Monday, November 29, 2010

Rest in Peace Leslie Nielsen

Veteran actor Leslie Nielsen passed away Sunday due to complications of pneumonia, at a hospital near his home in Ft. Lauderdale. He was 84.

Most folks know him for his comedic work of the last thirty years starting with the spoof Airplane! and the series of television and film that followed with "Police Squad!." Nielsen, a Canadian native, was also a serious actor in both television and film with a career spanning more than six decades. It seemed that his strong serious demeanor that made his early roles so dramatic proved hilarious when Nielsen moved to comedy.

I loved him in "Police Squad!" which I saw years before I ever saw Airplane! or his other parodies, and knew he was cool before everyone else did when that TV series moved to the big screen with the Naked Gun films. Many folks don't remember that that show was a flop, barely lasting six episodes. I think "Cop Rock" might have done better in the ratings.

Before his comedy roles I remember Leslie Nielsen as the hero of the scifi classic Forbidden Planet and the villain of the B-movie eco-horror The Day of the Animals. A leading man for years, it is notable that his comedic career didn't start with the parodies of the late seventies and early eighties, he also shared billing with Don Knotts in The Reluctant Astronaut. The last role I saw him in was as the Uncle Ben character in 2008's Superhero Movie, doing some of the funniest gas humor ever on the big screen.

Leslie Nielsen was also an author, an avid golfer, and even singer. He was one of our finest actors, of any genre. He will be missed.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Best Worst Movie

Best Worst Movie ~ What's the worst movie ever? That's a question of much debate. For myself, I immediately discount stuff like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda? because however cheaply made or haphazardly written, these are still hilarious and entertaining, no matter if it 's unintentional. In the same way, anything that falls into the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" category doesn't count either, as it's interactively entertaining.

That said, I would put MST3K alum Manos: Hands of Fate up for worst film ever. It's intolerable to sit through. I would also throw in Barfly and 1989's Blue Steel up on the butcher block as well. And don't get me started on The Dark Knight or Moulin Rouge!. This documentary makes a case for the infamous Troll 2.

Written and directed by one of the childhood stars of Troll 2, Michael Stephenson, this is an examination of the cult classic status of the flick as the worst movie ever. He interviews one of his co-stars, a dentist-turned-actor, and the Italian filmmaker that made the flick possible, among others. This documentary is a fun romp for fans of film and fans of bad camp horror movies alike. Check it out.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Megamind

Megamind ~ When I saw the first preview of this film months and months ago it seemed like a sly parody of the Superman mythos and a more original super-intelligent foe, sort of a Luthor/Brainiac hybrid. As clever as it seemed, the previews that followed as the release date got closer seemed to reveal more and more of the plot. So much was given away that I feared that I had not only gotten the gist of the flick, but perhaps no longer needed to even see the film.

The truth of the matter was that I felt I no longer needed to see it. I got the point. I could wait for the DVD or even for regular television. Bottom line, the only reason we did see it was because we had several gift cards for the theater and decided to make a night of it. Free goes a long way toward making things more enticing. Unfortunately the gift cards were for Loew's, and you folks know how much I like them. The quality or relevance of Megamind completely aside, I could not believe how much it cost to see this flick on a busy weekend night, in 3-D, and in IMAX. It was enough to put me off first run movies for a while. Thank the gods for gift cards.

Now I'm not going to give away any details of Megamind for the sake of the folks who have yet to see it, but suffice it to say that what I said and believed above was not true. The whole movie, nor the entire plot, is not revealed in the previews. There's a lot more to this than meets the eye. And it is clever, and rarely goes where you think it is. This is a smart superhero parody for the whole family, working on several different levels, and it's also the best use of the new 3-D I've seen in quite a while. David Cross steals the flick, and even Will Ferrell is good here, and I usually don't like him. Recommended.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Tangled

Tangled ~ Much like Disney's last animated feature, The Princess and the Frog that re-imagined the fairy tale of "The Frog Prince," Tangled gives "Rapunzel" a new spin. And while very little of the film has the energy or the verve of the preview featuring the music of Pink, it is still very good.

