Thursday, March 31, 2011

King Creole and Elvis Presley

Have you ever wanted to watch something, but can't help but be filled with dread about how much it's going to suck? That's pretty much what happened to me as I sat down to watch King Creole. This was a film about my hometown, which has been mistreated and misunderstood in film on a regular basis. It's also an Elvis movie. Even among his most devoted fans, there are few who praise his acting talents. My curiosity could not be denied though, and as such I had to watch what is often referred to as the best of his films.

My thoughts on Elvis have evolved drastically over the years. My parents were both a little too young to be fans. My main memory is my dad telling me that he and his friends couldn't help but giggle at "the little boy with the runny nose" line in "In the Ghetto," so that gives you an idea of how old he was when that song came out in 1969. Of course, every time I hear the song I think of that and end up giggling too. I love my goofy family.

Looking back on my youth I realize I had a lot of elitist tendencies. I used to be one of those who believed that what I liked was the best and therefore anything else was inferior. I don't know how I could watch the Beatles Anthology and come away from it looking down on Elvis, but I did. He didn't write his own songs, and basically that was enough for me to dismiss him. Never mind that he's pretty much the entire reason the Beatles starting making music, and you can hear his vocal influence in all four of their singing voices. I waggle my finger at 13 year old me in disapproval.

That was pretty much how my opinion remained until 2002. That was when the album ELV1S was released and the remix version of "A Little Less Conversation" was pretty much everywhere. I could not deny that it was a really good song and he was in fact a great singer. I should probably also mention that I always really liked "Suspicious Minds" too, but somehow didn't recognize it as an Elvis song. It sounds more like Neil Diamond's style to me.

Another thing that happened in 2002 was Lilo & Stitch. Surely I have talked about how much I love that movie before? If somehow I haven't, I'll have to save it for another post. Regardless, the Elvis song selections in that movie are pretty much perfection in terms of fitting the mood. "Devil in Disguise" is probably my favorite in terms of its use in the movie and just being a great song over all.

You would think that might be the point where I really became an Elvis fan. But the truth is, not entirely. I dropped the elitism on the issue but he basically became someone who I thought was pretty good but was not necessarily a fan of. Last year, however, Jak's friend told him he wanted them to start a 50's cover band together and he agreed. Suddenly, he had to learn all of these songs really quickly, both on guitar and most of the vocals since they were trading singing duties. So he started burning CDs of their planned setlists and we would listen to them in the car to help him get familiarized with them. I've been a casual fan of 50's music for most of my life - one of the first cassettes I purchased was a 50's compilation, though I don't think there was any Elvis on it. Anyway, with the frequency of which I was hearing this music, I started to notice something. The only ones I wasn't getting sick of were Elvis songs.

Finally, it was time to dig deeper. I downloaded a ton of his songs, largely from the 50's, and made my way through them. The songs from King Creole stuck out to me immediately thanks to all the New Orleans references. I had never actually heard of the movie before, but I liked most of the songs. Having absorbed a good amount of his music and read up on his history, I had to experience his acting, for no other reason than to see just how bad it could be.

One other thing before I get into the movie review. Netflix has a collection of all his Ed Sullivan appearances. They're interesting from a history perspective because you get to watch the entire episodes and see just what passed for variety entertainment in the mid 50's. It's also nice that you get to see all of his performance as well as the banter before and after the songs. Let me tell you something - that boy charmed me from the moment he appeared on the screen. I know why those girls were screaming now. He's so bashful and sweet, how could you not love him? I giggled and sighed like a school girl watching those clips.

As for King Creole, it looks pretty great on paper. Besides Elvis it also starts Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones (best known as Morticia Adams) and was directed by Michael Curtiz who had previously done Casablanca. The story is about a poor kid who ends up getting mixed up with the wrong people while also trying to help support his family by singing. It reminded me a lot of Blue Velvet, minus the David Lynch craziness, or kind of what I expect Rebel Without a Cause to be like. I really need to watch that one. I just found out that the original version of this movie was actually supposed to star James Dean before his untimely death, so I guess that makes a lot of sense. Our hero must choose between the good girl and the bad girl, and also the gangster or the honest businessman, all while attempting to gain the approval of his father. The plot gets needlessly complicated at points, but overall is about what you would expect from this type of film.

Elvis's acting performance pretty much saddles the average line. His line delivery felt a little rushed at points, but overall he expresses emotion well and keeps up speed with some of the more talented actors beside him. I have to admit the scene where he cries was a little too hard to swallow though. I found myself chuckling rather than sympathizing with him.

