Monday, December 26, 2011


I present to you my fairy shelf.  (If you're wondering what this has to do with Hellraiser, be patient!)  It's a slight misnomer, as those of you with keen eyes can see there's a couple exceptions up there.  I'm going to focus on just one of them right now.

Back in high school and college, I spent a lot of time wandering around the mall, spending a lot of time in the movie, CD, and wacky gift stores.  One in particular frequently had a column that was nothing but action figures, and I used to spend a lot of time gazing at it.  I'm still upset I didn't pick up the Mad Hatter from American McGee's Alice when I had the chance.  One I did pick up, however, was this gorgeous lady:

I knew she was a Clive Barker design, so after a bit of research I discovered she's part of the Tortured Souls II series.  Her name is Camille Noire, though I've long since called her my Twisted Fairy, even though that buzzsaw through the head (which spins!) is clearly supposed to be a halo.  I saw her back then, and I couldn't look away, and after a few times I finally bought her and brought her home.  She's been superglued to her stand as those wobbly legs don't allow her to stand up properly on her own.

So I've been fascinated by Clive Barker's work for a long time now, but up until this point never watched any of his films.  Hellraiser is now available for instant viewing on Netflix, so it was time to give it a shot.

Wow.  I really liked this film.  It's certainly not for everyone, as the gore is extreme and the monsters are incredibly freaky.  I'm not bothered by the fact that I stayed away from this film for a long time, because I don't think I was ready for it until now.  Hatchet is a gore fest but it's also clearly a comedy (at least in my mind) where as this is largely there to frighten you.  Of course, it's also a fairy tale. 

That probably sounds strange to anyone who doesn't know much about the film, as I think popular culture has mostly absorbed Pinhead (who is the least scary cenobite, in my opinion) and the fact that this movie is full of gore.  But the fact is that this movie is as much a natural follow up to Labyrinth and Legend as it is to Evil Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street in terms of the progression of 80s films.   Kirsty feels like a meld between Sarah and Nancy to me: two strong characters who did what they had to do to escape a frightening world and save the day.  The fact that Kirsty literally has a wicked stepmother makes it all the more obvious.  I really liked her as a character.  We don't get to learn too much about her, but she balances the proper amount of being scared but also doing what she has to do to survive.

I don't think I could possibly gush enough on how incredible the special effects are in this film.  As Frank reforms, you find yourself simultaneously disgusted and amazed as you see every part of him slowly knit itself back together.  Even if you don't like gore, you really owe it to yourself to at least check out this scene.  It's an amazing accomplishment in film.  Frank is really quite scary in his first resurrected form, the way he moves and the sunken rotted nature of his skin.  He becomes a little less scary the more he heals, however around that time is when the cenobites start to show up.  The chattering cenobite was perhaps the scariest to me, though the creature with the piranha like mouth and pointed tail came a close second.

Many people told me that they felt like the gore in this movie is justified, and I'm inclined to agree.  This doesn't mean everyone can sit through it and be okay with it, it just means that it never feels like glorification.  It's brutal and it lingers,  but always to horrify you and make you uncomfortable.

While I may check out some of the other sequels, I think more than anything this has made me far more interested in seeing and reading more of Clive Barker's work.  That kind of dark fantasy really appeals to me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Defense of: the Alvin and the Chipmunk films

Today, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is being released in theaters.  I will not be going to see it, but it's fairly safe to assume that a lot of families will be going to check it out this weekend.  There will probably also be a lot of critics bashing the film, and even more snarky people on the internet saying things like "Why, God, why does this movie exist?!" and the like.  I've certainly seen people bashing on the previous two films often enough.  So here's where I tell you the truth and you either give me a fair chance or you don't:  I enjoyed both of the previous Alvin and the Chipmunk films.

My first experience with Alvin and the Chipmunks was on vinyl.  It was an album called Chipmunk Punk.  Despite it's title, it's actually more new wave than punk in genre.  As a young child, this was my first exposure to the songs of bands like The Cars, Blondie, Queen, and The Knack, as well as the solo artists Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, and Tom Petty.  I can't possibly tell you how often I played this record, but it was quite a bit.  It also provided me with an extra bit of excitement as I got older and heard the original recordings and recognized them.

Of course my second and largest experience with the Chipmunks was the 80s animated cartoon series.  This was the show that introduced the Chipettes for the very first time.  I'll admit that I have not watched this show since I was small, and I figure there's a pretty good chance that it simply doesn't hold up that well.  But I do have a lot of fond memories of the show and really enjoyed all the characters, enough that I have a fondness for them even to this day.

Those of you who have seen my videos know that my cat Logan is a bit of a pain.  Recently, we have decided his middle name is Alvin, because it's a lot more fun to yell "Aaaaaaaallllllviiiiiiiin!" then it is to yell Logan all the time.

Anyways, let's talk about the movies. Jason Lee plays Dave, and maybe I am biased since I've loved him ever since I first saw him in Chasing Amy, but I think he does a good job.  I'll admit there are moments in the first film where he's having a little trouble talking to these CGI characters that aren't there, but he gets the "Alvin!" yell down perfectly and presents a good down on his luck guy.  David Cross plays the other main human lead, and he's a perfect smarmy jerk.  I'll admit choosing semi-well known actors for the Chipmunks when you're just going to manipulate their voices anyway can seem like a strange choice, but it also may help to give their lines a little more believability than just picking random actors off the street.

The storyline here is incredibly predictable, but it is an exceedingly rare children's film that isn't.  I don't think every children's film needs to be held up to the Disney/Pixar standard.  I've watched a lot of children's movies in my day, and I'm not just talking about the ones I watched in my childhood.   My love of animation has never left me, and I tend to keep up with most of the major releases via rental regardless of the studio involved.  I see the vast majority of these films as fluff. Much like an action movie with a lot of explosions and fight scenes meant to get your adrenaline pumping while you turn your brain off, these kids films give you a sweet heartwarming story with some silly humor and then you move on with your day.  This is exactly what the Alvin and the Chipmunks films are.

I think the first film, while not without its flaws, works as a good tribute to the history of the series.  The Chipmunks attain their fame and fortune singing "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" which is how they were originally introduced to American audiences.   They follow it up with "Witch Doctor" which was originally not a Chipmunk song, but done by the same performer, Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.  I'll admit that I hate the "rap" flavoring given this song and most of the rest of the soundtrack, but given the target audience for this film I'm not surprised.  I hate it in the same way that I hate most music from the 2000s, and therefore can't hold it responsible. 

The remainder is all about Dave and the Chipmunks becoming a family and both sides gaining a true appreciation for each other.  Once again, not exactly a groundbreaking concept, but I think it's done well.  I'm also kind of in love with Simon.  It's been too long for me to remember if he's similar to his 80s counterpart, but there's something about his smarts and his sarcasm that make him my favorite of the three.  Alvin is appropriately conceited and daring, and Theodore is absolutely adorable.  I'm not sure what else you could ask for.

I'll admit the sequel is not as strong as the original, but that's about the norm.  Why put the chipmunks in high school when they've never been to school at all?  It's pretty obvious the answer is so they can use those standard high school stress situations.  Jocks being bullies, Alvin playing football, and a talent show competition.  More than anything I just don't care for Zachary Levi's character.  He's too bungling and beyond that one scene where he completely screws up comforting Theodore, he offers nothing to the movie.  But I enjoyed seeing the Chipettes added in to the mix, and found the songs to be overall more enjoyable.

While I won't be rushing out to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked this weekend, I will eventually end up renting it whenever it comes to DVD, and I'll be amused for an hour and a half.  I'm not going to defend the concept, which is basically some kind of ultra silly Gilligan's Island set up.  But once again, children's movie.  These overused concepts and silly humor and pop culture references are a dime a dozen these days. 

So why do people pick on this particular series so hard?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Initial Thoughts: Nintendo 3DS

It's a little hard to do a review of something you just bought a few days ago, so this is just my initial impressions after playing around with it a little bit.

It's a very popular thing of late to bash Nintendo.  Their choice to go for the family friendly crowd rather than the latest and greatest technology really rubbed a lot of gamers the wrong way, I guess.  As someone who has never cared that much about graphics, it all leaves me shaking my head.  The Wii was an excellent business move on their part, even if it means that the vast majority of the games on the system aren't for me.  Sure, I'd like to see more titles on there for me to enjoy, but the ones I do have tend to be awesome so I have a hard time complaining about it.

My point in all this being that I feel like people have been dogging the 3DS from the very beginning without even really seeing it.  Was its launch price too expensive?  Of course, but most launch prices are.  Was there a severe lack of titles in the beginning?  Yes, of course, but once again that's typical.  Is 3D an overused gimmick?  For movies, yes, but I don't think it's really been explored all that much in gaming yet.

