taking Helen, Henry is willing to risk everything to obtain whatever woman has caught his recent fancy. This trait is fed also by his power. As King, he can do what he wants. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a price to be paid. The Church and treaties and inter-marriages with foreign powers and the Law of England itself all lays constraints on the power of even a king, and while they can be shaken off, all hell tends to break loose.

Seldom has biology so truly been destiny. Henry doesn’t shoot blanks, but his legitimate progeny tend to be girls (save for one sickly son), his legitimate sons tend to die in childbirth, and his healthy sons are bastards. Meanwhile, his first wife loses her place because she can’t deliver a male heir, his second loses her head for the same reason, the third dies giving birth, and so on. The most jaw dropping episode is when a young wife of the elderly Henry brings about her own demise because she’s got a case of hot pants. In a way, she’s the closest match for her husband, except that he could (to some extent) get away with his folly, while she couldn’t. Adultery at that time was bad enough. Adultery against the King, however, was High Treason.

In the end, Henry dies, and as we learn in an epilogue, his fragile son died soon after at that age of 15. At this point Henry’s embittered oldest daughter Mary—daughter of the woman he threw over for Anne—gained the throne. A fervent Catholic, she persecuted the Protestants so dreadfully that even in those doleful times she earned the nickname “Bloody Mary.” The crown was then assumed by Henry’s final child, Elizabeth. Ironically, after all of Henry’s efforts to provide a male heir, Elizabeth went on to become one of England’s greatest and most fabled rulers.

My DVDs today...

Big shipment came in, in order of cool:

The Mysterians Super Toho alien invasion flick with Mogera the giant robot and brilliant Akira Ifukube score, which is treated to an isolated audio track. In anamorphic widescreen with commentary track, and both original Japanese and dubbed versions.

Matango (Attack of the Mushroom People) Pretty much same extras as the above disc.

Next I got a slew of MGM Midnight Movie double bills. Two movies for $10! And generally great, widescreen (where appropriate) presentations. You can't beat 'em!
Again, in order of coolness:

Panic in the Year Zero / Last Man on Earth Awesome Vincent Price favorite and terrific Ray Milland post-apocalypse film. One of the bargains of the year.

Voodoo Island / Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake Lame but amusing late Karloff entry, and a childhood favorite about a curse involving shrunken heads.
Cool, cool stuff.

Die Monster Die / Dunwich Horror Two not very good Lovecraft adaptations, but hey, $10.

War Gods of the Deep / At the Earth's Core Lame V. Price Entry and typically goofy lost world entry by the folks who brought you Land That Time Forgot. Great cast though, Troy, er, Doug McClure, Peter Cushing and the gorgeous Caroline Munro.

Mini-Skirt Mob / Chrome and Hot Leather Bikers films not my bag, but again, $10. Besides, look at these taglines: "This feline is nobody's pet!" and "Don't Mess with a Green Beret's Mama!" Plus the latter stars William 'Big Bill' Smith.

Fireball 500 / Thunder Alley Drag racing flicks both starring Annette Funicello (!!) and Fabian, one with Frankie Avalon and the other with Jan Murray.

Happy Birthday Ross Martin!

You're missed, sir. Most people, I guess, will instead honor William Shatner's birthday, today, and why not? But as a kid, I was more of a Wild Wild West fan than a Star Trek one, and so I'll take my hat off to the late Mr. Martin.

Today's DVD bargains...

10th Victim Fun campy Italian film about a televised game show where participants attempt to kill each other. Talk about ahead of its time, this was made in 1965. Stars Ursula Andress, Marcello Mastroianni and Elsa Martinelli. Overstock is selling this for 61% off at $10 and only a buck for shipping.

Also at Overstock, Vigilante, an interesting B-Movie by director William "Maniac Cop" Lustig and with an amazing cast: Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Joe Spinell and Woody Strode. 52% off, $9.63. Get this and 10th Victim and you're still talking a buck for shipping, although they probably charge tax, too. If you're looking for one more purchase there, try the paranoid political thriller Winter Kills with Jeff Bridges, John Huston and Anthony Perkins. Also 9.63/52% off.

New on DVD...

It's Tuesday, and the new DVD releases are hitting the shelves. Here's some highlights, things to buy or maybe put on your Netflix list:

Batman & Robin: The Serial CollectionAs reviewed at Jabootu.
The Best of the New Scooby-Doo Movies This collects 15 of those 'hour' long episodes where the Mystery Gang met up with a bewilderingly ecletic variety of guest stars. Included here are the episodes featuring (the dead) Laurel & Hardy, Mama Cass Elliot, the 3 Stooges, Batman and Robin, the Harlem Globetrotters (three times!!!), Don Adams, Don Knotts (twice!), Jonathan Winters (with a plot involving giant chickens, if I remember correctly), Dick Van Dyke and Speedbuggy. Dammit, what about the episode where they meet Jerry Reed?!
Bring Me the Head of Alfredro Garcia / Loved by some, but one of the Medved's 50 Worst Films of All Time. You decide.
Clutch Cargo Seasons 1 & 2 Had to give this one lip service.
Dam Busters Part of the 'British War Collection' box set out this week, also available by itself. Brits invent bouncing bomb to destroy protected Nazi dam.
Firewalker As reviewed at Jabootu.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Fox News (*gasp*) expects more money for higher ratings...

