Friday, March 17, 2006

Gravity equals tragedy...

A golden fry falls
to earth like Icarus it was
salty, like my tears

Gravity equals tragedy...

A golden fry falls
to earth like Icarus it was
salty, like my tears

Thursday, March 16, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Blue Demon

First, some caveats. As noted in the past, I watch every single DTV killer shark movie that comes into my purview, of which, a) there are a lot, and which b) almost uniformly suck. After a while, you start grading on a scale, but it should be emphasized that this is like a porno fan trying to explain to a regular film buff how some particular skin flick has better acting or a wittier script than the average example.

Second, the things I (very mildly) liked about Blue Demon are likely to be highly irritating to those who they hit wrong.

Those stipulations made, let’s go forth.

First, I liked the opening credits, largely because they featured an orchestral-sounding “mysteries of the deep” score rather than a John Williams’ Jaws-theme rip-off one. You take whatever minor pleasures and surprises you get from DTV killer shark movies, because those are the only ones you are likely to be presented with, assuming you get any at all.

Things take a more ominous turn, however, with an opening scene that seems even more dogmatically a Jaws -ish than usual, which is saying something. However, there is eventually a minor twist of sorts, and I had to take some satisfaction from that, however modest. Which tells you something about what the average DTV killer shark movie is like.

Soon we are completely ripping off Deep Blue Sea, which is not a good sign. Marla and Nathan Collins are scientists on the brink of a divorce which we can secretly tell neither really wants—not exactly a fresh set-up, especially for a UFO (the company, not the spaceship) film—who are working on a government project to breed super-sharks to act as anti-terrorist security for our ports and such.

Their comic relief pushy boss is played by Danny Woodburn, the dwarf guy who was Kramer’s friend on Seinfeld. Their ‘humorous’ interplay isn’t quite as odious as I expected, although that’s not saying much, and amazingly I did actually chuckle out loud at least one time, as Woodburn interacted with a portrait on his wall. Small blessings. (And no, that’s not a dwarf joke.)

Things take either a turn for the better or the worse with the arrival of the military officer in charge of the secret project, General Remora (!). At this point the film points moving in a more comic direction, although not in an Airplane! sort of way or anything. Instead, the movie just seems to become aware of how ridiculous it is, and runs with it.

As you might guess from Remora’s name, he’s a fully comic figure in the mold of General Jack D. Ripper of Dr. Strangelove, albeit obviously nowhere near as good of one. Still, as played by with obvious relish by Jeff Fahey, he’s still pretty funny, or so I thought, anyway. Fahey has suffered a severe career slide, and now appears in a lot of garbage. Here, however, he is patently enjoying the opportunity to talk like Clint Eastwood and chew a big stogie, not to mention the scenery. Both his entrance and his eventual exit are overtly played for comedy, and I have to admit, I laughed each time. Mileage varies, of course, especially with humor.

Not to blow anyone’s mind, but Ramora proves to be the villain of the piece (oops, sorry). That’s a cliché you’ll see in a zillion of these, but here at least they’re playing it tongue-in-cheek. Amazingly, his Insane Military Guy’s obligatory speech about how he’s about to kill hundreds of Americans because he’s a patriot (a word that for some reason screenwriters generally seem to assume carries sinister implications), blah blah, is the sort of thing that’s still being played straight in a gazillion movies. See, for example, Martin Sheen in Storm Tracker, or, well, a million other movies. Here, however, Fahey’s thoroughly over-the-top performance acknowledges who stupid and tired this material is, and I kind of enjoyed that.

The shark action is very tame, which again is going to be a problem for many. After a few early attacks, the sharks hardly kill anyone. They are (surprise) represented with CGI and a few very cheap-looking prop fins, although I was longing for a prop head to pop up every one in a while. Instead, on the few occasions with the sharks breach the water, extremely bad CCI is employed. Underwater they don’t look that bad, but obviously they just never interact with the cast because of this. Still, there isn’t a really good shark scene in the movie, although there are a few bits of marginal suspense early on.

In the end, Blue Demon is a laid-back, innocuous and intermittently amusing killer shark movie with a degree of violence that would make it fit for broadcast on the PAX Network. (This might be a particularly problem for the causual renter, who may well be taken in by the DVD box art, which obviously is trying to make people think of Open Water.) If only because it was different from most of these things, I kind of enjoyed it. However, I can’t say how someone’s whose expectations are more orthodox would take it. “Better than Raging Sharks!” isn’t exactly a glowing review, but there you go.

Thanks (I guess) to Thanoseid for pointing out that this one was even out there.

Troma-tized...

In an almost sweet leap of faith, the public library I work for today received a “Buyer’s Guide” of Troma’s DVD library. Although I’m not involved in buying our A/V materials, or much of anything else, were I to guess I’d say we’re probably not going to be aiming much of our DVD budget in this direction.

