Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Big Brother First

CBS was happy to announce that last night they had a "Big Brother" first, or at least a first for the American version.

Anyone who knows anything about the show, or its history elsewhere in the world knows this is really nothing new. As a matter of fact, it happens all the time. Of course for American TV, this is a big thing.

Last night, apparently Head of Household Rachel and her erstwhile shomance hunk Brendon christened the HoH bed. Yep, that's right, the first sex on American reality television happened last night on four different cameras in the bedroom. Rachel and Brendon's parents must be sooo proud. Perhaps the couple have forgotten that not only is everything they do filmed, but that there are also thousands of paid subscribers to the live feed.

Perhaps what they really forgot is that ratings are flagging for the once reality TV giant and the network will be doing everything they can to boost ratings... wait, maybe they know all about that...

Of course the best part, or maybe the worst part, hmmm... let's make that the saddest part is what Brendon said to Rachel after it was all over. "I'm sorry." I wonder what for? It could be for sooo many things...

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

AfterDark Horrorfest - Part 3

I'm Terry Willitts, and welcome to the third and final of my guest-blogging posts for Glenn Walker's WELCOME TO HELL.

In parts one and two I've reviewed six of the eight movies of the AfterDark HorrorFest IV, starting at what I felt were the weakest and moving upwards. Today we will be discussing The Final and Lake Mungo.

THE FINAL is a phenomenal concept and though it falls a bit short of its potential, it still delivers an excellent story. Written by Jason Kobolati and directed by Joey Stewart, it is a revenge tale about a group of high school outcasts who decide to get even with all the popular kids, so they invite everyone cool/popular in school out to a secluded cabin for a big keg and boozer. Once there, they enact their revenge in a twisted and complex series of tests and tribulations.

There's a fine line between a creative revenge fantasy and angry geek wank and this almost, but not quite, stumbles across that line – instead it creatively straddles it, jumping in to the latter for a few moments at a time, but stepping back into the former in time to salvage the plot and the enjoyment of the story.

I'm not sure the social commentary here will be taken as anything more than the backstory to the movie.. and that's okay. (Unlike Zombies of Mass Destruction, it does not detract from the story... mainly because it wasn't so ham-fisted and obvious in its delivery.)

I really enjoyed this movie, and give it an 8 out of 10. I was prepared to call this the best one of the year, until I watched the one movie I was not looking forward to viewing at all.

LAKE MUNGO surprised me. It's the best movie of this batch of movies. Lake Mungo is an Australian psychological horror film written directed by filmmaker Joel Anderson, only his second movie. It's presented in the form of a documentary, which in and of itself does not exactly lend to traditional horror storytelling. (Because of this, comparisons to The Blair Witch Project will be made – I find that this movie is vastly superior, as it does not attempt to go overboard with the scary.)

This is a subdued horror story. There aren't many moments of shock, but rather an ongoing, underlying sense of creepiness. This movie gave me chills on multiple occasions and there's not many movies that I can say that about.

It's the tale of a family, dealing with the death of sixteen year old Alice. As the story progresses, we see that there was a lot more to Alice than anyone knew, and this movie somehow manages to masterfully jump from being fictional documentary to suspense to mystery and, of course, a touch of horror all throughout.

It's wonderfully done, though I'm sure it won't appeal to everyone – it's not a fast-paced, action-packed slam-fest, but it IS an inordinately creepy and well-crafted tale. And you must, you MUST sit through the beginning of the final credits for the true twist.

Good stuff.

As mentioned before, I did not want to see this movie. I was not looking forward to it, the only reason I watched it was because I had decided that I would watch all eight. And I learned a lesson. The old adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" still applies.

This movie gets a rare 10 out of 10 for me. I understand that the makers of The Ring are going to be remaking this for American audiences. Normally, I'm open to remakes, I like seeing a different take on a story... I don't see how this will be worth the remake, but again, I'm not going to judge it until it comes out. However, this Australian movie is perfect as it is.

