Here are some of the comic books I’ve been reading lately:
Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale — This gorgeous hardcover graphic novel finally reveals the mysterious back-story of Shepherd Book, the enigmatic preacher from Joss Whedon’s dearly-missed TV series Firefly. I always felt that the character, played to such perfection by Ron Glass, was one of the more intriguing members of the show’s ensemble. This man of peace clearly had a great deal of knowledge of war, and about the inner workings of the Alliance, but we never got to know the character’s full story. With Book’s tragic death in the film Serenity, and that film’s poor box office killing the hope of any further sequels, it seemed that Firefly fans would be left always wondering about the much hinted-at history of Shepherd Book.
Dark Horse Comics to the rescue! The publisher has put out several Serenity comic books over the past few years, but The Shepherd’s Tale is the high-point. Written by Joss Whedon and his brother Zack Whedon (a very talented writer in his own right, Zack was a key creative voice behind Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and wrote Dark Horse’s terrific recent Terminator series), this is the official, canon, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth version of Shepherd Book’s story. It’s a wonderful tale, presented in vignettes told in reverse chronological order. In a clever touch, we begin with Book’s death (and, by the way, Book’s narration of the moment of his death is so perfect, so wonderful, that once again my heart aches at the demise of Firefly) and then work our way back through his life. (I should note here that, as wonderful as the choice to present Book’s life in reverse chronological order is, its impact was a bit diminished for me since I have long held Star Trek Annual #3, “Retrospect,” published by DC Comics back in 1988, to be one of the greatest comic books I’ve ever read. That issue, written by Peter David and illustrated by Curt Swan & Ricardo Villagran, presents the story of Scotty’s life-long love affair with a doomed woman in reverse order, from the moment he learns of her death back all the way to their first encounter as little kids. It broke my heart when I first read it as a kid, and I have re-read it a thousand times in the years since. But back to Serenity…)
Chris Samnee’s art is gorgeous, dense and atmospheric. He’s not an expert at capturing the features of the actors from the TV series, but his art is so expressive that I didn’t mind a bit. He totally captures the “feel” of Shepherd Book, and he’s an expert at creating a … [continued]
Last week I wrote about Bill Carter’s seminal book The Late Shift, which chronicled the 1992-1993 struggle between David Letterman and Jay Leno over who would host The Tonight Show. Almost two decades later, NBC’s late-night terrain was unravelled by a very similar late-night war which resulted in Conan O’Brien’s ouster as host of The Tonight Show and Jay Leno’s return, following the failure of his 10 PM show. Returning to chronicle that craziness is Bill Carter, and I was excited to read his new book, The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy.
Before he can get to all of the insanity that went down during the two-week period after Jay’s 10 PM show was cancelled and Conan refused to allow The Tonight Show to be moved back to 12:05 so that Jay could return to an 11:30 time-slot, Mr. Carter steps back a full five years to begin the story with the events that he felt led, almost inevitably, to that showdown. After an introductory chapter set at an uncomfortable NBC “upfront” presentation in 2009, the book moves back in time to 2004, and depicts the behind-the-scenes decision-making that resulted in NBC’s surprise move to promise Conan O’Brien that he would be installed as the host of The Tonight Show five years later, even though Jay Leno had been scoring great ratings and beating his rival David Letterman regularly for the past decade-and-a-half. That announcement raised a lot of eyebrows back in 2004 (I remember it raising mine, even though I was thrilled to hear that Conan would be replacing Jay), and through the book we get a lot of insight into how and why that all went down the way it did.
The book then moves forward to 2008, when NBC is now faced with the imminent loss of one of its late-night stars, Jay, and is desperate to come up with a solution that will allow them to hold on to both Jay and Conan. Shades of 1993, when NBC was desperate to find a way to hold onto its two big late-night stars of the time, Jay and Dave! Mr. Carter takes us through Jeff Zucker’s idea for the 10 PM show for Jay, and the middle chapters of the book depicts how and why that show quickly failed. Then, at last, we get to those fateful weeks in 2009, when things came to a head and everything exploded in NBC’s face.
This is great, juicy material, and I was thoroughly engrossed in The War For Late Night. As with his previous book, The Late Shift, Mr. Carter has done an enormous amount of research and … [continued]
I’m a big, big fan of Adywan’s fan-edit of the original Star Wars, so much-so that I consider it to be the definitive version of that film. I am chomping at the bit for the release of his upcoming edit of The Empire Strikes Back! Here’s a fascinating interview with this dedicated fan.
Cars is my least-favorite Pixar film, so I don’t have an enormous amount of excitement for the upcoming Cars 2 (despite Pixar’s being on an incredible winning streak). However, this recent announcement has raised my anticipation level significantly!
This is a fascinating read: A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m an Atheist.
It’s nice to see that Ira Steven Behr, one of the key creative masterminds between Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (my favorite of the Trek series) is still getting work as a show-runner (even if this new show Alphas doesn’t interest me that much).