The cover story of the March 14 issue of Weekly Variety details the fact that the Fox News Channel is expected to demand a rate increase from cable networks that carry it. For some reason, this is covered in a vague way as it if were unseemly, despite the fact that Fox News' ratings have skyrocketed of late, and that it's probably one of the few channels that actually convinces people to spring for cable.

Putting the cable providers in a tighter bind is that Fox's owner, Robert Murdoch, also owns DirecTV, a satellite provider. Should cable companies drop Fox News, chances are that some of their audience would move to satellite TV as an alternative.

The story mentions that the last channel to demand a big increase was ESPN, and that one effect of this was that other, less popular Disney cable channels bore the brunt of the cable companies' wrath. That could be a problem. Each channel of Fox is probably a separate company, so Fox News wouldn't directly be affected by, say, F/X not getting more money later on. The question is whether the effect on the entire corporation would be severe enough to cause somebody higher up to overrule Fox New's demands for increased revenue.

The answer, I'd think: Probably not.

However, I found this 'warning' of the article hysterically funny:

"And it won't just be [other Fox channels] that will get flayed..."I'll go after CNN and MSNBC," says one operator. "If I have to pay more because Fox News is getting more viewers, then I'm sure as hell going to pay less for the lousy ratings of CNN [which boasts not much more than half the viewers of FNC] and MSNBC."

Well, shouldn't they? Politics aside, isn't that exactly the way it should work?

Uh oh!

According to the March 25 issue of Entertainment Weekly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, who is doing the upcoming Wonder Woman movie, "says his Amazon will not, repeat not, wear "star spangled panties."

As has, you know, the character in her comic books over the last sixty years.

The sun sets on the British Empire...

Per Variety.com: "When Harry Met Sally stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal have been voted the greatest on-screen couple of all time in a new poll. The sizzling chemistry between the pair in the 1989 romantic comedy beat out competition from second-placed Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, for their romance in the Oscar-winning 1942 classic Casablanca. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere came third for their team-up in hit 1990 movie Pretty Woman, in the poll commissioned by British chain store Woolworths."

Oh, cruel fate. Here it is, Timothy Dalton's birthday, and his pairing with Mae West in Sextette is ignored in favor of three total poser couples.

Holy frickin' crap!

Per Variety.com: "Sarah Jessica Parker is reeling after being ditched as the face of clothing giants Gap in favor of British singing sensation Joss Stone. The shocking announcement came in the same week Parker's Gap Spring campaign was launched and has stung the style icon. Parker raked in over $38 million from the lucrative advertising campaigns since the demise of hit US series Sex And The City."

THIRTY EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS! Reading that was the closest I've ever come to declaring myself a communist.

"A friend of the actress says, "Sarah's spring campaign for Gap has only just started and she feels the announcement of her replacement in the same week that the new ads are appearing is a bit of a snub. Joss is not only a teenager, she is a virtual unknown. Had her replacement been a big star, perhaps Sarah wouldn't have minded so much."

What a brutal, brutal fate. Really, my heart bleeds for this poor woman. At this rate, she'll end up living in the poor house with Oprah (see below).

Today's "Oh, please" award...

Per Variety.com: "American TV chat show queen Oprah Winfrey is ditching the high life to star in a poverty-stricken reality TV series. The 51-year-old media mogul, who is one of the world's richest women with an annual income of over $300 million, has agreed to live a life of poverty in the hard-hitting documentary. Winfrey will reside in a high-rise apartment on a notoriously tough Chicago, Illinois, estate for a month. The series plans to highlight America's inner-city housing crisis. A spokesperson for her Harpo Productions company says, "She has interviewed just about every major celebrity and done shows on almost every subject imaginable. But now she intends to tackle really tough, serious issues, putting herself right in the front line." However, to ensure Winfrey's safety she will shadowed by security guards during her stay. But the spokesperson adds, "In every other respect she will have to fend for herself, just like the many people who have to live in these sub-standard conditions."

At least the one's who aren't billionaires.

John Cleese risks life with brave political observation...

Variety.com reports on the reunion of the remaining living members of Monty Python at the recent broadway premiere of Spamalot, the musical adaptation of their classic comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail. John Cleese sagely noted, "I'm a bit surprised this kind of thing can happen in George W. Bush's America - you know, people being very naughty, very funny and with a kind of gentle joy."

