Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Adam's adventures at the 23rd Annual Ohio Sci-Fi Marathon!
soon to be updated with more photos and goodness
Having had some hand in organizing this year's Ohio Science Fiction Film Festival, I can't be unbiased in reporting on it.
Guess what? Fuck it. I'm gonna say what I feel all the way through. I feel it my duty to let you people in on the happenings in and around the marathon, and I won't stop until all of you (and the bunch more people) all show up here for this event every year.
The marathon is a geek's dream: 24 hours of great sci-fi. How can you NOT want to come here?
So, I've got a brand-spankin' new pair of glasses (a big shout-out to Todd for making the whole process actually enjoyable) so I can see the screen. And I've got four Red Bulls that say I'm at least going to be a wide-awake Astro-Zombie by the end of this.
Let's do this thing.

7:55 am
So, I'm waiting for the COTA bus to take me down to the theater (it's not coming for a half hour) and I'm struck by two facts.
1) This is gonna be one long fucking day
2) I have a three foot tall plastic alien with me (it's a decoration for the theater)
I'm reasonably certain the plastic alien doesn't want to anal probe me, but I'm not nodding off.
No, sir. I've got four Red Bulls with me. I'm gonna be one wide-awake fucking zombie today.
My first yawn of the day. I dunno if it's because I'm tired or because I'm just too stupid to remember to breathe. Whatever.
Did I mention that the bus won't be here for a half hour? Because I'm bound and determined to be on time for things today. Just like John, the head projectionist (who's working 29 hours in a row) will be concentrating on making this the best marathon (projection quality-wise) we've ever had.
I was at the theater last night past midnight stuffing goodie bags. Weird melange of old and new schwag. I'd be overjoyed to get a NIGHT BREED button, myself.
And now, here, waiting for the bus on this damp Columbus morning, hoping not to fall asleep with a bigass plastic alien sitting next to me (because that's the moment a photographer will miraculously drop by and put the picture on the internet.

9:06 am
I'm at the theater, set up in the area we've set aside for volunteers. Time to set up...

9:06 am


9:07 am

The concession stand, all decorated and stuff.

9:07 am

Upstairs. The Lava Lounge.

9:08 am

The registration/ticket table pre-setup and chaos.

10:51 am

The first marathoids enter!

Yes. Frankenstein's Monster was first in line.

10:51 am

Frankenstein's Monster's buddy.

10:52 am

The line.

10:52 am


10:52 am

Jeff Frank looks over the line to get in

10:53 am

Marathoids in line

11:15 am

Settling in...

11:51 am
DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL trailer. I LOVE this movie, and I saw it at a marathon 2 years ago. Or was it 3? My brain's all mushy.

11:53 am
THIS ISLAND EARTH trailer. This one elicits loads of MST3K references. Which is a bad sign. These crowds feed on chaos and shitting all over movies.
The lady next to me is quite wisely setting up shop to charge people leaving the row of seats. Good for her. She'll need pizza and beer money.
CAPTAIN VIDEO trailer. Thank the cinema gods for cheese. First off, it's low cal (at least the cinematic variety is) and it's good to remind you that there is goodness out there. CrapTACULAR.

11:57 am
BRUUUUUUUUUUUUCE Bartoo on stage. Program booklets are all fucked up. oops.

12:02 pm
Countdown to THE BATMAN...
projection problems already...whee.
Chapter 1: The Electrical Brain
Yeesh. This is cheeZEE. The Batcave is decked out with...a desk. And nothing else. And anyone who thinks that the 60s BATMAN TV series was kinda homoerotic ain't seen nothing yet. The unintentional laughs fly.

Oh, man...the Axis Agents are headquartered in a "Japanese Cave of Horrors." And it's like one of those ultra-Christian haunted house dealios...except showing off how savage the Japanese are...which is funny because the villain is supposed to be Japanese...except he doesn't even resemble an Asian. At all. If this guy is Japanese, then I'm Japanese too.

People are still filing in. They're not used to sell-outs or on-time starts, apparently. This place is PACKED.

12:31 pm
Oh my God...this print is beautiful. Yes, there are some minor projection problems, but they get them cleared up toot sweet.

Why in the world are people calling out and heckling in KING KONG??? This movie is a fucking classic, fer chrissakes!
Urge to kill...rising.
Hmmm. That's a familiar situation at one of these. At least for me.

All of the excitement earlier setting things up has me whupped. I think everyone being an ass gets a buy on their well-deserved asskicking. If I'm tired now, it's only gonna get worse.

Something I keep forgetting: Faye Wray is positively LUMINOUS in this movie. She just lights up the screen.

The original might be more lean and economical than the recent Peter Jackson remake, but I still love both Kongs dearly.

***At this point, I have mysteriously misplaced my notes (AND my computer mysteriously shut down...without saving this file...so, I'm attempting to recollect as best as my swiss cheese brain can...

Somewhere around 2:15pm-2:30pm...Until around 4:30pm
We watched an episode of TALES OF TOMORROW with Leslie Neilsen and Brian Keith in it (off of what I'm guessing was a bootleg DVD -- but there really isn't a legits version of this baby out there, and likely never will be). You can tell this was done live...there's a theatrical quality to the acting that's just not present in most television. Then, 'twas time for FORBIDDEN PLANET.
So, I'd heard that we'd tried to get the archival print of FORBIDDEN PLANET. And we couldn't. Then, we secured a print...but they shipped it by truck and the print just disappeared. Then, just as they were about to send us the archival print (which really isn't supposed to get shown), the print they'd sent miraculously reappeared. All this jerking around, and we never even got kissed.
Well, for the most part, the one we got is just fine. In fact, most of it looks GREAT. There are parts where the wear shows, though...and it shows a lot when it does. It's the audio that's probably the weakest bit on this particular print. There's some dropout and persistent static. Ah, well...

***We now resume your regularly scheduled diary...

4:34 pm
Well, somehow I managed to fuck up and lose almost all of my notes so far.
Oops. Thankfully, I have some longhand. SOME.

4:47 pm
One of our surprises for the marathoids is a special interview, taped just this week, of Anne Francis. We sent Drexel alum Mark Heuck (whom non-Cbusers might remember from Comedy Central's BEAT THE GEEKS). Fifty years after FORBIDDEN PLANET, she still looks quite good. And she's still sassy as ever.
"You can't come in," she told Mark and his cameraman. "The place is a mess."
She started off as a child model, moving quickly into the very infancy of television. She did her first show for NBC back in 1939, "something about an enchanted castle". So vivid was her recollection, she actually sang the tune from memory. Then, she worked in films with such stars as Clifton Webb, James Cagney and Spencer Tracy, establishing herself as an actress.
She was interested in FORBIDDEN PLANET mainly because of a lifelong interest in metaphysics. She thought of the Krell as a paradigm for the mass unconscious, and saw many aspects of metaphysics in the screenplay. Oddly, she still doesn't see the Shakespearean aspect of FORBIDDEN PLANET, and never thought of the movie as an adaptation of THE TEMPEST.
Francis didn't know whether MGM considered FORBIDDEN PLANET an 'A' picture, but she was sure they spent enough money on it, at least on the effects. She said that Robby the Robot cost more than all of the actors combined, and that the animation effects by Disney were also expensive.
She also related a tale about being shown her costume from the movie at a convention once by a fan, only to later see it on eBay with a signed picture (with a message about the dress)...except she'd never actually signed that picture. The dress ended up selling for around $9000, autograph or no.
Francis said she was happy to see Robby was still featured occasionally on TV and in commercials (according to her, director Bill Malone [The House on Haunted Hill remake] once donned the costume).
Anne Francis was on a couple episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, as well as pretty much every other anthology show on the air at the time, and she enjoyed the experience, preferring the talented writers and theatrical presentation to the bug-eating reality shows of today.
She was also one of the first, if not the first, female detectives on TV, HONEY WEST. She still sees imitators of the Honey West formula. "It was just fun," she said. "Years later, I was watching Moonlighting and I thought, 'Oh my God, it's Honey West!'"
Ms Francis was nice enough to make lunch for her interviewers, and sent along a couple signed souvenirs for prize winners at the marathon. However, she did have to pick on Mark for missing some details about her character on DALLAS. When Mark credited her with being one of JR Ewing's first extramarital paramours, she had to nip that in the bud. "You know me better than that."
She loves the fact that she's name-checked in ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, but has never seen RESERVOIR DOGS, so she's never listened to the Honey West discussion in that film.
She's accessible to her fans through www.annefrancis.net. However, she was not (despite popular opinion of the people at Rocky Horror at the NuArt in LA) the star of DEEP THROAT.

