Friday, March 28, 2008

Owen Wilson: Too Soon? Too Something?

Seeing the commercials for "Drillbit Taylor" over the past few weeks gave me an odd feeling. It's a big, goofy comedy starring a recognizable movie star…who apparently tried to kill himself a few months ago. Is it too soon? I don't know. But I don't feel I have "closure," if that's the right word. I see him make public appearances, and I feel good for him because he's still around, but I also wonder if he's really OK. I never felt a big personal attachment to Owen Wilson, and I don't think I do now, but I can't help but think about all those supposed personal demons that were hinted at when he nearly died last year. Have they gone? Is he "fine"? Are we as moviegoers supposed to just forget about all of that and go see his movies? Maybe we are, I don't know.

I would never be so presumptuous as to say we the public have a "right" to know the personal details of a movie star's life, but at the same time, it's hard to separate the persona from something as drastic as what we saw happen. Even then, we really didn't see much, did we? We got some frantic reports, some speculation, and then…nothing. And that's fine. Owen Wilson doesn't owe us a Barbara Walters interview or a "People" profile. But so far we're getting nothing, and to me, for one, it makes it really tough not to still be curious about all that stuff, even when I see him in a trailer for something as unabashedly silly as 'Drillbit Taylor."

I mean, at some point, he's kind of gonna have to talk about it...isn't he? If not, I guess only time will make this kind of awkward feeling go away. Whatever the case, I wish him the best of luck.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tomorrow is Octopus Night on TCM

Here's another reason why TCM is the Mostest Excellent Cable Network Ever: This Friday is Octopus Night. Octopus Night!

Yes, it's another reminder that while Turner Classic Movies often earns its somewhat highbrow reputation with its screenings and appreciations of "The Classics," the channel itself has never limited its own definition of the term to high-minded literary adaptations and foreign art films. No, TCM never forgets to leave room for flat-out fun in its celebration of cinematic history, and what could be more fun than Octopus Night?

You get a great big ol' octopus attacking San Fran in "It Came From Beneath the Sea," followed by the Duke himself in "Wake of the Red Witch," then a pre-code Fay Wray thriller called "Below the Sea," and topping it all off, "Sh! The Octopus."

Now, as I recall, this last little comedy/detective movie isn't a candidate for the AFI 100, but it's under an hour and it features Allen Jenkins and Hugh Herbert. There's a rule in my house (and the fact that I'm the only one who knows it, let alone follows it, makes it no less valid) that whenever a movie stars either one of those great character actors, it's recorded if not seen. When both of them are in it, well, there's no excuse.

So check it out tomorrow night. Sit back, grab 8 cold ones, pull up 8 footstools or so, and enjoy a night of octopus movies on TCM.

March Blandness

Nothing against those of you who do partake in the exercise of filling out NCAA hoops tournament brackets, but it's just not for me anymore. it's not just that my interest in the sport has dropped a bit in recent years. I just don't have the patience for all the rigmarole. There are two reasons I see to make the effort worthwhile: money and bragging rights. I don't like gambling a lot of money, and I can't stand people bragging about their brackets, so that leaves me out. I guess if I did better and I got to brag a bit more, I might feel differently.

I like to enjoy the tourney just on its own merits without worrying about how I'm doing in any of 10 different brackets I filled out. I like to see coverage, too, without talking heads giving us their incessant accounts of how they picked this and picked that and so on. I understand that it's a fun format, and people enjoy it, but I get weary of the contest aspect of it. What matters to me is who wins the games on the court, not who wins the office pools.

I get a kick each year out of the weak sister NIT for also-rans, and for years, as part of my recurring desire to make life as much like old-school pro wrestling as possible, I've said the NIT winner should declare itself the "real" world's champion, telling the NCAA winner, "You may have won your own little tourney, but you never beat us, and until you do, you're just a PAPER CHAMPION!" Then all offseason long, the NIT victor could go around challenging the NCAA counterpart to a game to settle it once and for all.