Leads Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, though not most folks' choice of a male lead, hand in terrific performances. Levi, especially proving the magic of animation is about voice work, not appearances. Character actor Donna Murphy rounds out the singing cast as the heavy, with Alan Menken doing the music this time out.

The songs are formula unfortunately and go in all the right places and do everything these types of songs have done for Disney songs for almost two decades. They're almost interchangeable, which again, is not to say they are not good. One tune, "I've Got a Dream," stands out far above the others in its difference above all else. It's an almost Monty Python-ic madcap piece that brings more than a few laughs with it.


All in all, a great entry for Disney' fiftieth animated feature, and their first CGI one without Pixar. We've seen it before, but it's still worth seeing again, ya know? Terrific holiday fare for the kids, and the adults, recommended.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mike and Molly

The Bride and I watched quite a few of the new series that debuted these new Fall TV season. We watched episode after episode, unsure if we really liked what we saw or not, and asking each other, sometimes comically, after each one - "Did we like this?" and deciding sometimes hesitantly - "We'll give it another episode."

One of these shows was "Mike and Molly." Being proud geeks and nerds with no shame, we both like Chuck Lorre's "The Big Bang Theory" quite a bit and were saturated with promotion for "Mike and Molly" during that program. It seemed like worth a look, so we gave it a shot. The series follows a couple, both quite overweight, a cop, Mike, and a teacher, Molly, as their relationship slowly evolves from dating to serious. As far as a relationship show, it's successful, but the humor often flows from their size and weight.

We were not fans of "The Big Bang Theory" at first. We eventually caught up with it after a few seasons. The reason we didn't dig it at first was that most of the humor was based on nerdiness, and was more of the laughing-at-us type rather than the laughing-with-us stuff. We tired quickly of being made fun of. Now, the show is more edgy and in sync with the subculture, and for us, funnier.

"Mike and Molly" operates on much the same formula, only against bigger people instead of nerds. I might be making much of this as fat people have always been made fun of, but really, isn't this just lazy writing? Taking the cheapest shot possible. Racial humor is only a step below. It's all discrimination.

All that said, "Mike and Molly" has a lot going for it. Their romance is heartwarming and awkward and real. Other than fat jokes, a lot of the more recent humor has been sexual in nature, much of it coming from the comic genius of Swoosie Kurtz. And the wonderfully talented Nyambi Nyambi as the coffee shop owner is the highlight of every episode. We'll stay with this a while, and hopefully it can mature past the fat jokes.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Glory Daze

TBS, now that they have Conan O'Brian, is thinking forward toward other new programming to show off and entice viewers while they are dropping by to see Conan. One of their new shows is "Glory Daze," a comedy drama set at a frat house in the 1980s, obviously trying to cash in on nostalgic forty year-olds.

The idea has such promise and has been done before, successfully mining other nostalgic decades in shows like "Happy Days" and "The 70s Show," and even less so in the latter's largely forgotten and sadly underrated spin-off, "The 80s Show."

The main problem with "Glory Daze" however is not ratings or stars leaving or even jumping sharks. It's that it's just like every other similar show about young folks getting into trouble on television. Adding in clich├ęd fashion, chronologically out of order music, John Hughes-like formulas and some ridiculous slang doesn't make it any better.

I love the 80s, I grew up in the 80s, sometimes I even get nostalgic for the 80s, but wow, one episode of "Glory Daze" was all I could take.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Conan Conan Conan

We've had about a dozen episodes of the Conan O'Brien's new TBS talk show - titled "Conan," so he would be harder to replace this time. I figured it was about time I chimed in with my feelings on this new and much anticipated endeavor.

