Sunday, January 08, 2012

2012 Week One: Prison Break, Things to Come (1936)


On TV:

As the first week of this new year kicked off, I found myself continuing to watch Prison Break for the first time.

I don't know how I missed watching this when it was first on the air, but wow - I certainly missed out on a fantastic first season. Season two was okay, but the show suffered a lot of easy plot resolutions and accelerated timelines that just would never work at all in the real world.

I'm just about to wrap up season 3, which is the "Writers Strike" season - essentially a rehash of season one's story involving the breakout of a prison. Most of the people I know gave up on the show at this point, so I'm wondering what is in store for me in season 4.


Film:

I ended the week with "Things to Come," the 1936 adaptation of a H. G. Wells novel. The story involves a fictional British city named 'Everytown', set between 1940 to 2036. In this "future" - the second world war rages on until at least 1970, when a New World Order takes over and creates an advanced but incredibly bland, white-washed society of automatons.

Most of the story takes place in three key time-periods: 1940, 1970 and 2036.

The war begins by an enemy not mentioned on screen but likely implied (especially based on when the film was made) to be Germans. The bulk of the war shows them slowly devolving, becoming less and less advanced and using a ton of chemical, and then ultimately biological, weapons. A plague ravages across the world and by the late 60s, things seem on the up-and-up.

At least, that's what I thought. See, the whole 1970 time-frame of this film was poorly executed. This tiny city-state run by the "Boss" (a small-time dictator) was obsessed with war, and finishing the fight with the "enemy" - though they had already established that the war was all but won. There's really no good implication here that he's just "fighting for the sake of fighting" but that they're still in this long, drawn-out struggle.

A man named John Cabal flies in, makes some grandiose speeches about how "Wings Over the World" won't "stand" for "independent sovereign states" while reveling in how great the "'camps' in the east" are (I'm assuming they're referring to labor camps for the "independent sovereign states" the Wings Over the World has conquered). They don't do an adequate job really explaining how they forced all these people to simply drop arms across the world, though I assume that they were all "dealt" with like the "Boss" and that those that didn't fit this NWO narrative were disposed of.

The future we find is one where Oswald Cabal (John's great-grandson) has to explain to his granddaughter what *HUMOR* was. Now THAT'S a world I want to live in. A bland world where everything is pristine, they mock living above ground, and they don't know what humor is. Oswald Cabal is as much a dictator as "The Boss" was, but since he's a proper gentlemen (and leader of the NWO) we're supposed to find him palatable.

It's a film worth catching, but I can't agree with its message on nearly any level.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Harry Potter: Book vs. Film

So tonight I sat down and watched "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" tonight and got in a discussion about book verses movie. In the lead up to the 8th and final film, I read all the books. I read them all up to "Deathly Hallows" and watched the film, then cracked open the final book and wrapped it all up.Okay, so I've compiled some basic thoughts about the films and books:
The first book and movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," are pretty much 'the same' in tone and plot. That's not to say that one was not better than the other. The book is a children's story, and as a children's story, it's very simple and child-like. There's not a lot of information that was changed, so the film's story remains largely intact. However, I thought it was lazily directed, so much so that had the book not had such a ardent fan base, the series would have ended right here.

The second movie, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," suffers a lot from the directing. There is extraneous material that simply doesn't need to be there. It's the longest movie of the series and it trudges along at a snails pace. It was dialogue heavy and treated the viewers like they were either stupid or had the attention span of a gnat. Too much talking, not enough "doing." As you said.... "There's only one place we're going to get all this... Diagon Alley." ... No Sh*t, just go!

The third movie, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," is actually a marked improvement over the previous two films and while there are some notable changes to the storyline, the film would have not been anywhere as good had they simply stuck with a literal translation of the pages.

I'd say so far, the fourth movie, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," does wonders to a book that was far too long and cumbersome. It would have been un-filmable had they not taken the steps they took in decreasing its length and bulk. One moment that sticks out (over the book) is the Death Eater attack at the Quiddich World Cup at the start of the movie. The short, concise, frantic scene in the film is far more powerful than a long sequence that is far more subdued than it should have been. The feeling these characters *should* have had don't translate off the pages. There's also no Dursley's so I give them props to jump straight into page 70+. I thought the handling of the Crouch family was not as convoluted as it was when the book presented it.