In terms of how it treated my city, I can't really complain. The book this was loosely based on was originally set in New York, and it's obvious they only made some minor changes to modify it to New Orleans. I kind of get the feeling they studied A Streetcar Named Desire to get the mood right, and they seem to have filmed at least partially in the French Quarter. The songs seem to be what tie it into the city the most, and they stay far enough on the generic side to not insult us with inaccuracies.

Overall, the main reason to watch this movie is to see Elvis perform. It's not as good as one of his live shows because you can notice the lip syncing at points, but he still brings the same energy and charm to these performances. The hip swiveling dancing that made him so famous is all right there. Of all of them, I think "Trouble" and "King Creole" are probably my favorites.

From what I hear, Jailhouse Rock is also considered one of his best films, but once again it's the dance sequences people are raving about rather than the acting. It's entirely possible that any other Elvis films I end up watching will involve me fast forwarding until I get to the songs. That's a fun reversal from what I do with most of the Marx Brothers movies. I'm also realizing that I really, really need to watch his '68 Comeback Special, and why I haven't yet is a mystery.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sucker Punch

"When the horrors of her real-life existence become too much for Babydoll, she seeks solace in the fantastical. There, she finds the inspiration and strength to fight for her freedom in the real world."

That description alone was pretty much enough to make me want to see Sucker Punch. The fact that I had really enjoyed Watchmen (as an adaptation more than as a stand alone movie) was icing on the cake.

This movie seems to be pretty polarizing. People bash it or they love it and tell you that you desperately need to see it. I'm afraid my own reactions are much more lukewarm. There were certain parts I really loved, and others that just sort of fell flat or missed their mark.

The action scenes are top notch and the special effects are awesome. I love most of the costumes and I loved the grim and gritty atmospheres of the various worlds. However you can't just call it a dumb popcorn movie because there are long scenes of story scattered throughout. I could see someone just looking for action to be disappointed or impatient during the story scenes.

The story isn't particularly well executed. This isn't Inception where the people are asleep in the upper level as they enter the lower ones where it's easy to see what's happening when. The idea is that Babydoll imagines the insane asylum she has been put in as a brothel, and while dancing inside the brothel she goes even deeper into the action sequences, all with the intention of gaining key items to make her escape. The problem is that since she's actually awake while she's doing these things, it would be nice to both catch a glimpse of some of her dances (since we're told they are literally spellbinding to the men who watch), and most importantly, to get the real world application of them. There's a very quick scene toward the end that attempts to sum it all up, but while watching the movie I kept wishing we could see what was happening in the real world during the actual scenes.

The whole reason the movie appealed to me is that I live inside my head a lot. Whether it's because I'm bored or upset, I frequently pretend I'm somewhere else or talking to someone instead of what I'm doing right then and there. When I lived in an apartment building with a pest problem, I dubbed myself "The Roach Slayer" to conquer my fears of the nasty things long enough to kill them. I was really anxious to see something like this taken to extreme lengths and brought to life on the big screen, but in the end I don't feel like that's entirely what we got. There is certainly a fantasy world here, but seeing the direct results of these fantasies would have had a lot more impact than what we did see.

Despite this, I really did love the fantasy sequences. Wielding a samurai sword and a shiny gun to kill monsters, nazis, and dragons? Disarming a bomb before it blows up a city? All while looking sexy and cool? Yes, these are things that I would love to do. I am baffled by people who refer to this movie as cheesecake or sexist. If you want to see exploitation, go watch Heavy Metal. All the women in that movie get naked for no good reason and almost always have to depend on the men to save them. All I saw in this movie were five girls kicking asses and taking names while showing a mild amount of skin. The only thing that really bugged me is that the blonds get most of the real character development while the brunettes play backup.

People like to complain about Zack Snyder's love for slow motion, but I don't really see how it's a bad thing. Far too often these days I go to action movies that contain fight scenes and I can't see a thing that's going on. It's just a blur of movement in a dimly lit area. So I really like the way the slo-mo allows us to see some really cool fight sequences we might otherwise miss.

My personal complaint about his style is that he seems to only own about 5 CDs, and all of them are compilations of songs that have been overused in films and television. "Sweet Dreams"? "Search and Destroy"? "White Rabbit"? "Where is My Mind?"? As much as I enjoyed the re-imagined versions of these songs, I couldn't help but think that the scenes could have used some slightly less obvious choices. Tarantino, who I see as a sort of predecessor to Snyder's style, is great at digging up old songs you forgot about and making you love them again. This is more the pop song equivalent of the orchestrated music trying to tell you when to feel sad in modern movies.

