Friday, September 29, 2006

Tony Stark, makes you feel, he's a cool exec, with a heart of steel...

I have to admit, I never really thought Iron Man would actually become a movie, but when Jon Favreau was hired to direct, things looked more solid. Now Robert Downey, Jr. has been hired to play Stark, and so the promised 2008 release looks pretty certain.

Downey isn't necessarily the first name that would pop into someone's head, but here's some things on his side.

1) I actually like the fact that he's older. Stark is a man of the world, and shouldn't really be a youngster like Spider-Man or even Bale's Batman.

2) Downey, of course, can actually act.

3) You don't need a big name in a superhero movie. Tom Cruise's name has been attatched to the project forever, but (his current career woes aside), why pay a guy $20 dollars when you can get an actor for half that and put the rest of the money on the screen? In superhero movies the character is the star, not the actor.

4) Downey's signature drug problems, assuming they are actually under control at this time, play into Iron Man's backstory. Back in the '80s, Iron Man was the first superhero to be a full-fledged alcoholic. Presumably they'll be running with this thread now.

Anyway, while Iron Man's not my favorite character, he is a classic Marvel guy, so here's luck to them. Meanwhile, they supposedly are still working on that live-action Avengers movie. I can't imagine it actually happening in a million years, but it's hard to think of anything much cooler than making Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk (the upcoming sequel) and Thor movies, and then bringing all three actors playing them together for an Avengers movie. It would be just like the comics.

In other superhero news, Spike TV's Blade series will not be brought back, but the ratings for the first episode of NBC's Heroes were very strong, easily whipping CBS's sitcom duo, Two and a Half Men and Old Christine. Of course, that doesn't mean viewers will keep watching it, but it's a good start.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Us & Them

Caution: Spoilers on old-ish movies Just Cause and Narrow Margin.


I think a major part of what separates me (and probably you) from other, perhaps more ‘normal’ movie viewers, isn’t so much that we’re ‘smarter,’ but rather are more instinctively analytical. For instance, a lot of TV dramas back in the day were heavily formulaic, and you could usually tell what stage things were going to be at by being aware of whether you were at the 15, 30 or 45-minute commercial break. Other people, however, don’t seem to so readily pick up on these sorts of plot mechanics. On the other hand, there are weird football rules that I'm never going to pick up on, while my brother has a violation pegged well before the ref calls it.

I can think of two incidents in which a friend (the same one, actually) got pissed off at me because I noted something that I was amazed to discover she hadn’t discerned. Again, believe me, I don’t think this is a sign that I’m more intelligent than her, but rather than we probably just think in a different way.

In Sean Connery’s Just Cause (a film so aggressively mediocre that I thought the actually title was the answer to why they made the movie; Just ‘Cause), Connery is a law professor and anti-capitol punishment activist—see the beginning of the film for a classic and hilarious example of how Hollywood portrays conservatives, with Connery besting debate opponent George Plimpton as an obvious William F. Buckley surrogate with ridiculous ease via a point that wouldn't even slow the real Buckley down—who takes on the case of a black man who may have been railroaded to a date with the electric chair.

Connery sure enough discovers sound evidence to this effect…by about 50 minutes in (as I remember it). I instinctively turned to my friend and said, “So the guy is guilty.” She responded what do you mean, and confused, I pointed out the obvious fact that if he’s found to be ‘innocent’ with half the movie left to go, it can only be to set up a plot ‘twist’ where he was in fact guilty. She hit me for ruining the rest of the film for her, while I was bewildered at how anyone could not find that just entirely obvious. (Again in terms of old cop shows, it’s like if somebody is already arrested at the 15 or 30 minute mark, you know they’re innocent, because there’s still so much time left.)

Meanwhile, in the tepid thriller Narrow Margin, Gene Hackman is a DA trying to keep a murder witness alive on a train trip. However, there’s a mystery assassin on the train. At one point, this attractive woman that Hackman had previously flirted with came back for a third appearance. I turned to my friend again and said, “Well, she’s the killer.” Again, amazingly (to me, at least), my friend asked, what do you mean. I explained the only other suspect the film had given us was this guy so patently suspicious that he had Red Herring written all over him, and that moreover there was no reason for this other character to keep popping up over and over again unless she was going to ‘surprisingly’ turn out to be the killer. Again, my friend hit me.