New trailers! Here’s a glimpse at Terrence Malick’s long-in-the-making new film, The Tree of Life. I don’t know quite WHAT to make of the film based on that trailer, but I am definitely intrigued. Here’s a trailer for a new film called Hanna starring Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, and Saoirse Ronan. I’d never hear of it before seeing this trailer posted on Hitfix, but it looks interesting. Lastly, here’s a trailer for Kevin Smith’s new Horror film Red State. That’s right, I said Kevin Smith’s new HORROR film. I have NO IDEA whether this is going to be any good, but I’m certainly interested, and happy that Mr. Smith is moving beyond his familiar brand of talky raunchy comedies. Not that I have any problem with his talky, raunchy comedies, mind you!!
Speaking of bad-ass, here’s a funny piece from JoBlo called 10 Bad Ass Villains Who really Weren’t.
The original Tron (read my review here), released in 1982, boasted incredibly stunning special effects but was hamstrung by a pretty simplistic story.
The new Tron: Legacy, released last week, boasts incredibly stunning special effects but is hamstrung by a pretty simplistic story.
I’ve got a lot more to say about Tron: Legacy, but really, it all boils down to that.
At the end of the original Tron, Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and his friends (Alan and Lora in the real world, and their digital counterparts Tron and Yori in the digital realm inside of computers) had defeated Ed Dillinger and his Master Control Program. The programs residing in the digital realm had been freed, and Flynn had seized control of his company Encom back from Dillinger. All was well. But, as we learn in Tron: Legacy, he mysteriously vanished several years later, leaving his son, Sam, an orphan. Though Alan tried his best to mentor his lost friend’s son, Sam has grown into an angry young man whose only association with his father’s company is his repeated attempts to prank and sabotage Encom’s initiatives. He’s grown to disbelieve his father’s wild stories of “the grid” that he heard as a child — but, of course, we know it won’t be long until Sam finds himself sucked into that computerized world himself. There he will encounter the father who he thought abandoned him as a youth, and do battle with the dictatorial program, Clu, that wears his father’s face and has taken control over the grid.
If I were only to judge Tron: Legacy by the visuals and the music, then this would be a fine film indeed. The visual effects are, quite simply, astounding. (With one notable exception, which I’ll get to in a few moments.) The whole look of the original Tron, which was so ground-breaking back in 1982, has become quite dated when viewed in 2010. Director Joseph Kosinski and his team had an enormous challenge before them of capturing the “feel” of the digital world created in Tron, but updating that for modern audiences and expanding it using the most cutting-edge tools available to them. They succeeded admirably. The thirty-minutes after Sam is sucked into the grid represent the high-point of the movie, as we find ourselves stunned, along with Sam, at this astonishing world we have entered. It’s a blast seeing several classic images from the original Tron — the interceptors, and of course the light-cycles — brought to a whole new level of life. In short-order, Sam finds himself captured and forced to compete in a series of disc-wars and, finally, a light-cycle chase. These sequences are … [continued]
Last month, La-La Land Records released a limited edition 2-CD set containing the complete score to Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), composed by Danny Elfman.
As I’ve written before here on the site, I’m a bit of a nut for movie soundtracks, and I love it when we’re blessed by the release of a great score in its complete, unedited form. And Danny Elfman’s score for Batman is a real winner.
As I recall, Mr. Elfman’s score was widely praised, and with great justification, when Batman was first released back in 1989. Mr. Elfman’s spooky, mysterious score and sweeping, iconic themes were as much a part of the film’s over-all success as was Tim Burton’s direction and Anton Furst’s marvelously creepy, decayed production design. It’s great fun getting to listen to the complete score, start-to-finish, on this new CD.
Modern super-hero movie scores could learn a thing or two from Mr. Elfman’s work on Batman. Recent successful super-hero films — from the latest incarnations of Batman (Batman Begins & The Dark Knight) to Marvel’s recent successes (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, etc.) — have had passable scores, but none of those films has had a really great, hummable theme for their central character. I think that’s an unconscionable failing for a super-hero movie. Contrast that with John Williams’ iconic Superman theme, as well as with Mr. Elfman’s magnificent Batman theme created for this film, and I think my point is clear.
Mr. Elfman wastes no time introducing his Batman theme to the audience, as it plays over the film’s opening credits (and the slow build-up to the reveal of the bat-emblem) in what is presented on CD as track 1, “Main Title.” As Jeff Bond notes in the wonderful liner notes included with the CD set: As the camera prowls the stone environment, Elfman develops a propulsive march from his Batman theme, driven by snares and trumpets punding out a rapid 7/8 rhythm before giving way to a more drifting, supernatural treatment for strings and pipe organ. This Batman theme is instantly memorable, and it is one of Mr. Elfman’s greatest achievements with this score.