The film's greatest sin is its name. Chances are you already know "the twist" if you've seen the trailer. If not, you'll figure it out the moment Babydoll is given her "mission." There's no surprise at all, just a movie moving toward its inevitable conclusion. Its message is also a bit heavy handed with a character literally narrating to us at the very end of the film while the screen goes black to make sure we're paying attention to her words. Too bad Snyder forgot the first rule of film-making - show, don't tell.

Apparently, in order to stay PG-13 Snyder had to cut a lot from the film. I'm holding out hope that the blu-ray release will help fill in some of the gaps I felt were missing from the storyline.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

10 Reasons You Should Watch Phineas and Ferb

I am completely in love with this show, but I don't seem to run into anyone else who loves it. I can see two obvious reasons as to why that's probably the case. For one, modern cartoons seemed to be of much lower quality than the classics and cater more to kids than to everyone. For another, this is a show on the Disney Channel. Hannah Montana and its ilk have pretty much made us all avoid Disney Channel original programming, so I can understand why you would pass it on by. Here's why I think you need to give it a chance.

10. It was created by two guys who worked on Rocko's Modern Life together. Since Rocko was one of the most "adult" cartoons marketed toward children that tells you there are plenty of adult laughs to be had here. If you somehow missed out on Rocko back in the day, you need to go watch that too.

9. They pitched the show as Family Guy meets Spongebob Squarepants. As much as I personally hate Family Guy, I have to admit the two shows do share their love of pop culture references, though they're not as random in Phineas and Ferb. In terms of Spongebob, I think it's got the same kind of appeal that makes it enjoyable by both kids and adults.

8. Guest stars that have appeared on the show include Evander Holyfield, Cloris Leachman, Tina Fey, Seth McFarlane, and Kevin Smith.

7. Richard O'Brien, who wrote The Rocky Horror Picture Show and appeared in the film as Riff Raff, plays the boys' father. Their mom is played by Caroline Rhea.

6. While formulaic, it's never stale. The basic premise of the show is that it's summer vacation and the boys are trying to maximize their off time by doing wild and crazy things. Their older sister Candace tries to "bust" them and tell on them to their mom, but the evidence always mysteriously disappears when Mom gets home. Usually the reason it disappears is because their pet platypus Perry is actually a secret agent who has to stop the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz's various plots to take over the tri-state area. His plots generally involve him inventing some kind of crazy gadget, and Perry pretty much always stops him by making it backfire on him and the side effect is that whatever the boys were doing disappears with it. This formula results in the characters having catchphrases a la Looney Tunes that you're going to hear every show, but the various jokes and silly situations in between keep things fresh and funny regardless of you knowing how it's going to end.

5. The theme song for the show does a pretty good job of telling you the kind of stuff the boys like to do. It's sung by punk band Bowling for Soup. It's also an ear worm that you will be singing for the rest of the day once you hear it. It's been playing in my head the whole time I'm writing this and you know what? I don't mind. I find myself singing along with it pretty much every time I watch the show.

4. Ferb is essentially Silent Bob. While he doesn't wear a coat, he produces gadgets and tools from seemingly out of no where, he makes up all the plans for the boys crazy adventures, and he does so all without speaking. Generally toward the end of the episode, he doles out one sentence full of wisdom that can either wrap up the show nicely or just give us a great joke. Even better than Silent Bob, he does so in an English accent.

3. Pretty much every episode includes at least one song, and the musical styles are all over the place from classical to rock to country to rap to fit the mood of the episode. They are so popular and catchy that they've released a CD of some of the best. They even redid the first episode and turned it into a musical. Here's my personal favorite song, Nemesis:

2. It's a show about a step family that isn't overly preachy about it. While I think it would be nice if we got to see or hear what happened to Candace & Phineas's dad or Ferb's mom, there's something really refreshing about seeing something a lot closer to the modern family that doesn't try to teach us a lesson or make it into something bigger than it is. A lot of us have step-moms or step-dads, and a fair amount have step-siblings as well. It's not always a constant struggle for acceptance or a haven of drama - it's just like being any other family.

1. Dr. Doofenshmirtz - Ok, so I said he's evil, but in reality he's just a dork. A lot of us unpopular kids sat around wishing we could rule the world back when we were in high school - Dr. D actually decided to try to go through with it. He calls Perry his nemesis, but it's quite obvious that Perry is pretty much the closest thing to a friend he's got. Even his daughter thinks of him as a total goof. He's a big nerd and a giant geek and he's been picked on for most of his life. If you love underdogs half as much as I do, you will love this guy.

