Friday, May 30, 2008

Harvey Korman: 1927-2008

When I saw the email from my mom with a frowny face and a link to an IMDb news post, I knew immediately that another favourite famous person had passed (Sidney Pollack died on Wednesday, by the way.) I was not expecting that famous person to be Harvey Korman. I suppose I thought that he and Tim Conway would just keep cracking everyone up (especially each other) until well after I had shuffled off this mortal coil. I know that's not how it works, but it's Harvey Korman, y'know?
Farewell, Harvey!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fangs for the memories...

Thanks to reader DCBomB87's leading me over to a viral blog titled Blood Copy, and a lot of digging by James at Death Walks the Streets, it turns out that that mysterious letter I received is a viral campaign for an HBO show about vampires called True Blood. Another viral site is where some woman sits in the chair at the end of the countdown or something...I don't know, I didn't stick around. When I went to the site at first, my countdown clock said I had twenty hours; I checked into the letter at five in the morning that day so I completely forgot about it.
To tell the truth, I'm slightly disappointed. When I found out it was about vampires, I instantly thought of Blade because of the cuneiform writing, the chishio site, and the look of the Revenant Ones site. Also, I don't have HBO so I'll have to wait until the first season comes out on DVD if I want to see it, which is debatable. I'm not into vampires as such. The vampire subgenre in film and TV has gotten very stale, in my opinion. It's rare to see filmmakers do anything different or even intriguing with them. My mom will want to check it out at least once, though. Here's to hoping it's good!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

At the ripe age of 29, I can count myself as one of those young'uns who was fortunate enough to see at least one of the earlier Indiana Jones films in the theatre. I'm not entirely sure if I saw Temple of Doom in theatres (which I have a soft spot for, but that's another post), but I went to see The Last Crusade with my mom and my friend, Jennifer, shortly before moving away from Canton, Ohio. I grew up with Indy, and love those movies very much, and was very excited when I heard that Spielberg and Lucas were making another one. I do have to admit to a level of dubiousness given George Lucas's passion for digital cinema and his beloved green room.
Thankfully, Spielberg's cooler head (mostly) prevailed and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is, indeed, mostly CGI-free. And it was shot on film. And it looks fantastic. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Lucas.
To catch you up: this film is about the reappearance of one of the mythical crystal skulls and the Russian soldiers, lead by Cate Blanchett, who are after its power. Only Indiana can save the day!
The film was FRAKKIN' AWESOME (as I've texted to friends and put in the booth log at work.) It was fun, funny, exciting, intense, and everything that an Indiana Jones movie should be. It fits with the rest of them almost perfectly. I almost wish I had watched it with the public. Almost.
High on the awesome list was bringing back Marion Ravenwood-Williams. Now, I'm in the minority when I say that I like Kate Capshaw. Willie Scott was annoying, but she was designed to be annoying and Capshaw did a great job. I don't even know the name of the actress who played the third Jones girl, but she reminded me more of a Bond girl than anything...but Marion was something special and Karen Allen was great in the part. Bringing her back was a stroke of genius and she was great.
Shia LeBeouf was good as Mutt Williams. I kind of fear for the future of Indy (I'm not too keen on the idea of them making more Indy films without Indy), but he was a good sidekick. The vine scene was stupid, though.
I do have to mention a couple of things at the very beginning of the movie that felt really off. I don't know if it was a reshoot or if it was the first day, but the lighting was strange and Harrison Ford's ADR was strange, almost Deckard-like. Maybe it was shot on Lucas's green room up until they got into the hangar...but whatever. It looked and sounded bad. I never thought I'd pick on something technical in a Spielberg / Lucas joint, but there it is.
AND, I have a problem with retconning Indy a military career (was this mentioned in Young Indiana Jones? Or some random comic book or novelization or something?) How would he have time to teach, even part time, search for artifacts, have kick-butt adventures, have all those girlfriends, AND spy on the baddies? Especially when the baddies all seem to know who he is? Every time he introduced himself in past movies, or was introduced, he was pretty much universally received with, "Ahh! Doctor Indiana Jones, the imminent archaeologist!"
This newly added military career (so he'd be Colonel Doctor Henry "Indiana" Jones, Junior? That's almost as big a mouthful as the movie's title...) is pretty much not necessary except as a mouthpiece for Lucas and Spielberg, through writer David Koepp, to say a few things about politics. There had to be an easier way to remind the under-thirty crowd about the 50's Red Scare for the story AND to compare it to today's political climate without taking the unnecessary time out.
Overall: frakkin' awesome. There's no other way to say it. Go see it...I know I'll be seeing it a few more times before it leaves the theatre.