5:26 pm

Marv from SIN CITY pissing off the audience.

5:26 pm

Shaun of the Dead

5:27 pm
Costume Contest. This year, we had two really great costumes that both got beaten by a costumeless individual who had a good schtick worked out.
The guy with the damn near perfect Indiana Jones costume and the guy with the spot-on Shaun of the Dead costume lost to a guy who went up and explained that he was the token black person who always dies first in the movies. And then proceeded to die on cue.
I've yammered about people without costumes before. He officially shut me up. Attitude and creativity count for something.
Next up: Anne Francis in THE TWILIGHT ZONE

5:27 pm

The token black guy who always dies first in movies.

7:31 pm
THE INVISIBLE BOY is on. Much as I tried to not watch it...I kept finding myself drawn back. For what's ostensively a kiddie movie, there's a lot of dark and disturbing stuff in there. There's a lot of violence, particularly on the part of Robbie the Robot, who's supposed to be the kid's friend and he acts very menacingly towards the little boy on a number of occasions.
Then, there's the whole matter of the kid spying on his parents about to engage in a little bumping of the uglies...which was creepy.
Bad Invisible Boy...BAD!!!

There were other issues, but, since I lost my notes, I forgot 'em. I'll learn to live with it.
The print looks better than it deserves to, really. And the movie does have the best identification of an invisible person that I can think of. "It's him, all right. His hair's not combed."
Is it me, or is the evil supercomputer powered by Microsoft?

Oddly, people are showing THE INVISIBLE BOY a lot more respect than the previous films and the Anne Francis interview.

8:03 pm
We get a quick intro from Bruce and Jeff Frank, president of Drexel Theatres Group for FIRST ON THE MOON, a Russian faux documentary about a super-secret pre-World War II space program that may or may not have launched a man to the moon in 1938. But first...more trailers!
THE MOLE PEOPLE trailer. Two words:
JOHN AGAR!!!!!!!!!!!
Can I die in the Fire of Ishtar? Please? PLEASE???
THE FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH trailer (in 3-D! -- we didn't get a 3-D film this year. We'll work harder on that for next year. Might as well add eye strain to our list of crimes.). Weirdass 70s alien invasion flick (in SPACE VISION) that I've never seen and probably should. Just for...research. Yeah, that's it.
Oddball claymation commercial for some product that probably doesn't even exist anymore called YoGo. Put together a gorilla, a snake and a yogurt-thieving alien. Mix well. Serve cold. Very, very odd. Which is why I'm pretty sure this stuff doesn't exist any more.
FOR ALL MANKIND trailer. We were thinking of getting this for the marathon, even though it's science fact, not fiction. Maybe next year. It looks FANFREAKINTASTIC. But, I'd think NASA has plenty of good footage laying around.
Trailer for THE MOUSE ON THE MOON (a sequel to THE MOUSE THAT ROARED [which I adore]?!?). I've never seen this. Never even knew it existed. Is it any good?

8:12 pm
The moment that many marathoids have been waiting for.
The culmination of two years of waiting (since it wasn't shown last year).
The most anticipated short subject of this (and every) marathon.


If you haven't seen this 30 year-old short by David Wechter and Michael Nankin...if you haven't been to a marathon here in CBus...you just don't get it.
Mary HAS to know the answer to a question. What makes the sun set?
She asks pretty much everyone she knows...Dad, Mom, Big Sister,


Great Grandmother (who appears to be...well, dead), and her Teacher...before she gets the answer she's looking for.
What makes the sun set?
World famous scientist Thorton Waxman and his crack team of researchers from the Karl Fong Foundation have been researching a potentially devastating problem.
We're having a serious gravity shortage.
The earth is running out of gravity!
Thankfully, the geniuses at the Foundation have produced a short cartoon with Jiminy Gravity to tell us how we can do our part to use less gravity...and hopefully to insure that an adequate supply will be around for the next generation.
Yes, my friends...

8:21 pm
FIRST ON THE MOON finally rolls.
The film is a really ambitious idea -- basically to create a live-action ROYAL SPACE FORCE or the equivalent of Warren Ellis' MINISTRY OF SPACE for the Soviet Union.
It begins with an account of a strange object crashing into the Chilean Andes, then details some of the ancient and medieval history of rocketry. There are also newsreels that show off what the USSR was doing to insure their people would be able to survive the rigors of space travel, including replacing their entire skeleton with a metal structure.
The potential cosmonauts for this new space program include a soldier from Kazakhstan, a circus midget and human cannonball, a test pilot and a female athlete.
Oh, I'm feeling it now. I am tired tired tired. Thankfully, I have some Red Bulls secreted in the volunteer lounge.
The program does get one rocket built and launched, but something goes wrong. Failure wasn't tolerated in the old Soviet Union, and the space program is covered up and forgotten rather quickly. People disappeared all the time in Stalinist Russia...and so too do the cosmonauts still on base. But, with the crash in the Andes, there's the possibility that the first pilot survived...
The faked footage feels very close to the actual newsreel film they blend it in with, so it's difficult to tell the two apart. The people have a jerky, almost animated look to them because of adjusted framerates -- making the whole thing look almost like a Svankmeyer film.
Occasionally, they cut into more modern footage where the filmmakers are investigating the incidents depicted in the older footage. They interview some of the principals and surveillance officers involved as old men and even revisit the site of the former cosmodrome where they had been headquartered. The documentary crew also manufacture a scale rocket based on the designs they'd discovered from this program.
The problem with this movie is that, no matter how cleverly the filmmakers realize the fake newsreel footage or the vintage sci-fi movie, they turn to narrative footage to tell the story. They attempt to disguise most of this by explaining that the astronauts were under constant surveillance by intelligence operatives. But the camera they show has no microphone attached, and yet there's sound in some of the spy footage. Or they'll do a camera move, like the crane shot in the factory where they produced the rocket, that a lone man with a tiny spy camera couldn't do.
It's a very interesting attempt at doing something different and new. It just doesn't totally succeed.
Still, it won the crowd over, and the film was met with a goodly round of applause. Hell, they even managed to stay silent during the movie itself.

10:00 pm
I've got a Red Bull in me and I'm waiting on a pizza and some friends who're showing up late (my buddy Dave and his son Gio). I pop in to see TOAST, the final (?) installment in Columbus native Kevin S O'Brien's fabled BREAD QUADRILOGY (those of you with the Millenium Edition of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD have seen the first part, NIGHT OF THE LIVING BREAD). I hope Kevin's doing well in Australia. Columbus misses him. Oops. I missed chapter 7 of THE BATMAN. I suck.

10:03 pm
Oh. Fuck.
How do I describe SPACEBOY to those that have not experienced it? In simplest terms, it's a visualized tone poem with science fiction elements. It stars Florence Marly, from QUEEN OF BLOOD.
But, it's so much more. It's a brain wrenching surrealistic oddity that probably is much more fun on some hallucinogen. Or any fun at all. SPACEBOY is something we suffer through, just so that we can say we have. It's a right of passage.
A quickie commercial for McDonalds' BATMAN FOREVER promotion and then...
I fucking love this movie. It's a cracked out version of the 70s G films I grew up on. Ryuhei Kitamura truly did whup unholy ass and take names with this flick. If this truly is the end of the Godzilla series, what a glorious end it is. I love every single little thing about this movie...and to FINALLY see it on the big screen with BEASTIE FUCKING SOUND -- which marathoids actually begged to have turned down (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)...Oh, before I forget...