Another stand-out from the score is track 5, “Shootout,” a lengthy arrangement that plays over Jack Napier’s confrontation with Batman and the police in Axis Chemicals. Mr. Elfman uses the repetition of what Mr. Bond describes as a churning, low rhythmic figure from double basses to drive the action and build the suspense of the sequence, all the while wonderfully weaving the Batman theme in and out of the action.
Track 18, “Descent into Mystery,” is probably my favorite piece of the score. As Batman drives Vicki Vale back to the … [continued]
Like many of you out there, I followed the news of NBC’s recent late-night craziness — the collapse of Jay Leno’s 10 PM show, the feud this caused between newly-installed Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien and the NBC brass, and Jay Leno’s return to The Tonight Show and Conan’s departure from the network to launch a new show on TBS — with great interest and a sort of morbid fascination. I read quite a lot about the situation as everything was going down, but when I read that New York Times reporter Bill Carter had written a new book about the whole mess, The War For Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy, I immediately picked it up.
But before reading it, I thought that maybe the time had finally arrived for me to read Bill Carter’s earlier book about the Late Night wars: The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, and the Network Battle for the Night.
Published in 1994, The Late Shift covers in great detail the dramatic behind-the-scenes story of the upheaval that followed Johnny Carson’s departure as host of The Tonight Show, and the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman over who would replace him as host. The book caused quite a stir when it was first released — I remember reading about it back then, and as I recall it was even made into a TV movie! I’ve always been interested in the subject matter, but I’d never read the book until now.
For anyone fascinated by television and the inside story of how the networks work and how the shows that one loves actually get on the air (or don’t), The Late Shift is a must-read. Mr. Carter writes with a concise, fluid prose that is easy-to-read, and the book is cleverly structured in the manner of what’s almost a thriller. Bouncing back-and-forth between the recollection of a vast number of participants, we watch the behind-the-scenes story unfold with building intensity, as the battle over The Tonight Show comes to a head. Even though we all know who eventually won out, there’s a gripping intensity to the proceedings, as one wonders not so much WHAT will happen, but more HOW exactly did things turn out the way we all know that they did?
It’s also fascinating to get the perspectives of so many of the people involved in the proceedings. The book is very well researched and fairly even-handed in its presentation of Mr. Leno, Mr. Letterman, and the other major participants in the behind-the-scenes goings-on. Mr. Carter includes comments from a vast number of people involved in the saga, including Leno and Letterman and the key members of their … [continued]
MUST. SEE. IMMEDIATELY.
Before seeing the new, big-budgeted sequel Tron: Legacy, being released this week by the Walt Disney Company, I decided that I really needed to go back and watch the 1982 original.
That proved a little more difficult than I had anticipated! I’d assumed that Disney would cash in on the building excitement by releasing a snazzy new DVD/blu-ray edition of the film in advance of Tron: Legacy‘s release, but that didn’t happen. (There’s speculation that Disney was afraid that people would watch the dated 1982 Tron and get turned off on the idea of seeing the new film.) Either way, the decade-old previous DVD edition is out-of-print and apparently fiendishly hard to get a hold of. Thank heaven for my phenomenal local video store, the Video Underground. They had a copy of Tron, and though it took me a few visits until it was finally in, I was ultimately able to rent the film.
I’ve seen Tron a few times before, but it had been quite a while since my last viewing, so I was excited to give it a whirl.
Jeff Bridges (yes, that Jeff Bridges) stars as Flynn, a brilliant but sort of slackerish computer programmer who has recently been fired from Encom, a large computer company. Flynn has been trying to hack into Encom’s computer systems, in an attempt to prove that the new head of the company, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), stole his work as part of his rise to power. Unbeknownst to Flynn and the rest of the world (but, as Mel Brooks would say, knownst to us), in taking over the company, Dillinger has allowed an emergingly-sentient computer program, the Master Control Program, to take control of all of the company’s systems and begin a process of taking over other powerful computer systems across the globe. Meanwhile, Flynn’s ex-girlfriend Lora (Cindy Morgan), and her new boyfriend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner), both of whom still work for Encom, learn that Dillinger has discovered Flynn’s hacking attempts, and they try to warn Flynn to stop what he’s doing. But Flynn convinces them that Dillinger needs to be stopped, so the three of them break into Encom in an attempt to find the evidence Flynn needs to bring Dillinger down.
All of that is really just set-up for when the Master Control Program zaps Flynn with a laser and digitizes him, sending his conscience into the mainframe of the system itself. There Flynn learns that, inside the world of the computers he has spent his days and nights programming, exists an entire universe of life. Programs that he and others have written as lines of data exist here as individuals, trying their best … [continued]
David Mack’s novella The Sorrows of Empire appeared in the Star Trek: Mirror Universe anthology Glass Empires back in 2007. It was the highlight of the anthology, and one of my favorite pieces of Star Trek fiction in recent memory. (Read my review of Glass Empires here.) Last year, Mr. Mack expanded his story to a full-length novel, and it is a real winner.