I’ve learned to shut up since then, at least until the movie is over, but it’s too late. For better or for worse, my friend has become at least somewhat more analytical, as it’s hard not to continue noticing bad scripting and such once you’ve started doing so. I’m not really sure I’ve done her any favors by that, though, considering that modern films are clearly aimed more at the passive viewers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Almost new on DVD (09/19/06)...

Since I was out of town last week, here's some stuff that came out a week ago Tuesday:

The big news of the week was the release of the second half of the second season (officially the “S2.5 edition”) of the superlative Battlestar Galatica revamp. This show finally does what folks have been suggesting for years; instead of re-making something so perfect in the first place that the redo is bound to be inferior, take something that didn’t work right bad in the day and fix up the damn thing. Maybe a new program called Extreme Makeover: Bad Movie & TV Show Edition would help.

Celtic fantasy and Heath Ledger fans, meanwhile, will want to check out Roar: The Complete Series, a short-lived Fox series from several years ago.

Also available: Bob Newhart S4; Criminal Minds S1; Gilmore Girls S6; Hart to Hart S2; He-Man and the Masters of the Universe S2; King of Queens S6; The Unit S1


On to movies:

The Boris Karloff Collection Three disc set featuring The Black Castle, The Climax, Night Key, The Strange Door, and Tower of London One very good movie, (at least) one pretty good historical suspense flick and the chance to see several obscurities definitely makes this worth $20.

Brain Damage The follow-up film from the Basket Case guy. As such, a monumental gore alert must be issued.

Concorde Affair Weird sounding ‘70s Euro suspenser with Donald Pleasance, Dennis Hopper and Joe Cotton.

Day of the Cobra Another of the Italian police dramas that followed in the wake of Dirty Harry. Genre star Franco Nero headlines, and is here teamed with Sybil Danning (!).

Elvira’s Movie Macabre: Doomsday Machine Several b-movies are being put out this week under Elvira’s label, but this Jabootu classic is the essential buy. From what I understand, you can watch the film with cut-in Elvira ‘jokes’ or without.

Inner Sanctum Mysteries Features Calling Mr. Death, Weird Woman, Dead Man's Eyes, The Frozen Ghost, Strange Confession, and Pillow Of Death. Six highly generic but enjoyable films, all lasting about an hour, and starring Lon Chaney Jr. The Inner Sanctum was a suspense radio show, for all you cultural illiterates. The best of the series is Weird Woman, based on the same novel as the far superior later Burn Witch Burn (and when the hell is that coming out on DVD?), and if nothing else, you can’t go wrong owning a film called Pillow of Death.

Jigoku: Criterion Collection A gross Japanese horror flick gets the Criterion treatment.

Quiet Cool ‘80s over the top actioner that was a cable TV perennial back in the day. It thus involves, of course, drug lords. Stars the great James Remar and Jared “The Sea Serpent” Martin.

Spirit of the Beehive: Criterion Collection Another foreign fantasy film, this one from Spain.

Tomie Collection A five disc set presenting a complete series of Japanese horror flicks, about (shock) a spooky and murderous schoolgirl’s ghost.

Virgin Witch ’70s Euro nudie supernatural flick, of which there were quite a few.

Ator!

I'm sure the four people who stop by this blog saw this at the main site, but Pam & Steve at Gangrene Widescreen invited me to add a few comments to their Ator the Fighting Eagle review. My additions were lame, but as usual, their review is absolutely terric:

GW's Ator Review

Meanwhile, of course, my 'few comments' grew like kudzu, so I've posted my review in conjunction with the GW one:

Jabootu Ator Review

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thoughts on Studio 60 and Sorkin...

I watched 60 Sunset Strip, or whatever, last night. I’m sure for Sorkin fans it’s like stepping into a warm, comfortable bath. However, as someone who was never much of a fan of the guy’s work, I can’t say it offered much that was new to win me over. In fact, many of the elements feel like simple rehashes, and if I didn’t like them when they were new, I unsurprisingly found them worse the third time around.

Feel free to write off my complaints because of my conservative leanings, and it’s true that Sorkin’s ongoing attempts in all his shows to write ‘conservative’ characters are hilariously patronizing and completely off the mark. However, while I find such material predictably irksome, it’s really his incredible smugness that turns me off. Sorkin’s characters have as much a tendency to moral superiority as any of his cartoonish Christians are supposed to have, and that’s the element that’s always turned me off.