I guarantee you the 3D on this handheld will amaze you the first time you see it, assuming you are not among the few who simply can't see 3D at all.  It requires no glasses and it's just incredible.  I honestly don't want to know how they do it because I prefer to think of it as magic.  It's not perfect by any means - you do have to find the right angle at which to hold the system to get it to line up, and looking over someone's shoulder while they play is pretty much pointless.  However, the good news is that you can simply turn this feature off.  I have found that long term sessions can cause a bit of dizziness, but in general when it comes to handheld gaming I'm mostly looking for quick sessions anyway, so I don't see this being much of a problem.

The whole reason I got it was because they are now offering bundles.  A red 3DS with Super Mario Land 3D, a black 3DS with gold Zelda themed details with Ocarina of Time 3D, and there's also a pink one that comes with Nintendogs + Cats.  I had a slight dilemma at first because of the game I wanted vs the system I wanted.  I really wanted Super Mario Land 3D, but I absolutely loved that Zelda anniversary edition look.  Also, call me silly, but I bought my original DS when it was bundled with Mario Kart DS so I already have a red DS and wanted to change colors for my upgrade.  So I decided that even though I didn't really need yet another version of Ocarina of Time (I have it for N64 and Gamecube) I'd go with the Zelda version.  I can always get the game later.

I lined up my old and new ones side by side so you could get a feel for the size difference.  Granted, they've come out with smaller versions of the DS since my original model.

Much like the Wii, Nintendo has loaded the 3DS with some simple software and games for you to play with.  Miis are still around, and this time, because the 3DS has a camera, you can take a picture of yourself to aid in the creation.  Mine wasn't very accurate, but it did provide me a starting point design that I then edited to make me look a little less freakish.  You have to create one for yourself when you first open the program, and after that you can make as many silly Miis as you'd like.  There is also a Mii Plaza, which uses the StreetPass feature.  Instead of turning your 3DS off, you simply fold it shut and it will enter Sleep Mode.  In Sleep Mode it will look for other 3DSes in the area, and if someone is around you will each get a copy of the other person's Mii in your Plaza. This idea was used on the DS for Dragon Quest IX, and it's a fun feature for them to carry over.

I happened to go to the mall on Saturday so I purposefully brought the 3DS along.  I picked up someone named Kory.  He had a welcome message for me to read, and he also gave me a puzzle piece and I was able to use his Mii in a simple RPG type game all within the Plaza.  It's really simple but a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to trying this out at MAGfest where I'm sure to pick up quite a few more people.  The 3DS also has a built in pedometer, and that helps you earn coins that you can use in these minigames as well.  These features are a little more useful in Japan where far more people actually own 3DSes, but I'm hoping the coin system will make up for the possible lack of users.

The other free game you may have heard about is Face Raiders.  The camera takes a picture of your face and uses it in a game.  This takes some time to set up, as you have to line up the eyes and mouth in just the right spot to get it to work properly.  The reward is worth it though, as you see your expression change from amusement to sadness to anger thanks to the game's animation.  The game itself is pretty simple: You move around the screen which is showing the room in front of you, but with the floating heads in it.  Shoot them to win the game.  The game encourages you to take pictures of other people and collect their heads.  I imagine this won't stay fun forever, but it's highly amusing the first couple times.

You can also take 3D pictures and video.  I haven't tried out the video yet, but the pictures once again feel like magic being performed.  The only problem I see with this is that I don't think there is any way to export them, and of course even if you did the 3D effect would be lost.  There is also a voice recorder which is far more fun than it should be.  You record a ten second message, then you can do all kinds of effects to it, from changing the speed and pitch to adding vocal harmonies or changing the sound.  Naturally, Jak and I kept saying inappropriate things and then giggling like mad when it was repeated back to us in a parakeet style voice.

You also get one AR card in the box with which you can play AR games.  The 3DS's camera scans the card and that unlocks more games for you to play, similar to Face Raiders in that you'll see the actual room you are in on the screen and it also requires you to move around a bit.  I placed the card on my sofa to play, and it made it a little hard to get around.  I think a coffee table might work better, as you could actually circle it.  It's really picky about the distance you have to be from the card, the lighting in the room (standing between the light and the card made the 3DS lose it), and the angle at which you approach it.  It was cool when it worked properly, but this was probably the feature I was the most disappointed in.

There is also an eShop where you can download both original games and virtual console games like you could on the Wii.  For some reason, I was able to get The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords for free.  The virtual console ranges from original Gameboy games to Gameboy Advance, and most of the original games seem as cheaply made as most of the ones on the Wii.  I'm not sure how many of these I'll end up getting, but I like that they are there.  I never had an original Gameboy, so it'll be nice to check out some of those games for the first time.  My main complaint is that Nintendo is still refusing to provide people with demos to sample these games first.  This has to be losing them sales, as I just won't buy a game if I know nothing about it.  The system also comes with a 2GB SD card that you can hold these games as well as your pictures, videos, and sounds on.

You're also allowed to plug in your regular DS cartridges and play them.  Obviously, there's no 3D effects on these games.  I had heard some people complain about the way DS games looked on the screen, but I put in Final Fantasy III and everything looked just as good as it did on the original DS.  I like the idea of being able to take the games of both systems with me when I travel, though I did wish the 3DS cartridges didn't have that little extra nub so I could put them in the same carrying case.

As far as Ocarina of Time goes, its the same game it was on N64 so far, but I do have to admit that the 3D graphics are very pretty and cool looking.  I could, however, see myself turning them off if I wanted to play the game for a long time.  It's a complex game with a lot of aiming involved, and it felt like it might be easier to  do without the 3D.

I just ordered Bust a Move Universe because it was $10 and I can't get enough of any variation of that game.  Mario can wait until I get stuck in Ocarina of Time again.  Trust me, it'll happen, it always does.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

News bites: Akira, Neil Gaiman, Method Man, and The Muppets

I'm suffering from a short attention span this week so I don't have any full reviews to give, but I thought I'd still share my thoughts on some things that are too long for tweets.

Akira Movie Update: casting and synopsis revealed - I understand why people are upset about the whitewashing, but I think it makes sense for an American adaptation of a Japanese work to be changed around to an American setting.  I'm also not bothered by the changes noted in this article.  Making Kaneda and Tetsuo into adults is better, in my opinion, than trying to pass off adults as teenagers as they normally do in these films.  If they tried to cast true teens we'd end up with the Disney Channel crew, so I'd rather go with adults and deal with the more adult subject matter.  Honestly, reading it I didn't see any huge differences to the core plot as I understand it from watching the anime, so I'm not upset at this point.  Character receives powers from government, escapes, friend goes after him, government tries to stop him before he causes another disaster.  More than anything, all this talk is just reminding me that I really need to get around to reading the manga, so that alone makes it all worth it to me.

The Neil Gaiman episode of The Simpsons - "The Book Job" - I watched this earlier this week and absolutely loved it.  Between Lisa's procrastination before beginning to write, the story Homer and his crew come up with, and pretty much everything Neil does, this was a great episode.  I haven't watched the Simpsons in years, but this one made me at least want to try them out again.

World Gone Sour - I used to own a copy of the Batman Forever soundtrack.  There's a track by Method Man on there that he wrote specifically for Jim Carrey's version of the Riddler.  He clearly has a sense of humor and likes to make money, and this video just proves it all the more.  I won't be buying the game, but I had to share  the madness.  Though if they ever come to their senses and offer it for free I will probably get it just to hear Creed's voice.

Deleted scene in The Muppets that explains the villain a little better - The actual title of that article is misleading, so I thought I'd clarify.  Spoilers for the film if you haven't seen it yet, obviously.  It does seem like a silly detail to leave out, though I don't know if it really matters all that much.

I've been playing through the Silent Hill video games but I'm saving those reviews to post back to back so I can give a more thorough analysis of the series as a whole.  I'm also still trying to finish Volume 3 of The Hinges of Destiny so I can get that out soon, so I'm not sure how many blog posts you'll be seeing from me for a little while.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Muppets

After 11 years, the new Muppet film has arrived!  After some really great promotional parody trailers, I finally got to see the new film on Wednesday.

The short, non-spoiler version is that this is a film for anyone who has ever loved the Muppets.  I'm not sure if it will bring in new fans, but there's definitely a lot there for those of us who have grown up with them and truly love them.  Go watch this movie!

Now to get spoilery:  I went to the first showing of the day, and as soon as I arrived at the theater I was wishing I had gone to the midnight showing the night before instead.  And I do mean as soon as I arrived - I walked up to the ticket machine and had to dodge bouncing screaming children who were with the woman at the other machine beside me.  Fortunately this particular rambunctious group ended up sitting on the opposite side of the theater from me, but the audience was easily 75% kids.  It's because of this that I can easily say this is not a movie made for children.  While it is certainly suitable for all ages subject matter, it tackles a lot of bittersweet topics that were flying over their heads.  I know this because I could hear them all talking while I was trying to pay attention.