Quick jaunt back into the lobby to wait for Dave. I get to talk to this cool-ass guy who works at the Angelika theater in New York City (great fuckin' guy). We discuss fake trailers and super hero films and trade email addresses. Sadly, he has to leave during the movie he came to see. Poor bastard.
Dave finally shows up and my pizza is done. Back to Man in Suit!
Sure, the monster fights in FINAL WARS are short, but there's a shit-ton of 'em. And they serve notice to aliens everywhere:
Plot? Do we need a plot? Fuck no! We need a guy with a huge chin! We've got one (Don ). We need mutants! Flying mutants! With laser guns! Check. We need just about every mother-fucking monster that's been in a Godzilla film! Check. We need that tuna-slurping iguana from that Emmerich and Devlin piece of shit! Check. Racial sterotypes! Check. Kung-fu fighting monsters! Check. Smushie faced dog! Check.
Hell, the only thing this movie doesn't have is T&A. That's what the next generation of Godzilla films needs. Tits and ass. "Honey, Godzilla's coming to destroy the city! Let's fuck like rabbits until the world ends!" Bow-wow-chickie-wow-wow...

God. Damn. This movie whups ASS!!! Even with the sound turned down a bit. Pussies.

The persistent gouts of applause every time Godzilla dispatches another monster tell me I did my job well in insisting this movie play. However, I just don't know about getting the new Gamera movie for next year. It just seems too kiddie-fied, at least from the trailers.

12:34 pm
Next up are shorts from the 1st Annual Science Fiction Short Film Festival at Seattle's Museum of Science Fiction and Hall of Fame. Now, we're showing these off of DVD, so you might think we'd be able to skip around to the ones we wanted, right?
Wrong. Sadly, the DVD isn't encoded with chapters, so we end up watching WIRELESS first. It's a detective story, and it's not really all that good, especially when taken against the competition.
David Sanders' MICROGRAVITY is next. It's a nightmare about the loneliness of space travel and the risk of running out of air. For whatever miniscule budget it was made on...it looks fucking amazing. Great production design.
Stephen O'Regan's THEY'RE MADE OUT OF MEAT (which I do believe was the big winner at the film fest) follows. It stars Tom Noonan (from MANHUNTER) and comedian Ben Bailey. And, dammit, it is fucking hilarious! They're two aliens (in human form) meeting in a diner to discuss their investigation into life on earth. The one problem...life is organic.
"Who wants to meet meat?"
Freakish and weird and slightly off-kilter. Great dialogue.
A good round of applause from the audience. I think we have a winner.
SCRIBBLE. A quickie about a typist trying to transcribe something, except her computer breaks down. When she requests another, they give her a slightly older one...which breaks. Then a typewriter. And down the line until she's only got a pen. What do you suppose happens when she asks for a new device after that?
Last one in this round is HEART BEAT, an Israeli quasi music video. An astronaut/DJ rocks out with some asteroids. Very fun visually. We could have had a dance off up front to it, had we known. Maybe next year...
The pilot episode of the fantastic ABC series MAX HEADROOM played next. I adored the show while it was on, and I wish to hell shows like this were given a chance. Amanda Pays was scrumptious, too, dammit. Damn you, Corbin Bernsen.

2:57 am
The night will never end. And, from how good I'm feeling at this point, I dunno that I want it to.
The next trailer is one of marathon regulars' favorites. When they think Troma, most people think of THE TOXIC AVENGER or SGT KABUKIMAN, NYPD. Not the Marathoid species. They only think of A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL. It's not really because A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL is one of their favorite films. A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL isn't really a good film. But, some people just like saying A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL over and over. Try it. Say A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL. You like saying A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL, don't you? You probably don't ever want to see A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL, but you'll keep saying A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL until someone puts a sock in your mouth.
I've never seen a commercial that was a take on Campbell's WHO GOES THERE? until tonight. Apparently, Coke did one, maybe as a response to Pepsi's "The Choice of a New Generation" campaign.
INVADERS FROM MARS trailer. I love this and the remake equally. Tobe Hooper just kinda extended a lot of the ideas from the original. This trailer is sadly pinkish, but it doesn't really hurt most of the very original imagery that this classic presented. I suppose you could say it's more Marsified or something. Great stuff, in any case.

3:03 am
THE BATMAN CHAPTER 8: LURED BY RADIUM. Umm...still very, very prancey and poncey. Still, it's fun to have the serial chapters broken up. It makes it actually feel like a serial. If the marathon were long enough, we could have all the chapters. And a massive bodycount of marathoids dead from exhaustion..

3:19 am
THE CRAZIES! I've never seen this Romero gem in a theater. Considering how many times I've met the man, and how good this film is, I consider it my duty. Right from the beginning, I can tell just by the houses that this is Pennsylvania. I lived in PA for three years and I'm far too familiar with the landscape and architecture.
I love that, with very few exceptions, George Romero has been able to be a regional filmmaker. He stays close to Pittsburgh for the most part, and it gives his films a realism that productions that stray too far from home just don't have.
I know New York's too expensive, but shooting exterior's for a Spider-Man movie in Chicago, LA or even my hometown of Cleveland just isn't right. He's the quintessential New York character and he deserves New York.
It would be like...oh, I don't know...Kevin Smith shooting a CLERKS sequel in LA.
Or Woody Allen moving to London.
Or Jean Claude van Damme shooting a movie in English.
Anyhoo, back to THE CRAZIES. It's remarkably fast-paced. No time at all is wasted with exposition. The government is in Evans City before the audience knows what's happening. Of course, since it's Pennsylvania, the locals aren't about to do anything the government tells them to without a fight (at least, that's what they'd do with a Democratic administration in the White House).
The truly cool thing about THE CRAZIES is that it feels so real. I'm not necessarily talking about how Romero captured the PA lifestyle. I'm thinking more in terms of the whole "It Could Happen" thing. You can believe that the army is sent in, clueless themselves as to what's really happening in today's age of government paranoia and chemical weapons. You believe that the characters would react as they do...and that the circumstances would be similar.
Small side note. Kathy=hotness. Had to say it. (Looked it up later, the actress' name is Lynn Lowry. Yum.)
Bad planning isn't the sole province of the civilian escapees. The government is just as or more guilty of it. After all, it's their fault Trixie gets out.
Another side note. HIPPIE! Had to say that, too.
These characters deteriorate mentally and physically so quickly, it's a given that everything goes all tits up. The ending is cynical as fuck. Perfect for the 1970s, and even more applicable today.

5:00 am
I love Tim Burton. I even enjoyed his version of BATMAN for what it was, even if it wasn't Batman in the slightest. But, I have shitloads of things to do, and little time to do it in, so I take a powder and miss it and chapter nine of the serial as well.
Jeff Frank and I chat for a bit before he takes a nap and I work on transcribing these notes (***Note: I'm still transcribing a day and a half later. Go fig.). I also help pass out t-shirts for SILENT HILL and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: III. The extra-larges are gone quickly, it takes a while for the non-plus-sized folks to show up and claim the larges and mediums. We grow our fanboys big in Ohio (it's all the fried food).
At 6:30 am, Jeff and I run down to Buckeye Donuts to get breakfast for the marathon, and what's the conversation in the donut shop about?
Science fiction. Two guys are discussing Frank Herbert's DUNE novels.
We can't escape. It is our destiny.

8:17 am
BATMAN is over. I love Danny Elfman's score to that movie. But, I've been a fan of his since the early 80s. Oingo Boingo just ruled my little world.
Now, people are hurling abuse at Halle Berry while the trailer for X-MEN: THE LAST STAND plays. I know she wasn't a very good Storm, but she's a native Ohioan, people! Show some love!