Thanks to Glenn for letting me play in his sandbox, thank you for reading my reviews. You can follow me on Twitter, read my occasional blogging at This Is Really The Best Blog Ever, or visit my creative writing website, 770 Days.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

AfterDark Horrorfest - Part 2

Welcome back to part two of Terry's AFTERDARK HORRORFEST IV reviews for WELCOME TO HELL, only the coolest pop culture blog in New Jersey. (And the rest of the world, too.)

Now, hopefully, you've already read part one, where I introduced my experience with the HorrorFest movies and started on the three weakest movies (of which, I only felt one, Zombies of Mass Destruction was not very good. Kill Theory meandered in mediocrity and The Graves was decent, but could have been better.)

Before I delve into the three movies for this post, I wanted to touch base on what I look for in a horror movie. Okay, most of you are probably going to say, "It scares you, right?"

Wrong. I don't scare easily... in fact, I don't scare hardly at all. And this isn't internet braggadocio, this is just me. Granted, I'll jump if startled, but that's surprise, not fear. True fear... it's hard for a movie to capture that for me. So what I look for in a horror movie is suspense, is keeping my interest, is drawing me in and making me forget/overlook the flaws of the movie... and if at all possible, give me the creeps. And, most importantly, entertain me.

That being said, let us move on to DREAD. Dread is based on the short story (of the same title) by Clive Barker (who, in fact, is listed as producer, so it's entirely likely he gave his approval for the changes from the story.)

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It's not so much a horror movie, until the end; leading up to that, it's a psychological-suspense-drama. And it's a good one, no doubt about that. The acting is decent, the story is tense, several of the characters are (mostly) likeable.

In short, several students get together to work on a project, cataloging people's fear, their dread, what scares them, what gnaws at their sense of security. From there, things get worse as the personal issues of Quaid (quite excellently portrayed by Shaun Evans, who's done mostly British telly – including PC Kevin Hales in the second series of Ashes to Ashes) become a danger to everyone around him.

No spoilers, but the ending is pretty uncomfortable (but that's a good thing in this type of story.) I felt the script could have been polished up a bit, maybe with a different director (Anthony DiBlasi wrote and directed this, and I wonder if that can be a detriment more than not. Not everyone can do it as well as Christopher Nolan and others.)

I give this a six out of ten – it's well done, but has a sense that it should be been something a bit more. I feel that they were aiming for something special, something magical with this.. and it's not.

The second of this post is THE REEDS. Highly touted as the cream of the crop of the recent Brit-horrors, The Reeds is directed by Nick Cohen, written by Chris Baker. Don't worry if you don't know their names, neither is (as of yet) prolific, though both seem to have experience in British telly as well as movies.

Again, we have a trope of horror movies – a group of (young) adults go out for a party weekend in a secluded area. This time, a boat trip out in the middle of nowhere of England. From the time they arrive at their destination, things go wrong – their original boat was made a mess and the proprietor won't rent it to them, but they end up getting another boat from him, and after dealing with some punk kids, are on their way.

There's a sense of unease, and when things start turning for the worse, panic quickly sets in. The story behind it all is rather interesting, especially once you start to figure out what really is happening.

The characters make a lot of the same stupid decisions that will grate on your nerves, but the acting is decent, the story isn't bad... and the mystery, I really got into it.

My biggest problem was the 'twist' at the end. It seemed almost unimportant, unnecessary and made no sense whatsoever to me. I know I spoke before about how a good ending can save a movie, and I love a good twist as much as anyone, but this just seemed to have a twist just to have a twist, and that's a shame, because for me, it actually degraded my whole enjoyment of the movie, and that's why, where others are giving this high marks, I can only give it a six out of ten – had they done the ending differently, I would happily have given it a seven. Go watch it and let me know what you think.

Third, and final for the post, is SKJULT (HIDDEN), Norwegian psychological horror movie, written and directed by Pål Øie, which stars Kristoffer Joner, Karin Park and Bjarte Hjelmeland. It is the story of Kai Koss, a man who returns to his home after the death of his (cruel and twisted) mother, to take care of things. We learn that upon his escape, Kai inadvertently caused for another boy to lose his parents, and much of the drama of Kai's return deals with that... as the movie goes along, we learn exactly what happened.