This movie is the story of Walter, the ultimate Muppet fan.   From the moment he first saw The Muppet Show, he really connected with them and wanted to be a part of it.  It's pretty natural for that to happen, seeing as how Walter is in fact a puppet.  But it's also clear that Walter is sitting in for all of us who have grown up with these characters and miss seeing them on a regular basis.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the movie for me was this general idea that the Muppets were has-beens that no one cared about anymore.  All the television studios deny them their chance to host a telethon because "they're not celebrities."  They only end up getting a spot because a reality show is cancelled at the last minute.  There's a joke where Rico Rodriguez asks Kermit "Are you one of the TMNT?" and Selena Gomez admits she doesn't know who he is, she's just there because her agent suggested it.  I really don't think all the kids that were in that theater with me were only there because their parents dragged them.  Muppets From Space didn't come out that long ago.

Beyond that premise, there's a lot of fun to be had here.  All the Muppets feel right and there's a ton of great jokes.  I'm also impressed by the number of obscure Muppets they managed to feature.  Though its pretty clear they were mostly focusing on The Muppet Show days and not on some of the more recent Muppets.  Clifford and Bean Bunny have disappeared, Rizzo doesn't have a single line in the film, and Pepe's time is very short.  But Uncle Deadly gets to play a major role so I guess you just have to take the good and the bad.  They are very much a huge cast of characters at this point, so it's natural some of them are going to get left out.  Also, don't expect to see any Sesame Street cameos like we used to, as the two properties are now owned by separate companies.

The celebrity cameos are great.  For some strange reason I was expecting a Lady Gaga cameo, I guess because of her Kermit dress I thought it was an eventuality, but they didn't go there.  However we do get to see Neil Patrick Harris, Jack Black, John Krasinki, Sarah Silverman, and Zach Galifiankis among others.  Perhaps the best cameo came during the song "Man or Muppet" where we see a human version of Walter.  I had no idea that was coming and I was really excited to see who they chose (though apparently I was the only one in my theater to think so.  Boo!) and I won't spoil it for you. 

Speaking of which, I thought most of the songs were really good.  They use both popular songs and original show tunes, and I think they have some future classics among them.  "Life's a Happy Song," "Me Party," and "Man or Muppet" probably stand out the most to me.  The only one I thought was really bad was the villain's rap number, and I think that was awful on purpose.  At least I really hope so.  I found myself unable to stop myself from singing along when The Muppet Show theme song started.  And yes, when it came time for everyone to sing "Rainbow Connection" I had tears spilling down my cheeks.  It really is a beautiful tribute to what the Muppets are all about within the movie.

I can't stress enough that you need to go out and see this movie now.  The current climate being what it is, if this movie doesn't have a great opening weekend, Disney is going to think no one cares about the Muppets anymore and we won't get a sequel.  And I need more Muppets in my life!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Muppets From Space

Since Gonzo is my favorite Muppet, it should be absolutely no surprise that I love this movie. It is actually a large part of the reason why I decided to go against my original "no more marathons" rule, because I wanted a chance to defend the film. I've heard people say this is the lowest regarded of all the Muppet films but personally I just don't see what the problem is.

The goal of the movie is to explain exactly what kind of "whatever" Gonzo is, and of course the logical answer is that he is in fact an alien. While Jim Henson may not have been involved with this project, it's clear to me that his team knew how to carry on in his absence. There are celebrity guest stars, pop culture references, appearances by all the major Muppet characters, and tons of great humor. This is also where we meet Pepe the King Prawn for the first time, and he's a welcome addition to the group and perfect partner in crime for the sneaky Rizzo. I also really enjoyed seeing Clifford and Bean Bunny from Muppets Tonight appear even though that show had been cancelled at this point.

One of the things that sets the movie apart from a lot of the others is that it doesn't use original songs, but instead a lot of soul and funk tracks. I suppose if you somehow don't enjoy that style of music it might bother you, but frankly I'm a little worried about anyone who doesn't enjoy the sounds of James Brown or Earth, Wind, and Fire.

Beyond Pepe and our always lovable Gonzo, the best character in the movie is Bobo the Bear, playing lackey for Jeffrey Tambor. Nearly everything he says in the movie is quotable. Whether he's trying to calm Tambor down from one of his many fits or trying to comfort Gonzo before the government plans to remove his brain, he's just great. Tambor himself is also a lot of fun as the rather sensitive, angry man who has been misunderstood his whole life.

I love the scenes of Rizzo in with the other lab rats being tormented by David Arquette, and the Shawshank Redemption send up as they make their escape. The rest of the Muppets breaking in to rescue Gonzo and Rizzo are also great, from Animal chasing Kathy Griffin (who later falls for him), to Fozzie insisting on washing his hands after using the bathroom even though it removes the invisibility spray, and the "Doctor" "Doctor" exchange as they try to remain in disguise. Really, there aren't any bad scenes in the movie for me.

While it doesn't really match the tone of the earlier movies, I think that's expected given the time period.  Expecting this film or the upcoming The Muppets to be exactly the same in tone as the early films would be an unrealistic expectation.

Perhaps my only complaint is how generic Kermit is. Like Mickey Mouse before him, he's lost much of his personality to become the "oh golly" good guy leader. I suppose part of this comes from a desire to not muddy the memory of Henson himself. Or it could just be that this is supposed to be mostly Gonzo's film and therefore Kermit doesn't get much to do. 

I think the real test will be how they portray him in the new film.  I'll tell you what I think about it tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Muppet Treasure Island

Before I begin my review, I should probably admit that I've never read the book Treasure Island, and that I don't have the strong fascination with pirates that some people seem to have.  I like them well enough, but talk like a pirate day is a very annoying day for me.  My main other source of exposure to this story was Treasure Planet, which I largely felt was a snoozefest. 

I had only seen this movie once before, and my memory told me I liked it.  I don't know if it was my mood this time around or what, but I had a really hard time paying attention.  It started off strong - I really liked Billy Connolly's performance and the silly chase that occurs at the inn, but by the time they got to the ship I was starting to get bored.

Tim Curry does great as Long John Silver, and as far as I'm concerned any day we get to hear him sing is a good day.  Kevin Bishop is passable as Jim Hawkins, but I think without Gonzo and Rizzo as his sidekicks this would be a very dull story.  A large part of it is also that so many of the Muppets feel like they're just playing cliches of themselves within the context of the story, so it lacks a lot of heart, even if there are some funny lines here and there.  Fozzie, for instance, plays a rich idiot who has an imaginary friend who lives in his finger.  I know Fozzie's jokes are pretty much always designed to make you roll your eyes, but you're also supposed to feel sorry for him when no one laughs at him, and that just doesn't happen here.

The songs are for the most part passable. I think my favorite is "Cabin Fever," just for the sheer zaniness of it all.  It's the kind of silliness this movie desperately needs more of.  I think the Henson Co. was scared to take too many liberties this soon after Henson's death. Adapting an established story really just makes this film lacking, and makes it barely a Muppet movie at all.  Between this and The Muppet Christmas Carol, I would choose this one anytime; but that's really not saying much because I don't really like Christmas movies.

Fortunately, after some time off, the Henson Co regrouped and decided to work on an original story.  Tomorrow I'll discuss Muppets From Space.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Muppet Christmas Carol

I have this theory that everyone has their own personal favorite version of A Christmas Carol.  I know there are some out there who just love the story and love seeing it adapted in any form, but for most of us, there's probably just one you prefer and seeing any other version just feels like treading water.  My own personal favorite version is Mickey's Christmas Carol, which I was recently surprised to find is only 26 minutes long.  That may go a long way in explaining why I really have little patience for other versions of the story.

I don't remember seeing the Muppet version when it came out.  I bought this around Christmas last year, hoping the timing would get me in the mood.  I literally turned it off around the 15 minute mark and put it away.  For the sake of this marathon though, I was committed to watching it all the way through and giving it at least a fair shot.

Surprisingly, even though I was dreading watching it and put it off for as long as possible, I actually did enjoy it.  Michael Caine plays Scrooge, and this is really his movie.  He takes the character from miserly to remorseful to reformed well.  The story felt a little simple at times, both barely showing us why Belle leaves Scrooge and then having him very quickly reform when he sees Tiny Tim, but for what is mostly a children's story I suppose that is all we need.

Beyond Statler and Waldorf playing Marley & Marley and Gonzo and Rizzo narrating, this isn't so much a Muppet movie as it is A Christmas Carol told using puppetry for the Christmas Spirits.  Sure, Kermit plays Bob Cratchitt and Robin is Tiny Tim, but they are very much those characters and not really themselves at all.  Fozzie is also largely absorbed into his role as "Fozziwig," with the only real trace of his characterization being the fact that he runs a rubber chicken factory and is heckled by the Marleys very briefly.

The spirits, however, are great.  The Ghost of Christmas Past is a small girl, and she floats beautifully, as if she was underwater the whole time.  The Ghost of Christmas Present is a full body puppet with strong similarities to Santa Claus, and it's neat to watch him age as his time with Scrooge passes.  The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come manages to not be too scary as to give children nightmares, but still has an air of creepiness to him, with his lack of face and overly long arms that point ominously.

Going from watching the older films to this one, Kermit, Waldorf, and the Swedish Chef sounded very different.  Dr. Teeth and Rowlf, the other two characters Jim Henson voiced, don't have speaking parts at all from what I remember.  Statler, originally voiced by Richard Hunt who had also passed away before this film was made, is also noticeably different.  If you watched this on its own I'm not sure how noticeable it would be.  They all do a decent job of at least trying to sound right.

