Friday, January 30, 2015

Genesis - Sum of the Parts


Genesis - Sum of the Parts ~ I have always been a solo Peter Gabriel fan (probably because of the Kate Bush connection), and while I was aware of his bizarre progressive art rock past with Genesis, I didn't get into them until after they had become purposefully more commercial, sometime around Duke I would suppose.

This documentary, done almost the opposite of the Eagles doc I reviewed some time ago, has interviews with the band together and separately. It's intriguing that while there was conflict within the band, much like the Eagles, no one really hates each other here. Phil Collins, frequently rumored to be difficult in all areas of his life, appears to be the odd man out though, acting the cantankerous old man, while other members seem to still have a passion for the music.

The interviews, together and separately, with Gabriel, Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Steve Hackett, and others, paint quite a vivid history of the band, from its early days to the art rock days of costumes and props to the pop music video days, and beyond. This fascinating and revealing documentary is well worth watching.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Arrow S03 E11: "Midnight City"


With Oliver Queen once again thought dead, and new crime lord Brick having undone everything Team Arrow has worked for the last few months, things don't look good for Starling City. Its a good thing there's a new Canary on the streets - or is it?

With no Arrow and no original Canary, the vacuum is being taken advantage of by Brick. While Oliver recuperates in the Himalayas, Team Arrow confronts Laurel who is new to the mask business. She's not her sister, and she's going to get killed.

During a meeting to figure out what to do about Brick, the man himself shows up and kidnaps several aldermen. Laurel, Quentin, and Ray Palmer manage to take on a few of the gunmen and protect the mayor. Ray is not a good fighter, perhaps probing that the clothes do make the man as he quips to Felicity, "That's why I need a super-suit."

A later botched rescue attempt shows clearly how inept Laurel appears to be at this vigilante stuff, and Brick kills one of the aldermen as payment. This was the point where I started questioning the show. At first I thought did Ted Grant really do that bad a job training her? Then I wondered why Quentin couldn't ptell that Canary was much taller than usual. Then I wondered why Brick would pull such a ham handed stunt when really, he already has control of The Glades?

Highlights included the gunfight in Flashback Hong Kong and a stronger Arsenal in Oliver's absence. I also liked Felicity growing a pair and getting her mojo back. Lowlights included the lack of fact checking. Pacemakers don't get recharged, they get replaced. Also the helicopter makes me roll my eyes. Why would Team Arrow leave the Arrowcave in The Glades to get a helicopter to fly back to Brick's hideout in The Glades?

The soap opera elements of the episode, just so we wouldn't forget we're watching the CW I suppose, revolved around the leaving/not leaving of Thea and Malcolm. It really feels like they don't know what to do with these characters and are struggling to keep them busy. At least the club kid Thea was playing kissy-face with months ago wasn't a fluke, he was a League of Assassins plant.

Notably many street names and city places are mentioned in this episode, none of them referencing creators from the comics. That's an easy homage that is missed. Oliver's magical length changing beard was also distracting. This was neither a strong episode nor a favorite one. Perhaps it's time for another Flash crossover to spark things up a bit.

Next: Uprising!


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chinese Gods


Chinese Gods ~ This one is another film lost to the legal video/DVD generation, and in most cases, like with me and Dead Is Dead or Poor Devil, is one some folks are unsure they remember correctly or perhaps remember seeing at all. Sometimes known as Chinese Gods, or The Story of Chinese Gods, or simply the unlikely Bruce Lee cartoon, its real title is Pang Shen Feng.

Created in 1976, with a character drawn to look like Bruce Lee, I first discovered this on Saturday afternoons in the early eighties where it invariably showed up as part of the martial arts flicks on UHF. I have to wonder what the regular kung fu and Shaw Bros. fans made of this animated feature mixed in with their standard fare.

The simply animated film, with old school anime flair and just a touch of Yellow Submarine surrealism, loosely strings together a handful of tales from Chinese mythology into one story full of bizarre visuals and wild martial arts fight sequences. Be warned ahead of time, this is not for kids. There are adult themes and concepts, and quite a bit of violence and sexual innuendo, even blood and a bit of nudity.

Chinese Gods starts a little slow, but once the strange creatures, monsters, and demons start showing up, it gets quite good. I remember being so entranced with one such beast - the nine-tailed fox - that I wrote it up and used it against my players in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Here the nine-tailed fox gives Bruce Lee a run for his money.