The Sorrows of Empire is set entirely in the Mirror Universe introduced in the Classic Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” and picks up very shortly after the events of that episode. The Spock of the Mirror Universe has been swayed by his mind-meld with “our” universe’s Dr. McCoy (in which Mirror Spock gained a glimpse of a United Federation of Planets made up of worlds peacefully joined towards their common benefit) as well as by his final encounter with Captain Kirk (in which Kirk argued that the tyrannical Mirror Universe Terran Empire was doomed to eventual collapse, and so Spock’s continued loyalty to that empire was wasteful and illogical). So Spock decides to murder the Mirror Kirk and assume command of the I.S.S. Enterprise, but this is merely the first step in a much greater plan to eventually seize control of the Empire itself and begin to introduce reason and Democracy into the structure of the Empire’s society. But even that is merely the beginning of a much bolder, long-term plan that by which Spock would attempt to reshape the galaxy.
I love Mr. Mack’s conceit of casting Spock as the Harry Sheldon of the Mirror Universe. The first Deep Space Nine Mirror Universe episode, “Crossover,” painted Mirror Spock as a fool whose reforms lead to the weaking of the Terran Empire and its eventual conquest by a Klingon/Cardassian alliance. But Mr. Mack’s story completely reinvents and redeems the Spock character as one who knew that his actions would eventually lead to the Terran Empire’s collapse and the brutal subjugation of Humans and Vulcans. But Spock’s careful actions would ensure that this would not be the end of their civilization — quite the contray, he saw that this was the only way to transition the galaxy to a much more benevolent, long-lived societal structure, and he carefully planted the seeds to ensure this ultimate outcome. Spock is presented here as the ultimate tactician — always prepared for his adversaries’ moves, and thinking decades and even centuries ahead into the future. It’s a wonderfully compelling and heroic depiction of this familiar character.
The novel also sets up Marlena Moreau, the “Captain’s woman” introduced in “Mirror, Mirror” as an equally compelling partner in Spock’s ambitious undertaking. I love that she is presented as truly being … [continued]
Apparently police officers in Pittsburgh spent eight hours investigating “the most grisly murder scene in 35 years” before discovering it was, in fact, a movie set. Pretty funny.
The breaking news this week, of course, is that Jon Favreau won’t be returning to direct Iron Man 3. I’m somewhat disappointed. I like Mr. Favreau as a director, and I think he was a key component of the first film’s success. And I like it when the creative teams for these super-hero sagas remain consistent from film to film. (Look at what happened to the X-Men franchise once Bryan Singer departed after X2.) On the other hand, as much as I adored the first Iron Man (click here for my original review), I think the second one was pretty mediocre (click here for my review of Iron Man 2). So maybe some fresh blood is in order. I’m a little nervous about just what Marvel has planned following their grand Avengers crossover film in 2012. How does one go back to making Iron Man movies after The Avengers? I hope they find a talented, steady hand to guide this franchise forward. (And psst! The Mandarin would be awesome!!)
Speaking of Marvel, last week they released the first full trailer for Thor, and it’s a much more substantial look at the film than I’d been expecting. I really want this film to work, but I’m still a little dubious as to whether they’re going to be able to pull off all of the Asgardian stuff convincingly. Fingers crossed….!
Speaking of trailers, have you seen the preview for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides? Click here to check it out. Is this going to be any good? So far it certainly looks of a piece with the previous three films, despite Rob Marshall’s taking over from director Gore Verbinski. On the other hand, I was never all that wild about any of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, so it’s difficult to get too excited about the prospect of a fourth (and possibly a fifth and sixth) installment.
Since I’m posting links to trailers, I guess I should also note that, sigh, Paramount has released a trailer for the aren’t-they-missing-a-word-in-that-title third Transformers film, Dark of the Moon. Click here to check it out. It’s actually a pretty clever, well put-together trailer. If I hadn’t seen the first two Transformers films, I’d probably be pretty excited. But I did, so I’m not. (Also, many on-line writers have already noted how the trailer is basically just a souped-up version of the original teaser trailer for … [continued]
In 2005 Steven Spielberg returned to sci-fi with his version of H. G. Wells’ famous story from 1898, War of the Worlds.
Not surprisingly, rather than being a period piece, Mr. Spielberg set his adaptation in the present day. Tom Cruise reunited with Spielberg to star as Ray Ferrier, an affable but cocky guy separated from his wife (played by the beautiful Miranda Otto, who played Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings). When she and her new husband go away for the weekend, Ray has to look after their two children: Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel (Dakota Fanning). Despite his efforts, he finds that he has trouble connecting to either one of his kids. Then aliens attack.