However, this excerpt from a blog dedicated to Studio 60 does suggest that part of the show’s appeal to Sorkin’s longtime fans does indeed derive from its preaching to the choir:

”[Actress] Sarah Paulson as Harriet Hayes was someone I heard a lot of people complain about...And she isn't all over this episode but I sort of see the problem…Paulson seems too mature and, I'll be frank, too intelligent to play this part…Paulson just isn't convincing as a conservative, I guess the problem is. Now, I say this as someone who can not stand conservatives, Paulson should probably feel honored by this but I just am not sure she was right for this role.”

When Sports Night came out, it was lauded by lots of people. I checked it out, and while it was indeed smartly written, it was also (to me) unbearably pompous. Each episode I saw literally ended with a Big Lecture from one character or other, in the face of which the character’s opponent would inevitably crumble. These always struck me like those fantasy conversations teenagers dream up in their heads, in which they force some icon of the Adult World (parent, boss, teacher) to admit that the kid is morally and intellectually above them in each and every way.

Part of the problem was that I was already addicted to a Canadian show called the Newsroom, which was far more cynical and had no heroes of any stripe. Sorkin’s programs are chock full of sacred cows, and I’ll admit that gives me gas. I honestly think I’d have had about the same reaction if his incessant preaching had been conservative, but admittedly, maybe not.

West Wing seemed the same show as Sports Night, although at least the White House setting made the pompousness a little more natural. However, now we’re back to a TV show setting, and it’s the exact same thing. Maybe the show will do well, but again, I certainly don’t think it’s going to bring in many viewers who didn’t watch Sorkin’s previous two shows.

Again, many of Sorkin’s dependable riffs are increasingly threadbare. Like many liberals, Sorkin doesn’t seem to like [conservative] bloggers much. One character notes in dismay, “I like authority.” (In terms of ‘official’ gatekeeper media outlets like the New York Times.) I found that a pretty amusingly reactionary position for a ‘liberal,’ although it’s an opinion I’ve seen on lots of left-wing sites. However, if the position is at least something you can argue about, the tired japes about bloggers being “people in pajamas” and “surrounded by cats” seem like lame, already age-old stereotypes from some grumpy old man. That’s smart, with-it writing?

[To be fair, although it goes by without comment, there is a funny scene where Perry holds a writer’s meaning and is solely pitched a succession of skits by different writers, all based on the idea that President Bush is Stupid. I did think that was pretty funny, if only because such sketches are so stale after six years of them.]

The manifold attacks on conservative Christians, meanwhile, seem even more tiresome, especially five years after 9/11. Really, are conservative Christians really America’s biggest problem right now? I honestly think Sorkin is trying to stir up controversy and publicity with this stuff. The early episodes have spent a lot of time talking up this sketch Perry wrote called “Crazy Christians.” It’s supposed to be brilliant, but if it is, why doesn’t it have better title than that? I mean, “Crazy Christians?” There’s a knee slapper.

One main character—the Matthew Perry guy—earlier broke up with the love of his live because she appeared on the Pat Robertson show. That seems insane to most of us, I think, but was justified because her doing so was, as he says—and he really does say this—like attending a Klan rally. Anyhow, I don’t think stuff like this will provoke more than yawns. First of all, Robertson hasn’t been anything but a fringe figure for decades now. Second of all, ho hum, a TV show attacking Christians. Whatever, dude. I look forward to Perry later getting equally uptight about somebody invited Al Sharpton to be on the show. Certainly Sharpton is at least as loathsome as Robertson, right?

Even the show’s big plot device, the Last Minute Brilliant Sketch Idea That Saves the Day, is wearisome, being—get this—a parody song set to the tune of I’m the Very Model of a Modern Major General. Gee, that’s fresh.

Anyway, for those who like Sorkin’s stuff, have fun. I’ve never been one of those people who think people who don’t like stuff I do are dumb or something. I’m one of apparently few Firefly fans who doesn’t blame Fox for the show’s failure. To my mind, there just weren’t a whole lot of people who fell into the Space Western demographic. What’ya going to do?

In contrast, a letter printed in this week’s Entertainment Weekly snidely opines that Sports Night failed because the average viewer was “not intelligent enough” to appreciate the show. Well, maybe. (Although West Wing did fine for a number of years.) Or maybe in the Age of Seinfeld a show that demanded it was About Something each and every week just grated on the nerves of many. Or, conversely, perhaps a sitcom set at a sports news cable TV channel wasn’t very appealing. Who knows?