I'd have to say that some of the changes made to "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" twere marked improvements but some were mistakes. I enjoyed both the film and the book. Grimmauld Place is cut down, which eliminates a lot of the unnecessary fluff ("cleaning" the place and all) but unfortunately cuts out some really rich back story. The Order (the original one) is almost a footnote in the film. Luna's introduction was better in the film (in my opinion). Lots of the Cho "fluff" is cut and her "betrayal" is stronger than the convoluted version that appears in the book. The giant, Grawp, is completely unlikable in the book (not that he's better in the film, but ugh... I'm glad that whole section was cut down). Fred and George's departure makes a lot more sense in the book. In the movie I simply thought they were pulling a prank (and would likely be expelled), but in the book they go out of their way to state they don't care if they get expelled because they're not going to return either way the following year. The superfluous Centaur sub-plot trimmed down in the film to the only necessary part that occurs in the entire book. Kreacher's role is virtually eliminated (blame the poor reception that Dobby got in part 2). I thought the Trelawney prophecy was not handled as clearly as it could have been in the film. It took me a few views to really *get* what the prophecy version of herself was saying in the globe, and unless you're familiar enough with the work (like having a father who likes to talk about what happened in the book after you finish seeing the movie) it's not exactly clear why this bungling, useless lady is kept at Hogwarts. Being that this was the shortest film, I think they made some wrong decisions on what to trim.

And this brings us to "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." The filmmakers removed an entire section about the Prime Minister of England (or "The Other Minister"). The chapter is near, but would have come off as somewhat of an anomaly had it been in the film. It would have been really cool had they filmed the scene as an "extra" short-film. Again, props for no Dursley's, though I do have to say that I'm a bit disappointed they don't exactly get the kind of verbal berating that they got in the book. In fact, they don't ever except for in the first film when Hagrid shows up "YUR A WIZZARD 'ARRY."

Well, after a lot of changes to the story in the previous films, readers were left wondering, "How are they going to fit all this story they've cut into a film that provides a decent resolution to the story?" Well, prayers were answered when they announced they were splitting "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" into two films. And you know what? The film stays pretty true to the books - far more than the previous four films, but not quite as militantly as the first two. I liked how they eliminated some of the ancillary characters interacting with Harry, Hermione and Ron. And speaking of Ron, the one failure of the film was the way they treated Ron - he's a "bitch" in the first part - his character takes wild mood swings, that are more natural in the book. Part 2, tracks almost perfectly. I'm sure there's someone out there that's seriously having a coronary from reading this. I couldn't imagine them finishing off this series any other way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Watchful Eye (a.k.a. Voyeur Beach)

Watchful Eye, or Voyeur Beach as I knew it in my youth, is a late-night made-for-cable "erotic thriller."

I first saw this movie probably about 7 years ago on HBO Zone, a great HBO channel to watch a bunch of schlocky films by day and then these types of films by night.

The plot of Watchful Eye concerns Shannon, played by the wonderful Renee Rea, as a new roommate in a house that has very shading happenings going on. Unlike a lot of the "erotic" films - the adult scenes are very short, and are only barely more than you'd typically find in a hard-"R" rated film. The movie is full of eye candy, as all the actresses are pretty attractive.

So from the very start it's clear that the house is wired with cameras so that perverts can spy on them and make some cash. Probably describes the pitch to the people who produced this film too. Apparently the European import contains 7 minutes of cut footage. Why you'd cut a film that is already presumably "uncut" - I have no idea.

A few notes I took while watching this:

-Beginning of film: Wow, this guy looks like he's trying to be Shawn Ashmore before Shawn Ashmore was Shawn Ashmore.
-00:10:50 mark: Jeez guys, white balance your cameras!
-"Bailamos" knock-off music during one of the "adult" scenes.
-00:20:30 mark: Nice moves Renee!
-00:45:00 mark: WHITE BALANCE
-All the male leads look like the same guy.
-End: Why am I taking notes?

If you like this kind of schlocky film, check it out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Camp Cuddly Pines Powertool Massacre

"I don't think moose SCAMPER!"
Camp Cuddly Pines Powertool Massacre is a 2005 adult comedy-horror film. The film was released by Wicked Pictures and stars Stormy Daniels, Jessica Drake, Eric Masterson, Tommy Gunn, Voodoo and Nicole Sheridan.

The presentation of this feature is top-notch. The image quality is pretty fantastic and the camera work may not be extra-ordinary, but it is leaps and bounds above the amateurish attempts that many independent studios are capable of in producing a horror film given the same basic budget. But what of the acting you say?

Surely the acting in a pornographic film has got to be terrible. Well, the acting is actually pretty good here as well. I mean, any movie where Voodoo makes an appearance isn't going to be Oscar worthy, and there's some clunky dialogue that characters like Jessica Drake is forced to read through, but all-in-all it's far better than what you'd find in a low-budget horror flick. You're as surprised to hear that as I was to say it.

The gore does take a back-seat in this film, so even though it is most assuredly an adult feature, the movie's focus is not directly on the horror. Why should it? These are supposed to be "designed for couples" (or lonely single men). Nearly every single normal person out there does not want to see blood and gore interspersed with sex scenes.