Mr. Spielberg, along with writers Josh Friedman and David Koepp, have chosen to take us through the story of an alien apocalypse through the eyes of these three “every-person” characters. We witness the horrific events of the invasion through their eyes, as they struggle to survive. While that’s not exactly a ground-breaking choice, I think it’s an effective way to structure the film. We don’t have a sense, until the very end, of what exactly is happening — who the invaders are, what they want, or what the governments of the world are doing to fight back — and that only adds to the tension and terror of the film. Ray and his kids are swept up in cataclysmic phenomena, and so are we as the audience.
There are some extraordinary visual effects sequences in War of the Worlds. This big-budget sci-fi film was clearly made by a director who is a master of his craft, ably assisted by a huge assortment of talented artists, designers, and visual effects wizards. Ray’s initial encounter with a tripod — and his frantic flight away from it while the monstrosity tears across city blocks and vaporizes other terrified civilians — is a tour de force sequence that make clear that Spielberg & co. meant business with this story. The tripods’ attack on the ferry, the battle on the hilltop towards the end of the film… these are extarordinarily well-realized sequences, dark and violent and intense.
I love that, in many respects, Steven Spielberg chose to make a much grimmer film than is his usual practice. There’s not a lot of fun to be had in War of the Worlds, nor are there many rah-rah crowd-cheering action moments (of the type found in, say, Independence Day).
But somehow, War of the Worlds still leaves me a bit cold. I can’t say it’s a movie that I can get too excited about. Is the problem that the film is TOO grim? Or … [continued]
When we first meet Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Jamie Randall at the start of Edward Zwick’s new film Love & Other Drugs, we learn immediately that Jamie is a fast-talking salesman who seems to be able to convince anyone to buy anything, and also that he is quite a ladies man who is not above having sex with a woman he knows to be involved with someone else. In this case, the “someone else” happens to be his boss, which results, no surprise, in Jamie’s quick exit from that job. His brother, though, is able to help him land a job selling drugs for Pfizer. Since this film is set in 1996, it’s not a tremendous surprise that this fast-talking salesman soon finds himself involved in selling a certain call-your-doctor-if-your-erection-lasts-more-than-four-hours love drug. While all that is happening, Jamie gets involved with Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a vivacious, free-spirited young woman who, for reasons that become clear later in the film, is reluctant to let their sexual encounters deepen into anything more meaningful.
Quite a lot has been made of all of the nudity in this film, and with good reason. We certainly get to see quite a lot of the skin of both of the two good-looking leads. Ms. Hathaway, in particular, spends an enormous amount of screen-time in the nude. Note to filmmakers: there’s no better way to get a guy interested in your romantic comedy than by including copious amounts of Anne Hathaway nudity.
And make no mistake, Love & Other Drugs is a romantic comedy. I get the sense that the filmmakers had something a little more serious on their minds with this film, what with the third-act shift into dramatic territory as Maggie and Jamie struggle with the implications that her illness has on her future, and on the possibility of their building a life together. But despite that, the film follows the standard romantic comedy tropes. The couple meets cute, sparks fly, there’s an obstacle that causes them to separate, and then they’re reunited in the end, happily ever after.
There’s a lot that I enjoyed about Love & Other Drugs. (BESIDES the Anne Hathaway nudity!!) Both Mr. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Hathaway are dynamic, charismatic leads. I think they have a strong chemisty on screen together, and I enjoyed watching them interact. The first half of the film has a fun, jaunty tone with a lot of humor. And I respect the filmmakers for trying to introduce some narrative ideas of more depth into the film’s second half. But ultimately, I was disappointed to find that the film was unable to break out of the boringly familiar romantic comedy formula.
And, also, in the end … [continued]
The fifth and final film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Airplane! (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, here to read about film three: Tropic Thunder, and here to read about film four: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.)
The spoof film from which all other spoof-films pay homage (and to which they all pale in comparison). I find this film just as uproariously funny today as when I first saw it as a kid (though perhaps for different reasons). Every single inch of this film is funny. There are jokes piled upon jokes piled upon jokes. (A few years ago I was able to see Airplane! on the big screen at a midnight showing at a local Boston theatre, and for the first time I could read some of the titles on the magazines in the airport newsstand. All were funny, of course!)
Loosely based on the 1957 film Zero Hour (which one of the filmmakers once referred to as “the serious version of Airplane!”), the film was written by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker. They would go on to write and direct many other funny movies, but I don’t think any of their later efforts ever topped Airplane!.
The cast is amazing. David Zucker commented that “the trick was to cast actors like Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges. These were people, who up to that time, had never done comedy. We thought they were much funnier than the comedians of that time were.” He was right — how funny are those four men in this movie??? They’re all pretty much perfect. The film is filled with cameos. Many of those faces aren’t that familiar to audiences today, but I don’t think anyone will ever forget Barbara Billingsley (from Leave it to Beaver) as the jive-speaking passenger. In his original review of the film, Roger Ebert helpfully listed many of the film’s small roles and the films that their inclusion were parodying: “The movie exploits the previous films for all they’re worth. The passenger list includes a little old lady (like Helen Hayes in Airport), a guitar-playing nun (like Helen Reddy in Airport 1975), and even a critically ill little girl who’s being flown to an emergency operation (Linda Blair played the role in Airport 1975).”