I thought his final weeks on NBC was some of the best television he's ever done, and when I reviewed those last shows, I expressed concern as to whether he could do the same on a regular basis, and on a different network when he did return to TV. It needs to be said, and Coco fans can frown and throw cabbage at me if they wish, but the average Conan talk show was nothing spectacular. I liked the guy, and I didn't tune into his "Tonight Show" all that often.

I tuned in last week for the first show, and was even more concerned. My initial thoughts were about how long he might last even on TBS. The first episode seemed very self-indulgent. Allowing several minutes of applause when he first came out, I can forgive after his absence, but stealing the spotlight from Jack White who was the musical guest was almost unexcusable. And it didn't help that his first big guest, Seth Rogan, sincerely apologized more than a few times that Conan couldn't get a bigger or better first guest.

On the good side, these first few shows demonstrated a desire to throwback to talk shows of old, where it was more about getting to know the guests and having a dialogue with them rather than just promoting their latest project. That, I like.

I still have doubts, but I have hope, and I hope Conan catches on and continues to maintain an audience that can support him.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli ~ Every once in a while, actor Denzel Washington takes a side trip into science fiction or the paranormal and we get a terrific high quality genre film. The Book of Eli is one of them. This dark post-apocalyptic flick is filmed in sepia tones close to motion capture, adding an edge to every scene no matter what is going on in it. I think this technique was a good choice by the Hughes brothers, very stylistic.

The film opens with Denzel, as Eli, killing and eating a cat. While eating the cat, he offers some to a rat. There you go, the tone is set and the character defined. On the other hand, where's PETA when you need them? Seriously I always like show over tell. Eli is real and alive in our minds after that moment.

Eli holds a book from 'before' that can change humanity, hopefully for the better. That book is, and spoilers, folks, The Bible. And those are only sarcastic spoilers as its identity, while not mentioned 'til halfway through the movie, is pretty obvious. If you can't figure it out in the first ten minutes you're not paying attention even though the flick makes it seem like brain surgery. Anyway, many blame The Bible for whatever happened to mankind while others see the book as a path to power.

Gary Oldman plays one of those men who seeks to take over using the words from the book and regularly sends his henchmen across the wasteland that was America to find books, specifically The Bible. And most books are gone, as they were all burned along with The Bible because that caused all this mess. Yeah, this is like the negative aftermath of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," but it works.

Oldman is always amazing and always surprising, a joy to watch no matter what the role. Ray Stevenson of HBO's "Rome" is his lead henchman and Mila Kunis plays the damsel in distress. Along with Denzel, all impress.

The Book of Eli is simple but powerful. Props to the Hughes brothers. And watch out for the very M. Night twist of an ending. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Boardwalk Empire

HBO does it again. Do they ever make programming that is not the best out there? No, and how can someone not like a television series that film god Martin Scorsese has his hands in? He actually directed the pilot episode, the one that got this series renewed after only one airing, if that tells you anything about its quality. It was fabulous. For me, Scorsese working on the small screen is the equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci doing a comic book - lower rent yes, but the hand of a genius on a format smaller than their mind - a spectacular effect.
"Boardwalk Empire" takes place in 1920 Atlantic City and follows the exploits of Nucky Thompson as played by Steve Buscemi. Again, Buscemi is someone suited for the big screen and therefore rules the small one. It is good to see him finally in a role that matches his abilities. His character is based loosely (or closely, depending on your perspective) of Nucky Johnson who was treasurer of Atlantic City of the time, a famously generous and equally infamously corrupt personage whose work behind the scenes has become legend.

While Nucky's name is altered to protect both the innocent and the guilty, there are other real life folks floating around "Boardwalk Empire." Stephen Graham's Al Capone and certainly Vincent Piazza as Lucky Luciano are notable for their appearances here, but the real real life tour de force is Michael K. Williams as African-American gangster Chalky White. You might remember him from his role as Omar in "The Wire."