Indeed, with the Bush administration having recently outlawed naughtiness, humor and gentle joy via an obscure passage of the Patriot Act, it's an apt remark. Mr. Cleese will be missed, as he has no doubt by now been murdered by Mr. Bush's storm troopers in retaliation for his penetrating insight, or at the very least dragged off to one of the horrifying gulugs now dotting the country.

Happy 59th Birthday to Timothy Dalton...

Here's to Mr. Dalton, who, as all good Jabootuites know, sang perhaps the most magical duet in movie history with his and Mae West's rendition of 'Love Will Keep Us Together' in Sextette.

Meanwhile, and with all due bowing in Mr. Connery's direction, Dalton remains in many ways my favorite James Bond. Sorry you never got a really good scipt, Tim, but you'll always have a place in some of our hearts.

What I'm renting: Wonderfalls

I’m quickly becoming addicted to DVD sets of TV shows, which is dovetailing nicely with the fact that I don’t watch much TV any more. I catch The Amazing Race when it’s on, Survivor and The Apprentice when I remember, and definitely Arrested Development. However, since there are only four more episodes of the show left (dammit), that will be one less thing to worry about.

I actually started to watch Lost and Alias this year, but frankly, it just seems easier to wait for the DVD sets to come out and watch them all at once. This is also massively convenient for cable shows, since I don’t have cable. Thus I can catch The Shield and Deadwood and Carnivale and whatnot. Finally, it’s good for watching shows that I never saw that were quickly cancelled, such as Firefly, or Freaks & Geeks, or Wonderfalls.

Admittedly, the experience of watching shows this way is completely different. When you watch a show week to week, year after year, it becomes part of your life. When Star Trek: The Next Generation left the air, it ended something that had been part of my life between the ages of 24-31. That’s a big hunk of prime, life real estate.

Wonderfalls was one of a recent long string of ‘young woman inconvenienced by the supernatural’ TV shows. There was Buffy, obviously, but more pertinently Tru Calling, Joan of Arcadia, Medium (although that’s not a young woman), Dead Like Me, etc. All of these deal with women who are forced by some higher power to do things and intercede in others’ lives; or deaths, as the case may be, despite their wishes not too.

The show Wonderfalls most reminded me of was (although except for Buffy I haven’t seen any of the others I’ve listed above) was Dead Like Me. This wasn’t that good a sign, as I didn’t like that show very much. I basically rented on disc of the first season set and then moved on to other things. I didn’t find the show’s conception of the afterlife that intriguing, the attempts at life lessons heavy handed, and the frenetic directing style, all spastic camera movements and such, overly twee. Worse of all was the show’s main character, who was basically just obnoxiously mopey and sell-involved.

Dead Like Me portrayed the danger of doing ‘quirky’ TV. When your show is quirky, it tends to hit a very specific note. If you dig that note, chances are you will love that show, perhaps passionately. On the other hand, if that note doesn’t hit you right, chances are you will find the program anything from somewhat irritating to outright insufferable. Dead Like Me, for me, was on the somewhat irritating end of the spectrum.

The central characters of Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls were very similar, both being young, bright but deliberately underachieving women who are struggling and rebelling against the expectations of their families. Both have extremely problematic relationships with their moms especially, both talk that TV brand of heightened intelligence and pop culture snarkiness. And, finally, both are chosen by some mysterious higher power to break out of their shells and involves themselves with other people, whether they want to or not.

It was only while listening to a commentary track for the pilot of Wonderfalls that I learned that both shows were created by the same guy. This actually made me respect Wonderfalls less, and as I actually thought about it, I realized the two programs were ever more alike than I had originally felt them to be.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that people in Hollywood don’t largely make their fortunes regurgitating the same sort of material over and over again. However, I think if you’re going to go ‘quirky’ stuff, it shouldn’t be so nakedly derivative of itself. Something that sets Joss Whedon, for example, apart is that he not only followed up Buffy with Angel, but with the markedly different and equally successful (at least artistically) Firefly. Wonderfalls is to Dead Like Me what a show about a young female werewolf hunter would have been to Buffy.

All that said, I actually liked Wonderfalls a lot more. I found the central character not nearly so grating, and the supporting cast a lot more interesting. The show revolves around young slacker Jaye, who works a hopelessly boring but low-pressure job at the Wonderfalls souvenir store at Niagara Falls. (Talk about a scenic background!)

In the first episode, Jaye is touched by the supernatural, and finds that representations of animals—statues, puppets, plastic flamingos, stuffed fish and even shirt logos—begin talking to her and ordering her to do things. Jaye is mortified by this on several levels, but perhaps most prominently because the entire goal of her life has been to separate herself as much as possible from other people. However, she is susceptible to guilt, and terrible things happen to people when she ignores her orders. Plus, they tend to keep talking and or singing to her 24 hours a day until she gives in.