8:19 am
The teaser for SUPERMAN RETURNS. Easily the movie I'm looking forward to most this year. And considering some of the stuff coming out this year, that's saying a lot. I fucking love this trailer, I can't wait to see the full trailer in May and I can't wait to see the movie in June. In this short little glimpse, Bryan Singer absolutely NAILED how I feel about Superman.

8:20 am
A trailer for a BUCK ROGERS serial. Good stuff. But no Twikkie! (sigh)

8:22 am
SERENITY. Say what you will about Joss Whedon. Say what you will about his rabid, slavishly devoted fans. FIREFLY fucking ruled and SERENITY was amazing.
I watched BUFFY. I watched ANGEL (though I missed most of the last season). I was never a believer in Whedon until FIREFLY. It worked on levels none of the Buffyverse shows did. The show had a more logically thought-out universe for one. It was also truly an ensemble program.
And what an ensemble... I loved BARNEY MILLER, so I've always been a Ron Glass booster. Animal Mother in FULL METAL JACKET is one of the greatest screen characters ever realized. Adam Baldwin is the only motherfucker alive who could have played him, too. Dude's been in so much good shit, he could retire tomorrow and look back on an absolutely AMAZING career. Alan Tudyk truly can do anything he sets his mind to. ANYTHING. One of the most naturally funny actors alive, and also capable of great pathos. And, inexplicable as he was, Steve the Pirate ruled. Gina Torres? I've been impressed by her since she was on HERCULES and XENA. Hell, I watched CLEOPATRA 2525 just for her. If she and Lawrence Fishburne produce children...will they not be the coolest kids alive??? Nathan Fillion? Damn, man. This guy should have been a movie star ages ago. And if SERENITY and SLITHER don't do it...all the studios can kiss my behind. Speaking of people who should be movie stars...could Morena Baccarin be any hotter? My Lord, if a woman looked at me like she looks at Mal in this movie, I would surely melt into a puddle of goo. And, lovely as Jewel Staite is, she's also capable of making me into I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (Spray) with little or no effort on her part. Sean Maher? He gets better material than he ever had in the series and runs with it -- and he's got a new storyline that'll make the prospective sequels more fun (his romance with Kaylee). How could I forget Summer Glau? She has the best Wolverine moment that will never be seen in an X-Men movie. At the end, standing atop a pile or Reaver bodies, she's a tiny female version of Frazetta's Death Dealer. She gets the best hero moments in the film, and also some of the best comic material.
Such easy chemistry the cast has, Whedon was supremely lucky to have gotten each and every one of them. To the mix we already have, add the magnificent Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Operative, and the crew of the Serenity is more than just outmatched. The crew doesn't all make it out of the film -- and every death hurts. These are characters that I grew to love, and losing them was shocking.
My friend Dave had avoided this movie like the plague. He'd never watched the show, didn't bother with the DVDs, and avoided SERENITY in the theater. Afterwards, he turned to me and said. "I was wrong. I can't believe I avoided this in the theater the first time around." That right there? That was another fan being born.
The audience was pretty responsive to the wit of SERENITY...and they went FUCKING NUTS for the big conclusion to River's fight with the Reavers. As it should be. But, to highlight just how tired I am...I almost passed out in the middle of this movie that I love so much.

10:16 am
Red Bull #2. I have two left, and I'm pretty sure I'll make it now.

10:35 am
THE BATMAN CHAPTER 15: DOOM OF THE RISING SUN. Well, it was bound to happen. The audience has turned on Robin, and he's getting slandered pretty viciously. For good reason, really. First, he prances a lot. And, for some odd reason, any time Batman asks him to do something he does a little roll or flip into it. What's that for, exactly?
People have posed a couple alternatives for what the R on his costume might actually stand for instead of Robin. My two favorites? R IS FOR RETARD and R IS FOR RACIST (which this serial most definitely is). It's all so wrong.
I figure, after they take care of the Japs, Batman and Robin were gonna move to the South and keep the colored folks from voting. Geez, it pains me to see stuff like this.

10:55 am
The trailer for CYBORG 2087 with Michael Rennie (from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL). I haven't seen it, but it doesn't look like it would hold a candle to his previous sci-fi effort.
Then, we get the trailer for FUTUREWORLD, the sequel to our final movie, and a promo for the "Roy Rogers Riders' Club" where Roy recites the Cowboy's Prayer.

11:00 am
WESTWORLD. Yeah, we're about 45 minutes behind, maybe a little more, but we're gonna make it.
I never, for some stupid reason, remember that Richard Benjamin is in this. Maybe it's because he's so great in so many comedies, that I block out his serious roles. Who knows? Maybe I'm just stupid.
Why isn't there actually a theme park like Delos?
Now, I'm not saying we need humanoid robots, or anything like that...most of what they do at the park could be accomplished with stuntmen and trickery. People would go to it! Me, personally, I'd be hangin' out in Roman World, rockin' the ancient style toga party.
Disney could build it adjacent to Epcot. Think about it. You could do a day at Disney, a day at Epcot, and then go to a medieval feast or a Roman orgy before you fly back home.
Someone get Steve Jobs on the phone. We gotta sell this idea.
We were lucky with this print. It's REALLY good.
Damn, Yul Brynner is one BAD mutha. Etcetera.

We've filed out of the theater, and people are collecting their shiny silver Certificates of Marathoid Behavior. Bruce does a kick ass job on them every year, and if I can't keep mine pristine, I cry like a little bitch.
Well, I cry like a little bitch if my Cheerios get soggy. But I'm emotional. Bite me.
Quite a few folks made it the entire run (I'm pleased to be among them -- barely), and the theater isn't nearly as trashed as it's been in other marathons. Jeff's getting pictures of people leaving with their certificates, so they're gonna be all famous on the www.drexel.net website or something thereabouts.

Me? I'm gonna help a wee bit with the cleanup, gather my shit, have some lunch and then pass out at home.
It's been real. It's been fun. Fuck it. It's been real fun. I've met tons of great people this year, had some fantastic conversations, and watched loads of great stuff. What more can you ask for in a weekend?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Immigration Nation
Let's talk about the "immigration problem".
Illegal immigration has become the hot button issue over last month. Of course, it's a smokescreen by the GOP. They've had failures (the war, the economy) and scandals (Tom DeLay, domestic spying) that have public opinion turned against them. So, they picked a target (undocumented aliens) and set the attack dogs loose.
We have a large population of undocumented aliens here in Columbus, which has caused a few problems, but for the most part has done nothing but helped the area and the economy. I've had a lot of experience dealing with these folks from my time working in a license agency, and I have some perspective on the issue.
The majority of the illegals here are from Mexico. These guys aren't professional types. But they are here to work, and they do it harder than most people here are willing to do. I don't know a lot of native born Americans who want to work fast food or roofing or as cleaning staff.
These folks do those jobs, without the protection of US labor laws. Sometimes 80+ hours a week without overtime. Sometimes in unsafe conditions. They get no health insurance. They're not eligible for driver's licenses or state ID cards in spite of the fact that they don't constitute legal status. So, they can't get bank accounts, auto insurance or even self-insure themselves for health.
Because of that, they often are paid only in cash, which makes them a target for crime. They are limited in their ability to find shelter, which led a group of roofers to sleep inside a building they were working on in January -- and they suffocated when the fumes from their kerosene heater overwhelmed them. Then, there was the apartment full of Mexican workers that burned down and they couldn't escape because there was no fire alarm. Ohio has seen their share of tragedy for these people, and they haven't wised up at all.
I've known a few guys who have managed to, over the years, get themselves documented and legal. They're few and far between, and the process takes YEARS. All they want to do is work, and most of the time they're working at jobs that no one else wants.
And now the Powers-That-Be are trying to rally the public against them. That's dirty pool. Find people who can't defend themselves and pick on them. If I remember my grade school correctly, that's called bullying.
Not that I'm surprised that the Republicans are bullies. We've seen ample proof of that (squelching of dissenting views, illegal wiretaps of reporters and political opponents, intimidation, etc) from the likes of people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Powell, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.
We are a nation of immigrants and we're now turning against the people who have followed our lead. Now, if the various tribes of Amerinds decided they were against immigrants, I think I could understand that. Not that they can drive us out at this point, but they (if anyone) would have the right. We're criticizing the people following in our own footsteps.
I'm just hoping that the masses start wising up to this demagoguery. We need to start moving these guys back into their civilian lives as overpaid, company-swindling CEOs instead of government officials who're giving money and contracts to their former partners-in-crime. We need them out of political office and back into their boardrooms where they only hurt the people who are working for them. That way, we can minimize the amount of damage they do.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Podcast Planet 3.0