And speaking of fantastic performances, serious props go to Kelly MacDonald, Gretchen Mol and especially to Michael Pitt as Jimmy. The latter is the real star here in my opinion, and will walk from here to much bigger and better things, if that's possible. And Michael Shannon is particularly scary as the IRS agent pursuing Thompson.

Final word, this is damn good television, right up there with other HBO alum like "The Sopranos" and the aforementioned "The Wire" as well as stuff like "Mad Men" and "Dexter." "Boardwalk Empire" is do-not-miss television.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Wolfman

The Wolfman ~ This 2010 remake of the Universal classic has so much going for it - a script by Andrew Kevin Walker, a novelization by Jonathan Maberry, and a phenomenal score by Danny Elfman that features an almost Jaws-like opening. I was surprised and liked it however, it didn't knock my socks off.

Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins are at best adequate in subtly over the top roles that require their level of talent to pull off and yet neither steps up to the plate. Rick Baker's make-up effects are stunning, and they should be - the original flick is what made him want to do make-up in the first place. He's come full circle.

Speaking of the original, this is a fairly tight remake. The Walker script has lots of nods and winks here. I especially like the reference to the actual French werewolf murders at Gevaudan, and the brief glimpse of topiary animals a la Stephen King's book "The Shining." And the asylum scenes are very brutal.

This remake is very moody, very atmospheric, and unfortunately very dark. A light here or there wouldn't hurt, folks. You have the care going with everything else, you don't need the dark to help you - especially when it hinders the visuals. And as far as visuals go, the climax is quite impressive. Check it out.

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Monday, November 08, 2010

No Ordinary Family

This show has the unhealthy feel of a network executive deciding that ABC needs a family-style superhero series that would feed off the "Heroes" audience who were feeling betrayed by the powers that be who ruined "Heroes." The feeling continues when it seems like they grabbed Marc Guggenheim off "Eli Stone" because someone mentioned he used to write comic books. And it doesn't get any better when they cast veteran superhero actor Michael Chiklis in the lead, and gets even worse when he gets almost the same powers, if not the look of The Thing, his role in the Fantastic Four films.

All that said, "No Ordinary Family" is a likable, family friendly and genre friendly show. My problem with it is much the same problem I have with M. Night's Unbreakable (a flick I love, I might add), it's all origin and training, no superhero stuff. I want a superhero show, not a learner with training wheels, I want the hero, the guy (or gal) who can, I want to strong chin, starry eyes to root for against the bad guys. It's what the genre is, or should be, about.

Speaking of bad guys, the villains of this piece, are one of the elements that does keep me coming back. I hate to bring it back to the failure of "Heroes," but the bad guys being more charismatic than the good guys is not a good thing. Let's hope "No Ordinary Family" can shake out of training phase and not submit to the "Heroes" curse.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

White Dog

White Dog ~ This Sam Fuller flick from 1982 is supposedly the movie that destroyed Kristy McNichol's career. In hindsight, this could have been an amazing Quentin Tarantino, but then again, for many folks, Quentin is only a poor man's Fuller. Besides McNichol, the star-studded cast also includes Paul Winfield and Burl Ives, not to mention a score by the master, Ennio Morricone. Also look for cameos by Paul Bartel and the legendary Dick Miller.

White Dog is at best hokey horror, not much better than your run of the mill ABC movie of the week in the 1970s, but still that's a mark to aspire to. Kristy finds a dog and takes him in. She soon finds that he's a trained attack dog. But he's not just an attack dog, he's an attack dog trained to specifically attack black people. Yeah, you got it.

Just for the record, this movie didn't ruin Kristy's career, she did. I've seen this flick, the dog is a much better actor than Kristy McNichol here. Sad but true...

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Whiteout

Whiteout ~ This is yet another comic book movie whose source material I have not read. Yeah, I know, I feel like I'm letting you folks down. Whiteout is based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka (who also is executive producer here) and Steve Lieber. Rucka is a writer who runs hot and cold for me. He's either very good or very bad.