So, I have to admit, this isn't as bad as I was expecting it to be.  Granted, if I had been doing this marathon any other time of the year, I probably wouldn't have been able to stomach it.  That's the problem with Christmas films; they're simply not something you can watch any time of the year.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the other Muppet adaptation of a story, Muppet Treasure Island.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Muppets Take Manhattan

PhotobucketPlease allow me to Kermit flail and yell "Yaaaay!" because we have come to my absolute favorite of the Muppet films. There's something about the idea of the Muppets trying to make it big on Broadway combined with the many funny gags through the film that I just absolutely love.

You could probably argue that this movie is a rehashing of The Muppet Movie, in that this is a story of the Muppets trying to become famous. However it's clear that the Muppets are meant to be acting here, rather than playing themselves.  Add to that the fact that their characters also act in the play at  the beginning and end of this film, and we've got a nice set of layers here.

Kermit is the main focus of the film, interacting with most of the human main characters while the other Muppets play supporting roles or execute one off gags. The idea that Kermit stays behind while the others go work jobs to make ends meet is perfect, allowing the story to move along via Kermit while we get to see great funny bits like Rowlf being told how to take care of "Snookums" or seeing Lew Zealand throw fish at patrons in a 3D movie theater.

As an 80s child I also can't help but be extremely happy while watching the Muppet Babies scene. Even if you don't have any fond memories of that show, it's really just absolutely adorable. I remember as a kid being really impressed by Piggy's desire to be so many professions. Yeah, I took things pretty literally back then. 

I also really love the moments in the film when Kermit has amnesia. The doctor bending his face and limbs every which way is hysterical, and I love his literal ad campaign idea. Also, I can't prove it, but it may be the inspiration for the movie Crazy People. Perhaps the best part of it all though is when he begins to laugh at and mock the idea of he and Piggy being in a relationship together. Beyond the puns: "Maybe you expected me to go HOG-wild? Perhaps you could bring home the BACON!" his tone just really makes it. Also, don't we all kind of wonder what he sees in her anyway? I certainly don't think I could ever be in a relationship with a diva like that.

You would expect a movie that features characters trying to make it on Broadway to have good songs, and this one does not disappoint. "Together Again," "You Can't Take No For An Answer," "Saying Goodbye," and "I'm Gonna Always Love You" are all classics in my mind, and I think "Somebody's Getting Married" plays in my head any time I attend a wedding.

Perhaps what makes this movie shine so much is that Frank Oz took over directing duties, allowing Henson to focus on just being Kermit. I watched a Henson interview on the disc and I was impressed with how he had nothing but praise for Oz and gave him most of the credit for this film.  He was definitely a humble man who wasn't afraid to let the members of his team show off from time to time.  If there is any celebrity death that has really hit me hard, it's Henson.  I feel like he helped to raise me as much as my parents did.  Sadly, this is the last Muppet film Henson was involved with before his death.

I know it's a little early for Christmas, but since I'm doing these in chronological order, we're going to have to talk about The Muppet Christmas Carol tomorrow.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Great Muppet Caper

I have little to no memory of The Great Muppet Caper as a child.  My memories of the bicycle scene tell me I saw it,  but it's not one I watched very much and therefore don't really have any nostalgic feelings for.

The movie starts out really fun.  Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo are all riding in a hot air balloon, and Fozzie asks why.  Kermit explains it's because they needed something for the opening credits.  The three of them continue to joke while the credits go by - my favorite part being how Gonzo is very excited at the idea of the balloon coming down for a crash landing.

When they do eventually land, they're on a movie set made to look like New York City, and  the song "Hey, a Movie!" begins.  It's a lot of fun and catchy and shows off the self awareness and fourth wall breaking we are in for for the rest of  the film.  Unfortunately, once the plot begins, the movie screeches to a deafening halt.  I'm guessing that after the origin story of the first film, they weren't quite sure what to do for a sequel.  Unfortunately I can't approve of their choice.

Kermit and Fozzie are playing identical twins for some reason, and the two of them are reporters along with Gonzo as their cameraman.  They get fired because they didn't report a diamond being stolen so they decide to win their jobs back by figuring out who stole it.  Because that's how that works, right?  Along the way they run into Miss Piggy pretending to be the rich woman whose jewels were stolen, and all the other Muppets are conveniently living at a cheap hotel in London together.  Piggy gets framed for the theft, and it's up to the gang to prove her innocence.  They do this by breaking into the place where an even bigger diamond is being stolen, supposedly to catch the thieves red handed.  Piggy breaks out of jail to also stop the thieves.  Even though this would all logically look like they were guilty, somehow they win the day anyway.

Don't get me wrong, a little nonsense never hurt anyone.  But I've never seen the Muppets act this stupid before.  While there are great one liners scattered throughout the film, the plot really ruins it.  The movie is very low on cameos and Charles Grodin and Diana Rigg don't make for good human leads in the movie either.

The main highlight of the film, in my opinion, is the cycling scene.  To this day, it is still amazing to watch the Muppets on bicycles all by themselves, and to be completely honest with you, I'm not sure I want to know how they do it.  Much like a magic trick, learning the technique would probably take away a lot of the wonder of this moment.  The song playing here, "Couldn't We Ride," is also the only other worthwhile one of the film besides "Hey, a Movie!", in my opinion.

I wonder if Miss Piggy fans get a lot more out of this movie than I do.  I find my favorite Miss Piggy is giddy Miss Piggy.  We see her here when Lady Holliday offers her a job, but for the rest of the film she's either Diva Piggy or "Hiiiiyah!" Piggy.  I do enjoy the latter, but once again she doesn't act that way until close to the end so it's hardly worth it.  Also, the idea that Charles Grodin's character basically falls in love with her at first sight is just very weakly handled and uninteresting.

Fortunately, a much better Muppet movie was on its way after this one, The Muppets Take Manhattan.  I'll see you on Monday for that one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Muppet Movie

I know I had said I wasn't  going to do any more marathons, but apparently I'm too much of a sucker for this kind of thing to completely resist them.  Out of all the movies this year, The Muppets has been the one movie that has me the most excited.  The puppet scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall had me feeling fairly confident that Jason Segel could pull this off, and so far none of the trailers or ads are giving me much doubt.  I'll find out for sure how wrong or right I am next week!

It's safe to say I literally grew up on the Muppets.  My parents have always told me that even as an infant, I used to sit there in rapt attention watching The Muppet Show.  The fascination continued all through my childhood while I watched Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Muppet Babies, Jim Henson's Storytellers, the films, and the many, many television specials that used to air in the 80s.  It continued into my teens when I was exposed to The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth for the first time, saw Muppet*vision 3D at Walt Disney World, and watched shows from the failed Muppets Tonight to even the occasional episode of Bear in the Big Blue House.  It's built an appreciation for puppetry in all its many forms for me.  Since it would take a very long time for me to go through everything the Jim Henson Company has created, I'm sticking to just the Muppet specific feature films for this marathon.

Watching The Muppet Movie again it became clear that this movie is as much about Jim Henson's vision as it is a silly tale of how the Muppets met each other. It's often very hard to not associate Kermit with Jim Henson himself, and the fact that Kermit is going to Hollywood not to become rich and famous, but to make millions of people happy, feels very much like it must be Henson's own reasons for getting into show business.  I've always considered "The Rainbow Connection" to be the perfect summary of Henson's vision and dream for the world, even though it was technically written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher.  It is pretty much impossible for me to hear this song without getting a bit choked up these days.  It asks us to believe in magic and to not be afraid to follow your dreams, and it's something I know about all too well.  I've heard the voices calling my name, too.

This message is laid beneath a silly story of how the Muppets became famous.  I love that they all seem to become fast friends the moment they run into each other, as if they were all destined to be together in the first place.  It's a sentiment that Gonzo's song, "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday" expresses beautifully.  These two songs along with "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along" are much more mature concepts than someone would probably expect from what we now regard to be a movie for kids.  The fact is this movie, like much of Henson's other work, is more kid friendly than it is tailored directly toward them.  When I was little I loved watching Gonzo fly with his balloons and Animal eat seat cushions or grow huge, but as an adult I can appreciate the bittersweet moments of the film all the more.

The main conflict of the film, that a man named Doc Hopper wants to use Kermit as a spokesperson for his fried frog legs restaurant, feels largely irrelevant because it is.  It serves to create some fun gags and keep moving the story forward, but there really isn't much else to it.  Even their quest for Hollywood success isn't a real challenge because as they arrive at the producer's office, he literally just stares at them for a moment before offering them a "standard rich and famous" contract.  It's the gags and cameos that make the film worth watching, there's no doubt about that.

Such great cameos they are too.  Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Carol Kane, Dom DeLouise, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor.. no matter how brief the moment, they all really shine.  It serves to give the movie a similar feel to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or Cannonball Run.