This year I see there is yet ANOTHER tournament, the College Basketball Invitational. So if you're not good enough for the NIT, fear not, there's room for you here. I think it's great in its own ludicrous way. I don't want to see the NCAA field expand to 64 teams. No, just keep adding second-rate tournaments until everyone gets into at least one postseason competition.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Last Week in DVD

Shemp Cocktail: Yes, Shemp Cocktail! A tribute to Shemp Howard from Passport Video, which puts out a lot of low-budget hodgepodges devoted to classic stars. Shemp has quite a following in the hardcore film community, to say nothing of the hardcore Stooge company, so many appreciate this collection of solo Shemp material and new interviews with family members. What they surely don't appreciate is Passport deleting some of the shorts it originally announced and tacking on those same old public domain 3 Stooges shorts that have made their way onto so many discs, I could have sworn I saw "Disorder in the Court" listed on a Ray Charles CD I was playing the other day.

Atonement: Love. Anguish. Loss. Pain. These are just some of the emotions felt by…the filmmakers after this one got relatively low traction on Oscar night.

Enchantment: Amy Adams plays a Disney princess come to life, and she seems like a great choice. Not only does she seem to carry herself with class off camera, but she's been playing a lot of intelligent, sweet, appealing characters in her other films lately. OK, folks, what's she hiding? Someone get some dirt on here, stat.

I Am Legend: I just wrote about this one right here.

The Ice Storm Criterion Collection: I didn't quite "get" this one at the time, but Criterion says it's brilliant, so, fans, here you go. Maybe it's because I never had the pleasure of experiencing a "key party" in the seventies…though I was conceived and born in the seventies. Hey, you don't suppose…

Revolver: Latest crime pic from Mr. Madonna.

Bull Durham: "Cashing in on the beginning of another baseball season" Edition: Well, it’s another release for this one Did they get it right this time? Are they done revisiting this? Are the Pirates gonna win the World Series? (Hey, maybe)

DC The New Frontier: Hopefully better than "Superman: Doomsday," which was a disappointing feature in some ways and not near the standards of the "Justice League" animated series but still entertaining. That one, though, did have one of the best special features ever on any comic-book-related DVD, a documentary look at the "Death of Superman" storyline on which the movie was based. Darwyn Cooke's "New Frontier" series was an outstanding work, a re-imagining of the Silver Age DC Universe in the Cold War era, and if you know what "Silver Age" means, this one could be for you. Hopefully the DVD does the extras up as well as "Superman: Doomsday" did. More importantly, though, hopefully the actual feature does the comic up right.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Should You Watch: The Return of Jezebel James

How funny does this phrase sound: Asherman's Syndrome?

Sounds like a real riot, doesn't it? Anything with the word "syndrome" in it is sure to bring down the mood a bit, and yet the new Fox sitcom "The Return of Jezebel James" uses it prominently as one of its core premises. Star Parker Posey is a book editor who can't conceive a child because, well, she has something called Asherman's Syndrome.

This is a device to get Posey to reunite with her prodigal sister, the one whose lifestyle she has always disapproved, and ohbytheway ask her to carry her child for her. It's a contrived premise, and the fact that the sister (Lauren Ambrose) decides in the span of minutes in the premiere episode doesn't make it any more convincing.

Or funny, for that matter. You see, while you might not expect the phrase "Asherman's Syndrome" to be conducive to laughter, you COULD reasonably expect the presence of show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, late of "Gilmore Girls" to gaurantee some laughs. Unfortunaely, the two episodes I endured, er, watched with my wife were almost totally laugh-free. In this day of 21-22 minute "half-hour" programs on network TV, it's a really bad sign when one drags like this one.

Posey's sharp-witted, intelligent screen persona might seem a natural fit for the trademark snappy repartee from the creative force behind Lorelai and Rory Gilmore's banter, but "Jezebel James" offers nothing at all like that. I don't know for sure if it's the weakness of the scripts, Posey being a tad too shrill and nervy to carry a sitcom, or a combination, but it all comes off flat in this series.

The dialogue is often as contrived as the plot. For example, when Posey's sister walks into her office for the first time ever, Posey's assistant admires her and unrealistically says, "I want her to have my baby," merely so that Posey can reply with something like, "You'll have to wait in line."

So why SHOULD one watch this program? Well, you should watch "The Return of Jezebel James" if...

