Dr. Jones, I Presume

December 11, 2007



I admit that I was excited for the premiere of Transformers the Movie when it aired earlier this year. The part of me that grew up playing with those cool toys from Japan was really looking forward to hearing Peter Cullen’s voice on the big screen, and for the most part the movie didn’t disappoint. But even Optimus Prime can’t hold a candle to Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. Plot details, behind the scene stills and now the official movie poster for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have been released.

I’ve waited a long time to see Indy back up on the big screen, and I dare say that the fourth (and probably final) installment of this franchise will be the blockbuster of 2008. Although all three Indy movies are near and dear to my heart, I think I enjoyed Temple of Doom the most. I loved the dark nature of the film, Short Round and the departure from Judeo-Christian mythos which Indy 4 seems to also dabble in. Now, with principal photography over and the wizards at ILM working their magic, we won’t have long to wait until we see the man in our favorite fedora reappear on the silver screen once again. All this and a new score from John Williams to boot. How much better could it get? Here’s hoping Indy’s new adventure is one for the ages. Stay tuned!

After having forced my wife to watch Spiderman 3 tonight, I was painfully reminded of why I didn’t really like this flick in the first place. Evidently, over the last 6 months my brain must have taken a vacation. I remember standing in Best Buy when the DVD hit the shelves and saying to myself “It wasn’t that bad, was it?” As it turns out, yeah it was.

I figured it might be a good idea for other geeks not to force their wifes to watch it either, so I’ve gone and put together a list of just some of the things Sam Raimi must have been telling himself as he made this disastrous third installment. It’s the only possible explanation. Oh yeah, this list contains spoilers, as if that matters.

• Spider sense is great for avoiding goblin gliders in the first movie, but not in the third. It evidently also doesn’t help to warn you that meteorites have struck nearby or that alien symbiotes are about to crawl all over you.

• When you are a man made of sand, it’s helpful that you can find a large truck with the words “Sand” on the side to hide in. Must be all that Manhattan beach erosion we keep hearing about.

• Police chiefs apparently keep detailed records of every single car jacking that happens in the New York City metro area. They also tend to hold that information secret until a seemingly crucial moment in the life of no-named student/freelance photographers.

• If you are planning on proposing to the woman you love, make sure the beautiful lab partner you kissed as Spiderman earlier in the day, just happens to dine at the restaurant you are proposing in.

• If you’re a struggling actress down on her luck, who’s being blackmailed into breaking up with the love of her life, what ever you do, don’t whisper to him “It’s a trap, Peter!”. Oh, and remember not to tell him why you broke his heart later on.

• Goblin grenades are powerful enough to completely vaporize Venom and turn large chunks of the Sandman’s arm to glass, but not deadly enough to kill Harry at point blank range.

• Forget a career playing virtuoso jazz piano! Who needs that when you can scrape and scrounge getting paid $50 a pop for pictures of Spiderman?

• When weening yourself of a violent alien symbiote, be sure to find the one church in all of New York City with the guy who absolutely hates your guts waiting in the wings.

• Butlers who clean the wounds of dead people tend to reveal crucial plot information months after they first discover it, and just at the proper moment.

• Lastly, whenever you introduce a story line about a poor, sick daughter, what ever you do, don’t follow it up or offer closure. Just remember that resolution is highly overrated.

Of course, this has all been said before by people brighter than me. I just wonder if I can get my money back from Best Buy…

Five Frightening Flicks

October 21, 2007

Since Halloween is my favorite time of year, and Dave Caolo was looking for something spooky to watch, I thought I would carve up my very own top five horror movies. Maybe some of these are on your list of frightening favorites, maybe not. Either way, always remember to look behind you and have a happy Halloween!

• • •

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

What do you get when you combine clever film making, our innate fear of the woods and a brilliant marketing campaign? You get perhaps one of the least appreciated horror flicks of modern times. The Blair Witch Project was made on a shoestring budget and employed improvisational techniques to effectively paint the picture of a student documentary gone horribly wrong. Sadly, the film has been lampooned so many times it’s difficult to take it seriously these days. Never-the-less, it does have moments that will scare the living piss out of you. I especially love the scene when they stumble on the grotto. Who knew arts and crafts could be so scary? The film makers do a great job of turning location into a character in the story. The woods are dark, confusing and claustrophobic and play on our very real fear of getting lost in the forrest. Despite the iconic booger-in-the-nose scene and some weak acting, I still say the ending is one of scariest you’ll ever see on film.