The show plays on both Disney Channels here in the states, and they've even given the boys a short series called Take Two with Phineas and Ferb, where they interview real celebrities like Space Ghost Coast to Coast. The first two seasons are available for streaming on Netflix, and there are currently two dvds out with a selection of episodes. Check them out and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monsters vs. Aliens Challenge: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

I have this rule where if something gets reviewed or suggested to me in more than one place, it's time to watch it. Given the giant backlog of music, movies, and television shows out there waiting for me, I figure it's a pretty good system. In this case, The Mike reviewed Attack of the 50 Foot Woman for Women in Horror month over at his blog, From Midnight With Love. A few weeks later, Enbrethiliel over at Shredded Cheddar threw down a challenge. She was actually challenging herself, but I couldn't resist joining in. The challenge is to watch a series of movies that provided inspiration for the characters in Monsters vs Aliens. And guess what movie inspired MvA's main character Ginormica? Yup, the time had come to watch the film.

At only one hour and five minutes, this is a much shorter film than what most of us are used to. It makes pretty efficient use of its time too, with an opening scene of a newscaster talking about UFO sightings, then heads straight into our titular character (still normal human size) Nancy running into the UFO out in the desert. A giant sized man comes out and makes a grab at her diamond necklace, but she makes a get away.

Nancy makes it back to town, but of course no one believes her. She's known as a drunk throughout the town and she once spent some time in a sanitarium. She's gotten her drinking under control, but everyone just assumes she's back on the sauce again. Her husband Harry is the only thing that keeps her sane, but unfortunately he's a lecherous jerk. He's seeing a woman named Honey behind her back and Honey keeps trying to get him to kill Nancy so they can take her considerable fortune. Harry makes some attempts but Nancy's butler keeps catching him and putting a stop to it. In the meanwhile Nancy is trying her best to convince everyone she is not a crazy drunk but no one believes her until she starts growing giant sized herself. Her doctors try to keep her sedated but there simply isn't enough morphine to keep her still and she breaks free and causes havoc on the town and gets her revenge on her cheating husband and his floozy of a girlfriend.

If you go into this movie waiting simply for the attack you might be disappointed. While this certainly counts as a monster film, Nancy's attack only happens in the last ten minutes. The giant man may possibly have more screen time, as he gets a few scenes of attacking various people, and in one hilarious bit picks up a car and shakes it before dropping it back down. According to Wikipedia the car he picks up and the one that he drops are not the same. I probably didn't notice because I was too busy laughing. If you love cheesy effects as much as I do, you'll enjoy this. When Nancy picks up Harry and shakes him, I think he is literally a rag doll. The UFO is nothing more than a large shiny ball. I think my favorite bit of cheesiness was when the butler and the sheriff go inside the spaceship. They see these large glass balls with gems hanging inside them. It's there so we realize the giant man wanted her necklace to power his spaceship. However what makes it so great is that the glass balls are between us and the actors, so we get multiple shots of them looking into the glass balls and their faces are magnified and warped. It's pointless and silly, but I love it.

Mixed in with the cheese and silliness, however, is actually a decent dramatic film. Since the attack happens so late, a lot of the time is spent showing us just what Nancy's life is like. It's been difficult for her, and you really start to sympathize with her. The only interest most people seem to have in her is her money. She has an almost unconditional love for Harry, but he only barely tolerates her. The only people who seem to care for her at all are her doctor and butler, and you almost have to wonder if they would still care if they weren't being paid. After seeing all this, you're rooting for Nancy as she gets her revenge. While I doubt this is the first movie that made us sympathize with the monster, it definitely has to be one of the early ones. I found myself cheering when Nancy crushed Honey under some rubble. It's clear that Nancy's growth in size is meant to represent her finding her courage and taking control of her life.

As such it's no surprise that the same thing happens to Ginormica in Monsters vs Aliens. Pre-growth all she cares about is getting married, and when she first reaches her ginormous height (technically 49 feet 11 inches here) she just wants to be normal again. It takes her a little longer to find her confidence, but the defeat of a large evil robot and saving people stuck on the Golden Gate Bridge at the time certainly do the trick. When she learns that her husband-to-be is too self centered to care about her in her new predicament, she's upset but it doesn't take long for her to realize he's not worth it. My favorite part for her is when she's on the spaceship of an alien who has plans to steal her power and take over the earth. She doesn't hesitate for a moment but instead chases after him ready to give him a good solid butt kicking. I've seen the movie twice now and that scene gets me charged every time.