*You are nostalgic for the 1990s, when Parker Posey was in seemingly every other indie film released in more than a dozen theaters.
*You're still in denial about "Gilmore Girls" being off the air.
*You're still in denial about the creator of "Gilmore Girls" being off the show.
*You have a rigid policy of supporting comedy programs with laugh tracks. (The show looked and felt like it could, maybe should be sans laugh track, and when it sported one, I have to admit, I was thrown off)
*You're a huge fan of Peter Sarsgaard and always hoped he'd do series TV. He still doesn't, and he's not in this show, but the guy they have playing Posey's assistant sure looks and talks like him.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

From the I'm Just Saying department...

TV Land's schedule for this Saturday, beginning at noon (at least as of this post; they tinker with their schedule seemingly every day):

Noon High School Reunion
1 High School Reunion
2 Three Men and a Baby
4 Cheers
4:30 Cheers

(OK, these Cheers showings--not so bad)

5 Just Shoot Me
5:30 Just Shoot Me
6 Beetlejuice
8 High School Reunion
9 High Schol Reunion
10 High School Reunion
11 Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

Baby Boomers, THIS is the kind of programming that TV Land alleges you love: 5 screenings of the original/retread reality show they're cramming down your craw, two overplayed and heavily edited movies, two episodes of a mediocre sitcom that has been widely syndicated fot several years, and ending the night it's another retread reality show.

Oh, yeah, and from 4-5, two episodes of a show that actually almost fits into the original concept of TV Land.

Do Baby Boomers really like this kind of lineup? TV Land touted double-digit ratings improvements for the first episode of High School Reunion, a debut which was promoted and hyped beyond belief. Double-digit gains over what, the last crappy reality show they tried to launch on Wednesday nights?

The party line is that cable operators forced TV Land to carry originals. Hmm. Well, if that's the case, maybe TV Land should just go off the air. Seriously, if it were an option, I wouldn't pay for this garbage as part of an a la carte lineup.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Journey into DVD: The King of Kong

I think I love this movie too much to ever see it again.

You see, I find a personal dilemma of sorts with "The King of Kong." I rented the DVD of this 2007 documentary about two men battling it out for the world record score at Donkey Game, and I was floored by how absorbing, moving, and flat-out entertaining it was. I was captivated by the story of high school teacher Steve Wiebe, the good-natured underdog; as he struggled against the entrenched top man, egocentric and stooge-employing Billy Mitchell.

It's an incredible story the filmmakers present, one that just keeps making you think truth is indeed stranger--and sometimes more compelling--than fiction. A mere plot summary would not do justice to the twists and turns in the narrative, and it's hard to express in print just how vivid the principal characters are. It plays out almost like a pro wrestling storyline, with recognizable heels and babyfaces. And it's all about a video game. Let me tell you, though, this movie made me CARE about competitive video gaming, and I don't even play Nintendo anymore. I never did like Donkey Kong, much, either, but I was caught up in "The King of Kong" nevertheless.

After seeing the feature, I couldn't wait to dig into the extras. There was all sorts of good stuff: audio commentaries, extended scenes and interviews, background info on the games...and, oh, yes, a text scroll that updated us on what happened after filming.

Turned out there were even MORE twists. The story could go on forever! I went to the web and looked for some more updates.

And here's where the dilemma appeared.

For one thing, at some point, I had to cut myself off. There was just so much info, so many viewpoints, so many directions to pursue with regards to "The King of Kong" that I could go insane trying to keep up with it.

More importantly, I found myself doubting the fundamental honesty of the film. I don't mind a little exaggeration, a little distortion, maybe a minor error or two here and there in a documentary, but I want to know that the manipulation inherent in the process is being used for stylistic reasons, not to fundamentally shape the story itself. The more I researched the movie, the more I listened to the filmmakers, the more I tried to see Billy Mitchell's side of things, the more I began to question that almost-too-perfect narrative structure of hero vs. villain.

I'm not going to go into the details here, but suffice to say I have reason to think there was a lot more manipulation in this movie than I feel comfortable with. I think that while Mitchell is clearly in the wrong with some of his actions, he may have gotten a bit of a bum deal. Even worse, I think viewers got a raw deal because someone decided to leave out vital bits of info or shape things in such a way as to skew audience perception to fit the preconceived storyline.