Anyway, while I’ll probably occasionally drop in here and there, I think I’m more likely to find the SNL-derived Tina Fey sitcom more up my alley.

New on DVD (09/26/06)...

This week’s TV sets [S=Season, CS=Complete Series]

The Batman S2; Benny Hill Set 5; Book of Daniel CS; Brotherhood S1; Chris Rock Show S1&2; Daniel Boone S1; Daniel Boone S2; Dick Tracy Complete Animated Series; Ellen S4; Ghost Whisperer S1; Mama’s Family S1; One Tree Hill S3; Riptide S1; Teen Titans S2; Thriller S1 (British show, not the old Karloff hosted series, sadly); Voltron 1 Defender of the Universe

Movies:

Brentwood, which used to put the crappiest pd DVDs out there, has refashioned itself into a company hawking a huge and distinct variety of double feature imprints, including horror (“Crypt of Terror”) and more general exploitation fare (“Starlite Drive In Theater”). At the very least, their wares are usually decent, and allow for tons of very obscure films to be made available at cheap prices, with the double features usually selling well under ten dollars. This weeks offerings include:

Crypt of Terror: Land of the Minotaur / Terror Two Euro horrors from the ‘70s. The first film revolves around a pagan cult and features Donald Pleasance and Peter Cushing. The second appears to be a supernatural slasher type affair.

Starlite Drive-In Theatre: Madmen of Mandoras & The Devil’s Hand MoM was the film later padded out and released as They Saved Hitler’s Brain. Both (!) versions of the film are provided, with MoM supposedly having the better presentation. The Devil’s Hand (not, as previously indicated, Bride of the Monster) is a satanic cult movie starring Robert Alda.

Starlite Drive-In Theater: The Pom Pom Girls/The Van Two ‘70s Animal House-esque sexploitation flicks.

VCI, meanwhile, offers a “Movie Bad Girls Double Feature”, featuring Sins of Jezebel (1951) and Queen of the Amazons (1953). If this line continues, some great camp might be forthcoming.



With Halloween approaching, several well-known horror films are getting special edition releases.

Most notably, Universal has dipped into the classic monsters well again to offer two-disc “75th Anniversary Editions,” the latest re-issues, of the 1931 Dracula and Frankenstein. Each set features the film; the Dracula set again (I think) offers the discrete Mexican version as well; along with the attendant extras from the older releases; and some new stuff, including a second feature commentary for each film.

Dark Waters The Spanish horror flick gets a two-disc special edition.

The Dead Zone SE

Dust Devil The Final Cut 5-disc (yes, five discs) HD “final cut” the cult horror pic, a reconstruction of the original and longer work print, three of the director’s non-related documentaries, a commentary, making-of featurettes, production diaries, deleted footage, interviews, comic-book, CD soundtrack and more.

Nightmare on Elm Street Special Edition

Pet Semetary Special Edition

Street Trash: Special Edition Two commentary tracks, two-hour long making-of documentary, the original 16mm short version and more.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Ultimate Edition (The original film.) This is from the fine folks at Dark Sky Video, and hence should be a pretty solid package.




Beowulf & Grendel Stellan Skarsgård is King Hrothgar is this retelling of the olde classic.

Frankenstein, El Vampiro Y Compania IN SPANISH ONLY, NO ENGLISH SUBTITLES Mexican remake of Abbott & Costello Meets Frankenstein. Famous Monsters used to talk about this one back in the day, but nobody had actually seen it.

Frankenstein: The True Story Interesting revisionist (despite the title) retelling of Shelley’s novel, made for TV in the ‘70s. Stars James Mason as Frankenstein’s mentor, Michael Sarrazin as the Monster, and Jane Seymour as the would-be Bride.

Hands of Steel Simply hilarious Italian ‘80s sci-fier, due to be Jabootuized one of these days.

Highwaymen In the wake of the Traveling Wilburys, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings formed the Country supergroup. This features one of their concerts.

Magical Mystery Tour Infamously awful, barely watchable Beatles TV special. Dreadful.

Munsters Two-Movie Fright Fest The theatrical feature and the much later TV movie.

Night of the Werewolf One of Paul Naschy’s endless werewolf movies, albeit via a new DVD imprint promising spiffy presentations of Spanish horror flicks.