Yeah. I'm an addict.
I keep my ear to the ground, listening for the good stuff. And like all good geeks, I want to share it with everyone. That's part of the whole purpose of being a geek, isn't it?
[Note: These are the NEW shows I'm listening to. I'm still subscribed to the Daily Source Code, TikiBar TV, Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony, The Writing Show, Ebert & Roeper, NHL Insider with Bob McKenzie, both of John Edwards' podcasts (both audio and video), the PK and J Show -- more on them soon!!!, HockeyNation.tv, the Marvel Podcasts, GeekBrief.TV, Dork de Jour, Writers on Writing, Tim Henson's Distorted View Daily, Constant Columbus, the Clerks 2 podcast and the Official Lost Podcast...and a couple feeds that are now inactive, but I'm too lazy to clean out of Juice just yet.]

So, yeah, I'm completely addicted to Jack Black's Nacho Libre Confessionals. Are you surprised? I mean, a manly piece of flesh like Jack Black? What's not to love? And, he's playing a LUCHADOR, fer cryin' out loud. Subscribe. Now. Do it.
Of course, as more episodes of that appear to ramp up for the release of Nacho Libre, updates are getting downright scarce to Kevin Smith's Clerks 2 video diaries. I know the movie's done and all, Lunchbox. But you can still be our pusher. Give your fans more juicy video crack, damn you.
I still have no idea what's really going on on Lost. But, I have the Official Lost Podcast to feed me lies and half-truths about TV's most mysterious show. Still, I'm thinking of maybe getting some non-official word on this show (that's a blatant plea for someone to tell me which Lost casts are good, dammit).
Ricky Gervais not only has a second season of his Ricky Gervais Show up for pay (Sorry, Ricky. I'm horribly poor.), but he has a FREE video podcast. So now I can watch them poke fun at poor Karl Pilkington and his perfectly round head.
I love ninjas. I love movies about ninjas. I love reading magazines about ninjas. I love playing video games about ninjas. Hey -- I love a video cast by a ninja, too! The Ask a Ninja podcast is fun and informative. I look forward to asking the ninja a question real soon!

I know you all love Homestar Runner. And since you love Homestar Runner, I know you love the Strong Bad E-Mails. Well, they have a feed for those now, too. Plus, they occasionally throw other fun stuff down the pipeline.
Since I'm a cartoon fanatic, I re-subscribed to the Happy Tree Friends podcast. I'd gotten rid of it ages ago, and I just sorta drifted back to it. I don't know why, exactly. Except maybe I'm amused by cute lil' cartoon animals suffering and dying horribly.
Speaking of toons...I'm also a big fan of the Vintage Tooncast. Yeah, I own DVDs full of old cartoons. But now I also get 'em delivered to my iTunes. And occasionally, it's one I've never seen before. Supercool.

I'm a pop culture junkie, which is rather apparent when you take into account how many pop culture podcasts I listen to (Dork de Jour, I'm lookin' at you!). Well, I finally got off my keister and subscribed to Amanda Congden's Rocketboom and Revision 3: Diggnation TV with Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht (When I can actually get the episodes to actually download fully). Both cover the more humorous aspects of life on and away from your computer screen. And both are entertaining as hell to watch.
I enjoyed the hell out of Miss Kitka(aka Casey McKinnon)'s KITKAST. Imagine my surprise when she jumped from sex news to geek culture with GalactiCast, her new video program. Guess she likes being geeky more than being half-nekkid.
Exactly how many podcasts and video casts of geek blather about pop culture can the net support? The world may never know. Like I keep saying...geeks are taking over. (And no, Kevin, that doesn't mean you can be President for Life.)

Speaking of sex, I checked out the ClubJenna podcast and let's just say...I'm underwhelmed. They put up a couple weeks worth of trailers to some of her movies and.........that was it. Nothing at all since. Yawn. Bored now.
Oh, and speaking of big yawns, the Yum Yum Girlie Show ain't all that yummy. Occasionally the fare is tasty looking, but the clips are so damn short you never get enough flavor for it to matter. Of course, they're all adverts for stuff you can purchase. Typical.

If you know me at all, you know I'm rather pointedly opinionated politically. So, I'm pleased as punch that HBO has put Real Time with Bill Maher up as an audio podcast. Sure, you miss out on the visual jokes (and there's usually quite a few during the show), but I'm just happy as hell to be able to revisit Bill stomping all over the stupidity and hypocrisy of the Bush administration any time I so choose.
I just wish John Edwards would release more podcasts and video casts. The more I see of him, the more I wish he had a Pennsylvania Avenue address.

ConstantColumbus is no longer the only music cast I listen to (sorry Kevin and Dorn). Have I mentioned that ConstantColumbus is running the first ever podcast battle of the bands? No? Well, now I have. Get over there and listen to some tunes and vote for yer favorite.
WOXY in Cincinatti has a terrific podcast of the live sets and interviews they present from visiting acts and local artists. Check out the WOXY Lounge Acts. It's quite often great stuff.
I'm also listening to eric Metronome's Cover of the Week podcast. Fifty-two weeks in a year. Fifty-two cover songs by this super-talented super-genius. Delivered to me automatically via the magic of RSS. I'm lovin' it.

I'd listened to both of Scott Sigler's previous podiobooks, Earthcore and Ancestor. Well, he's in the middle of his best book yet, Infection. I really can't wait each week to hear what happens next, and I occasionally put off listening to the newest episode each week so that I don't have to wait as long for the next one to come out.
I'm also listening to the short stories read over at Escape Pod, which is usually an entertaining listen. But, occasionally, the stories aren't all that good. Thankfully, I can stop and skip to the next one.

Since I do keep harping on you folks to listen to podcasts, I suppose I should once again mention the Big Haired Fag himself...the Podfather...Mr Adam Curry and his Daily Source Code. If you're not subscribed yet...the show keeps getting better. He's now occasionally offering video shows -- as in music videos for podsafe music acts. Now how cool is that? Hell, it's almost as cool as Adam Curry's towering, perfectly blow-dried metrosexual hair.

Sadly, hockey season is over. So now I have to find a good baseball podcast. Any suggestions, folks (Reds, White Sox, Red Sox and Yankees podcasts need not apply)?

Adam falls in love with The Promise
Chen Kaige's The Promise is breathtakingly gorgeous on a level few films can touch.
A melange of beautiful scenery, sets and computer graphics, the film attempts to show things on an epic scale that even Xiang Yimou's Hero or House of Flying Daggers never even attempted to. It's a grand, sprawling fairy tale writ in every cinematic trick at this master's disposal.
The story itself, though dense, is rather simplistic, but in the hands of a master like Chen Kaige (Raise the Red Lantern) it becomes a thing of ethereal beauty and wonderment. The fantastic elements of the story would have been rather clunky prior to the latest technological advances in film craft, and the filmmakers do their best to accomplish the visualization of the fantasy-scapes given the supposedly primitive technology available to Chinese filmmakers (compared to Hollywood).