I don't know that this is the case, but I suspect it is, and I don't want to dim my enthusiasm for the movie anymore right now. Any fan of the movie will love the DVD. As I said, it's packed with bonus material that does give an even fuller view of what is still a fascinating story. I still recommend it very strongly to movie fans of all types. It's not a stuffy academic documentary, but an exciting one with plenty of emotion.

Maybe someday I can sit back with some perspective, watch it all again, and get back into the saga. For now, I'm cutting myself off and walking away from it. I still think it's one of the best documentaries I've seen in the past few years. I just don't want to see it again. I may be tempted to revisit it soon, though...when the same filmmakers present their fictionalized feature version of the same story.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cultureshark's Top 10 Films of 2007

Think it's too late for this list? Hey, whaddya mean? It's not even April yet!

Reminder, before you swarm me with angry emails for leaving , check here for a partial list of notable 2007 releases haven't yet seen.

1) Ratatouille
--Does everything it sets out to do, and it does so in an enchanting manner. The most satisfying movie I saw all year, and certainly the one that made me feel the best.

2) Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
--I felt good after seeing this one, too, but in a "Wow, I saw a kick-ass movie," way. The movie itself is uncompromising and bleak. I mean, it looks like it's gonna be grim when it begins with a botched robbery, and then it somehow keeps getting grimmer. A nice treat from Sidney Lumet for movie fans that like the dark stuff.

3) Sweeney Todd
--Morbid, witty musical ride that, despite its Best Actor nom for star Johnny Depp, is way underrated.

4) Breach
--Hey, this one came out in 2007, right? Yeah, it did! Early in 2007, mind you, but in 2007. A tense, involving spy thriller that was buried for some reason. I found myself much more attached to the characters in this movie than in, say, the latest Bourne flick, and I've had 3 movies to warm up to that guy. Rent this one if you missed it.

5) No Country for Old Men
--'Nuff said about this one already

6) Gone Baby Gone
--Another way-underrated thriller. Kudos to Ben Affleck for delivering a gripping crime drama that introduces moral questions without going too far over the top.

7) 3:10 to Yuma
--This remake isn't better than the original because it's newer and louder, but it is a reminder that newer and louder doesn't always mean stupider. I think some critics overemphasized the flaws of this version without acknowledging some of the same ones were present in the earlier. Simply put, this is an exciting Western with memorable moments.

8) The Lookout
--Another dark one that gets better and better the more you think about it. Don't feel too bad if you missed the boat on this one; it seems that a whooooole bunch of people did.

9) Once
--I was almost annoyed by how eager fans of this movie were to tout its charm to those who hadn't yet seen it...until I actually saw it myself. If you found the leads at all likable during the Academy Awards telecast, you must see this.

10) Eastern Promises
--Many (including myself) might have initially underrated this David Cronenberg flick because it wasn't A History of Violence. Look again. Among other virtues, it may be the performance of Viggo Mortensen's career.

5Q Movie Review: National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets

Q: Did you enjoy the sequel as much as the original?
A: In a word, no. The first one was goofy, and everybody knew it, but it had a certain spirit, a sense of fun and derring-do. I found less adventure in this one. I mean, there are stunts and some thrills, but it just seems more dependent on comic relief and shtick. Of course, maybe I'm just judging it more harshly because it's been done before--in the first movie, that is, not to mention the scores of other adventure movies it borrows from.

Q: Well, do you at least get to see Cage being Cage?
A: Oh, yeah. There are moments of Nicolas Cage overacting because his character is supposed to be overacting, and there are also good old-fashioned Cage overacting moments. Fear not, sports fans. You get your dose of the man here. His sidekicks from the first movie also return, and while they don't have a memorable chemistry together, they don't look out of place together, either.

Q: Surely the great Helen Mirren adds some class to the proceedings, right?
A: Not only does she seem out of place, but her character actually hurts "NT2." The sexual tension/bickering between her and Jon Voight as Cage's parents is almost instantly tiresome. It's like someone realized there wasn't much point in making Cage and Diane Kruger spar the whole story, so they had to shift that stuff to the older generation. Doesn't work.