• • •

Alien (1979)

Essentially a futuristic “haunted house” movie, Alien is to some, the quintessential horror flick. From the moment we set down on LV-426, we know there is going to be trouble. The crew of the Nostromo seems more interested in turning a profit than responding to a supposed distress call. The next thing you know, John Hurt has a face-hugger shoving an alien embryo down this throat and the whole mission goes to pot. Director Ridley Scott does a masterful job of showing just bits and pieces of the alien, proving the adage that it’s not what you see, but rather what you don’t see, that’ll scare you silly. We watch the crew get picked off one by one, until only Ellen Ripley and her cat Jones are left. The climatic scene in the Nostromo’s shuttle is hair raising, but the part that creeps me out the most is Dallas’ demise in the air vent. Giger’s nightmarish creature seems to pop out of nowhere, creating one of the best “gotcha!” moments of any horror flick.

• • •

Jaws (1975)

What can you say about a movie that made an entire generation afraid to go swimming? The success of Jaws stems from our instinctual fear of things we can’t see. When we wander into the ocean, we know there are all kinds of creatures swimming down there just below our feet. Some of those beasties are nice, and some are not so nice. Despite the technical hurdles of making Bruce the shark believable, director Steven Spielberg manages to pull the entire premise off with shocking perfection. From floating eyeballs and crushed shark cages to Quint get chopped up into little fish food, Jaws is one heart pounding thrill ride that bites down hard and never lets go.

• • •

Halloween (1978)

Forget Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kruger. Before either one of these wanna-be psychos sidled onto the scene, there was John Carpenter’s Michael Myers. Myers was a honest-to-goodness lunatic who spent 15 years in a mental hospital after killing his older sister. Now he’s escaped and off to conduct a repeat performance on his younger sister, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Talk about devotion to family! To top it off, Carpenter’s baddie likes to stalk his prey in the scariest costume anyone could imagine, a mask of William Shatner. The small town setting, creepy music and over the top acting by Donald Pleasence all help put this macabre spectacle it in a league of its own. It always amazes me that this little film set the tone for all other slasher flicks to come, and none of them have even come close to replicating the sheer terror that is Halloween.

• • •

The Ring (2003)

I can’t exactly put my finger on what makes The Ring so disturbing. Maybe it’s the subtle mix of macabre elements like the blurred faces in the kids’ photos, or the calculated use of the gray-green color palette that permeates the film. Whatever it is, it works because every time I watch this nightmarish flick I get goose-bumps. The story is woven so cleverly and makes such great use of foreshadowing that when the “gotcha!” moments arrive, they seem even more upsetting than they should. Like Halloween, The Ring spawned a bunch of would-be knock offs including The Grudge, Saw and Hostel. None of them come even close to the terrifying poetry that The Ring represents. Every year at this time, The Ring is right at the top of my list of spooky films to watch. Sometimes before popping in the DVD, I even turn off the phone. Oh come on, like you don’t!

Growing up, one of my favorite shows had to be Get Smart starring Don Adams. The silly exploits of the hapless spy from CONTROL tickled my funny bone like nothing else. Turns out that Get Smart is the latest television property to be turned into a big screen feature, this time starring the hilarious star of The Office, Steve Carrell. The trailer looks funny enough, but I suspect they are saving the best bits for the actual release. I can only imagine Carrell’s riotous take on my favorite Smart gag, the Cones of Silence. I refuse to get my hopes up too high however, thanks to film disasters like The Dukes of Hazzard, Bewitched and Starsky & Hutch. I pray that Carrell will pull if off, if for nothing else but to save us from all of the reviews that will no doubt start with “Missed it by THAT much!” if he fails. I guess we’ll find out this summer.

Hat tip to Imagication for this post.

Ever put serious thought into what your favorite top 20 movies of all time are? Neither had I until a bunch of us decided to get together and do a group blog post about the subject. The theme we decided upon was “20 Movies for a Deserted Island” along with some “guilty pleasures” thrown in for good measure. Corey Marion, David Miller, Anthony Piraino and I all brainstormed and came up with a list of our current favorite 20 movies. We made our lists without each other’s knowledge, but given our similar likes and interests, it doesn’t surprise me to find some duplicates among our choices.