Qingcheng (Guan Xiaotong), an orphan of war, makes a bargain with the Goddess Manshen (Chen Hong) to ease her suffering. She makes a promise to love no man until time runs backwards and the dead return to life. Every man she loves, she will lose. But, for this sacrifice, she will become every man's desire and will never know material want.
Qingcheng grows to unearthly beauty and grace (looking a hell of a lot like Celia Cheung) and becomes the consort to the King (Cheng Qian). The King has two principal generals; Guangming (Hiroyuki Sanada) the Master of the Crimson Armor, who is loyal to the king but ruthless and cruel enough to send hundreds of slaves to their death to lure out his enemies and Wuhuan the Duke of the North (Nicholas Tse), who is disloyal and desires Qingcheng.
One of the slaves, Kunlun (Jang Dong-Gun), proves to be a rather exceptional individual, possessed of inhuman speed and a pure heart. When he and the other slaves are sent out on their suicide mission, he manages to turn the tide of the battle, leading a stampede of bulls that the barbarians sent to crush them back to its source. The general rides in with his army, swinging his brass balls (no kidding, that's his weapon of choice) and whups some barbarian behind.
Guangming, fresh from his victory over the army of barbarians, recieves word that Wuhuan is laying siege to the king's palace. He takes his slave Kunlun and sets out for the palace to save the king. They get lost in a forest and separate to find a way out. Guangming meets the Manshen in the forest and she tells him that not only will he fail to save the king, but the Master of the Crimson Armor will actually slay the King. Guangming denies that he'd do such a thing, so she proposes a wager. If he saves the King, he will never fail in battle. If he loses, however, he will have to give her a single bitter tear of the heartbreak that is to come to him.
Wuhuan sends his best operative, Snow Wolf (Liu Ye), an assassin who's possessed of a magical cloak that makes him swifter than time itself. Snow Wolf finds Guangming and manages to injure him before Kunlun arrives and attacks him. Snow Wolf recognizes certain qualities in Kunlun and announces he will not kill him.
Too injured to go on, Guangming has Kunlun put on his armor and finish the rescue mission. He instructs Kunlun that the king will be the only one without a weapon.
Meanwhile, the King and Qingcheng confront Wuhuan from the walls of their palace. Qingcheng offers to remove a layer of her clothing if Wuhuan's army lays down their arms and doesn't attack the king. When they start to actually do this, the king tells her to keep stripping until they all drop their weapons.
Qingcheng feels betrayed by this and spurns the King. This throws him into a rage and he attacks her with a sword. When Kunlun shows up in the general's armor, the only unarmed person is the Princess. So, he kills the King (fulfilling Manshen's prophecy) and escapes with Qingcheng. They're cornered by a cliff by Wuhuan and his men and he gives Guangming a choice: jump off the cliff and kill himself or Qingcheng dies.
Kunlun, ever loyal to his master (and already hopelessly in love with Qingcheng) dives over the edge without a moment's hesitation (capturing Qingcheng's heart with his selfless heroism -- except, of course, she thinks he's Guangming).
Yes, Kunlun survives. He's a hero, after all. And Guangming isn't necessarily going to turn down Qingcheng's advances when she sees him again -- he is a guy, after all. Cecilia Cheung might not be a Zhang Ziyi or an Amy Yip, but she's still a hottie -- and she's got that divine mojo working for her, too.

If you think this is a dense story, you don't know the half of it. That's only the first quarter of the film. There's still an hour and a half left after that.
There are also other things going on from the get-go that don't truly come to fruition until the end of the film. Wuhuan's motives are more complicated than he lets on, for instance, and he doesn't desire to possess Qingcheng. Instead, he wants her to suffer, keeping her in a gilded cage. And Guangming, desires the bliss of being with Qingcheng so much that he'd give up his martial glory. Even Snow Wolf, obedient lapdog to Wuhuan, has an agenda -- in spite of the fact that if Wuhuan takes his cloak away, he'll cease to exist, dissolving into a wisp of the wind.

Chen Kaige has a lot of help in making this film look spectacular, especially from cinematographer Peter Pau. This really is a sumptuously gorgeous movie. The sets are huge and blend in well with the CG effects. Some of the FX look hokey by American standards, but they're also stylized enough that they look occasionally like the illustrations in a book -- which I believe they're meant to.
After all, as I said before, this is more a fairy tale by Western standards than anything else. It's a mythical saga the likes of which we haven't seen much of yet. Thanks to advances in cinematic technology, imagination and the wherewithal to execute it are the only limitations on a filmmaker's creativity. Movies like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars films have shown that the sky no longer is the limit for storytelling on film.

The Promise is just the latest attempt at utilizing this technology to tell a story that wouldn't have been possible before. Does it work on all levels? Well, no. The effects do occasionally get uneven -- but if you look at them with a less critical eye and realize that you truly are watching an illustrated fable, you can forgive the level of prowess and let the story do its work. Kind of like how you can forgive older films their technical flaws and enjoy them for their thematic triumphs. Just because a film isn't made with the latest and greatest new toys and technical doodads doesn't mean it's not worthy of notice or praise. What matters is the finished product as a whole and what it can do to you intellectually or emotionally.
This film is meant to engage the simplest sense of wonder -- the characters are both more and less than today's humans, having amazing powers but uncomplicated natures. Like the Greek or Norse myths, these Chinese legends are meant to illustrate the human condition with broad strokes. The Promise is about how love makes us do things -- both foolish and heroic. It's a motivator to all mankind. How it affects each of the three heroes of the tale varies based on the men -- their personalities, their histories and their motivations. In addition, what Qingcheng will do for true and enduring love, after a lifetime of loss and denial, drives all four of the lead characters to an inevitable conflict at the end of the film.

Chinese filmmakers have long been attempting to stretch the limits of their craft, which is why so many genres get a much-needed kick in the pants there. Action movies today would be stale without John Woo, Ringo Lam, Jackie Chan and Johnnie To. Comedy wouldn't be quite so limitless in its wackiness without Stephen Chow. Fantasy film wouldn't look quite so fantastic without Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo-Ping and Ronnie Yu.
The mining of ancient Chinese legends and fables is the latest way to showcase how far the science of cinema has progressed -- and how much we can do to create motion pictures that exist in different realities than what we're used to. Hopefully, these visions will inspire Western filmmakers to revisit their own heroic myths in a new and exciting way. The upcoming Beowulf may well be the beginning of something even more amazing -- as it is a fully motion-captured animated film that won't be held down by sets or makeup or even physics. Mo-cap will allow for performance by the actors to be preserved unlike conventional animation (and hopefully won't make the characters look as much like the walking dead as they did in The Polar Express).
It's an exciting time to be a movie fan.