Q: Is there really a basement at Mount Vernon like the one shown in the movie?
A: There apparently is, according to the property's management, but there isn't an elaborate system of underground tunnels like the ones Cage walks through with a certain VIP. At least, so they say. There are some other cool conspiracies and secrets "revealed" here, though, stuff that even if not true gives the audience something fun to ponder. Take, for example., the Book of Secrets that is supposedly passed down from President to President. If you're into stuff like that, you might get a bigger kick out of the movie than the average fella.

Q: Are there any added attractions before the film that might make it more worthwhile?
A: I am SO glad you just happened to ask that wonderfully on-target question because in fact there is a Goofy cartoon--not goofy like the feature, but the Disney character Goofy--before the main attraction. It's quite amusing, a short bit of slapstick featuring the Goofmeister demonstrating how to install a home theater system. It's a welcome surprise and helps add some value to the underwhelming, if never really bad, National Treasure 2.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

This Week in DVD

Stuff that came out on Tuesday...

Love American Style Season 1 Volume 2 and Mod Squad Season 1 Volume 2: Must...not...complain about split season releases again this week. So I won't. All I'll say is I'm glad to see more LAS, as I really enjoyed seeing the hourlong episodes in the first set. Guest stars, retro fashions and mores, and CHEESE--what more can you ask for?

No Country for Old Men: The Best Picture comes to DVD. I looked into it, folks, and I have to warn you: No, there's no "Bonus Unambiguous Ending" in the extras.

Hitman: A meditative, often haunting film that ponders the existential nature of violence in society. No, wait, that's "No Country." This is just a big dumb action movie.

Fox Noir Classics: After a worrying delay, the studio continues this excellent line with 3 movies, at least 1 of which might actually be noir. No one's complaining, even if Fox is stretching the definition for marketing purposes; after all, it gets the movies out there. But there are some other, more noirish flicks many would like to see. So let's hope the series continues. This time out, it's "Dangerous Crossing," "Black Widow," and "Daisy Kenyon." Which of THOSE titles seems out of place?

Bee Movie: Too bad this quiet little animated pic didn't get more publicity. If only Jerry Seinfeld had been willing to do some publicity...

Sleuth: First, Jude Law starred in a remake of a Michael Caine vehicle ("Alfie"). Then Jude Law stars in ANOTHER remake of a Caine picture, "Sleuth," and Caine stars in this version, too. Like these two guys aren't in enough movies already?

South Park: The Imaginationland Trilogy: Hey, why wait for the entire season set when you can pay the same MSRP for just 3 episodes, right?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

5Q Movie Review: Juno

My "Gettin' Caught Up" week rolls on with a luck at the plucky underdog film that could. Yep, it's lovable ol' Juno. Aww!

Q: OK, isn't this Diablo Cody hype way out of control?

A: Hype? Well, yeah, she got an Oscar and a chatty Entertainment Weekly column for writing this movie (well, the whole used-to-strip thing probably helped her get at least one of those), but come on, give her a time in the spotlight. I was all prepared to hate Juno, but I actually found it a solid movie, one much less gimmicky than I had assumed it was. And why shouldn't there be a female voice on EW's back page, or, more importantly, a female screenwriter/celebrity with an affinity for way-too-cutesy dialogue and improbably hip speech patterns? Us guys have Kevin Smith.

Q: Yeah, but the movie itself--doesn't that dialogue get old?

A: Hey, I thought for sure it would. The first 10 minutes are almost unbearable, with an overwritten and underfunny exchange between star Ellen Page and Rainn Wilson that may have played much better on paper but made me cringe. "Oh, no," I thought in silent panic, "is it gonna be like this the whole time?" Thankfully, though, the screenplay quickly settles down, and "Juno" the movie becomes a intelligent film with likable characters and interesting performances. One critic was absolutely right, though, in selecting this example of how "Juno" is a little too pleased with itself sometimes: Juno the character can't just have a hamburger phone in her room; she has to tell her friend that she's talking on a hamburger phone." There is some of that kind of cutesiness, but stick with the movie, and it rewards you.

Q: But can grownups really get "into" a movie about teen pregnancy?

A: Oh, you might think it's just a wacky story about a teenager that gets knocked up, and the comparisons to "Little Miss Sunshine" might worry you (well, they did me, since I didn't like that one), but really there's much more going on. By looking at Juno and her world, we get a thoughtful look at pregnancy, abortion, and responsibility.