Vengeance of the Zombies Another disc by the above mentioned Spanish horror line.

Monday, September 25, 2006

RIP Mickey Hagritay



Mickey Hargitay died last week at the age of 80. He lived one of those extraordinary lives that only seem possible in the 20th century. Born in Hungary in 1926, Mr. Hargitay fled his homeland to avoid compulsory conscription in the Soviet army. Inspired by Steve Reeves, the bodybuilder and star of myriad Italian Hercules movies, Hargitay became a bodybuilder himself, and won the Mr. Universe title in 1955.

Hargitay was a beefcake extra in a Mae West revue when he was spied by his natural torso-mate, Jayne Mansfield. They became an item and married, having three children before divorcing six years later. Three years after that, Mansfield died in a horrible car accident. Fittingly, in the golden days Hargitay co-starred with Mansfield in his own Italian Hercules movie, The Loves of Hercules.

Hargitay starred in many amusingly cheesy movies, including the rather inert hero role in the hilariously sordid Lady Frankenstein. He also grappled with Robert Conrad in an episode of The Wild Wild West. However, his trademark role will always be his deliciously over the top emoting as the Crimson Executioner in Bloody Pit of Horror, one of those dead perfect little B-movie gems, the sort of thing that when you find it, makes the dive through cinematic dreck year after year suddenly worthwhile.

Arnold Schwarzenegger aptly enough played Hargitay in The Jayne Mansfield Story, a telepic starring Loni Anderson. Sadly, he did not have a scene in Hagritay’s Crimson Executioner get-up.

Having (like Schwarzenegger after him) made a fortune in real estate and other investments, Hargitay eventually retired from acting in the mid-‘70s and lived what we can only hope to have been a rich and happy life. He did live long enough to have briefly appeared opposite his daughter Mariska Hargitay in an episode of her TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and to see her win an Emmy for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series for that program.

Rest in Peace, sir, and thank you.

Back in town, and new DVDs...

Came back to work this morning, where I have my packages sent. Two new DVD sets had arrived.


One was the first of two Boris Karloff collections coming out for Halloween this year. The Boris Karloff Collection features runs for about $20, and features five movies. Night Key is a suspense/mystery movie rather than a horror film, and pretty obscure. The Climax features Karloff in his first color movie, with Boris as a fashionably dressed killer. The Strange Door, a period piece, also features Charles Laughton as a baddie nobleman--ensuring a lot of scenery chewing--and Karloff as his frightened but basically good guy servent. I haven't seen that one, but it sounds a lot like another film featured here, The Black Castle, which is a pretty good suspense yarn about another evil nobleman and with Karloff as a doctor under his sway. The prize of the set is the first version of Tower of London, with Karloff as a bald executioner in Merry Olde England. Basil Rathbone stars as another murderous nobleman, and a young Vincent Price makes an appearance. Price would play the Rathbone part in a remake years later.

The packaging is pretty neat, with the discs seated in a slipcase. This features a small illustration of a nattily dressed Karloff from The Climax, while his large 'shadow' is a die cut, under which we see his visages from the other movies featured here. The interior disc box is nicely illustrated, and the films are on three discs. One of the discs is seated over a second one, however, leading to worries about scratching. Still, Cool stuff.


The second set is the (currently) Best Buy exclusive Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection. That's a bit much, but the collection is very nice. The Mole People is the one marginal title, but hey, mole people monsters. Monster on the Campus is a fun man-into-caveman movie with laughable 'science' galore, and a terrifically amusing scene with a mock-up giant dragonfly. The Monolith Monsters is an extremely neat little sci-fier about growing rocks that threaten mankind. Really, it's a pretty good movie. Tarantula is the most well-known big bug movie after Them!. Finally, there's an authentic classic, The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Best Buy is selling this for only $20, so you can't beat the prize, although some are still grumbling about the lack of extras. ISM, certainly, is worthy of a deluxe re-issue with commentaries, etc., someday down the line. The three discs are in a folder like the one for the Karloff set, again with one disc seated atop another. The plastic semi-transparent slipcover is pretty neat, but the cover art, featuring a generic screaming woman, is quite lame. There are some really good movies here with recognizable titles, and they would have been better served to spotlight the original poster art to differentiate this from all the zillions of public domain schlock sci-fi sets out there.