And, of course, there’s Robert Hayes and Julie Hagerty in the lead roles. They have to do a lot of heavy lifting in order to keep what little story the film has moving forward through … [continued]
The fourth feature in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog! (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and here to read about film three: Tropic Thunder.)
This is one of my very favorite things ever. It’s a super-villain musical!! (Click here to read my original review.)
Only 45 minutes long (the series was originally created as three 15-minute-long internet shorts), Neil Patrick Harris (TV’s Doogie Howser, M.D. – and also now a lead on How I Met Your Mother) stars as the titular Dr. Horrible. He’s a fairly pathetic loser, desperate to be taken seriously and accepted into the Evil League of Evil. Unfortunately, his schemes keep getting foiled by the heroic and handsome Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion – Mal from Firefly). In his personal life, the good doctor has an enormous crush on the pretty girl-next-door, Penny (Felicia Day) who he keeps bumping into at the Laundromat. Will he ever be able to defeat Captain Hammer and speak to Penny???
The ridiculously-talented Joss Whedon created and Wrote Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog along with his brothers Jed and and Zack Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen during the WGA strike. Mr. Whedon told NY Magazine: “I was in meetings with companies to make deals to create stuff for the Internet, in a cheaper fashion — but still on a grander scale than Dr. Horrible — but nothing was going. Nothing was going! So I did something I should’ve done a long time before — I took matters into my own hands.”
He elaborated to TV Guide’s Matt Roush: “”I was really sick of not doing things. I’d been writing movies nobody was making. I got tired of that. And even though I had this series (Fox’s Dollhouse) coming up, we were on strike—and well, I thought we were going to hold out a little bit longer—but it just felt right.”
Whedon funded the project himself. He commented: “Freedom is glorious… The fact is, I’ve had very good relationships with studios, and I’ve worked with a lot of smart executives. But there is a difference when you can just go ahead and do something.” As a web show, there were fewer constraints imposed on the project, and Whedon had the “freedom to just let the dictates of the story say how long it’s gonna be. We didn’t have to cram everything in–there is a lot in there–but we put in the amount of story that we wanted to and let the time work around that. We … [continued]
The third film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Tropic Thunder! (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.)
Tropic Thunder knocked my socks off when I first saw it! (Click here for my original review.) It’s so fearless and so, so funny, right from the first frame to the very last.
Ben Stiller (who also co-wrote and directed the film) stars as Tugg Speedman. Though he was once a hugely successful action-movie star, Tugg’s recent effort at more serious fare (“Simple Jack”) was met with disdain, so he decides to appear in the war film Tropic Thunder. The film (within the film) is an adaptation of the Vietnam experiences of the hook-handed veteran John “Four-Leaf” Tayback. Along with Tugg, the film stars the method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), the comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and the rapper Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson). This pampered assemblage of prima-donnas has trouble getting anything done, so the frustrated director (Steve Coogan) decides to drop his actors in the middle of the jungle, in an attempt to capture some “real” drama. Chaos ensues.
The cast is stupendous. The stand-out, of course, is Robert Downey Jr., portraying “a dude pretending to be a dude disguised as some other dude.” He came in for some criticism when the film was released, not only for his performance as a white actor pretending to be a black man, but also for the “full retard” speech he gives to Ben Stiller’s character. But I think that Downey Jr. is pure genius in the role – and that speech happens to be screamingly funny. The point of his performance – and, indeed, the point of the entire film – is to skewer how seriously actors take themselves. (It’s funny – not long after seeing this film for the first time, I found myself re-watching the amazing WWII mini-series Band of Brothers. It’s an astonishing mini-series. When I finished, I watched some of the special features – but after having seen Tropic Thunder, I could not take at all seriously any of the actors patting themselves on the back for how much the conditions of the shoot really rivaled the experience of really being in combat!!)
But the rest of the ensemble is also phenomenal. Stiller is great in the lead role – he’s just likable enough that you sort of root for him, even though he’s a total loony-tune. (LOVE that he likes to watch Classic Star Trek on his ipod, though!!) Jack Black is perfectly cast as Portnoy, and … [continued]
The second film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country!
I respect J.J. Abrams for what he accomplished with his Star Trek reboot. (Click here for my review.) I enjoyed the flick, and am thrilled that Trek is exciting and “cool” again. But THIS — Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — is my kind of Star Trek: dark, sophisticated, and adult. This vies with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for the position of my favorite Star Trek film, depending on my mood.