EDITED TO ADD: (Please excuse me for being remiss in updating this post...I just didn't think about it when I replied to him in the comments! Whoops...) Thanks to NoelCT, I have been informed that the Imminent Archaeologist's military background was indeed covered in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles which Lucas calls canon. I have been schooled!

Can anyone read cuneiform?

I received this today and I can't find anything out about it beyond a few bloggers, journalists, and "pop culture genre personalities" (whatever the hell that means) got one of four different letters; mine is the Sumerian cuneiform.

Since I'm not really any of the listed types (at least, not in a sense widely paid attention to), and because the envelope was actually addressed to my mom whose name is on my subscription, I'd have to say that this is a viral marketing campaign through Fangoria. For which movie, I couldn't say. I thought it was for Hellboy II until I found out about the Japanese website ( "Chishio" means "blood" and is apparently used as a metaphor to mean "hotblooded."

Weird, but in a cool way. Let's hope that the movie they're pushing is worth it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead.

Lookit what I purchased today!

Full disclosure: I am a fan of George A. Romero. I love him. I love his work. As I sit here at six in the morning typing all of this out, I'm wearing my Land of the Dead t-shirt.
I love ALL of the Dead cycle, including Day of the Dead (possibly my favourite of the sequels) and Land of the Dead, but I also love Knightriders (possibly my favourite of the non-zombie stuff), Creepshow, Martin, The Dark Half, and The Crazies. I liked Bruiser, but I wouldn't own it and I'm not sure I'd watch it again, and it's been so long since I've seen Two Evil Eyes and Monkey Shines that I can't really give an honest remark about them.
If I were to want to emulate a filmmaker, he would be one of them. Not his mistakes, of course *cyber-kicks Richard P. Rubinstein repeatedly and forcefully*, but Romero's movies are slices of fried gold.
That said, let's move on to the review:
George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead (released on DVD this past Tuesday) is about a crew of filmmakers, students at Pitt (University of Pittsburgh), who begin shooting a documentary (called The Death of Death) when reports come in that the dead are returning to life and attacking the living. It's first-person, like many films these days, with the footage coming from the camera of the film's director Jason Creed (played by Josh Close) and various other cameras throughout the movie.
Diary is the master's attempt to reboot his franchise, if you will. If this film were to be shoehorned into the Dead cycle's timeline, it would be at the very beginning; this would be around Night and the first hour or so of Dawn (GAR's version, please, not Zach Snyder's.) While we've been inundated with first-person movies, this one rises above the rest of the "Found Footage" lot for two reasons: no motion sickness and it's George A. Romero.
The script is a little heavy-handed. Romero has so much to say, and I agree with pretty much everything he's said, but in this film he's done it without the subtlety found in his other Dead flicks...yet, somehow the message will still go flying over some fans' heads. Whatever. 
I also found the film a bit hard to get into at first, but that was probably my excitement at watching a new Romero movie, one that's he's so proud of, and the hour -- I watched it around two thirty in the morning, after work.
Though I've called attention to those problems, they're very minor when held against how really spectacular the film is. It grabs you and whips you around and around. The characters are all relatively intelligent -- the director's smart and yet isn't at the same time, but he's my only character problem -- the effects (by a Canadian company called Gaslight under Greg Nicotero, who had the credit of "Special Effects Make-Up Producer" as well as "Zombie Surgeon") were great, the cinematography was fantastic (I have to stress this because it didn't feel like I was watching Blair Witch or Cloverfield, those flicks had nauseating camerawork), and the acting was pretty near top notch. The lead actress, Michelle Morgan, who played the director's girlfriend, seemed a bit self-conscious at times, but otherwise she was spot on.
If you're a fan of Romero's Dead cycle, you'll hear some familiar voice overs to help tie the film into Night and there are at least two on-camera cameos that will bring joy to a fan's heart.
Also, I'm pretty good with voices, but I could not pick out the voices of Simon Pegg, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Craven, Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and Tom Savini who were all newsreaders in the film. Luckily, three of them are replayed in the Familiar Voices part of the special features, but not the others...and so far I think Stephen King's is the best.
I highly recommend this flick, but not if it's your first Romero movie or you haven't seen the rest of the Dead cycle. If either of those things apply to you, stop reading and go watch the '68 version of Night of the Living Dead, the '78 version of Dawn of the Dead, the '85 version of Day of the Dead, then the '89 version of Night of the Living Dead (it's one of the few remakes I've seen that lives up to its predecessor), and lastly Land of the Dead. It's a lot of movie watching, but well worth it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I Blame Wil Wheaton