Looking at page after page of gaudy, colorful DVD covers on the catalog’s slick paper stock is literally disheartening. I think there’s a time in everyone’s life—as there is to be a Linnea Quigley fan; or in modern parlance, a Misty Mundae buff—when Troma’s movies are something you’d occasionally honestly enjoy looking at. Past that age, though, looking upon this array of self-satisfied, doggedly over-the-top schlock is merely sad.

To make the catalog more substantial, many films are repeatedly featured. For instance, there are two separate spreads for the company’s trademark Toxic Avenger series, available both individually and in a variety of sets. Meanwhile, something called Tales From the Crapper is featured at least thrice.

The first real page of the catalog spotlights the company’s “Best Sellers,” and a wearisome roster of dispiriting kitsch it is harder to envision: the three Class of Nuke ‘Em High movies, Surf Nazis Must Die, Sgt. Kabukiman, Rabid Grandmothers, Redneck Zombies, Tales from the Crapper…when the slasher flick Mother’s Day is the section’s class act, you know you’re in trouble.

Of the Horror section, the only watchable titles are slashers and camp flicks made by other companies and marketed by Troma (and I say that as someone with no interest in slasher movies): Blood of Ghastly Horror, Monster in the Closet, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Def by Temptation (actually not a bad movie, and possibly the best film in the catalog), The Children, Graduation Day, etc. Again, that stuff stands head and shoulders above the rest of the offerings.

Action also benefits from offering titles from the pre-Troma era, which you can probably watch without relying quite as heavily on the fast forward button: Shark (Burt Reynolds), Angels’ Wild Women, Satan’s Sadists, and the authentically hilarious The Stabilizer, the one film in the entire catalog that I can honestly advocate people buy. Still, when I’m reduced to listing a bunch of Al Adamson movies as a company’s “good stuff,” well, there’s not a lot of upside there.

[Troma had at one point bought out Roan, a sadly defunct label that put out really good DVDs of stuff like the old Monogram Lugosi and Karloff stuff. However, they seem to have sold out their stock of those titles, and either didn’t keep the re-issue rights, or never had them. Still, it’s too bad, as such fare would have upgraded the offerings significantly.]

So if you’re 16-18 years of age, and still really digging gross-out stuff, I can recommended without qualm The Toxic Avenger, and…well, OK, just The Toxic Avenger. However, if you’re older than that, just grab The Stabilizer and Dracula vs. Frankenstein and let the rest of it go.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Prior dis-engagement....

It's always good when the Chicago Cubs let us know in March that they have a snowball's chance of going to the postseason, instead than teasing us for six or seven months and then completely blowing it in the last week of play, as they did two years ago.

Up to now, I've been cautious about lumping pitching phenom Mark Prior in with the permanently injured Kerry Wood. Many of Prior's problem periods have not been internal, but the result of freak accidents, such as when he took a smash line-drive off his elbow early last season.

Now, however, after getting babied all pre-season--leading many suspicious fans, who over the years have tended to (justifiably) become wary of statements from the Cubs organization--Prior has now gone to see a bigwig sports medicine doctor due to some previously unmentioned shoulder pain. The organization is saying this is entirely new, and fairly or unfairly, about 5% of fans are willing to take their word for it.

In any case, it's clear the main operating principle of the Cubs over the last several years, to build the team around Prior and Wood, is now dead. Wood has one year left on his hugely renumirative contract, and then it's adios. And at this point, with the fanbase sickened by year after year of clockwork injuries of one prominent player after another (Prior, Wood, Garciaparra, Sosa, Ramirez, and so forth and so on), we can only assume that Prior, who could still turn out to be a wonderful pitcher someday, will be gone in a couple of years when his contract is up, or maybe even sooner, via a trade.

That leaves Carlos Zambrano, a real ace and a workhorse who gets better and better every year. That makes it essential that lame duck (at least, I hope he's a lame duck) putz Dusty Baker not be allowed to ruin Zambrano's arm in a predestined-to-fail attempt to keep his job. CZ is the real deal, and we need to keep him healthy and on the roster for another ten years.

The Tribune company has to keep spending money at the current clip, and we desperately need to rebuilding this team almost from the ground up. At this point I'd say Zambrano, Derrik Lee and Aramis Ramirez are your only must have players, although hopefully rookies Matt Murton or Ronny Cedano will put themselves on that list.

I still expect, barring further injuries (which in the last few seasons we've had on a pretty much weekly basis), to see better baseball this year than last. We have a lead-off hitter, our bullpen is significantly shored up--which also means less episodes of the Dusty Baker Follies--and if nothing else, Corry "The Bum" Patterson is off the team.

I really have to hope that Baker is going down with this ship, and perhaps GM Jim Hendry will too, although he's not as much to blame as Dusty is. However, whoever has the reigns next year, it's clear he must not count on Prior (much less the gone-somewhere-else Wood) to be a significant factor for us. If he is, then it's gravy. However, we just can't rely on him anymore.

I'm not sure what to make of this...