The animals are animated in different styles, appropriate to their nature, and are pretty amusing. The humor is generally intelligent, and again, I liked Jaye well enough and some of the supporting cast more. Jaye’s father might be the first likeable Republican I’ve seen in a network show for quite a while, and Jaye’s brother Aaron, ignored by the first several episodes, quickly moves to center stage and became my favorite character.

Jaye’s successful Martha Stewart-ish mom and successful lawyer sister are too self-involved to see that Jaye’s acting even more weird than normal lately, while her loving dad continues to benignly overlook her life and it’s continuing travails. This leaves Aaron the only one to notice that Jaye is acting literally insane. Conveniently a comparative religion major, not to mention an atheist, he is at first convinced and much concerned that Jaye is crazy when he notices her have one-sided conversations with inanimate objects. Later, he gets a sign that maybe there is some supernatural force at work here, and it both humorously and realistically freaks him out big time. This is probably my favorite of the show’s plotlines.

I’ve watched the first eight episodes, some of which never aired before the show was taken off the air. The last disc is in the mail, featuring the final five shows. In terms of extras, most of what we’re talking about are some cast and creator commentary tracks, which frankly I didn’t find worth listening to. They were OK, but I’ve got hundreds of DVDs sitting around unopened, and hundreds of others in my Netflix list, and frankly I just didn’t find them worth my time.

I’m tending to like the show more as it goes along. We’ll see where the final five chapters take us. In the end, I’m sorry the show got cancelled, and no doubt would have continued to enjoy it on DVD had it stayed on the air. However, I didn’t see anything like the sense of mourning I felt watching Firefly and realizing episode by episode that I was falling in love with a show that would never reach fruition.

DVD bargains...

Bestbuy.com is selling The Harryhausen Chronicles, a disc featuring trailers and documentaries on the various films of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, for $10, which is half price. They are also selling the first season set of the classic '60s TV series The Outer Limits for $45, a muscular 45% off the list price.

Canadian retailer DVDsoon.com is selling the superlative Twilight Zone: Season One Definative Edition set for $69 American, 42% off list. Even more impressively, they are selling the nine film Star Trek: The Motion Picture Collection for $113 American, nearly 60% off list. The three Woody Allen Collections are also heavily discounted, and the entire five-season run of the classic Dick Van Dyke show is available for about $140 American, 42% off list.

DVD announcements...

Unsurprisingly, Paramount intends to cash in on the upcoming Spielberg/Cruise The War of the Worlds by releashing a special edition DVD of the 1953 George Pal classic, which follows a very uninspired DVD of the film released some years ago. It will be out in June.

Also, as a big fan of The Amazing Race, I personally am very excited that the entire first edition of TV's best reality show will also hit the shelves in June.

Monday morning QBOing... (3/21/05)

Horror films continue to draw audiences, with The Ring Two racking up an impressive estimated $36 million in receipts, drawing over $10,000 per screen in a very wide release of well over 3,000 screens. Drop-off looks to be severe--the film made less on Saturday than it did on Friday--so it probably won't show the impressive legs that pushed the first film over the $100 million mark. However, with the tendency of horror movies to do well on the rental and home video market, there's no doubt that this will prove a successful investment for the Dreamworks studio.

Robots came in at number two, raking in an estimated $21.8 million. That's a forty percent drop from last week, which these days is pretty good. The film has drawn about $67 million in it's one and a half weeks of release.

Despite scatching reviews, Disney's The Pacifier held well, making around $12.5 million and dropping only a bit more than 30% from the previous weekend. It's 17 day gross hovers about $73 million, already putting it well above star Vin Deisel's last pic, The Chronicles of Riddick. Like horror films, comedies tend to do well on the home and rental video market, so don't be surprised to see a sequel mentioned soon.

Disney's Ice Princess fell on the ice, drawing a chillly $2,800 per screen for a lame $9 million in its opening weekend.

Doing rather better, Hitch continued it's stay in the top five by drawing an additional $6.6 million dollars, for a total of about $160 million. Again, home video, rental and cable futures look extremely good for the latest film by Top 50 Movie Star Ever honoree Will Smith.

Bruce Willis' Hostage drew little box office ransom with a paltry second weekend return of $5.8 million. In total it's drawn not quite $20 million. Willis must be hoping for something a lot better from the upcoming Sin City.

Meanwhile, Million Dollar Baby showed more cinematic punch, drawing a tad over $4 million to raise it's total to $90 million. Warner Bros. really screwed the pooch on this one, as they had forced long-time house director and star Clint Eastwood to seek financing for the picture on his own. With the film now a hit (not to mention a Best Picture nominee), Warners' get a reduced percentage of the purse, and has no doubt pissed off Eastwood, who may shop his next film elsewhere.