I'm sure Wil's an ace of a chap, totally boss and all (because I can tell all of that through his magnificent blog and books (I haven't gotten The Happiest Days of Our Lives yet, but I love Just a Geek and Dancing Barefoot), but my addiction to C.S.I.: Vegas is absolutely his fault. I'd never watched an episode in my life, and honestly had no interest, until he made an appearance back in 2005. I wanted to see some recent acting work from him and he was on as a crazy homeless guy, a red herring in the search for the murderer of a young kid. I was intrigued by the procedures and tests they did, all stuff I'd seen on non-fiction shows like the one Dr. Henry Lee was a part of (that was a good show.)
My mom, being a "true crime" and forensic science nut, is less enthralled with C.S.I. because these folks aren't taking precautions against cross-contamination of the scene, but I'm all like, "They're all too pretty to cover up like Cate Blanchett *..."
Then, Quentin Tarantino did a fantastic two-parter the same year (it's the one with John Saxon and where Stokes is buried alive in a plexiglass coffin.) Still, my addiction was a slow burn. I'd stop and watch if I passed by Spike TV and they were playing it.
Then, about a month ago, I discovered CSI Sundays on Spike and that was it. Now, I've got C.S.I. on my Netflix queue and I've been watching episodes through the CBS website, something I've never done before (it's actually really cool and the commercial breaks are only between 15 and 30 seconds.) My journey to the Dark Side is almost complete...
*transmogrifies into "William F'in Shatner" for a moment* WHEEEAAAAATTTTOOONNN!!!
* Cate Blanchett was in Hot Fuzz as Nick Angel's ex Janine...the one covered from head to toe in protective gear at the crime scene in the beginning of the film. If you're reading this and going, "Wha-?" rent Hot Fuzz. Not as good as Shaun of the Dead, but I loved it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

March / April / half-May round-up!

As far as Without/Within is concerned, I can sum up these two and a half months in one word: rejection. I know it's not the most technically polished short out there, but know? Ah well. I still love it. It'll have to go on the DVD of the first feature I make.
As for my next project, I have not only decided on what it's going to be, I've already written the script. It still needs some tweaking, but I'm hoping to film it near the end of this year or the beginning of the next, depending on whether or not I get to go on vacation. It's a short film as I want to go over a few more technical things (lighting, mostly.) I recently purchased a book on cinematography written by John Alton called Painting With Light.
While film lighting and digital lighting are vastly different due to how sensitive digital cameras are, I thought it'd be a good idea to read a book by a guy whose film noir work is very highly regarded. It did help, and it did give me a few ideas, but it was very much like reading one of Oscar Wilde's home decor essays...which I didn't read, by the way, when I went through and read all the Wilde I could. If you saw my house, you'd understand why...
I'm still waiting to hear back from Cemetery Dance about the short story I sent them and I'm prepping another story to send to any magazine with a seven thousand word limit that accepts horror. Even following Stephen King's Second Draft Formula ("second draft = first draft - 10%"), it'd be around 6500 words, but the edit's coming along nicely.
I think that's all the news that's fit to print for now.

"I miss the way she says my name..."

Go here to check out two videos, one of David Duchovny as Fox Mulder and the other of Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully, talking about each other. The videos are very brief, but so cute...

I am way beyond excited for The X-Files: I Want to Believe. I have only one more season of the show yet to watch: Season Nine. I didn't even watch it when it originally aired, but I bought it on DVD because darn it, I'm gonna see it all! The show sucked when David Duchovny left and I know that had it instead been Gillian Anderson who departed, it would have sucked just as much. The best part of the show, for me, was Mulder and Scully's relationship, how DD and GA played off each other and how the characters changed over the course of the series. Doggett and Reyes just didn't work. Not to mention that nothing says "jumped the shark" like that Brady Bunch episode.

I have a couple of months yet before the movie (which isn't mytharc so I don't NEED to have seen the entire series to get it) and I may need them just to get through season nine. I was hoping to go back and watch my favourite episodes again, though. We'll see...