It's a complex, almost convoluted story, one you have to stay focused upon. (Also, it is subtitled, which for some people is a turn off.) There are nuances which I suspect are cultural – as an American, I'm used to everything being explained in my entertainment. So many things are left open, and you have be able to just accept what isn't and move on.

The cinematography is, as is common with Norwegian and Swedish movies, excellent. There is a strong sense of color, framing and contrast that you don't see in every American film. If you've never seen one, I strongly recommend checking out some of the more recent films. (Another film, not exactly horror, but definitely graphic and suspenseful is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Granted, there's an American remake in the works, but the original is astounding.)

Back to Skjult, this movie is a very good, creepy tale. I can't go into too much detail, as there is a mystery to the story and I don't want to spoil it at all. It suffers slightly from cultural differences, so I can only give it 8 out of 10.

That's it for today's post – one more to go, with the cream of the crop – The Final and Lake Mungo.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

AfterDark Horrorfest - Part 1

Hi, my name is Terry Willitts and I'm honored to be guest-blogging at WELCOME TO HELL, Glenn Walker's pop culture blog. Glenn invited me to weigh in on the most recent AfterDark Horrorfest, the fourth iteration, as I'd just watched all eight movies over the past month. Not being one to turn away a chance to give my opinion, I was more than happy to accept.

I'm a huge fan of horror movies, and while my personal preference tends to either zombie flicks or psychological horror, I do appreciate a good slasher flick, weird monster movie, and even gripping personal suspense. I've seen quite a few of the previous AfterDark movies, though this is the first time I've gotten my hands on the entire run of a festival and watched them all in a short period of time.

Without further ado, let me start with what I feel are the weakest three of the series. (Yes, this the first of three posts, and I think it best to start at the bottom and work our way up.)

First off, we have ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION. Now, if you're like me (reference that bit above about my personal preferences in horror movies if you must), you just had a nerdgastic moment with that title alone. You know you did.

The sad thing is, the title really has nothing to do with the movie, outside of there being zombies. That title is made of unadulterated win and they should write an entirely different movie, maybe a military experiment gone wrong, etc, etc, etc, and use that title. Instead, we get a sleepy New England island that is suddenly, and inexplicably, invaded by zombies.

This movie, directed by Kevin Harnedani (who co-wrote the movie with Ramon Isao), is billed as a comedy-horror, and rightfully so – it takes a very tongue-in-cheek approach to zombies. And that's fine.. however, it suffers from a couple major problems.

First off, the characters, are pretty much two-dimensional caricatures of society. It's almost as if they decided that what this comedy-horror movie needed was some social commentary. Now, I'm not the sort to say that my entertainment can't have any depth... far from it, though I'm not sure that anyone going to a tongue-in-cheek zombie movie is going to want a serving of Deep Thought with it. (I don't think I would, really.)

The only characters that I find remotely interesting AND funny were the gay couple, Tom Hunt (Doug Fahl) and Lance Murphy (Cooper Hopkins) – and while they went with a lot of the easy jokes with them, I didn't find them to be insulting, but actually cute, clever and they were the only ones I found myself rooting for.

The other problem for me with this movie – pink blood. There's at least one scene where copious amounts of blood, tinged pink, is involved. I cannot remotely take a movie seriously if the blood is tinged pink. At the sight of pink blood, my suspension of disbelief is just thrown out the window. (Let me clarify something – I'm a big fan of small-budget movies. BIG fan. I'm willing to accept/forgive a lot of things, but pink blood is not one of them.)

Unless you're intent on watching all eight movies, I strongly advise staying away from this one. There are plenty of other zombie movies out there that are much better. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 3, and mostly for the gay couple.

Fortunately, that was the only true "dog" out of the eight movies. From there, we're going upwards and onwards.

Next, KILL THEORY starts off with an inmate being released from a psychiatric facility. From the discussion with the administering psych, you can tell that he's not one hundred percent... which, of course, begs the question why is he being released? (Though, it'd be a short movie... or at least a different movie, if he hadn't been let go.)