The Promise hits US theaters on May 5 in limited release.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Adam gets conned by Lucky Number Slevin
Lucky Number Slevin is a lot of things.
It's overly clever, verbose and convoluted. It's a little bit noirish, a pinch of 60s-style revenge film, a peck or two of early Seventies caper and a smidgen of a clever English crime comedy.
It's all of those things, to a degree. And none of them. Because Lucky Number Slevin really does want to be something different, it reaches in a dozen directions and doesn't quite get to any of them.
Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) is having a really bad week. In one day he's lost his job, his apartment and his girlfriend. Bad things come in threes, you see. So, of course, when he goes to New York to visit his friend Nick Fisher (), he gets mugged. Bad things happen in threes, yes, but Slevin's on a roll. Why should bad luck stop for him?
When he gets to Nick's place, his friend is nowhere to be found, and people keep showing up to talk to Nick. People who beat the stuffing out of Slevin and point guns in his face. People who take him to meet rival crimebosses The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley), both of whom are owed money by Mr Fisher.
The gangsters give Nick/Slevin rather pointed choices to clear his debt. The problem is, everyone who could identify that he's not Nick are dead. He's been painted into a corner and now he needs to find a way out. And, of course, there's an assassin who knows the parlance of the long con as well as a seasoned grifter. And cops. There have to be cops, I believe. It's a rule.
This really doesn't even begin to describe the myriad twists and turns that the film navigates. Thankfully, they include a foil for Slevin in the figurative Girl Next Door (Lucy Liu), who's actually insanely likeable for a change (I would not be counted amongst even her casual fans before this film). Slevin runs through the story with her so you can catch up occasionally, or bone up on your backstory.
The dialogue is snappy and occasionally overly adroit, but it's handled so naturally by the actors; in particular Bruce Willis (as Goodkat, the assassin), Hartnett and Liu; that you accept it as the vernacular of this story. Freeman and Kingsley are masters of their craft, and frankly could have been reading the phonebook and been golden.
Hartnett is something of a conundrum. He's an actor who has the goods to be an honest to goodness movie star: he's good looking, he can act, and he has charisma to burn. But he keeps ending up in dreck like Hollywood Homicide when he makes a mainstream picture. Thankfully, he balances the scales with more interesting fare like The Faculty, Sin City and Slevin.
Liu is also a surprise. Like I'd mentioned before, I am not a fan. She's great in this, even though it's a smallish part (pretty much every part other than Hartnett's is smallish). She has a rather convenient reveal mid-picture ("Didn't you know? I'm a coroner."), but she hits all her marks like she was born to 'em. Maybe, just maybe, doing some lighter fare like Charlie's Angels pulled the proverbial stick out of her heinder.
There's more double and triple-crosses going on than anyone's quite privy too, though copious clues are sprinkled to let you in on bits and pieces of the plot before they finally fess up and give up the goods. Everyone's playing everyone else like a fiddle, but you don't know who has the set list until the final act -- which is, after all, as it should be.
I'd heard the stock complaints about Slevin, and knew going in all about the slick dialogue and undluly complicated scenario. Frankly, the bad buzz is bullshit. Some folks just don't appreciate being fooled and they lash out.
Had I known that the entire story line was a Kansas City Shuffle, I might have made some of the guesses that I'd made in Inside Man -- where I'd managed to figure out what was up fairly early. But, I let the confusion get the better of me. I was fooled. And dammit if I didn't have a great time betting on Lucky Number Slevin.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Adam melts over Ice Age 2
Ice Age 2: The Meltdown is a rarity. It's a sequel that's every bit as good as the original.
It's not to say that it's The Godfather II or anything earth-shaking. The first Ice Age was a sweet little movie about the strength of family. It had its moments, most of which were provided by a strange little critter called Scrat, who was constantly trying to get an elusive acorn. Oddly, then, as now, the Scrat segments had nothing to do with the plot of the movie. Scrat is still totally hilarious, but they played the best segments in their entirety in the trailers. Not that I wasn't still laughing when Scrat goes all Bruce Lee on a school of piranhas...but I'd seen it months ago.
Like the original, it has an affirming message about the family unit and taking care of one's own. However, the sequel also decides to delve into identity issues.
Ice Age 2: The Meltdown actually comes close to being a better film than the first, though it stumbles occasionally and once or twice loses track that it's a family movie with some questionable language and humor.
The film calls on the three mismatched characters from the first (Manny the mammoth [Ray Romano], Sid the giant sloth [John Leguizamo] and Diego the saber-tooth tiger [Denis Leary]) to learn more lessons about themselves than the first time around.
The trio have found themselves the caretakers of a large herd of assorted animals who live a mostly idyllic life in a quiet valley surrounded by the ice. When they find out that the ice is melting and the valley will flood, they begin a desperate march out of the valley to save their herd. They're dogged along the way by a couple of aquatic predators who might be too scary for small children, and Manny is beset by concerns that he might in fact be the last of his species. Everyone keeps telling him so, how should he know better?
Along the way, they meet two daredevil possum Crash and Eddie (Sean William Scott and Josh Peck) and their "sister" Ellie (Queen Latifa) who is actually a mammoth. Who thinks she's a possum. Talk about issues.
There is also a flock of vultures watching their every move. Seems the smell of death is in the air. Or is that just gas?
Sid might be the comic relief (though all of the best laughs again go to Scrat, who had me in tears a couple of times), but he truly is the impetus for the development the other characters go through. Mistaken or not, he pushes Manny and Ellie together. He also encourages Diego to conquer his fears and insecurities.
The filmmakers lean toward the Disney school of animated features this time around and include two Busby Berkeley-esque musical numbers. The vultures run down a list of their favorite carrion via song, and Sid has an odd musical encounter with a tribe of smaller sloth who ape his every move.
Romano gets to stretch a bit, wooing Ellie and playing the hero. It's not the thing you expect from the ho-hum comedian and sitcom star. Thanks to animation, he gets to explore a character that's very much not him.
Leary barely has anything to do (I'd say the same for Leguizamo, but the mini-sloth sequence made up for his lack or real story time.), but has a good arc as he confronts the fact that he's about to be surrounded by, and possibly swallowed by his fear. Diego sees fear as the reaction of prey, and he's dumbfounded that it could happen to him.
The rest of the cast is more than adequate, includuing Latifa, Scott and Jay Leno as a huckster armadillo named Fast Tony. Latifa is an affable foil to Romano's dour mammoth, or to quote Sid "She's tons of fun and you're no fun. She...completes you."
While the journey the trio is on this time around doesn't seem as pressing as returning the human child to his tribe in the original, the threat they're facing is even more daunting than a pack of sabers. There's a bit of epic action at the end to pay off the peril they were fleeing, and some genuinely thrilling moments as the animals risk everything to save each other.
Maybe I'm reacting better to Ice Age 2 than I would have if I hadn't seen Basic Instinct 2 a day before. But, much as I might like a good crappy movie now and again, I really do go to enjoy myself with something of a better quality. And thankfully, Ice Age 2 was definitely the palate cleanser my cinematic tastebuds needed.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Adam Gets Sleazy With Basic Instinct 2
I love shitty movies.
Not that it's much of a surprise to people who know me. I'm one of the people who goes through the bargain bins at stores looking for DVDs of some weirdo slasher pic or erotic thriller with Michael Pare or Shannon Tweed in it. I'd consider myself a casual fan of Andy Sedaris. I even think fondly of most Skinemax content -- because most of it is just intentionally hilariously bad. But, I haven't partaken of something so gleefully, utterly devoid of value in a while.
Thank the cine-gods that I did.
Basic Instinct 2 is not a good movie. Let's get that out of the way. Do not go to it expecting to see something remotely watchable in the conventual sense.
Now, if you want to giggle at inappropriate moments throughout the movie, this is definitely the movie for you.
Sharon Stone returns in the role that made her a household name fourteen years ago, Catherine Tramell. Stone's fearless enough to get shot without a heavy filter at the age of 48, and doesn't look all that bad when she's not soaking wet and haggard. She shows plenty of skin this time around, so all her pilates and spinning and yoga and whatever the fuck else they're doing in Hollywood this week is paying off. Hell, I wish I looked as good last week.
David Morrissey, her male lead this time around, has all the acting skills of a ventriloquist dummy without the ventriloquist. However, I think the root cause of this problem is that Mr Morrissey is experiencing some intestinal discomfort and needs to take a big dump. If he unclenched for more than 3 seconds in the movie (his final 3 seconds on camera), I'd think he might have some sort of future in the movie industry. Oh, wait. Then I remembered him walking down a flight of stairs like some kind of doof and snapped out of it.
Charlotte Rampling and David Thewlis both deserve better than this mess. But, Rampling was in Zardoz and Thewlis was in the remake of The Island of Dr Moreau. So, they've both been in worse. And Heathcoate Williams' hair deserves some sort of prize of its own.