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Cat and the Canary, Destiny, The Ruins, Iron Man, Ils, Inside, The Testiment of Dr. Mabuse, Speed Racer

It seems that lately, I procrastinate when it comes to writing reviews. I'll try to do better. To make up for it, I'll make these reviews as short as I can.
The Cat and the Canary is a silent film directed by Paul Leni. It was a bit long and poorly written, but the lighting and acting were good. The story was well-worn in 1927; an heiress to a fortune is in danger of being driven mad by her relatives and rivals.
Destiny by Fritz Lang is more my speed. In this film from 1921, a woman who has lost her fiance makes a deal with Death that if she can save even one of three souls from being snuffed out, he will give her back her love. A solid film.
The Ruins was directed by Carter Smith and is about a group of pretty American kids on holiday in South America who accompany a German guy looking for his brother at a mysterious temple. This film's story was Hostel, but with vegetation standing in for bored rich people. The Ruins was saved by solid direction and performances with some pretty good special effects to support all of that.
Iron Man was directed by Jon Favreau and stars Robert Downey Jr. as the titular hero also known as Tony Stark, a womanizing (and, in the comics, substance abusing) weapons wunderkind who sees the error of his ways when he's kidnapped by an extremist group whilst showing off his newest weapon, the Jericho missile, in the Middle Eastern desert. The film also stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Pott, Stark's loyal assistant, Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, the villain, and Terrence Howard as Jim Rhodes, Stark's Air Force friend.
This is what superhero comic book movies should be...solid performances from the entire cast, great effects (well composited, too...filmmakers seem to forget that it takes more than a good effect to make it real, it needs to be composited well, too), and a solid (if not entirely sound) script. Good job and highly recommended.
Ils was written and directed by Xavier Palud and David Moreau and is about a young French couple living in Hungary who are attacked by mysterious strangers (which is the name of the American remake starring Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler coming out in a couple of months; The Strangers.) The filmmakers claimed that this was based on a true story, but the story upon which it was based was completely different than what's on screen
Also, Palud and Moreau brought us the terrible American remake of the Pang Brothers' pretty chilling The Eye.
The bottom line: don't bother. Rent Funny Games instead (I've only seen Haneke's American version, but based on that, I'd vouch for the original German version.) While Ils has a run time of some seventy minutes, brevity doesn't mean better. There are some tense sections, but overall a poorly written film with wonderful acting and cinematography.
Inside was written by Alexandre Bustillo and directed by Bustillo and Julien Maury. It's about a pregnant widow who finds herself being attacked by a crazed woman who wants to steal her unborn baby.
Inside was brutal, intense, very gory, and smart. The writing, direction, and acting were all top notch. The cinematography was mostly good; while they establish that this film was taking place during the riots in Paris, they don't establish where all the smoke was coming from in her house.
The Dimension Extreme release is the original uncut version. Now, I've seen some gruesome things in movies, but this has to be in the top five most intensely gory films I've ever seen, if not at the very top. If you're one with a weak constitution, STAY AWAY FROM THE UNCUT VERSION.
The Testiment of Doctor Mabuse is another Fritz Lang film, a German-language talkie from 1933. In this one, a powerfully insane genius is somehow committing crimes without leaving his cell. His main goal is to create anarchy and destroy Humanity, but he is thwarted by Inspector Lohmann and his crack team of forensic investigators. And some informants...
This is a solid picture with good writing, cinematography, and direction. Parts of the story were even ahead of its time.
While some of the actors were obviously from the silents, quite a few of them were very relaxed with their dialogue and their physical space. It must have been tough for silent stars to make the switch to talkies... A good flick!
Speed Racer was brought to us by the Wachowski Siblings. The story...well, it's not The Matrix: Speed Racer takes down the dirty, dishonest race teams with whom he's competing while defending his family. Heady stuff for a kid's flick and I'm glad for it. Too many kids movies these days talk down to them and treat them as though they're stupid. I think this one comes close to hitting the mark of a good kids film.
Speed Racer is not my normal fare. I've never even watched an episode of the Anime from which it comes. I think it's a little over-long (two and a half hours!), but it's so fast paced you don't really notice (unless you drank a Bladderbuster during the movie...then, you'll probably feel it.) I did get a little dizzy at first -- the spinning graphics behind the production logos was slightly disorienting, but I got used to it quickly as all those colours go flying past the screen. It's very colourful and very pretty in the digital sense. There's no way they could have done this movie realistically and to have done so would have been a disservice to the fans. It feels unreal in just the right way.
The performances were all fantastic: Emil Hirsch and Christina Ricci were great as Speed and Trixie, John Goodman and the always wonderful Susan Sarandon were fantastic as Speed's parents (and they were in the film longer than I thought they'd be!) and Spritle (and Chin-Chin) were the perfect comic relief. However, I was disappointed in the underuse of Hiroyuki Sanada (I love him) and Richard Roundtree (you just don't see enough of him anymore...)
Well, I think that was pretty time, I'll try to stick to three reviews...