I can't help but feel that it's almost pointless to try to sell this movie to anyone.  If you're a Muppet fan, you've no doubt already seen it and most likely love it.  If somehow you did miss out, it's definitely worth checking out no matter how old you are.

Tomorrow I'll be talking about The Great Muppet Caper.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Getting to the end of a series is both sad and satisfying all at the same time.  For Harry Potter, we know we're in for an epic showdown, but also some major losses along the way.  I'm just going to say that this entire entry is a spoiler and if you're behind in the series you really shouldn't be reading it.

Now that I've finished the entire book, it's safe to say that it is a strong book and a very fast read in the best way possible.  Finishing one chapter, I was immediately ready for the next.  While there was some slight meandering in the beginning while they wandered and Harry angsted about Dumbledore, it all pays off in the end and stays an action packed thrill ride.  As such, this second movie is also very strong.

It's hard to judge either the book or the film on a stand alone basis, as they are both largely dependent on what you had already seen.  There's really no point in watching the movie or reading the book without the preceding installments, and I noticed that Rowling did not bother to recap anywhere in this book like she had in the past.

The best way to describe the latter half of the book is a mixture of heartbreaking and heartwarming moments.  We see Percy reunite with his family and show himself as a true Gryffindor with a Weasley sense of humor, we see Neville rise above his painful past and become a true hero, we see Molly take down Bellatrix like a pro, and we see Harry of course get the upper hand over Voldemort.  But then we also have to lose George, Remus, Tonks, and Snape.  We also see the Malfoys act like themselves, which somehow manages to incite both emotions at once.

In the case of Percy, it's unfortunate that we don't get to see that moment in the film.  I can understand why, given that his subplots have been completely left out of the films entirely, but it's such a great moment in the book that I would have liked to seen.  It also seems to mean that George has to die off screen, which I don't feel is exactly fair.  However that moment when Ron rushes over to his family, seeing George lying there, is a fitting tribute if there ever was one.  And Percy can be seen in a few scenes, so it's clear all those moments happened, they were just off camera.

On the other hand, the movie does more for Remus and Tonks than Rowling did.  I still have not forgiven her for killing them off.  Her excuse that she didn't want to but had to in order to prove that an orphan could have better luck in a better environment is just ridiculous.  Teddy gets such a throwaway moment in that epilogue that I really don't see the point.  Anyway, giving Remus more lines, and seeing Tonks and he extend their hands toward each other as the battle begins really meant a lot to me, and I appreciate their efforts.  By comparison, that sentence in the book where she says it looks like they were sleeping is just a cruel joke to me.

Another thing they added, and this may seem silly, but I liked that the cornish pixies were in the Room of Requirement.  The idea that Lockhart would have stashed them there after his foolish attempt to use them in lessons is just perfect, even if it means the poor things had to die in the fiendfyre.  Another small but wonderful detail - as Harry, Hermione, and Ron head to the boathouse, they run into a giant, being reminiscent of the troll they fought their first year, then the spiders from the forest, then a werewolf, then dementors.  It's something that could very easily be viewed as corny, but I think it runs perfectly and works as a great tribute.

I have to say that Snape's death scene and also the moments in the pensieve are also so much better executed in the film than they are in the book.  Perhaps it is because book Snape was enough of a jerk that we have a harder time feeling for him, where as Alan Rickman has always played Snape in a way that you knew he cared about Harry.  It's funny how what felt so wrong in The Half Blood Prince film now seems to work so well here.  His memories, particularly that moment where he holds Lily in his arms, are just so bittersweet and heartbreaking.  His death also made me jump in my seat several times, it's just so wonderfully executed.  The sounds say so much more than showing us Nagini attack him ever could.

If there are two reasons I'm glad I went and saw the film on opening day in the theater, Molly and Neville are it.  Cheering along with everyone else while Molly screamed "Not my daughter, you bitch!" and seeing Neville both stand up to Voldemort and then kill Nagini was a wonderful moment to be a part of.  Even watching it again alone, the scenes held a lot of power.  I think Maggie Smith also brought so much strength and fun to Professor McGonagall that she really shines through in so many scenes as well.

 Oddly I don't have too much to say in regards to Harry himself.  I seem to recall that I figured out that he was a horcrux not too far in to the book, and it seemed almost inevitable that he would have to die.  The prophecy kind of suggests as much to me.  That said I was very sad to watch Harry walk into the forest the first time I read the book.  Hearing him ask Sirius, "Does it hurt?" is also very heartbreaking.  There is a part of me that feels a little let down by the fact that Harry speaks to Dumbledore after his "death."  It felt like a cheat, I think. The hero is supposed to be making his own decisions without his mentor at that point.  However, I suppose you could argue that being all in Harry's head, it wasn't really Dumbledore at all.

I'm just going to come out and say that I hate the epilogue.  I know why she did it, as she's clearly very protective of her creations and she doesn't want other people continuing the series in a way contrary to her vision of how things ended up for Harry and friends.  However, it all comes out overly hokey and I just don't like it.  Not many people really marry their high school sweetheart and live happily ever after, especially not two sets of best friends like that.  And as I said earlier, the throwaway comment about Teddy is just stupid and pointless.  In the movie it's even sillier, because they didn't want to use other actors and all they really did was give the current ones bad hairstyles.  Everyone in my theater was laughing as each character was shown on screen because they looked so ridiculous.  I'd much prefer to see the series end with the three of them on the bridge, their whole future ahead of them.

Also, do you think it's fair that Ginny had so little say in what to name their children?  "Kid one is named after my father and godfather, kid two is named after two of the professors who helped me, kid three is named after my mother... well okay, I guess we can make her middle name your friend, because she's my friend too..."  Bad Harry.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ravenloft: Vampire of the Mists

I originally wrote this review in February 2010 and posted it on Good Reads.  I'm about to start reading the second book in this series, so I thought I'd clean this up a little and post it over here in the meantime.

For those of you who are unaware, Ravenloft is a gothic horror based setting for the Dungeons & Dragons game. Primarily in the 1990s, a series of novels were produced within this setting.  The Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance novels were selling very well, so it was logical for TSR to want to branch out into a set of gothic horror tales.  The convenient thing about Ravenloft was that it is essentially a "pocket dimension" into which characters from other dimensions can find themselves by chance.  This allowed them to take characters who, if not familiar themselves, came from familiar worlds, and dump them into this new one.  Vampire of the Mists is the first novel in the Ravenloft series.

I think I was about 15 the first time I read this book, and I absolutely loved it then. The main character, Jander Sunstar, had such an effect on me that I wanted so desperately to hear more about his adventures before becoming a vampire, and I frequently used his name when given the choice to name characters in video games.  I had borrowed the book from my then boyfriend and so post break up I no longer had access to the book. Noticing it on the cheap used recently, I decided to pick it up and see if I still would love it as much as I did.

This is by no means a perfect book. I think the fact that this is Christie Golden's first novel shows through, but I also think a lot of it is not her fault. Being the first of the series, she was tasked with largely introducing us to this world and its main character, Strahd, who for all intents and purposes is Dracula. As such, his story bears a strong resemblance to the Dracula we know from the films, and in a way Jander is nothing more than Jonathon Harker with a twist. It's interesting to me that his origin has some similarities to the Bram Stoker's Dracula film, which was not released into theaters until one year after this book was published.

The changes and twists make all the difference for this novel. Jander is a gold/high elf who was turned into a vampire while still living within the Forgotten Realms universe.  His elf breed bears a strong resemblance to Lord of the Rings elves in manner, and Jander does not forget his ideals once he is changed.  As an elf he worshiped Lathander Morninglord, the god of dawn.  I know by now we've all seen the vampire trying to do good so many times that it's become cliche, but I would like to point out this novel pre-dates both Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series and Twilight by a great number of years.  For me at least, the fact that he is an elf and not just a vampire cursed with a soul or whatever the Twilight reasoning is keeps the concept feeling fresh here.

Jander is carried by the title mentioned mists into Strahd's kingdom, following a woman he has fallen in love with. He initially makes friends with Strahd, but it doesn't take long for Jander to realize that he and the count do not see eye to eye.  The time line in the book feels incredibly rushed at certain points. We follow along on a daily basis, and then jump 10 to 15 years in the future suddenly. I think you could make the argument that this is to signify what life is like for an immortal, how fast time can pass when you live forever. But it can also be momentarily jarring to the reader. It also means that characters are introduced and then quickly disappear, and some characters don't enter the book until quite late and yet you're still supposed to be attached to them. To Golden's credit, she does create characters that are likeable enough for you to care.

While I would not go into this book expecting a masterpiece, I think anyone who enjoys fantasy and gothic horror will enjoy the book.  Christie Golden did write at least one more story of Jander, within the story collection Realms of Valor.  She's also written two more of the books in the Ravenloft series as well as Star Trek, Starcraft, and World of Warcraft novels.