An ecological disaster on the Klingon homeworld leads them to make the first gesture of peace towards the United Federation of Planets, their bitter enemies for so many decades. Captain Kirk and the Enterprise are sent to escort the Klingon chancellor to a peace conference on Earth, but a brutal assassination sends the two galactic super-powers once again hurtling towards war.
Star Trek VI is a serious, dark film. Yes, there is some action/adventure to be had, but for the most part it’s a rather somber film. The film is brave in presenting our hero, Captain Kirk, in a pretty unsympathetic light: Kirk is still filled with anger at the death of his son at the hands of the Klingons (in Star Trek III), and is shown to be remarkably cold and callous at the prospect of the terrible fate about to befall their empire. “Let them die,” he quietly tells a shocked (and disappointed) Spock, early in the film. I love this portrayal of Kirk – it’s a very human depiction of this heroic character, and it gives Kirk a real journey to go on over the course of the film that has nothing to do with warping across the galaxy. It’s a potent, emotional core to the film.
Trek VI has an incredibly smart, literate script. The film is filled with references to literature and history. Some of those are obvious (such as the Shakespeare-spouting Klingon villain, General Chang) while others are much more subtle. (One of my favorite moments is when, during Kirk and McCoy’s trial on the Klingon homeworld, General Chang angrily shouts at them “Don’t wait for the translation! Answer me now!” This, of course, is a nod to Adlai Stevenson’s speech to the UN during the Cuban Missile Crisis.) Even the film’s title, I probably don’t need to point out to you, is a reference to a famous line in Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech. The film’s central story – the prospect of peace between long-time enemy super-powers, and what that means for the “Cold Warriors” so used to hating their enemies – was inspired by the … [continued]
This coming weekend my wife Steph and I are throwing our fifth annual EZ Viewing movie marathon. This has become a yearly tradition for us, in sort-of celebration of my birthday. (I was inspired by the idea of aintitcoolnews webmaster Harry Knowles’ annual 24-hour Butt-Numb-A-Thon, about which I’ve been reading for years.) During EZ Viewing V this year, we’ll be screening four movies and one short film, using a projector to create a “big screen” effect. (Click here for info on EZ Viewing IV and here for info on EZ Viewing III.)
Here’s this year’s selection:
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog
Why those five selections? Keep checking back here every day this week for my thoughts on each one of those films!
We’ll start today with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).
We’ll be showing a recording, on DVD, of the famous stage show presented by the RSC. Not the Royal Shakespeare Company, but the REDUCED Shakespeare Company. Three men: Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor, take viewers on a lunatic, madcap exploration of the Bard’s works, as they compress every single Shakespeare play into an hour and a half. The show is, in a word, hysterical.
The play was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield and was first performed back in 1987. I discovered the RSC in college, when my friend Mike Strode lent me his audio cassettes of the RSC’s six-part BBC radio show (that contained the majority of the material from the play, as well as a lot of additional skits, digressions, and other silliness). I was hooked immediately, listening and re-listening to those tapes over and over again. I was thrilled when I found this DVD recording of one of their performances of the play. For those of you who have never seen it, you are in for quite a treat!
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is incredibly literate but also incredibly accessible. All three men are wonderfully elastic performers, hurling themselves across the stage as the show bounces from one gag to the next. There are so many highlights: the performance of Macbeth in “authentic” Scottish accents, the backwards performance of Hamlet, the summary of Othello as a rap song… I could go on and on. This is genius-level humor.
I’ll be back here tomorrow with my thoughts on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. See you there!… [continued]
I’m a big, big fan of Kevin Smith. I love the man’s flicks (Chasing Amy and Dogma are my favorites, but I’m also very partial to the lunacy of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), but some of my favorite of his projects are not actually his films. I hold great, enormous amounts of love for the six-episode Clerks cartoon, and I think the commentary tracks for Mallrats and Chasing Amy are pretty much two of my favorite things ever — to say that they are endlessly entertaining is to undersell their greatness. But probably my favorite thing that Mr. Smith has ever been involved with is An Evening with Kevin Smith.
This two-DVD set was released back in 2002, and contains lengthy excerpts from a series of six Q & A sessions that Mr. Smith conducted at a variety of colleges. Kids ask questions, and Smith answers. That’s it. Those were the shows, and that’s the DVD. That might sound like it could be dry, but I can’t put into words just how fascinating and insightful and hilarious the result is. Smith reveals himself on the DVD as one of the best tellers of ripping yarns on planet Earth. He’ll take what sounds like a simple question and turn it into an extended anecdote that will have you on your knees with laughter. I have watched An Evening with Kevin Smith through many, many times, and at one point or another I’ve made pretty much everyone I know listen to Smith’s Superman Returns and Prince stories. So funny. (Chaka mad? Chaka REAL mad!)