In terms of the horror, it's all tongue-in-cheek (that was not intended to be a pun). The film molds itself after Scary Movie more than it does Scream or something serious like The Ring, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, however it does take a lot of inspiration from the last two listed. You see, Kristen (Stormy), Jessica (Jessica Drake) and Rayford, Todd and Josh (Eric Masterson, Voodoo and Tommy Gunn respectively) are all headed to a Metalicide concert when they accidentally hit a homeless drifter that Kristen first believes to be a hurt Moose. Trouble ensues when they tie the dead man to the roof and then get lost in the woods.

Randy Spears makes an appearance as the town's sheriff, and I came extremely close to laughing until I puked. Can we get him in every movie please? Oh and going along with that horror movie staple, nearly every single person who has sex dies immediately afterward.

The video is historic in a way, as it is the first adult film to be released on the HD DVD format. The run-time is roughly 2 and a half hours. Oh, and please be 18 before enjoying this.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Best Speech in a Movie: Henry V

Today is Saint Crispin's Day. 596 years ago today, one of the most important battles in the history of the world occurred with the French defeat by the combined forces of the British and Welsh at the Battle of Agincourt.


What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead


So this Friday night I sat down to catch a horror flick. As you can tell by the date, it's that time of the season. Well, what better than a film called Poultrygeist, right? That's gotta be a good horror film, right? Wrong. Somehow this piece of dreck got a "fresh" rating of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes.

This "film" is a Troma Entertainment release from 2006 directed by Lloyd Kaufman. It is apparently supposed to be a satire of the fast food industry in which a character by the name of Arbie is hired by "American Chicken Bunker" to get back at his ex-girlfriend, turned activist lesbian, Wendy.

Okay, this film seems to get a lot of praise from the underground, low-budget aficionados out there. To be completely fair, many would lump me directly into that group of people. I love schlocky, low-budget horror films. The problem is, one reason why I like "terrible" horror movies is because they were almost always not meant to be terrible. Most of those filmmakers seriously tried to make a legitimate horror film and failed. Like a guy who thinks he's funny but is terrible instead of a guy who doesn't know he's terrible and funny.

While watching Poultrygeist you can plainly see the entire crew knew they were making a schlocky film, and it comes off like a bunch of friends getting togther to shoot footage in their backyard and then crudely stringing it together with some "fart" sounds for added effect. I simply don't see the allure of that if it's clear that you aren't putting any effort into something you should otherwise be passionate about. Lloyd Kaufman has been making movies for decades, the final result looks like a poorly realized student film.

This movie is nothing but a box of bad puns and cliches wrapped with a bow of terrible acting, flat singing and terribly unfunny scenes. I was willing to give it a chance, but after 20 or so minutes of virtually nothing interesting, funny or seriously horrible going on (just "comedy gore") I gave up. I kept watching though, hoping it would get better. Spoiler: it didn't.

After watching a lame parody of Subway's Jared (who was morbidly obese in this film) paint the restroom in feces, ending with a "smaller," skinless version of himself ripping his way out of his skin, I couldn't take much more. Perhaps the film could improve and find some kind of direction, perhaps it could re-find the plot and get on with it instead of dabbling with terrible vignettes.

I made it to the scene where the director makes a cameo when it finally hit me - this movie is terrible. Terrible script, terrible acting, terrible direction... and everyone involved knows it. It's a lower budget version of the already low-buget Asylum films.

Based on some of the extremely over-the-top reactions I have uncovered regarding this film, you'd think this was groundbreaking stuff. People are praising it in some of the most exaggerated, absurd reviews I've ever seen, so it's hard to not get that impression. Then again, "The Room" gets a lot of this fake praise too - but you know that 99.9999% of the people writing those reviews are mocking it - the "positive" reviews are nothing but false praise.

If you like it, good for you. Enjoy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Frogs

Frogs is a 1972 "eco-horror" film staring Sam Elliott and Ray Milland featuring amphibian killing machines Hellbent on terrorizing an upper-class U.S. Southern family on their plantation home.

Jason Crockett (Ray Milland) is a millionaire who invites his family to his home for his birthday. Pickett Smith (Sam Elliot) is a nature lover and photographer down in the swamp to take pictures of nature for a magazine. Opinions collide when it's discovered that Jason Crockett kills off practically everything that enters his property by using massive amounts of poisonous chemicals. Of course, the bodies are going to quickly pile up, as the noise of *ribbit* sounds like payback is coming soon.

Frogs was probably one of my best movie watching experiences. It's fun, and schlocky, but also well made enough to enjoy as a legitimate film. Shockingly this film never made it on the MST3k chopping block, though it's sister movie, Squirm did. Squirm was about killer worms terrorizing a family and invading a small town eating everyone in their path. Frogs was that exact same plot, but on a smaller scale since the frogs, as well as the other maligned creatures, only attack a southern estate on a small island.