Of course, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman has been referenced and parodied in countless other forms of media. It was also remade in 1993 with Daryl Hannah playing the title role. I just so happened to watch the Phineas and Ferb episode "Attack of the 50 Foot Sister" a few days before this. It's a great parody because Candace (their sister) takes a growth potion because she wants to be a "Flawless Girl" model, and according to the beauty line of the same name, you can only be so if you're 5'10. After she grows to 50 feet, both a freak show and the beauty agency both want her to help them make money. Candace quickly rejects them because she doesn't want to be used and learns that appearances aren't so important after all. Her size is resolved at the end of the episode by everything else in the world being hit by the growth formula so that she appears normal again.
E has done a live blog of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman over at Shredded Cheddar. Her live blogs are slightly a misnomer, but actually the better for it because you don't have to set aside a time to watch with her. She links videos right within the blog and adds her commentary to it, giving you the perfect chance to watch the movie if you haven't seen it yet. Apparently Youtube only has a poor quality rip of the film. If you're in the US, you may want to check out the movie via Netflix then read her post here.

In case you too would like to take on this challenge, or perhaps just have a movie marathon, here are the other films as presented by E for the challenge:
The Blob
Creature from the Black Lagoon
The Fly
The Invisible Man
(he's only mentioned briefly, but he is there)
The Thing From Another World (technically not referenced in the movie from what I can tell, but it's an alien film, so..)

I plan to also view the remakes of The Blob, The Fly, and The Thing.

Technically, The Day The Earth Stood Still should also be included on this list, as the robot who attacks Earth is largely based on Gort. I'm going to be honest with you: I tried watching the original a while back but turned it off halfway through, bored. The remake I saw in the theater and it is pretty atrocious. About the only good things I can say are that Gort's special effects were pretty cool and Keanu's wooden performance is perfect for an alien who can't feel emotions. So I simply have no interest in revisiting either version for a more in depth review. But don't let that stop you from taking it on, as the original is pretty highly regarded and you may enjoy it more than I did.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Halloween II and Friday the 13th Part 2

Given the large amount of debate that occurred with my first Halloween post, I thought I owed it to you guys to mention that I watched the sequel. It left me with a strong urge to watch the second Friday the 13th as well. I don't know about other folks, but personally watching two slashers in a row is probably not the best idea for me. When I closed my eyes later in the evening, I couldn't help but think of the two silent killers I had watched earlier in the day and whether they were going to be sneaking up behind me with some kind of sharp object.

One thing I thought was interesting was that both of these sequels begin with scenes from the previous films. We're so spoiled with our many ways to watch movies these days that it's hard to remember a time when viewers needed a recap of a movie that had just been released a few years prior because they probably had not seen the film since it first came out.

I felt like Halloween II had much better pacing than the original. Of course it had the advantage of taking off running directly from where the last left off. No long dramatic buildup of Michael Myers slowly walking around and stalking Laurie.. just straight to the killing anyone who stood in his way of her. The influence of Friday the 13th was obvious, as the killings are far more sick and twisted here. Considering I can't even look when a character gets a normal shot in movies, you know there was one scene here that really made me squirm.

After watching this one, it was easier for me to put a finger on just what it is that I don't care for in this series compared to the other two major slasher films. In order to be afraid of Michael Myers, you have to believe everything Dr. Loomis tells you. With my apologies to Donald Pleasance, Loomis comes off much more as a ranting lunatic to me than as the guy we're all supposed to sympathize with. I think it has a lot to do with the over dramatic dialogue he's given rather than his delivery.

Similarly, the supporting victim characters are really one note and annoying. Here's the slutty nurse, here's the sleazeball EMT, here's the wimpy sensitive EMT, here's the bossy nurse, etc. While both Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th have their fair share of stereotypical characters through their series, the scenes in which we see them and the dialogue they are given at least make them seem marginally real. Nearly all the victims in Friday the 13th Part 2 were sluttier than the nurse and EMT in Halloween II, yet the scenes in which we see them interacting with each other made me care about them more.

I warmed up to Laurie a little more in this film. While I think she really lucked out that Michael Myers seems unable to walk at more than a snail's pace, her survival instincts were much stronger this time around. I just can't help but compare her to girls like Nancy, Alice, and Ginny who have a bit more initiative. My hope is that H20 will present me with a grown up Laurie Strode who will have gained the strength of her other final girl counterparts.

Both Michael Myers and Jason are silent killers, so you would think there would be a lot of similarities. That if you liked one, you would also like the other. I don't think it's fair to compare either to Freddy Krueger unless you're specifically going to talk about whether you prefer a killer who is silent or a killer who makes wisecracks. Even beyond his one liners, Freddy is all about making your nightmares real, a very different kind of killer.