Even sharper is the exploration of relationships, both teenage and adult. Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner are outstanding as a potential adoptive parents for Juno's baby. I don't agree with every action their characters took, but their journey "gets it" in a way that "Knocked Up," for example, doesn't. I find Bateman's angst over impending fatherhood and all it entails much more convincing and affecting that Seth Rogan's in a movie that supposedly "has a big heart."

Q: Hey, that soundtrack is a big, smash hit! Is the music a big part of the film?

A: Well, it is, but if you go expecting a smorgasbord of cool tunes, you might be disappointed. I think the songs work well in the context of the movie, but I can't picture myself sitting down and listening to them in a CD player. That whole too-cute thing rears its ugly head again at times, but if you like The Moldy Peaches, hey, go for it. I just feel this may be like "Garden State," where a selection of songs proved so much more entertaining in a movie theater than in the car stereo.

Q: OK, bottom line: Does 'Juno" live up to everything or not?

A: No way it should be a Best Picture contender, and it's not a great film. But even if you're a Cody-phobe at first, as I admit I was, and you held out this long, you might enjoy it on DVD, where you can enjoy this film on its own merits, as not some blockbuster or classic, but as a fine effort from director Jason Reitman, an outstanding cast (including another standout turn from Michael Cera) and, yes, a screenplay by Diablo Cody. It'll be interesting to see what she does next and how another director will adapt it. "Juno" however, holds up well not just on its own merits, but compared to others. I'll go ahead and say it: "Juno" totally slays the previous year's Indie Darling, "Little Miss Sunshine," and it's also more insightful and even funnier than that other pregnancy-focused smash, "Knocked Up."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

5 Question Movie Review: Sweeney Todd

Welcome to "Catch-up Week," in which I try to clean the desktop of some things I've been meaning to post about for weeks. I'll kick it off with the first of several belated movie reviews. Hey, the DVDs will be out soon. So clip and save if you like.

Q: How is Johnny Depp as a singer?
A: Hmm. Well, he was a little pitchy, dawg.

Hey, how should I know? I'm no singing expert. But unlike other actors who do musicals and suddenly declare they've "always been into music," Depp has legit credentials. To my ear, he acquits himself quite well in "Sweeney Todd." Now, co-star Helena Bonham Carter doesn't exactly set the screen on fire with her voice, but she gets the songs across well enough.

Q: Seeing as how this is an adaptation of a popular Stephen Sondheim stage production, I have to ask: Is this a stagy film?
A: Are you kidding? It's Tim Burton! One of the things that makes "Sweeney" such a dynamic movie is that Burton's capable direction gives us the immediacy of something theatrical but also the sense of the cinematic. The camera moves all over the place, but always for the right reasons. Though I've never seen the play, the adaptation is fine for the big screen.

Q: A movie about a murderous barber...and then the mystery of those meat pies his companion sells. Is this as twisted as it sounds?
A: Absolutely, and that's partly why I don't know if I had more fun at any other movie in the last year-plus. The film is unrelentingly dark and nasty, and, apologies to Paul Thomas Anderson, there WILL be blood. The movie never strays from the destructive course its characters are set on early, and numerous chances for redemption fly right by. So, yes, it's a twisted movie. But the performances are so passionate, the music is so good, and the staging is so exciting that it all adds up to an awesome moviegoing experience. Who would have thought one of the most enthralling cinematic moments of 2007 would feature a duet between Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman?
Even the small part by Sacha Baron Cohen works completely at blending comedy and violence, and I was skeptical. If you're not turned off by a little blood--OK, a lot--and you don't require "likable characters," check this one out.

Q: Is Johnny Depp really as good as his hype, or is he just getting a free ride from the critics now?
A: He may be getting that free ride, but he really is a fantastic movie star. As I said, "Sweeney" resists the temptation to soften itself, and that is most evident in the title character. Depp reveals the singleminded rage inside the barber in an uncompromising performance that captivates throughout despite that lack of the conventional Hollywood character arc.