Considering the title of the film, it's strange that it never seems like the Frogs do any of the killing. They're appear in a role more suited for, say, a "General" sending out troops of other animals that actually *DO* the dirty work. The film itself ends on one of the most bizarre and laugh educing awkward cuts that they could possibly come up with.

Check it out.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Dresden Files

The Dresden Files was a short lived SciFi Channel (now named SyFy) series that aired from January to April of 2007. The show was based on the The Dresden Files novel series written by Jim Butcher. The series starred Paul Blackthorne, Valerie Cruz, Terrence Mann and Conrad Coates.


Blackthorne played Harry Dresden, a professional wizard. Not a fictional wizard, but an actual one, living in a world where magic is very real, and often very dangerous. Dresden often helps solve unexplained murders, with the often skeptical Lt. Connie Murphy of the Chicago police. He is aided by Hrothbert "Bob" of Bainbridge, a spirit who he owns, and who can not leave the confines of Dresden's house. Warden of the High Council, Donald Morgan, often helps and hinders Dresden in his attempts at weeding out supernatural killers.

I enjoyed this series greatly. I was unfamiliar with the source material before watching the series, so I can not claim to know how faithful the work was to the original source. The series had some obvious tinkering, where they jammed the pilot episode into the 8th episode, which completely threw me off because the characters not only acted differently, but we were essentially being introduced to them all over again. Oh well.

The assumption through most of the summer after the show ended was that the series had been a success, sadly, disappointed fans found out at the start of August that the series would not be renewed for a second season. It ran 12 episodes.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

It's October!


So I had hoped to kick off October with a "horror movie review" of the new film, Dream House staring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz.

Well it turns out it's not much of a horror movie. Heck, it's not much of a movie, probably because going into the movie after seeing the trailer was a mistake. The movie was watchable, though a bit on the mediocre side. It was certainly not worth my time once I found out the first shift of the storyline (the first "twist reveal") which was exposed smack dab in the middle of the trailer. They gave away most of the reason why you're watching the film!

***Spoiler alert!*** This would be like exposing that Bruce Willis is a ghost, or that Kevin Spacey is Kyser Soze. Okay, that spoiler alert was lame. I will not do it again.

Had the movie used the trailer as mis-direction, and had the story be a lot more complicated than was presented (that the family wasn't dead or that his psychosis was much deeper than presented), I'd be a lot more forgiving of the final product.

I think the showings earlier in the day were so sparsely filled that they saved money by simply not turning on any of the pre-preview commercials and keeping the lights off in the theater. It was pretty sad.

That sounds terrible, but I've heard worse. My parents foolishly went to see Battlefield Earth when it was released back in 2000. It had miserably opened the previous week - was still in all the print advertisements for this theater, was still on the marquee, but the theater actually [i]saved[/i] money by not showing the movie at all. That's right. The theater was apparently empty, so it was more cost effective for them to simply turn off the lights and not run the projectors. I think they actually did finally wrangle up 15-20 people which made it worth the theater's effort to show that terrible dreck.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This Has All Happened Before: Modern Times

So I just watched the Charlie Chaplin classic, Modern Times, for the first time last week on Hulu+. The plot itself it not so strange, but the circumstances behind the type of film are.



In today's world where films are really being pushed to be 3-D, even to the point where films shot in 2-D are "converted" to push the marketing gimmick, it's interesting to see a film from the past that rejected the norm of the time (sound) and was essentially one of the last films of the silent era. Obviously there are films that came after it that used silence for artistic purposes, but those are generally disconnected from the silent era. This film is certainly not one of them.



That last paragraph is not entirely accurate, as the film had some sounds that were added in post-production, as well as occasional scene with a speaking role, it's few and far between and all the principal players are "silent" when on screen - opting for title cards like any other silent film would.



Charlie Chaplin's reluctance to give into the talkie phenomenon wholeheartedly makes this movie a hybrid, a "silent talkie," if you will. In some ways, this mirrors the reluctance to move into color or even today's reluctance for directors to embrace the 3-D craze.



However, while I enjoyed the film, I couldn't stop thinking about how the film was, even by the standards of the day, a relic already years out of date. Chaplin's fears that the Tramp could not survive in the era of "talkies" was unfounded. Considering his "Tramp" character "talked" (through title cards) in the silent films, I could have easily have seen Modern Times adopt sound and embrace it fully (instead of partially in just a few scenes), allowing all the characters except Chaplin's to talk. I'm not comparing the styles or quality here, but the above method method has been pretty successful with Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean. While each episode is largely silent, the character of Bean utters perhaps one or two lines an episode (occasionally remaining silent the entire episode).



One thing is for sure, I really hope that 2-D doesn't go the way of silent films for some time to come.