Loomis assures us that Myers is evil, and of course we see him killing so many people in so many sick ways, there's no doubt about that. But Jason has a sympathy factor. I really loved the first Friday the 13th, because when we meet Ms. Voorhees, we slowly but surely realize just how insane she is. She's sick and twisted and completely off her rocker, but we can also sympathize because it was all about losing her little boy. Similarly, in the sequel, Ginny helps portray Jason in a sympathetic light - a little boy raised alone by his mother, never taught right from wrong, and then he loses her. It doesn't justify what he does, but it does at least explain his actions.

Now, I still see gaping holes in there. Ms. Voorhees tells us the counselors weren't watching Jason and that's why he drowned. So obviously he knew someone besides his mom, despite what Ginny says. If Ms. Voorhees was so concerned about her son, why wasn't she watching him? Why would he not return to her after the drowning incident? Why would she not have gone looking for him after all that time, knowing he was mentally retarded? He witnessed his mother being killed, so why didn't he go to her sometime before that?

So why am I so willing to forgive all this and yet I can't get into Halloween?

I really like the music in the Friday the 13th series. A lot of people praise John Carpenter for coming up with the theme from Halloween, but to me it's pretty obvious that he's not much of a musician. I'm not saying the theme in Friday the 13th is terribly complex, but the added hisses really build the suspense more for me. I also think Friday the 13th is shot better. When we see from Jason's perspective, the camera moves in ever so slowly on the victim, letting us know he's approaching them and something horrible is about to happen. There's also a lot of close up shots in general, leaving us in the dark to what is going on outside the frame. In short, I feel the suspense, whereas the wide panel shot of Laurie breathing heavily in Halloween II just doesn't do that to me.

As someone so late to the party, I'm curious. Do people generally prefer one over the other? Obviously I understand you could appreciate both, but I'm just wondering if there's a M.Myers vs. Jason rivalry that I've been missing out on.

Also, it's worth noting that this May will be the 30th anniversary of Friday the 13th Part 2, and there is an actual Friday the 13th in May this year. I am very upset that I can't throw a party that night, so one of you should have one and take pictures of the results so that I can live vicariously through you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Paul McCartney Really Is Dead - NOT!!

I like to browse through Netflix's instant streaming recommendations, because sometimes you find some films you never knew existed but sound really interesting. When I see a title like Paul McCartney Really is Dead, there's no doubt I'm going to check it out. I was raised on the Beatles, and have had a minor obsession since the Beatles Anthology premiered on television. The "Paul is dead" phenomenon is a fascinating one. Like all conspiracies, there can be some parts of it that make you think and others that seem like people grasping at straws or flat out losing their minds. For the record, and probably made obvious by my title, I do not think Paul McCartney died in 1966. I do think it's possible that John Lennon at the least may have decided to tease us all a bit. It's the sort of cheeky thing he would do. However I'm of the opinion that most of the "clues" are just people desperately looking for them.

I sat down to the documentary not really expecting to be convinced, but still interested to see what they were going to do. I did not expect to be completely outraged.

We start off with the filmmaker, Joel Gilbert, telling us that some mini cassette tapes were delivered to his offices in 2005. These tapes contained the voice of someone claiming to be George Harrison, recording them on December 30, 1999, the day that he was attacked by a knife wielding maniac in his home. He was supposedly recording from the hospital recovering from the attack, and he was recording the events because he believed the attack had occurred because two weeks earlier he had told "Faul" that he planned to reveal the secret to the world. Faul is the name the Beatles supposedly gave William Campbell, the Paul lookalike who underwent plastic surgery and speech therapy to take Paul's place in the group.

Gilbert tells us that all attempts to verify the tape were inconclusive, but that he had his team research various events mentioned on the tapes and what they found was shocking and seemed to corroborate the story. We then begin to listen to the tapes for the remainder of the film, Gilbert providing us with images, stock video footage of the Beatles, highlighted lyrics, etc. supposedly supporting what is being said.

The second we begin to hear the tape is the second that anyone who knows anything more than passing knowledge about the Beatles will realize this is bullshit. The voice doesn't sound anything like George I've ever heard, the accent is terrible and probably a bad imitator rather than an actual Liverpudlian or even an Englishman at all, and there is absolutely no trace of a hiss on the recording. He supposedly taped this in a hospital on a mini tape recorder, like one of these. Not exactly a producer of crystal clear audio. There's also the simple fact that Harrison was suffering from a punctured lung and head injuries from the attack - not exactly the kind of thing that would leave you in a state to produce over an hour's worth of audio or being able to recount things down to finite details.