We then jump to a trope of horror movies – a group of students getting together for a last weekend together in a secluded house on the lake. And, after meeting all the characters (most of them are stereotypical ones, too), the killings begin. This is a directorial debut for Chris Moore, though he's produced quite a few movies (notably the first three American Pie films and the Project Greenlight show.)

I had a huge problem with this movie – focusing the camera tightly on a person and having them scream so loud it hurts your ears while you're watching the movie does not equate horror for me. It equates aggravation. This movie was borderline obnoxious with the fat guy (one of the stereotypical characters in this movie) just screaming at everyone, at the camera.

However, despite all of that, there is a tension to this movie that cannot be denied. The plot, though nothing original, has a couple little twists that are interesting enough to keep you hooked. And the twist at the end really made up for a lot of flaws. (I'm the sort of person who can find a movie to be kinda disappointing-ish and then have a good ending save the movie. For me, this is what happened.)

This is straight slasher-gore with a good deal of tension-suspense. Nothing extraordinary, but a decent flick in general, once look past the flaws. On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 5.

THE GRAVES is the story of two sisters who, on their last weekend together before the eldest sister goes to New York, go on a random drive into the desert and end up at the Skull City Mine roadside attraction. There, they find themselves struggling to survive against a threat both physical and supernatural.

The movie is written and directed by Brian Pulido, a comic book creator known for Lady Death and Evil Ernie. I guess this explains why the main characters are shown to be comic book geeks, though it serves absolutely no other purpose. (Well, perhaps to appeal to the geeky fan boys – the idea of two hot and sexy comic geeks is a good one – and the girls ARE very attractive.)

My biggest problem with this one is that it seemed to want to cram too much into too short a movie. (Ironic, considering that most super-hero movies do just that, and Pulido is known for being a comic creator.) I mean, this could have likely done well enough with the crazy blacksmith in the mine killing people, and perhaps a touch of the supernatural just to explain things and give it that extra edge. Instead, we also have a cult of delusional worshipers (led by a priest, played by Tony Todd – Candyman to most of you, but he'll always be Sgt Warren to me) that just kinda... I feel that the plot meanders a bit too much, to its detriment.

In short, it's a good movie. Not great, but certainly much better than ZoMD. Don't go out of your way to watch it, but if you can get it for free through a free rental code for Redbox or Blockbuster Express, give it a shot. You might be more forgiving than I. On a scale of 1-10, it barely makes it past 5 to a 6.

And that's it for part one; in the next installment, we'll touch upon the middle 3 for me – The Reeds, Dread and Skjult (Hidden).

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dexter Season 5 Trailer

Direct from the San Diego Comic-Con. "Dexter" season five starts on Showtime September 26th 2010. Be there.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

True Blood: Trouble

We find out that Franklin works for Russell Edgington, the vampire king of Mississippi, and we see his true dynamic. It's an interesting paradox, in his world, Franklin is a screw-up, but in our world a monster. I like it a lot. And of course the more we see of him, the more truly screwed up he appears. Franklin is really effed up. Man, Tara is in trouble.

Last week's cliffhanger is a complete bust. Like Stephen King's Rocketman analogy from Misery or a Brian Michael Bendis Avengers comic, we really don't see how Sookie escapes from a bar full of transforming werewolves. We just pick up her and Alcide on the run afterward. Boo hiss.

Some observations from "Trouble"... I am really warming to Russell's royal consort Talbot, and man, his electricity with Eric is something else. Also on the homoerotic horizon, it's really nice to see Lafayette finally getting some non-pay romance in his life. Jason's police subplot has advanced out of cartoonish territory and into sitcom maturity. I still see it as a waste of time better spent on more serious and important storylines. And Jessica has the best line of the episode - "Do not tip your waitress."

There is a nice tense moment with Sookie, Alcide and packmaster Colonel Flood that I liked quite a bit. Moments like this elevate the show past the cheese/camp level it's been rolling in since this season started and brings it back to basics again. Some folks love the cheese, but this is just my opinion.

On the opposite end of the cheese spectrum we get an Eric flashback, which are always more intriguing than Bill flashbacks. Not only do we get to see Eric's family, but we also find out why he hates werewolves so much - and we learn who the real big bad of this season truly is.