Plot? It's convoluted and rather stupid. Go figure. It's a sequel to a Joe Eszterehas project. His movies were always laden with sleaze and supposedly arcane but really inane twists. And yet, I was sad to see the son of a bitch die a few years back. He might have been a hack, but at least he was an entertaining hack.
The story goes thusly: Catherine kills (or does she?) a footballer (ignorant Yanqui pigdogs read that as "soccer player") and the police ask psychiatrist David Glass (David Morrissey, who has one less facial expression than Roger Moore) to assess her and determine if she's a threat to herself of society.
Blah blah blah, there's some mindfucking going on (or is there?). And, oddly for a Basic Instinct movie, there's a little bit of onscreen sex. Wasn't the original rated G, fer cryin' out loud? Oh, wait. It was Joe Esztrehas. My bad (or is it my bad?).
Blah blah blah. More people die. Everything points to Tramell. And yet, this supposedly very intelligent psychoanalyst who's being considered for a prestigious university chair just keeps making every stupid mistake he can. At least Michael Douglas' character in the original was a coke fiend and sex maniac so he'd have an excuse for being a moron.
There was a point in the movie, oddly a pivotal transition for Glass as well, where I stopped just being mildly amused by the movie and just started adoring it for its craptitude. Basic Instinct 2 sucks harder than a Tiajuana whore with a Hoover up her butt, and yet it's the most fun I've had in the theater so far this year.
Yeah, that's right. I had loads of fun with this abomination. Why? Because it's so hilariously over-the-top bad that it really deserves a special commentary track on the DVD by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang.
Michael Caton-Jones, who either deserves credit or blame for directing this atrocity (depending on your point of view) has directed lots of better stuff before, including the wonderfully sleazy Scandal, the charming-but-vanilla Memphis Belle, and the affable Doc Hollywood. Of course, he's also the guy who brought us such drek as Rob Roy, the remake of The Jackal and the utterly mediocre City by the Sea. Considering the downward trend of Caton-Jones' work, I fully expect him to start work on a new Emmauelle TV series for Cinemax immediately.
I don't know that credited screenwriters Leora Barish (Desperately Seeking Susan) and Henry Bean (The Believer) are wholly responsible for this mess, but they deserve being pointed out as the authors of some of the most unintentionally hilarious dialogue I've heard in ages. I truly wish I could remember some of the lines that made me giggle so I could pass one or two along to tease you into the theater.
I know that the economy is tough. I know that money is tight. But, you can always do a matinee, or wait two weeks or so until it ends up at the dollar theater. But, if you like the banal as well as the beautiful, Basic Instinct 2 is one bad movie worth having some fun with.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Adam catches the Inside Man
I like Spike Lee. I like his movies. I even like his personality, in spite of his occasional abbrasiveness.
Spike's a director I've long enjoyed and admired, though he hasn't knocked me on my ass since Do the Right Thing, which was waaaaaaaaaaay back in 1989. It's a brilliant movie, well written in spite of its prejudices (or perhaps even because of them). And it's the most well-paced, simmering story of urban rage boiling over ever made. Even if Mookie is making all kinds of mistakes at the climax of the movie, we all understand why he throws that trash can through the window. It's a great story about humanity, and it's probably still the best movie about racism and prejudice since Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?.
Like I said, I like Spike. And while he's become downright prolific in the last ten years, he's had the same failing over and over again. Spike has let his characters go on virulent racist diatribes about every other ethnic group but their own in pretty much every movie (in fact, it's an important framing device in Do the Right Thing) he's made. It's an honesty thing. I understand that.
But, important as improving relations between ethnicities and social classes are, it's not the only purpose of storytelling. And, frankly, it was long since getting tired when it was coming from Spike Lee. We get it, Spike. We really do. One movie would have done it. You got your point across.
Someone seems to have gotten that point across to Spike. At one point in his latest release, Inside Man, Denzel Washington's Detective Frazier silences a subordinate before he can go on an off-color rampage about the ethnicities he doesn't like. The sergeant he reprimands apologizes and acknowledges that his hatred is irrational, though he does attempt to explain it.
Yes, I know Spike didn't write this movie (Russell Gerwitz did). But, it's a moment that was long in the coming in Lee's catalog -- the black man takes charge not by epithets, but by charisma and authority. If this truly signals a sea change in Spike's movies, I think he's going to become an even better storyteller.
Detective Frazier is a good cop. He's had some trouble in the past, including a very recent investigation over some missing money from a drug bust. He's smart enough to know where he stands in department politics, and he's bright enough to make those little intuitive leaps that make him a great investigator.
Denzel Washington fills Frazier's shoes with the easy grace of a guy who truly is one of the finest actors living today. He melts into the role easily, but he seems to do that every time he's in a film. Even when he's in a dog of a movie (John Q, The Siege, The Bone Collector, Fallen, Virtuousity, Philadelphia, The Preacher's Wife), Washington shines. He's a movie star, yes. But he's also a really great actor. He was Pvt Trip in Glory, fer cryin' out loud. And Bleek Gilliam in Mo' Better Blues (his first collaboration with Spike Lee). And Malcolm X in the biopic of the same name. In fact, I can't think of a time I've seen Washington phone one in. He brings his A game to the plate every time he walks onto a set. Very few actors working today can claim the same.
Frazier never actually sees the face of his adversary, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen). Dalton unmasks to speak to the audience periodically, but otherwise keeps his mug under wraps. It's part of his plan -- a perfect plan, he tells us -- to rob the Manhattan Trust and get away with it, even walking out the front door right under the noses of the police. Now, he's speaking to us from a tiny cell, but he assures us that it IS a perfect plan.
Now, Dalton has an ulterior motive. And he's got things better planned out than even the audience can anticipate. He's a dozen steps ahead of the police before they show up, and he just keeps extending his lead on them.
Dalton HAS planned the perfect bank robbery. He has the staff and customers dressed up just like his partners in crime -- so if the cops decide to come in, they can't tell who's who. And he's got a handle on everything the police are going to do. He's highly educated, fiercely intelligent, and motivated more than we know initially.
Owen has been nothing short of fantastic lately, with the lone exception of the recent (and utterly awful) King Arthur. No amount of acting skill could save him from the train wreck that was that 'reimagining' of Arthurian legend. Sure, he should have played Bond (he's that damned badass and suave). But, I'd rather see him out in the world actually ACTING. Up against both Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster, Clive Owen proves he's got the goods.
Yeah, Jodie Foster's involved here, too. Her character is an attorney of some note in New York City. Madeline White has made a career out of having the right friends -- and having favors owed to her by the elite. When she's engaged to protect some valuable property in the bank, she worms her way into Frazier's investigation...and then the bank itself.
Frazier has no choice but to cooperate when the mayor shows up with White in tow and orders him to show her every courtesy. He's already in deep with Internal Affairs over that missing money. And, besides, she offers to help fast track his career a little bit (which, if she's leading the mayor around by the short hairs, she can do).
Everyone has an agenda in Inside Man. Each of the lead characters is pulling a work on the other two, and no quarter is given in this tense battle of wits. The question is -- who's truly conning who here, and how is Dalton gonna get out of the bank?
The story fades in and out as Frazier and his partner Detective Mitchell (the chameleon-like Chiwetel Ejiofor) attempt to piece together what happened in the bank -- and who the robbers actually are among the dozens of people they've captured in the robbers' uniforms.
Russell keeps popping in from his cell to remind the audience about his brilliant plan. His asides are to confuse and obfuscate, of course, but he does tell the audience everything, confident that nobody -- not the cops, not the bank, not Ms White, and certainly not the audience -- is going to figure out what he did and how he got away with it.
I actually DID figure it out. But, I made a couple really lucky guesses, and an intuitive leap or two that seemed to fly directly in the face of logic. I got really, really lucky.
Inside Man is as smart as Dalton's plot. The movie's constructed in such a way that everyone is a suspect. Maybe even the cops themselves (there is that omnipresent problem with that missing money, after all...). Gerwitz's script dangles all the right clues around you, with just enough stage magic and misdirection to fool even the most dilligent viewer. And with the expert direction of Mr Spike Lee, the magic tricks work better than an Swiss watch.
Of course, the acting is top notch -- with as many people running around as this movie has, it's remarkably focussed on its lead triumvirate. The three leads receive a lot of help from an excellent supporting cast that includes Ejiofor, Christopher Plummer and Willem Dafoe. Inside Man is a return to form for Jodie Foster (last seen in 2005's absurdly craptacular Flightplan) and a great showcase for Owen's cool and Washington's easy grace.
The film could have been your typical summer release blockbuster. But, it went a different route -- truly focussing on the game of wits between three very intelligent and capable people. It's a new take on the heist genre, and a refreshing change of pace for Spike Lee's career as a stoyteller. Good stuff.