So that was just bad choice number one on their part. The number of bad choices that follow are simply too innumerable to count, but here's some more that really set my blood boiling as I watched this thing.

George claims that Paul's funeral was attended by the three remaining Beatles and Paul's parents. Paul's mom died when he was 14. Also, why did they leave out his brother?

While recapping the Beatles history (because, you know, that's what you would do when trying to reveal a specific point while being sick, tell the entire story) George says that during the height of the Beatles' popularity, they "felt like gods." This is not a thing that George Harrison, nor any of the other Beatles, would ever say. They did not understand their popularity and were generally overwhelmed by it.

He claims that the reason his songs only showed up on the albums after Paul's death was that his songs were "never needed" before then. It's well documented that George desperately wanted to contribute, but felt intimidated and discouraged by Paul & John. Hell, most of his later songs are passive aggressive jabs at the two of them.

Supposedly Taxman was originally "Taxidermist" but they made him change the words because it was too obvious a clue. Taxidermists work on animals, not people, so this particular clue is one of those really far fetched ones.

"George" (maybe I should start calling him Feorge? He IS a forgery after all) tries to claim that all the Yesterday and Today clues were their decision. This was an American release album, made up of singles that in England the Beatles refused to put on albums. They didn't want you purchasing tracks twice. Capitol Records chose the songs, not the Beatles. The cover is notorious - they took a photo in lab coats covered with baby doll parts and meat - not to symbolize a car crash, but to symbolize the way they felt like pieces of meat for being always photographed. The cover was replaced not because the powers that be were angry at them for revealing the secret, but because the cover was judged to be too disgusting.

He claims that their experiences with the Maharishi were an attempt to transfer Paul's spirit into Faul. He then goes on to mock transcendental meditation. George was the one Beatle who took to the process the most, and stayed in India the longest. What an insult to George's memory to make it seem like he didn't believe in any of it.

They highlight a lot of backward messages in the records.. some sound close, others are a severe stretch. Of course the thing with backwards messages is they tell you what to look for, and your brain fills in the pieces, so you can't trust any of this stuff anyway. Perhaps the most insulting is supposedly on "I Am the Walrus", where they say "Ha ha Paul is dead." He speaks over and over again that they were mourning and in grief, and that the whole reason they were putting clues there was because they felt terrible about being forced to hide it. Why would they laugh about it here?

Once again, Feorge claims credit for an album the Beatles barely had anything to do with - Yellow Submarine. He even claims that one of his own songs "Northern Song" was written by John. Judging by the image used, there must have been a mistake on the album back that credited it to Lennon-McCartney, and no one bothered to fact check this.

Perhaps what flew me most into a rage was when Feorge makes fun of Ringo, saying he had no musical talent and very little personality. George and Ringo were best friends for a long time, at one point living together at the height of the Beatles fame. Why would he say such cruel things about one of his very best friends?!

He claims Let It Be was made after Abbey Road. This is a mistake often made by people who don't know much about the Beatles, because Let It Be was released last. But any simple Google search or Wikipedia entry will tell you that Abbey Road was their last recording session, and that Let It Be was simply delayed due to the disaster surrounding its recording. Similarly, he acts like Two Virgins was released after the Beatles broke up.

Supposedly Linda figured out that Faul was a fake because she had a crush on the real Paul and could spot the differences. She blackmailed Faul into marrying her to help promote her singing and music career. Another insult to the memory of a good person.

He claims that the pot arrests Paul had post Beatles were because Faul started using marijuana to cope with the plastic surgeries. Various other statements scattered throughout the narrative make it seem like he's claiming that Faul was the only one to take drugs at all. Considering that Joel Gilbert usually makes Bob Dylan documentaries and even has a Bob Dylan tribute band, I find it amazing that he didn't know that Dylan is the one that introduced pot to the Beatles.

In short, this film is an inaccurate mess full of lies that tries to pass itself off as truth. There's nothing in the film or the credits to say "just kidding" and the idea that people who haven't followed the Beatles' career like I have could watch this and believe it really infuriates me. Even if you think the claim is too far fetched, you could walk away thinking things about George Harrison, Linda McCartney, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr that are just flat out wrong.

This is lazy film making. If they had put their efforts into simply making a documentary covering the "Paul is dead" theory, we could have had a much more interesting film. This is essentially a film that covers all those backward messages, album art, and lyrics clues, and it tells the story commonly told by the conspiracy theorists who spread it around. So if you want to watch it to learn more about that, you can. Just please don't go thinking there's an ounce of truth anywhere in it. I'd also urge you to not actually give them any money - download it or watch it on Netflix Streaming.