And it's nice to know that Bill still cares about Sookie. Especially after Alan Ball said he believed they were soul mates at the San Diego Comic-Con this weekend. At least we know where this will be going, eventually. And for the folks who have read all of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels - I haven't yet, so don't spoil my fun. Another great cliffhanger - I hope we get to see the other side of this one.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The All Things Fun! Comic Vidcast

The first episode of the All Things Fun! Comic Vidcast went online today.

Check out hosts Ed Evans and Allison Eckel giving a quick overview of the comics out this week including Brightest Day, "The Return of Bruce Wayne," a ton of Avengers books, ditto Deadpool, zombies, and more True Blood than you can shake a rolled up comic book at.

Of course the biggest Avengers and True Blood fan they know couldn't be there, but if you tune in next week, that hideous troll you see would be me. See you next time!

Check it out here.

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Monday, July 19, 2010


Wow. We should've seen Inception.

Boys night out, and the decision was made to see a flick that we couldn't go see with our significant others. Something those of us who are married know, and those of you who are not yet will find out, is that after the rings are on, you can only go to movies that you both agree on - or, in other words, movies she wants to see.

This might sound sexist, and it might sound harsh, but let me tell you, after tonight, sometimes the woman is always right. Her decision not to see Predators was dead on. I should let The Bride review the movies from now on...

The choice was this, Inception or M. Night's Last Airbender. I pushed for Predators because it was produced by Robert Rodriguez and I liked what I had heard about it. Apparently I had heard wrong. My two buds unanimously decided that I don't get to pick movies any more after the flick ended.

What bugs me is this could have been good, Rodriguez produced after all. I guess it just goes to show you that even a good premise, some cool special effects and an excellent cinematic mind producing still can't put it all together. All the twists of the plot are predictable from the start, the acting is bare at most, the gore and violence is gratuitous, and worst of all - it doesn't even have an ending. It's like they just said, cut it here, it doesn't matter. And it doesn't.

And how the heck can you have night on a planet where the sun doesn't move? Next time, if there is a next time, and I get to choose - it's Inception. And it better be good.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

True Blood: 9 Crimes

Perhaps my not-so-like (I won't call it dislike, because I really do like this show) of this season's "True Blood" comes from the lack of use of the original cast and the sudden overuse of the new characters.

Sookie, Bill, Sam, Eric, Tara and even Sookie's idiot brother Jason all have lots more to tell us and have explored, yet the bulk of the screen time this season, especially the exciting screen time, seems to be given to the likes of Alcide, Lorena, Franklin, Sam's family, the King of Mississippi, Kitch, etc. Granted, I like all the new additions, but the reason I started watching the show, and the reason I remain, is the main, original, cast. One has to ask, do the original characters still have power for the writers? And if not, why not?

All that said, this episode was a slight improvement over the first few. Maybe like many of the other HBO series, it takes some time to get rolling, and perhaps "True Blood" was just lucky the first two seasons and immune from HBO-itis.

The give and take between Sookie and Bill and Sookie and Alcide feels like either an ironic or sarcastic, but definitely deliberate parody of what's going on in theatres with Twilight right now. Amusing it may be, I would still rather not have that parallel so painfully paraded. Let's put it this way - with this comparison so evident, it's almost impossible to get new folks interested in the series because of the negative connotation Twilight has with older audiences. It might be an inside joke that tickling the heck out of a small handful of folks, but it's detrimental to the growth of "True Blood" in the long run I think.

Some observations about "9 Crimes"... it was nice to see inside Kenya's brain if only for a few seconds. I hope we see more of it. The conversation between Bill and King Russell Edgington was fascinating. Nice to see how our world is affecting vampire society instead of the other way around. No one escapes the IRS. The Postmortum, a brief police interrogation video, does this as well, giving a sweet glimpse inside the vampire civilization. This is also something I'd like to see more of.

Other tidbits I liked included the Goody Osburn reference, props to the writers on that one. I loved Sookie's imitation of the evil Sandy at the end of Grease. And is it just my imagination or does the "True Blood" casting department have a preference for redheads? Not that I mind of course. I also liked how the closing song, "9 Crimes" by Damien Rice, plays so well with the themes of the episode. It's this kind of attention to music that sets this show apart.