I happen to own Realms of Valor as well, so I pulled that out and read the short story, "One Last Drink" last night.  The story is set within the Forgotten Realms universe, at an unspecific amount of time before Vampire of the Mists, where Jander has already become a vampire. Within the laws of this universe, vampires must obey the commands of the vampire who sired them, so while Jander is trying to do good, he's forced to do the bidding of a rather Lestat-like vampire.  The story is set within a tavern in one night where his sire Cassius wants to slaughter everyone inside and Jander does his best to save them, along with the help of a moon elf fighter and a human bard/priest.  This was written two years later, and unfortunately I can't say her prose has improved.  It's just a little too flowery at times.  However I think she does a great job presenting action scenes without getting overly technical, and you get attached to the characters even in such a brief exchange.  Realms of Valor also contains stories that star Drizzt Do'Urden and Arilyn Moonblade, two of my other favorite characters in the Forgotten Realms universe.  It's worth picking up if you can find it as it gives you a decent taste of all these characters (and more) that you can then go try their novels if you find one you like.

The next novel in this series is Knight of the Black Rose, and features possibly the most well known character from the Ravenloft series of novels, Lord Soth.  That same boyfriend who let me borrow Vampire of the Mists read this book and absolutely loved it - while I was using Jander as a chosen name, he would usually use Soth.  For whatever reason I never read the book myself back then, so I'm anxious to see if it will live up to the hype he gave it or fall flat.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My X-men Collection, Part 2 (video)

I aim to improve with every video I do.  For this one I tried using a script and kept to it, for the most part.  I hope it helps keep things a little more focused.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghostbusters I & II

The following isn't going to be as much of a review as an account of my own personal experiences with these films. But let's be real - you don't need me to tell you to watch Ghostbusters.

For me, Ghostbusters isn't just a great funny film, but really the start of my existence as a geek. I was only three when the movie was released in theaters, so my first viewing of it was when my parents recorded the movie onto VHS from HBO. I'm fairly certain I was six years old. In no time this movie became an obsession for both me and my brother. The library ghost scared us, but after that it was just pure silliness and fun. I cannot possibly count the number of times we watched this movie. We also watched the cartoon faithfully, and owned the action figures, not to mention a real working ghost trap and proton pack that we would take turns catching ghosts with all the time.

This was also where I met my first love. His name was Egon Spangler, and I thought he was adorable and I wanted to marry him and have lots of babies. I even went so far as to insist that my two best friends also pick a ghostbuster to be married to. I imagined us having ten children, including two sets of twins. I had names and personalities for all of them, but sadly I can't remember them anymore. The seeds of me being a writer were planted right then and there.

I eventually left this obsession behind for The Little Mermaid and then Bill & Ted, so there was a large gap for me where I didn't watch either film for quite awhile. It was only on the release of the DVD set that I finally sat down to watch these films again. Imagine my surprise when I realized just how many dirty jokes they contained. I really think that's one of the great things about these movies though, that it can appeal to both kids and adults in equal measure. The only side effect being that I feel a little creeped out for being attracted to Egon now.

I got the chance to go see Ghostbusters during its limited theater re-release this October.  I was a little disappointed that so few people had turned up, there were probably only twenty of us in there at most.  I was also surprised to see how grainy the film looked, considering that it was described as a "digital presentation" on the ticket.  Silly me thought that might mean they cleaned it up.  Though I guess the graininess just sort of adds to the feelings of nostalgia.

Watching it again I realized that a large part of the appeal of the film is that each Ghostbuster is truly likeable in his own way.  My dear Egon is the smart one who figures out how to contain the ghosts and how to defeat them, along with having an obvious weakness for junk food.  Ray is called "the heart of the Ghostbusters" by Peter at one point, and he's not kidding.  Dan Aykroyd's real life enthusiasm for the paranormal really shows through in the sometimes dimwitted but always loveable character.  Winston's no nonsense approach represents the everyman dealing with these crazy situations.  And of course there's Peter, who steals the show and is ultimately the most quotable character in the whole film.  He can be a total jerk, but you also know why Dana Barrett falls for him anyway, because it's really hard not to smile at a guy like that.

Speaking of Dana, I love that once again Sigourney Weaver is playing a strong female character.  She could easily be portrayed as a damsel in distress in this kind of situation, but she's sure of herself and confident, just naturally freaked about the strange things going on in her apartment.  And then there's Rick Moranis playing the absolutely hilarious Louis, though he perhaps is even funnier once he becomes Vinz Clortho.  Annie Potts is also great as the ultra sarcastic Janine, and let's not forget the man we all love to hate, Walter Peck.  Has anyone ever asked William Atherton what it's like to play characters that are so loathed?  I would imagine it has to be a mix of really fun and really annoying at times.

One of the details I noticed while watching it on the larger screen is the moment where the Ghostbusters are in jail and going over the blueprints.  There are some extras in the background who are really going above and beyond, acting as if they are having a conversation that equates to "Can you believe these guys?"  It's hilarious.

I was old enough to see Ghostbusters II when it hit theaters, and I remember being very excited. I can still remember seeing that final painting before the end credits up on the large screen. Whenever it premiered on television we taped it and added that to our movie viewing rotation. It boggles me that this movie is largely judged as not very good, because to me it's just more of the same silly fun.

Watching it again this weekend I still giggled hysterically when the guys powered on their proton packs for  the first time and say "Doe... Ray... Egon!"   The look on Harold Ramis' face, like he's so proud of himself, just completely makes it.  Peter MacNicol is also a great addition to the cast, playing neurotic and creepy all at the same time.

What is it about the film people don't like?  I don't see Vigo and the slime under NYC to be any stranger or sillier than Gozer with his gatekeeper and keymaster.  Is it the overly positive message at the end?  Given that it's set during Christmas and New Year's Eve, I figure that goes along with the territory.  You can't say that this one is more for kids either because there's tons of adult jokes that flew over my head at the time.  I remember how shocked I was when I watched it as an adult and realized what they really meant during the "Are you sleeping with it?" joke.  I swear I just thought he took it and slept next to it back then.  I will say I do think Bill Murray plays Peter a little more goofy than the previous ultra-sarcastic version in the first film, but I don't see it as bad, just different.

The special features on the Ghostbusters II  disc features two episodes of The Real Ghostbusters.  One is an early episode that explains how Slimer came to live with the Ghostbusters full time in the firehouse, and the other is much later, when the show became Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters and was updated to reflect the changes that happened in Ghostbusters II.  I found the first episode just okay, and the second a bit too stupid to finish.  It successfully killed off any urge I was feeling to possibly buy the DVD set of the show.  As much as I loved it back then it doesn't seem to hold up for me.  I would hear Lorenzo Music's voice and just think of Garfield, for one.  It also reminded me how much the cartoon used to focus on the ghosts, and for whatever reason that just doesn't interest me like it used to.

The good news is the toys are still awesome.  I've got the Stay Puft figure, a scared Peter and Ray (weren't those the best?), as well as a normal Peter and Egon and a Ray who used to have some kind of toy attachments that we've since lost - he looks like he's wearing some kind of gadget armor.

So what are your memories of the Ghostbusters?  Any awesome collector's items you want to show off?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Year Anniversary

This blog is now officially two!  Does that mean I'm supposed to get cranky and say "no!" on here a lot now?

It really doesn't seem like it's been long at all.  This blog has now received more than 13,000 page views, which seems rather fitting for an anniversary date so close to Halloween.

Over the past year I've gone through the entirety of the Harry Potter series, done a month long X-men marathon, seen a lot of horror films, completed the Monsters vs Aliens Challenge, and started doing videos as well.  I feel sort of exhausted just looking at all that.

I want to offer a deep amount of thanks to all of you for reading, retweeting, and otherwise sharing this blog.  It means a lot to me that you guys enjoy what I do.  I also love discussing everything with you guys in the comments and on twitter!

What's next? Well, I can tell you that I'm going back on my word when I said I wouldn't do anymore marathons.  The next one will definitely be shorter than the X-men marathon though!  It's coming up in November in relation to a movie release I'm very excited for.  There's also guaranteed to be more X-men, more Batman, and more horror related posts.  I also plan to start doing more video reviews.  I hope you guys will enjoy it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Growing up I was familiar with the Frank Oz musical film Little Shop of Horrors, and had no idea that was it was actually a remake. The original film is not a musical, but otherwise shares much of the same plot. It was hard for me to not make comparisons as I watched this one, but I think they both shine in their own ways.

If you manage to find a DVD copy of this film, you'll probably see it labeled as starring Jack Nicholson, which is very misleading. While Nicholson's part is an absolute must see, it's only a small role. If you're familiar with the 1986 movie, it's the same role that Bill Murray plays in that one. He's a masochist who goes to the dentist office in order to be hurt, and he plays it so over the top it's just hysterical. Beyond that one scene the actors are all unknowns, unless of course you've seen enough Roger Corman films that you know the actors he normally works with.

I didn't really know what to expect going in to this film. I had never seen any of Corman's work previously, but I had heard stories. The stories are very similar to what you hear about Ed Wood and Uwe Boll films - using the same actors, reusing sets, story ideas being made up either shortly before or as the movie is being made. Plan 9 from Outer Space is hilarious, but not an actual good film. Imagine my surprise when I realized just how strong this one actually is.