The credits of the film list two people as researchers: Daniella Arnold and Lance Lewman. I hope these two do a Google search for their names and find this review, so they can see just how bad a job they did in their fact checking for this fallacy. Shame on both of you, and shame on Joel Gilbert too. If you really want people to believe a lie, the least you could do is get your facts straight. And if you don't want people to believe it, don't go trying to present it as truth.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Firefly, Serenity, and Joss Whedon

As of last night I have now seen all of Joss Whedon's television series, web series, and the one spin off movie based on a TV series. I was late to get into Buffy but that allowed me to watch the whole thing on DVD rather quickly, so I appreciated that. I toughed out the slower parts of Dollhouse as it aired, which I never really thought were that bad, and was glad that he at least got to wrap up the storyline even if he had to do so in a rushed fashion. I was always really resistant to Firefly though.

When it came to sci-fi, for the long time I was pretty much Star Trek or nothing. It was really quite silly, but I was convinced that none of the other series could be as good or interesting. And when I first heard about Firefly, there was nothing there drawing in my interest. Sure, I had liked Buffy, but horror fantasy and western influenced space are two very different genres. I heard about its various woes with Fox and then how they made a movie. I remember at the time thinking this was a really stupid idea. Making a movie about a show that hardly anyone watched? Surely this was going to be a failure. I remember saying that I wanted to watch the movie without seeing the show first just to prove a point - that the average movie goer would probably not be able to enjoy the experience. However a friend who was a big fan of the series begged me to watch the show first. It took me forever to get around to it, but I finally did.

I first tried watching Firefly a few years ago. Rented the first disc via Netflix, and found myself really bored during the two part pilot. I think I also watched The Train Job, a much stronger episode also on the disc, but it just didn't interest me enough to keep going. I had other things I wanted to see more. Last year, with Netflix streaming me allowing me to watch an episode whenever it was convenient, I tried again. I liked the pilot a little more, perhaps fresh off my Battlestar Galactica high I was willing to wait it out and see what would develop.

Overall, the show was a mixed bag. Some episodes were really strong and others just didn't do much to interest me. In typical Joss Whedon fashion, there are some really great characters here. It doesn't matter what setting they are in, he really knows how to create interesting, endearing, funny people that you really want to know more about. If you like character driven series and have never given any of his shows a try, you really should.

A word of warning though - Joss Whedon is a sadist. I don't mean that he likes to wear leather and beat people with whips - I mean that he enjoys inflicting pain on others. He will break your heart again and again. Don't go getting attached to couples because he will break them up, sometimes in ways that make sense and other times just arbitrarily. That character you love, the one who would be wearing the heart ring if this was Captain Planet? They're probably going to be horrifically scarred or dead.

I realize that some of these things are necessary, and that over the length of a series everything can't be sunshine and rainbows. But it's all in the execution. He will write a scene that really amps up your love for said couple/person and then rip your heart out with gut wrenching pain.

There is a certain death in Serenity. I don't need to name it because if you've watched it you know who I'm talking about. After having gone through this situation already with the other series of his, I literally screamed "Fuck you!" twice and tossed a pillow around like an angry gorilla. I scared my cat Remy so badly doing this that when I paused the movie and went to soothe him he screamed at me as if I had stepped on his tail. Of course telling you this story is basically just admitting that I'm crazy and so is Remy, but at least we're a good match. My other cat, Logan, has already given us judging looks, so you're free to do the same.

The crazy thing was I knew it was coming. Back in my "I'm not going to like this series" days I had read a recap of the movie and knew the character was going to die in a cruel way. But I kept telling myself "maybe I'm remembering it wrong" and hoping it wouldn't happen.

I'm not up to date on the Buffy Season 8 comic, but I know a certain beloved character from the series was recently killed there too. The people I know who did read it were just as hurt and outraged. At this point, it's really becoming far too much of a cliche for Whedon. It would be nice if he could actually change it up for once by letting people live. Or stay happy as a couple for longer than a couple episodes. It's something how someone can be a really good writer, and yet also be a hack at the same time. This is what prevents me from worshiping the ground the man walks on, as some of his fans do. I enjoy him but I get too mad at him too often to really love him.

By the way, if you don't have the patience/time to watch Firefly, I think you actually could see Serenity anyway. They do a pretty good job of summing up the various relationships and situations. You won't be crying for these characters in their peril like I was, but that may be a good thing. It's a pretty good stand alone story, even if it lays on its moral lesson a little too thick at points. Also, these are some really high quality actors and the special effects are pretty decent. The show and movie strike a nice balance between westerns and science fiction so if you have an interest in either you'll really like it.
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