Q: You're really raving about this one. Is there anything WRONG with it?
A: Well, hmm. OK, there are a few glaring loose ends by the time the credits roll, and the stunning focus on Todd and his quest for revenge leaves some supporting characters a bit underdeveloped. But this is one of my favorite films of 2007.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

This Week in DVD

Into the Wild: Sure, it's essentially a movie about a young guy who just chose to essentially wander off and risk drifting into nothingness. Sure, it's 2 hours and 40 minutes of this guy. Sure, it's--wait a minute, I'm having trouble remembering the "BUT" that tells you why you need to see this. Hal Holbrook? I don't know. Let me think about it a while.

101 Dalamatians Platinum Edition: Given that Disney has released some recent "Special Editions" and such that haven't been so special or have had technical issues, it's nice to read the strong reviews for this one. It looks like this release is truly worthy of the Platinum Edition hoo-hah. And by that I mean "big deal" or "hoopla." Maybe I should have just said "hoopla," but doesn't the idea of Al Pacino in "101 Dalmatians" excite you? "Somebody clean UP after those DOGS! HOO-HAH!" No? Well, fine. Who asked you?

12 Angry Men: And nearly the 12th release of this classic movie. It's said to be a fine edition, but why should we trust them that THIS TIME they finally got it right?

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium: I never expected this to be a classic, but I figured it could at least be a decent family time-killer. I was stunned, then, to see the critics trash it like it was "Daddy Day Camp." Heck, it might have been trashed even more than "Daddy Day Camp"--and that one had critical trash magnet Cuba Gooding, for cry-yi-yi.

Things We Lost in the Fire: This week's "Whoa, did that movie even come out in theaters?" selection. Yes, it did, for about a week or two, I think, but here's your chance to catch up with this heavy, real heavy, man drama starring Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro.

The Love Boat Season 1 Part 1: Stop me if you've heard this one before: Yes, Paramount is getting the shows out, but it's in extra-free ripoff split-season packages. Hey, you didn't stop me. "Entertainment Weekly" finally got on the ball this week and called out the studio for doing it. Funny that the battle is waged against "The Love Boat," of all shows. Well, anyway, here it is. And let me take this opportunity to emphasize that while Isaac the Bartender deservedly endures as an Icon of Cool of the era, Captain Stubing and the Ship's Doctor were pretty damn cool in their own right,
too, you know.

TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Volume 2: Warner Bros does it again with this TCM-branded collection featuring a handful of films of the fabled Pre-Code era and a wonderful documentary putting them in perspective. Pre-Code Hollywood gets so much hype that sometimes I wonder if today's viewer tuning into a 1932 drama on TCM winds up let down because he doesn't get some kind of wild X-rated orgy/splatterfest. These movies are risque, yes, and their frequent refusal to conform to conventional morality is refreshing even today. But don't expect them to be TOO wild. They are, though, often damn entertaining, and isn't that really what it's all about? Of this batch, I particularly recommend Night Nurse and Three on a Match for sheer fun.

Last Week in DVD

Yep, last week. Hey, why not?

Beowulf: The controversy rages over whether Robert Zemeckis' computer animation style creates "realistic-looking" human beings on the screen. I have seen the word "waxy" associated with this film so often that I am starting to think it was in the press kit. Well, gee, are we supposed to be fooled into thinking it's live action? No, of course not. I see it so far as a style of animation, and while it may have its drawbacks as far as creating lifelike images, it's still a MOVIE. So I'm prepared to sacrifice some degree of authenticity if the images are nice to look at.. And I'll admit it--even a "waxy" naked Angelina Jolie is still nice to look at.

Justice League: The New Frontier: Another direct to DVD comic book adaptation from DC, following the disappointing (but worthwhile viewing) "Superman: Doomsday." Unfortunately for the filmmakers, this time, comic book fans will be judging it by the standards of not only the lamented "Justice League" animated series, but also by Darwyn Cooke's superlative original comic. Just look at "Entertainment Weekly's" Ken Tucker, who gave this a B- basically for not matching the source material. But hey, comic fans wouldn't be comic fans without finding something to bitch about. And The Tuck happens to be a fan of comics AND of bitching about things, so there you go.