Per Cinescape.com: "Universal Pictures has set actor Benicio Del Toro to star in the remake of THE WOLF MAN. The story will be set in Victorian England. Del Toro will play a man who returns from America to his ancestral homeland, gets bitten by a werewolf and begins a hairy moonlight existence. Andrew Kevin Walker is writing the script. Scott Stuber, Rick Yorn, Mary Parent and Benicio Del Toro will produce. The plan is to shoot the film in 2007 for a summer 2008 release."

This could work, but not if it's Stephen Sommers-ized. I mean, The Mummy actually wasn't bad, because the character and setting lent itself to a modern, outsized take. However, The Wolf Man is an intimate story, and actually should be done for a fairly small amount of money. I just don't know if Hollywood can even think that way any more.

I foresee horrible CGI effects and the inevitable huge explosions and whipping camera work, any of which would doom the project.

One promising note is that the attached screenwriter, Andrew Kevin Walker, did work on the screenplay of Tim Burton's superlative period horror piece Sleepy Hollow (which is really one of my favorite films of the last ten years). Still, Burton's projects are always Burton's, and I don't know how much of a stamp Walker had on that film. However, he also wrote Se7en, so we know he can do horror.

On the other hand..."Walker spent several months working on some frightening new twists to a familiar tale, adding several characters and plot points that take advantage of cutting-edge visual effects technology." Uh, oh. And the sheer fact that this is being lauded elsewhere as a possible "summer tentpole" indicates that elephantitis will be the order of the day.

Meanwhile, Del Toro is an even odder choice to play an Englishman (even one who's mostly been raised in America), but otherwise I think he could make a pretty impressive Larry Talbot. Indeed, Del Toro himself has at times referenced his childhood love of the Universal classics, as in this autobiographical sketch: "From my childhood in Puerto Rico I remember that I loved basketball and monster movies: movies of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Reptiles and dinosaurs fascinated me."

Meanwhile, the Victorian England setting is reassuring, assuming they don't screw things up.

Which they will.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

DVD stuff... Godzilla and lots more...

Per Cinescape.com: On September 5, Classic Media, the Sony-distributed independent that holds the current rights to Godzilla King of the Monsters and several other early Toho giant monster movies, have announced the release of a special 2-pack DVD of both the Japanese and American versions of the film.

Both films will be remastered in High Definition and maintain their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios. Several extra features are being considered for inclusion, such as the commentrak included on the British Film Institute release. Classic Media is also preparing a much bigger Japanese sci-fi box set. Fans are hoping this set will include both Japanese and American versions of all the Toho films in Classic Media’s library: GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN, GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964), GHIDRAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, MONSTER ZERO, GODZILLA’S REVENGE, RODAN and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. It’s too early to speculate as yet, but CM has set up a special website at www.godzillaondvd.com to disseminate information.


Obviously that is all good, but the thought of the Ghidrah finally coming out...it's never been on DVD...is especially mouth-watering. It was only a matter of time before somebody figured out that fans wanted more than the lame discs Scimitar had provided for most of these movies, and it looks like Classic has exactly the right idea. Let's keep out fingers crossed here.


Spring Break Shark Attack is out on DVD today. Wheee!


Upcoming DVD treats later this year include the complete Superman theatrical serials from 1948 and 1950, respectively, all part, of course, of the tie-ins for the new Brian Singer movie due out soon. The gigantic Superman box set, meanwhile, will include a two-disc special edition (!!) of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, news that will get the saliva of any Jabootuist running freely.

Retromedia is putting out The Lon Chaney Collection, although in this case it's Lon Chaney Jr., we're talking about. (He dropped the 'Jr.' at one point in his career.) This four-movie set includes three items so obscure that I've never seen them. This isn't a complaint, as I love the idea of such truly odd stuff being available. The set will include Manfish (sadly not a monster movie), Golden Junkyard, which is a rare straight dramatic lead for Lon; Lock-Up, a murder mystery, and Indestructible Man. The latter is out on a zillion public domain discs, but Retromedia is promising "for the first time from a 35mm source!"

Lion's Gate continues to follow in the shoes of the sadly dormant Midnight Movie double feature DVDs, offering later this year the AIP 'classics' The Day the World Ended / The She Creature, and The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent / Teenage Caveman. The only bad thing about this is that unlike MGM's Midnight Movie discs, the Lion's Gate double bills have so far not bothered to present the films in widescreen, and there's no indication that they are started here. That sucks, but then again, two long-awaited movies on each $10 disc, so you can't complain too much. (Well, yes I can. Widescreen, dammit!)

BCI has gained the rights to six Paul Naschy movies, Night of the Werewolf, Exorcism, Vengeance of the Zombies, Human Beasts, Horror Rises from the Tomb, Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (aka House of Psychotic Women), as well as some other Euro horror flicks. They reportedly plan to release the films in HD anamorphic widescreen with lots of supplementary material.