The one fighter with third eye bears more than a passing resemblance to Bruce Lee. This homage was obviously well meaning and long labored as it's very close to the real thing. From poses to fighting stances and styles, this Bruce Lee, and it's a hoot to see him not just in period garb, but also fighting magical creatures. It takes a downturn however when he becomes a dragon, not a cool dragon, mind you, but more like Pete's Dragon.

There's also the half-naked kid who flies by riding fiery wheels on his feet. Did I mention how surreal yet cool this flick is? I thought Chinese Gods stood the test of time and was well worth seeing again. It's definitely available on YouTube here, and might also be on out of print VHS or bootleg DVD. Good but surreal fun.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Interview


In a week when cheaters can still play in the Super Bowl and major cities braced for winter superstorms that never came, what better time to review The Interview?

Originally intended to be just another bad stoner flick from James Franco and Seth Rogan, The Interview gained frightening national and international infamy by reputedly being the target of a cyber attack on Sony supposedly by North Korea. While the facts of who did what may be in question, it seems that making a film about what a monster the leader of North Korea is and how a couple of idiots attempt to assassinate him could actually lead to an act of war. Sounds silly, doesn't it? But apparently it happened.

I didn't plan on seeing this movie, but now that it is quickly available on Netflix, I thought, what the heck I might take a peek. And it's not a matter of wanting to see it as much as it's a matter of wanting to see what all the fuss is about. In The Interview, James Franco is an idiot talk show host and Seth Rogan his long suffering producer who longs to do serious journalism. In an attempt to remedy the latter, they land an exclusive interview with Kim Jong-un. The CIA intervenes and hopes to get them to stealthily assassinate the dictator.

The opening scene with Eminem is hilarious. There are sweet moments like Franco bonding with Kim Jong-un and Seth Rogan mooning over his North Korean counterpart but for the most part this is another Franco/Rogan dick and fart joke stoner movie, nothing new and nothing should be expected to be new. And when it takes a serious turn in the middle of its childish humor, I didn't know how to feel. Really, this film has a moral lesson and political agenda now? Way out of left field.

This is still a terrible movie, but it's better than it has any right to be. And I'm not sure whether that's good or bad. I certainly didn't hate it like I did This Is The End. I really didn't think I could hate James Franco more than I already did, and then I saw The Interview. The man is now on my do-not-watch list. Yeah, he's that bad. He makes Adam Sandler look like Cary Grant. Seth Rogan isn't bad, and Lizzy Caplan does her best with what she has to work with.

These movies seem to be quite popular and I don't like them much. A friend threw an idea my way that has been weighing on me, so I thought I'd throw it out to you. She compared the Franco/Rogan films to some of the sillier comedies of the 1960s, and suggested that they were just this generation's version of that type of humor. She mentioned two names in particular, and I'll pass them along - are these the type of movies that Jerry Lewis or Don Knotts be making if they were in their prime today? Thoughts?

Otherwise, I would say to wait to see The Interview for free, if at all. This flick is only a curiosity because of the controversy around it, not because of anything special in it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Transparent


I recently got a Kindle Fire, and along with it, a free thirty day subscription to Amazon Prime, so I immediately took advantage of it and sat down to binge watch "Transparent."

The series had gotten quite a bit of recent buzz with its Golden Globe nominations, but I knew it from hearing its star, veteran character actor Jeffrey Tambor, interviewed on the Satellite Radio circuit quite a few months back when the show first took off. I was intrigued, and looking forward to a chance to see it, and I'm glad I finally did.

On the surface the series is about Tambor's Morty/Maura who has lived an entire lifetime with a transgender secret, finally deciding to come out to family, and the world. Maura's journey is brave and sad and inspirational, but as I said, it's on the surface, and not really what the show is about when you get right down to the nitty gritty.

"Transparent" is about secrets, and the prices paid by keeping them. Maura's coming out affects each of her three children distinctly, making them examine their own lives and their own secrets, and how her secret has impacted them growing up as well as in the present. The show has an amazing ensemble cast including standouts Gabby Hoffman, Amy Landecker, Judith Light, and of course Tambor.

As I said, I'm glad I finally got to see "Transparent" but sorry I waited so long. Don't wait. This is very good television, and well worth paying for.