The Darjeeling Limited: At what point did Wes Anderson stop being esoterically cool and start being simply pretentious? For many, it was "The Royal Tennenbaums;" for others, "The Life Aquatic." For me, it was that American Express ad where we saw just how soooooo busy the guy was on a film set. I don't know why, but that one drove me up a wall. I have heard some good things about "The Darjeeling Limited," so I'm gonna try to see it with an open mind and hope for the cool Wes Anderson to re-enter my consciousness.

30 Days of Night: Based on a popular comic book. Comic fans have a whole lot to bitch about this week! I didn't see this one yet, but I'm gonna present a new theory anyway: No comic book adaptation is enhanced by casting Josh Hartnett.

The Fugitive: Season 1, Volume 2: OK, you got me! Pretty much the only reason I'm bothering to put up a "Last Week in DVD" post is so I don't miss a chance to vent about "The Fugitive" being released in split seasons like this. Good news is, Paramount appears to be lining these up on a steady release schedule. But split-season sets bite harder than any creature in 30 Days of Night.

Newhart: Season 1: I'm rediscovering this series on American Life TV, and while even the strong reviews for this set point out the later seasons were more successful, don't shy away from these ones merely because Julia Duffy; Peter Scolari; and Larry, Darryl, and Darryl weren't yet regulars. There are some funny episodes here, and Bob Newhart is always worth watching, even if he himself was reportedly disappointed with the first season. I'm finding the show itself more entertaining now that I'm older, and those first season episodes--which I don't even recall watching before--are solid sitcom work. I definitely recommend investing in this if you are at all interested, as Fox has already shown a willingness to abandon the original "Bob Newhart Show" and may already have a short leash on this series.

Family Affair Season 5: This mild sitcom didn't break any barriers nor bust many guts, but I find it warm and appealing, and besides, it's just gratifying to see a company release an entire TV series this day. Getting all the seasons out, period, is praiseworthy, but when you do it without bungling the DVDs, you deserve a pat on the back. So here you go, MPI. Jolly good!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Set your DVRs: It's Kibbee Time!

Yes, I had to rush back to blogger this week and post again, pronto, because of the momentous event taking place tomorrow on The Greatest of All Cable Networks, Turner Classic Movies. Tomorrow morning into the evening, it's a Guy Kibbee marathon! That's right, folks--Guy Freakin' Kibbee all day.

If you don't know the name, you may well know the face. He is one of the best-loved character actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood, appearing in, by my own guesstimate, millions of movies. The chubby thespian often appeared as a benign, harmlessly silly kind of presence, but he was in all sorts of flicks, including classics like the Busby Berkeley musicals of the 30s and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." TCM periodically runs am interstitial devoted to the man, one in its "What a Character" series, and it shows many of those millions of movies, but not often in one big chunk of Kibbee like this.

These aren't well-known classics compared to something like, say, "Fort Apache," but that makes them all the more appealing to me. Take something like "Big-Hearted Herbert," a 1934 effort showing at 7:30AM tomorrow. According to the TCM description, "A plumber's business success makes him neglect his family." Now, doesn’t that sound delightfully random for a movie? A comedy about a plumber who gets too big for his britches (and anyone who recognizes Kibbee will thank me for not making a "plumber's crack" reference here)? Sign me up. It sounds like the kind of lean (this one's 59 minutes), unpretentious, entertaining pictures they cranked out back then.

Throw in some (arguably) even cooler character actors of the day like Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins in several of these films, and you have yourself a must-see extravaganza. I wish I could vouch for any of the individual titles, but, hey, I don't think I've seen any of them. So it's another DVR/VCR-busting day for me on TCM.

And this is really what makes Turner Classic Movies so great, and also what makes my DVR constantly beg me for mercy as I stretch its capacity: The fact that they would even run a Guy Kibbee Festival. Cool stuff like this happens so often that I can never stay up with it, but it's a great problem to have.

Cultureshark will return shortly...

Sorry for my lack of posting this past week. Since there is nothing duller than a blog writer droning about why he's not blogging--well, apart from maybe an episode of "Deal or No Deal"--I'll keep it brief. I've been quite busy in real life, with that pesky job and manual labor around the house draining my energy and faculties. I plan to declare next week "Catch-up Week," as I clean up the ol' virtual desktop and get to some stuff that should have been posted, frankly, way sooner. Hey, I had to come back, though, to give you an important DVR alert. Stay tuned.