That's quite a cliffhanger this week, eh? Dogpile on the Sookie, can't wait to see what happens next. So, until next time, ponder this, why would William Shakespeare steal spoons?

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The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice ~ I am not a Nicholas Cage fan, and usually the words "starring Nicholas Cage" translate for me as 'skip this film.' I liked him in Leaving Las Vegas of course, and Wild at Heart, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High where he barely spoke, and I am probably one of the few folks who will admit to liking him in Ghost Rider - but for the most part, I think he's crap. He's a one note, one joke actor who got lucky with one or two roles and has a talented family to help him along, nothing more.

All that said, I really enjoyed his latest flick The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It's a different kind of Disney vehicle. Rather than build a film around a ride a la Pirates of Caribbean, this time Jerry Bruckheimer and company have constructed a movie around an animated short from 1940's Fantasia, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" starring Mickey Mouse. What at first, like the ride idea, sounds ridiculous actually comes off rather well. And surprisingly, the sequence in the film that reenacts the cartoon is one of the weakest, and yet still holds up.

This is a pretty simple and clichéd fantasy story. Merlin vs. Morgan le Fay in ancient times continues today on the streets of New York City with their seconds-in-command and their apprentices. Nicholas Cage is Merlin's apprentice, charged with finding the next Merlin, Jay Baruchel, who just wants to impress his potential girlfriend who he's crushed on since he was a kid. The relationship between Cage and Baruchel is a warm lock, like quarreling brothers who really do care about each other.

Alfred Molina, who is becoming more and more chameleon-like in Gary Oldman fashion, brings the heat as the bad guy. Tony Kebbell does a hilarious take on a Criss Angel-type magician. The girlfriend, Teresa Palmer, is kind of bland, but the rest of the cast makes up for it. And there is far too little Monica Bellucci. The special effects are top tier, and the ending is a bit predictable if you're paying attention.

This was a pleasant surprise, might be intense in some places for the kids, but definitely family fare. Also look for hidden Mickeys and other references to the original cartoon. Lots of fun, recommended.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

RIP Peter Fernandez

Award winning actor, voice actor, author, lyricist, writer and director Peter Fernandez passed away Thursday after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 83.

Peter Fernandez was the guiding force behind the Americanization of such anime classics as "Speed Racer," "Gigantor," "Astro Boy" and "Star Blazers," and also live action imports from Japan like "Ultraman," "Space Giants," "Mothra" and several of the Godzilla films from the 1960s. His early career was in radio on shows like "Gangbusters," "Mr. District Attorney" and "Superman."

More recently he had a small part in the big screen version of Speed Racer and a featured role in the newest incarnation of the animated series. Other recent work included "Kenny the Shark" and "Courage the Cowardly Dog."

I had the opportunity to interview the man at the New York Comic Con a few years back and it's one of my most cherished memories. I was nervous as hell but he was a very kind and generous, and understanding interviewee. Some of that interview is available here.

I have lost another huge chunk of my childhood, but I'm glad I was able to meet Mr. Fernandez, and at least tell him how much his work meant to me. He will be missed.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quickies 7-15-2010

Surge of Power: The Stuff of Heroes ~ This campy comedic superhero film is badly acted and directed, in an almost unintended Rocky Horror or Lost Skeleton of Cadavra way, but its script and heart are in the right place. If you rent it, stay with it. The most intriguing part of the flick is its gay-centric cast and community, a trick that really works well, and doesn’t overpower the rest of the movie. Look for fun cameos by Noel Neill, Lou Ferrigno and Nichelle Nichols as well as Marv Wolfman and Len Wein. Tom Tangen is hilarious as multiple characters, writer Vincent J. Roth is charming in the title role, and do not miss the costume party. This is a lot more fun than it at first seems, check it out.

Empire Records ~ This cult favorite pseudo-remake of FM, only at a record store instead of a radio station, is a pleasant surprise. While painfully predictable, it’s also a lot of fun and has a killer soundtrack. Great Gwar cameo and bonus, Renee Zellweger not only sings, but her eyes are open for most of the movie.