Gabriel Macht of The Spirit and Alex O'Loughlin of "Moonlight" and the inexplicable new "Hawaii Five-O" (the less said about Feed the better for his nerd cred) have both done their share of time at comic cons. One is loved and one is hated, you guess who is who. Kate Beckinsale is always a pleasure to watch, even here as a casual action star, as opposed to her usual roles. This might seem like an interesting cast, yet none of the above manage to rise even above calling it in.

Whiteout is half-mystery, half-thriller and all predictable unfortunately, but all in all, it's a nice diversion for about a hundred minutes. Good if there's nothing else on. Hey, I might even check out the comic, but praise more than that, I can't manage.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Ideal Never Closed

Just a correction to a very popular blog entry I did a year or two back, Ideal never closed, as many of us believed.

They are still open, and still in that Quonset hut on the White Horse Pike in Hammonton New Jersey and still the place for folks with a passion for fashion, and a craving for saving.

Check them out here, and if you're feeling nostalgic for that unforgettable theme song, click here for the Dumpsta Players doing their tribute to a true South Jersey multi-media and shopping legend.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Memories of SSP Racers

When I was a kid, specifically when I was in second grade, there was one toy that all the boys had, and I mean all the boys. I'm specifying because sometimes the class conflicts squooshed their way through the mud to the surface and there were toys that some kids had, and other kids just wished they had. This was different. It was an equalizer. I'm talking about Kenner's SSP Racers.

SSP stood for Super Sonic Power, at least that's what my addled forty-six year-old mind tells me. I'm sure Google could help, but what's the fun in that, right? These were sleek plastic cars (and sometimes motorcycles) anywhere from six to ten inches long that had only one wheel. They might appear to have more than one, but the others were faux. That one wheel was primary in a basic system of gears that could be wound up and spun at high speed by pulling a toothed plastic strip through them. By pulling the 'T-stick' and placing the car on the ground, floor, whatever semi-flat surface - they would take off like, well, like racers.

Kenner must have released dozens of models over the course of a few years and like I said, everybody had 'em, would bring 'em to school and race 'em at recess. You could set up ramps, make 'em do tricks - and even have your own demolition derbys - and this was before Kenner got the hint and made their own special SSP Demolition Derby, but more on that later.

What I remember most is how important the model you had was, whether you picked it out yourself, or your parents did, or it was a gift - you could be identified by your model. It might sound odd, but almost forty years later I can still remember who in second grade class had which SSP Racers. I had a blue Indy Racer, which I wanted, I loved the Indianapolis 500 when I was a kid, and then I also had two Siamese Slingshots, one green and black, and one chromatic copper. That was one of the later waves of SSP Racers, chrome colors.

Of the kids in my second grade class, John P. had the Black Jack (did it only come in black?), John F. had the golden Rail Bird, Mark L. had the Two Much, John M. the Jet Star, Bobby T. the Super Stocker… well, you get the idea. We used to race them across the asphalt and up and down a steep ramp used by the food service. Great fun.

Later Kenner released the SSP Demolition Derby, which came with two different sets, a pick-up truck and a Volkswagen bug, and in the other one, the one I didn't have, a station wagon and I think a sedan. Unlike the futuristic modeling of the regular SSP cars, these actually looked like standard cars, and beat-all-to-hell ones at that. The gimmick was that when the front bumper was impacted, the doors, hoods and trunks would fly off. Cool, right?

But the best part was the set came with two ramps so the cars to collide in mid-air. Those ramps got lots of use, and not just with the Demolition Derby cars. We all used them with the regular SSP Racers as well, and a year or two later when the Evel Knievel rage took over, everyone used those ramps for the Stunt Cycle. No offense to Ideal, but your ramps sucked, Kenner's were the fo' shizzle.

Forty years later, you can find SSP Racers sometimes in stores, usually in generic brands. You see a lot more of them on eBay or on YouTube. Here's a site where people share their memories: click here. One thing's for sure, they won't be forgotten.

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