I also, of course, devoured the two DVD follow-ups that presented later Q & A sessions — the very cleverly titled An Evening with Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder, and A Threevening with Kevin Smith. (Click here to read my review of the Threevening DVD.) When I read that Mr. Smith was coming to Boston to conduct one of these Q & A sessions, I immediately snapped up tickets to go!
The show — held this past Thursday night at the House of Blues in Boston — was as phenomenal as I’d hoped. Things started off really well, when Smith took a fan’s simple question about whether the criteria by which he judges his success has changed at all over the years and launched into a very funny forty-minute monologue of anecdotes within anecdotes in which he discussed his current obsession with pot, the time he smoked pot with Seth Rogen after finishing up Zach and Miri Make a Porno, a recent pot experience with his wife Jen, and the very first disastrous time that he and Jen smoked pot … [continued]
After watching Time After Time, the 1979 film in which H.G. Welles matches wits with Jack the Ripper (read my review here), I decided to move on to another film in which a towering literary figure confronts Jack the Ripper. I’m speaking of Murder by Decree, which interestingly enough was also released in 1979. In this case, the hero is not H.G. Welles (real-life author of fiction) but rather (famous fictional creation) Sherlock Holmes.
Whereas Time After Time had a decidedly tongue-in-cheek tone, Murder By Decree is deadly serious. As a result, I think the film has aged far better than did Time After Time. I know I certainly found it to be far more engaging.
It helps that the film stars Christopher Plummer — one of the finest actors of this generation — in the lead role of Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Plummer is positively spectacular. He brings tremendous intelligence and dignity to the role of Holmes. But he also brings a lot of humor and easy humanity to the character. Plummer’s Holmes is a relaxed figure, confident in his abilities without becoming arrogant, and without losing any of his joie de vivre. We can see that this Holmes truly enjoys life, whether he’s being challenged by a tough case or just teasing his partner Watson about the way he eats his peas. Speaking of Watson, James Mason is equally wonderful in that supporting role. This Watson is no bumbling idiot. While he might be no match, intellectually, for Holmes, Mason’s Watson clearly is able to hold his own in the partnership. The two old men (and it’s interesting to see the characters both presented as such almost elderly gentlemen, particularly after the recent successful film version with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law — read my review here) have a tight bond and an easy friendship. I’m sorry that this film is the two actors’ only pairing in these roles! I would have loved to have seen Plummer and Mason continue as these characters for a series of films.
In this Holmes pastiche, a group of frightened merchants beg Holmes to investigate the series of brutal murders that have been happening in the Whitechapel district of London. For some reason the police, usually eager to partner with the intelligent investigator, have been reluctant to involve Holmes in the cases. But as the murders continue, Holmes quickly becomes wrapped up in the quest to stop the man nicknamed Jack the Ripper.
Murder By Decree has a very literate, intelligent script. I am not an expert in the Jack the Ripper murders, but I was impressed by the degree to which the filmmakers stuck … [continued]
It is very rare for a film or TV franchise to have an opportunity to craft a finale for its characters and storylines on its own terms. So often these long-form tales are interrupted by cancellation or poor box office, or they just peter out as subsequent sequels drain a once-vibrant franchise of originality and interest.
On TV, show-runners are occasionally able to craft a series-ending finale, but more often than not shows find themselves cancelled before they have a chance to do so. In film series, the opportunity for a true finale is even more rare. How many can you think of? George Lucas brought his Star Wars series to a close with Return of the Jedi – a film that, while not eliminating the possibility of sequels, certainly wrapped up most of the story-lines and character arcs from the original trilogy. (Of course, as we all know, Lucas did eventually continue making Star Wars films – to my eternal dismay.) The original Star Trek cast had an opportunity to have a triumphant swan song in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (a film that, as it happens, I’ll be waxing poetic about on this site next week!). There’s Back to the Future Part III. Can you think of many others?
Did Die Hard with a Vengeance really serve as a true finale, in any sense, to that series? Did Lethal Weapon 4? Did Jurassic Park 3? Will the Bond series ever have an ending? I mentioned Star Trek above, and that’s a double-edged sword. As great as it is that the original cast got a fine film finale, their Next Gen successors were denied that privilege as their series met its untimely end following the dismal box office of Star Trek: Nemesis.
Obviously, the Harry Potter films are a horse of a slightly different color, as the films aren’t charting their own course – rather they are adapting J.K. Rowling’s seven-novel story. Still, that the film series has made it so far, so successfully – that every single novel has been adapted to film featuring almost entirely the same ensemble of actors and actresses – that most of the films have actually been pretty darn good — and that the film series is now preparing to take its final bow, not with a whimper but with an enormous bang – is really downright astounding.
I was luke-warm on the Harry Potter films at first, but I thought things started to turn around with film four: The Goblet of Fire. Film five: The Order of the Phoenix remains my favorite of the bunch, but I was also quite taken with The Half-Blood Prince (even if I still … [continued]