Pirate Radio ~ Great sixties soundtrack, but wow, not a great movie at all. It also has a terrific cast, most of which is wasted here. I think this is the first Richard Curtis flick that I haven’t liked. I guess everyone misses sometimes.

Franklyn ~ Really? Darkman meets Dark City with just a touch of Repo! The Genetic Opera thrown in for good measure – really? This is what you were shooting for? This is pretty, this is stunning, but it is very much style over substance. There were whole sequences that were so boring that I fell asleep. It’s a steampunk Tim Burton wannabe visual overdose without much story to support it. Eye candy, but that’s all.

Killers ~ This one was quite a surprise for me. I was fully expecting a mindless romantic comedy here. I don’t like Ashton Kutcher and as I don’t watch "Grey’s Anatomy," I have no point of reference for Katherine Heigl. She was painfully adequate for 27 Dresses but that called for that type of performance. But Killers, other than being a bit more predictable than I would have liked plotwise, is a lot of fun. I really enjoyed this romantic dark comedy with a twist. And director Robert Luketic should definitely be plugged in to work on the Bond films because he has the eye needed. Recommended.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia ~ This wonderful flick blends two true stories into one film with two parallel storylines – "My Life in Paris" by Julia Child and her nephew and Julia Powell’s terrific blog The Julie/Julia Project where she cooks all the recipes in Child’s "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one year. Writer/director Nora Ephron, who is sometimes too sweet and chick-flicky for my tastes, took on the task and produces a terrific movie that entertains from start to finish.

Meryl Streep is both charming and over the top as Child, and Amy Adams adds her usual spunkiness to blogger Powell. Both Julias have wonderful dueling relationships with their significant others, Streep's shining with Stanley Tucci as Child's husband. Their romance is one of the warmest I have seen in quite some time. I loved this film, but be warned, it will also make you hungry.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Syfy Phantom

We’ve talked about this before. About how I did not want to like Syfy’s new version of the Phantom, and why tradition and source material is important. When the four-hour mini-series aired a few weeks back I was fully prepared to hate it, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t love it, and it wasn’t really the Phantom I wanted to see, but it really wasn’t bad either.

This was not a reboot, or a re-imagining, it was the real thing, and a modern continuation of the Phantom we all know and loved. The only drawback is that it’s a new Phantom, and one for the 21st century. Everything is still there, the Phantom legacy, the Singh Brotherhood, all that. The history is intact, it’s the present and the future that diverge from tradition.

There are changes however, unnecessary changes in my opinion. Bengalla is now an Indonesian island nation of much lighter skinned folk than those of the comic strips. And of course there is the hideous Paladin rip-off costume and the over-reliance on technology – but let’s keep in mind these are the trappings of the new Phantom.

And I can’t even bust on the quality. Even though it’s on Syfy, it’s done well and nothing at all like that tripe they usually show on Saturday nights. The lead, the twenty-second Kit Walker, is played by Justin Hartley look-a-like Ryan Carnes. He’s charming and convincing and I found myself rooting for him.

So, yeah, I liked it quite a bit. Granted, I would rather have seen a more Billy Zane or Tom Tyler, or especially a Lee Falk version of the classic hero, this was a fun diversion.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

RIP Harvey Pekar

I remember when I had my eyes opened about what might be called underground comics, or comix. I was set up on a blind date with a young woman who my friend thought was perfect for me - because she was also into comics.

After only one conversation with this prospective date I found out she knew little to nothing of what I associated with comics. She couldn't have cared less about capes and cowls or continuity, and found the concepts of spandex and superpowers to be utterly ridiculous. Obviously things did not work out, but she did introduce me to American Splendor and Harvey Pekar.

From that introduction I also saw Pekar frequently on "Late Night with David Letterman" and grew to enjoy his work. American Splendor was a new kind of storytelling for me, and I couldn't get enough of it. It expanded my horizons as to what a comic book could do and what it was capable of as a medium.

Harvey Pekar passed away late last night. He was seventy. We have lost another legend, one of America's greatest and most underrated storytellers. He will be missed.

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