The dialogue is sharp and witty for the most part, and the movie moves at a decent pace. There's also a silly chase scene toward the end of the film that is pretty funny. The horror elements aren't bad either, as we see Seymour feed Audrey II actual body parts and watch the plant grow bigger and bigger. It is low budget, so you can't expect anything too impressive here, but for the time period and style of film I think it works perfectly. At only 70 minutes long and in the public domain, this is definitely a film you should check out some time. I highly recommend it.

I also recommend the 1986 version. Ellen Greene, who plays Audrey, has a voice that can get on your nerves, but since it's being played for comedic effect it's really not that bad. With a team like Alan Menken and Howard Ashman writing the songs, you probably expect them to be good, and you're right. It also has much stronger actors, including Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and the aforementioned Bill Murray. It ends a bit differently than the original film, but I'm okay with both endings. A different ending that was closer to the original was apparently rejected by test audiences, but we're supposed to see that on the Blu Ray release next year.

So the only decade I have left now is the 1980s. The films I've chosen also star two of the actors mentioned in the above paragraph, and if you haven't figured out what I'm referring to by now, then I guess you slept through the 80s. Perhaps you could make a phone call and find out. But who are you going to call?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

It's kind of hard to review a book when you're not finished it yet, but since I'm trying to judge the movies as adaptations, I figured it would be best to split the posts up. I remember feeling on the edge of my seat for most of my first read through, and that's definitely not happening here. I guess knowing already who lives and who doesn't can do that to you. That's not to say the book is badly paced or lacking in action - I did just happen to feel like Harry, Hermione, and Ron agonizing over how to find the horcruxes did go on a bit though. Not to mention the "Was Dumbledore a bad guy?" angle here on display. Suffice to say that if you attempted to cut the book right here, you would feel incredibly cheated. But how about the film?

It's pacing does feel a bit uneven to me. While things do move along quicker in the movie than they do in the book, I still can't help but feel like the middle is just a lot of camping with stuff happening before and after. It is, at least, a decent spot to stop the action on, allowing there to be enough build up and action in the second film, and basically making this film about being on a journey whereas part 2 is primarily all about the final battles.

As far as changes, there really aren't very many. I noticed that a lot of the lines are taken directly out of the book. We're back to how it was with the Sorcerer's Stone, where changes are only made to move things along or amp up the action. The beginning scene is really well done, and watching Hermione erase her parents' memories is really heartbreaking. I would have liked to have seen the moment between Dudley and Harry here, but given how little we've seen of the Dursleys over the last few films, it would be pretty out of place to those who only watched the movies.

I do wonder how confusing it must be for a film only viewer, the way they sort of dump all the information on us. Here's Bill, he got attacked by a werewolf before. You remember Fleur, don't you? Oh yeah, by the way, Remus and Tonks are married now and here's a slight little clue that she's pregnant. This guy's name is Mundungus, you haven't seen him before but he's about to be fairly important in the next 20 minutes. And that's all in just one scene! I do think they handled it as best as they could though.


The whole book is full of deaths and serious injuries, so it's kind of hard to avoid spoilers, but I'm trying to keep my promise until the very end.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who is more upset about Hedwig's death than Mad Eye. I think a large part of the problem is that when we get to know Mad Eye, he's actually Barty Crouch Jr., and from there forward he's just a paranoid protector escorting Harry to and fro. Hedwig, on the other hand, has been with us from the beginning and I think Rowling did a great job of giving her personality. Hedwig's death differs in the film and the book, and I can't entirely decide which is better. In the book it serves as our first real WTF?! moment and makes it clear to us that all bets are off when it comes to who will live or die. In the movie she had been set free, and could have sailed off peacefully to meet up with them later, but yet she clearly loves Harry and wants to protect him. It also serves to make Harry a little smarter, as in the book it is his use of Expelliarmus that gives him away, and really that is a stupid move on his part.

Inserting Dobby into the scene where Kreacher retrieves Mundungus makes sense, because film viewers haven't seen him at all since the Chamber of Secrets, and it functions as a nice reminder of who he is before his big final moment at the end. As I said in my Chamber of Secrets review, I didn't really like Dobby. So imagine my surprise that when I read this book the first time, I was crying so hard for him. Even on the second reading, I got a bit misty eyed. It is so much worse in the film for me. I sobbed for him when I saw it in the theaters the first time, and I wasn't much better on my second viewing last night. It's so well done, I think you have to be a pretty stoic person not to.

Wormtail doesn't get his end in the film, but I think that was probably a rating issue. Seeing a man strangled by his own silver hand would be pretty gruesome. The timing of Voldemort gaining the elder wand is also a little off, but it makes perfect sense why they rearrange it here. The end result is still that he gets to it before Harry can do anything about it, so that's really all that matters.

Less than a month to go before Deathly Hallows Part 2 is released on DVD/Blu ray, and I think I'm going to make it! Actually, at the rate I've been reading it is entirely possible that I may finish before it's out, and I'm going to have to do my best to keep everything fresh in my head so I don't forget what's changed and what's not. Deathly Hallows the book really is a quick, easy read, and not just because it is shorter that the few preceding books.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cannibal! The Musical

When I originally chose a 90s era horror comedy, I decided I was going to see if I could actually sit through Dead Alive. However it's not available on Netflix Streaming, and I didn't want to pay to rent something I might very well turn off before the end. Perhaps one day, when I'm not feeling so squeamish, I'll take the risk.

In having to go back to the drawing board, I realized there was a film I had added to my Netflix Streaming queue ages ago, but had never actually watched yet. I imagine it was my love of South Park and BASEketball that made Netflix suggest it for me, as this is a film made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone while they were still film students. It is far more black comedy meets musical than a horror film, but there's no denying there are definitely horror elements here.

With the very first opening scene, I started to wonder if I had really chosen a "safer" choice. We watch a crazed cannibal maniac taking bites out of a group of other people. Of course it's hard not to laugh here, as watching him rip a rather fake looking arm off a man and then proceed to beat him with it can only be seen as comical. It turns out this gory moment is actually just a "reenactment" of what the prosecutor is telling the court at Alferd Packer's trial.

This is in fact based on a true story, as Alferd Packer was a real guy who was tried for killing and cannibalizing his companions on a trip from Utah to Colorado where they got lost in the snow, something we're all a little more familiar with as a Donner party situation. It is of course a loose basis, as given the time period and Packer's changing confessions, no one really knows for sure what happened. And of course, it's a comedy, so you can't expect true accuracy here anyway.

The film doesn't have the same hilarity as the finer episodes of South Park or the aforementioned BASEketball, but there are definitely some strong moments that show the potential of these future comedy superstars. The songs are done in the same style that South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut would later follow. It's a kind of tribute to musicals like Oklahoma! and Pollyanna, with over the top and absurd lyrics. The same rude, crude humor that has made them famous shows itself here with the song "When I Was On Top Of You." It's about his horse, of course, what were you thinking of?

One of the things that tickled me the most was when the traveling group runs into the "Nihonjin" tribe, a supposed Native American group played entirely by Japanese actors who speak Japanese to the characters. It's just the perfect kind of silliness, with a nod to the fact that Indian characters in westerns were rarely played by true Native Americans, that just hit my funny bone perfectly.

The horror doesn't really show up again until the cannibalism occurs, about halfway through the film. The group suggests that they should act like the Donner party and eat their dead companion to survive. Once he is gone, they are still hungry and wondering who they should eat next. Packer goes out alone to try to find help, and when he returns he finds all but one of his companions dead. This is based on at least one of the confessions Packer gave in real life. When Packer faces off against Bell, the remaining companion, the gore is once again ramped up to comedic effect here. I believe the official term is "splatstick" and while the guys were performing on a very low budget, it is indeed hilarious. If there's any scene of the film you need to see, this one is it. The squeamish need not be concerned as it definitely rests heavily more in the comical realm than gross.

Overall, the film felt a little dry to me. There's some really great scenes, but it sort of drags in between, and the songs are not as strong as their later South Park efforts. I think it's definitely a must see for anyone who is a fan of Parker and Stone, but the rest can probably skip it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

When looking through a list of horror comedies from the 1970s, I figured I had two main choices. The two that stood out the most were Young Frankenstein and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I loved Young Frankenstein, but I decided it was time to give another chance to RHPS, which I've always had a distant relationship with.

Rocky Horror always seemed more like an event than a movie when I was growing up. People would spend their Friday nights putting on costumes and going to one of the more rundown theaters in the area, where I heard they would shout at the screen, throw things, and haze people who were brand new to the experience. This last part guaranteed I would never go, despite how curious I was about the whole thing. I had no interest in being humiliated just because I was interested in what the whole thing was all about. It's possible that the true experience is no where near that bad, but that's certainly how people made you think it was.

At some point (I can't remember the year anymore) VH1 got the rights to show the film, and they started it off by playing it repeatedly one weekend. I tuned in out of curiosity, but quickly turned it off, completely baffled as to what the big deal was. I caught scenes on and off as I flipped through the channels that weekend, but it just left me shrugging. I figured it wasn't for me and I just left it at that.

However with this theme I decided to give it another try, especially since my knowledge of classic horror and B movies have grown quite a bit since then. I was still a bit unsure if this truly counted as a comedy film, so I asked Twitter yesterday, and got an affirmative from nearly everyone who answered.

I think my skepticism for that fact is that The Rocky Horror Picture Show is not the type of film that is meant to make you hold on to your sides laughing hard throughout. It is campy, absurdist humor drawn out to the extreme. The main characters spend the majority of the movie in their underwear, the cast is full of strange looking people, and bizarre things happen throughout.

There are some genuinely funny scenes that made me laugh, but they mostly were all gathered in the middle of the film when Dr. Scott shows up. After the silly dinner party though, we're back to just strange scenes held together by musical numbers. I think perhaps that's what stops me from calling the film truly funny. Musicals are already naturally absurd due to the fact that they are set in a world where people often feel the need to break into song or dance in order to express their emotions. Does the setting of a mad doctor's castle automatically make it more funny than one set in Oklahoma?

As a tribute to B movie films, it handles its job well. Dr. Frank-N-Furter is a fun campy rendition of Dr. Frankenstein, played excellently by Tim Curry. Susan Sarandon does well as both the damsel in distress and the good girl gone bad, and Meat Loaf makes the most of his brief scene as Eddie. For whatever reason I found myself really drawn to the character of Columbia, played by Nell Campbell. Her voice definitely makes her hard to miss, but she also seemed like the most tragic of all the characters and I couldn't help but feel for her.

I think when it comes down to it, how you're going to feel about this movie has everything to do with how you'll feel about the music. "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me" has been in my head pretty much the entire time I'm writing this review, and it's starting to get a little annoying. I enjoy Tim Curry's performances, but the style of music just doesn't grab me. I'm not a huge musical fan in general, so that shouldn't be a surprise.

So in the end, the result is still the same - this movie is not for me. I'm still glad I watched it though. It's a fun part of both musical and B movie history that I think everyone should watch at least once.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Monsters vs Aliens Challenge: The Fly (1958 & 1986)

It's sort of hard to believe I've reached the end of this challenge. I also wish I would have known ahead of time how I was going to feel about this movie, because I don't like ending the series on a bad note. I don't like writing negative reviews at all really, but I guess when you sign up for a challenge you don't really have a choice.

The Fly (1958)

Like many 50s sci-fi films, The Fly is the story of a scientist trying to do things man wasn't meant to and dealing with the consequences. I think that's a fairly simple plot that nearly all of us can understand, especially in a world where technology advances farther and farther each decade. One of the problems with this movie is that it feels the need to talk down to us about it for far too long.

As the movie starts, the scientist is already dead. His brother, played by Vincent Price, gets a phone call and goes over to their factory to discover his brother crushed by a hydraulic press and his sister in law apparently guilty of the murder. Just telling you that, I bet you already know exactly what happened. Yet this movie feels the need to draw out scenes of the wife saying she doesn't know why but she did kill him, and debate on whether or not she knew how to operate the machine, etc. She's also obsessed with finding a white headed fly. Finally, after 30 minutes of sitting through this, Vincent Price convinces her to talk and we flashback to find out what happened.

Scientist Andre Delambre has built a teleportation machine. It originally works for inanimate objects, but when he puts their beloved pet cat through, it disappears. That poor cat. It also bothers me that his wife and son never seem to notice she's missing. Anyway, after tweaking the machine a little, he manages to keep a guinea pig alive and therefore assumes it's all ready for humans. He tests it on himself, but unfortunately a fly sneaks in there too and they swap heads and a single arm.

You would think the brain would go along with the head, but apparently not. For awhile at least, he's able to think and types out messages to his wife. He keeps his head hidden under a sheet so she can't see how hideous he is. Finally, after an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie, we get the reveal and a wonderful blood curdling scream from the wife when she sees him.

I know I've complained about this many times throughout the challenge, but I just can't understand it. If you're going to go through all the effort of building these masks and effects, don't you want to show them off?

The other thing I found a little odd as I was watching it was the fact that the fly slowly taking over his brain meant that he was turning evil. These days we mostly just think of flies as annoying pests that are attracted to garbage. But it is worth mentioning that Beelzebub translates to "Lord of the Flies" so at least at one point or another people felt differently.

Beyond Vincent Price, who is enjoyable in pretty much anything he's ever done, the main redeeming moment of this movie is toward the very end, when we see the fly that now has a man's head and arm. Its tiny cries of "Help me!" along with its rather creepy appearance are really well done for the time period. Unfortunately, I spent most of the rest of the film just wishing it was over already.

The Fly (1986)

However, had I known what was coming, I think I would have relished all that slow moving preaching. The one thing I had always heard about this version of The Fly was that it was gross. The effects in this movie are in fact disgusting, nauseating, and squirm worthy. Rather than a head/arm swap, the scientist, called Seth Brundle here, is merged with the fly on a genetic level, and slowly takes on more and more fly qualities as the movie progresses. At first it's just some breakouts on his face and some coarse hair on his back, but then his fingernails fall off. And we're forced to watch him pick off every single one (Okay, I totally looked away after the first one, so I could be wrong here. But who could sit through that? Yuck.) Puss oozes off him, he vomits acid because that's the only way he can eat, his teeth fall out, one ear just flops off while he's talking one day... it's really bad.

Perhaps even worse is the story. With no introduction what so ever, Brundle walks up to a woman at a party, played by Geena Davis, and asks her if she wants to go back to his place to see his invention. She's a journalist looking for a big story, so she follows him. He manages to teleport one of her stockings, so she's all impressed. She goes back to a guy who runs a science magazine to tell him about it, and we eventually find out this is her ex-boyfriend. It's the most pointless subplot ever, as she thinks he's a jerk but then acts like they're friends whenever the plot calls for it. I'm usually not one to think about the bechdel test when it comes to movies, but would it have killed them to insert a female friend in here for her to talk to later? Anyway, it quickly becomes a love triangle as after attempting to teleport a baboon and having the poor thing come through without its skin, she seduces Brundle. I guess she loves gross things. She babbles some nonsense about the appeal of flesh, and somehow this makes him realize what he needs to do to fix the machine.

After another baboon turns out fine (Where is he getting them from? Is there a baboon shop somewhere?) he goes through, but of course the fly is in there too. He becomes superhuman at first, and we endure a long scene full of a gymnast pretending to be Jeff Goldblum and doing flips. Then it is implied that the two of them have sex for a really long time, and he still doesn't finish. He wants her to go through the machine so she can be superhuman too (he doesn't know about the fly yet) but she's scared. So he picks up a chick at a bar, impressing her by arm wrestling a guy and breaking one of his bones so it goes through the skin. But she won't go through the machine either, so he's back at square one. This is about when all the ultra disgusting transformation stuff starts happening.

Geena Davis finds out she's pregnant, and wants to have an abortion because she's afraid the baby will be a fly baby. We know this because she has a dream sequence where she births a giant maggot. When in doubt, just assume this movie is going for the most disgusting way possible to show you anything. "Brundlefly," as he is now calling himself, wants to save the baby and therefore kidnaps her to stop her from having the abortion. Creepy ex-boyfriend who thinks no means yes now becomes the hero who is out to stop Brundlefly with a shotgun, except he gets hit with acid in the hand and then ankle so we can watch them melt.

Geena Davis manages to convince Brundlefly not to kill him, and that's when everything gross up to this point becomes mild and tame as we watch the last of the human parts slowly but surely fall off him to reveal a fly creature underneath. During that whole sequence I was squirming and shouting "nightmare fuel!" in my head, but once the actual fly creature was shown, I actually thought he was kind of cute by comparison. This is how this movie can warp your mind. Anyway, after badly acting by crying, "No, I can't!" Geena Davis blows the fly creature's head off and the movie ends as abruptly as it began.

Both of these films have sequels, but I think I would need alcohol and payment in order to sit through them. Apparently, there is yet another remake coming in 2012, starring Charlie Sheen and Robert Downey, Jr. It looks to be a closer remake to the 1958 version, in at least they are using the Delambre last name.

The reason I had to sit through these is Dr. Cockroach in Monsters vs Aliens. He is voiced by Hugh Laurie. I've only ever seen one episode of House, but his performance here does tempt me to see more. The character is largely your typical mad scientist type, but that doesn't make him any less entertaining. This scientist actually transformed himself on purpose, though he wanted the strength and endurance of the cockroach, not its appearance. It sort of works as a nice nod to the 1986 The Fly, though I'm not sure why anyone would want to acknowledge such a horrible movie. There's a really fun sequence in this film as Dr. Cockroach gleefully tries a few experiments on Ginormica to try to get her back down to normal size.

So what happens now that I've completed the challenge? It's safe to say there will be more viewing of silly 50s horror and alien sci-fi movies in the future, but I probably will only stop to review the ones I actually enjoy and think you should watch.
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