The movies on my list are films that I have watched many, many times and never get tired of. If I happen to spy one of these movies while I’m flipping TV channels, I usually get sucked into watching until the very end. I hope some of your favorites are on my list. Be sure to post your picks in the comment thread if the mood should strike you, then hop on over to the guys’ pages and see how their list compares. Without further ado here is my list in descending order:

• • •

20. Terminator 2

What do you get when you pack amazing special effects, time travel, California’s rippling governor and the baddest liquid robot in the history of film? The answer is one of the best action flicks of all time. Terminator 2 has just enough plot to rise above the average shoot-em-up, but not enough to take away from the sheer cool factor of seeing Arnold rip into a dozen police cars with a mini gun. The strongest of the three Terminator films by far and one of Cameron’s best.

• • •

19. The Emperor’s New Groove

The “black sheep” of the Disney family, The Emperor’s New Groove hit problems from the very moment of production. What was planned as a sappy epic dealing with ancient Mayan Incan culture ended up instead as the single funniest film ever to come out of the Mouse House. Patrick Warburton as Kronk is my favorite Disney side kick of all time, as is Eartha Kitt’s Yzma in the villain category. Packed with one-liners and tons of heart, New Groove always delivers.

• • •

18. Shawn of the Dead

The people who made Shawn of the Dead love action and horror movies to death. No pun intended. The black comedy in this UK sleeper hit is cranked way up, which is what makes it just so much fun to watch. More than just a zombie movie, Shawn takes typical horror conventions and turns them on their smashed and bloody head. The result is dark, brooding and hilarious.

Also picked by Anthony.

• • •

17. Raising Arizona

All of the classic Coen brothers techniques are in full force in Arizona. Snappy, memorable one-liners mix with a warped world view to tell the story of H.I. McDunnough and Ed’s misplaced efforts to “adopt” a child. Nicholas Cage’s deadpan delivery combined with clever camera work and a memorable score, all make for a movie well worthy of a deserted island.

Also picked by Corey.

• • •

16. Aliens

The first time I saw Aliens in the theater, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire first 30 minutes. I knew what was coming, it was only a matter of when and how. I love the dark, hopelessness of the movie, its intense action sequences and Sigourney’s rock solid performance. The original Alien is a masterpiece of horror, and Aliens builds on that suspense and throws in a healthy dose of “kick ass” for good measure.

Also picked by Corey.

• • •

15. When Harry Met Sally

My favorite romantic comedy of all time. Nora Ephron’s writing is sublime in When Harry as are the performances by both the lead and the supporting casts. This movie also helped me court my wife long distance, so it holds a special place in our home. The film is also a veritable fountain memorable quotes including “Baby fishmouth!” and the previously posted “Sheldon can do your income taxes.” If Mindy and I ever need a good laugh, we can always count on When Harry Met Sally to come to the rescue.

• • •

14. Se7en

This dark thriller grabs you and never lets go. More than most suspense movies, Se7en’s locations become just as much a part of the story as the main characters. It always seems to be gloomy, raining and gritty in this horrific world of sin and death, which only adds to the intense drama. The movie marches relentlessly towards its inevitable and climatic conclusion that is just as disturbing now as it was the first time I saw it. Great flick.

• • •

13. Mulan

Of all of Disney’s animated tales, Mulan is the one that strikes the perfect balance between drama and comedy. The Lion King comes close, but I love the Asian setting in Mulan as well as it’s core themes of family and honor. The songs are catchy and the art direction can’t be beat. The Japanese ink sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

• • •

12. The Matrix

The Matrix was such a watershed moment in American film that even Keanu Reeves can’t keep the film down. It is a perfect blend of archetypes, modern day paranoia and Hong Kong style action. Throw in Carrie-Anne Moss clad to the hilt in sexy black rubber and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith and you have a sci-fi classic for the ages. As an FYI, the other two Matrix films wouldn’t even make it into my DVD collection let alone on my deserted island. Yes, they are that bad.

Also picked by Anthony and Corey.

• • •

11. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Coen Brothers have an uncanny knack for creating memorable characters, locations and dialog. No where was this more apparent than in the hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Like his ancient Greek counterpart, Ulysses Everett McGill finds himself on an amazing journey in which he meets all manner of characters including an oracle, a cyclops and a set of seductive sirens. The film also makes special use of music as it even becomes an integral plot point. About the only thing I don’t like about the movie is when Babyface shoots the cows. “Not the livestock George!” Other than that, I can’t complain.

Also picked by Corey.

• • •

10. Star Wars

The original. Not the re-release or the CGI special edition, or even the re-re-release. Before there were the ultra-crappy prequels there was this space opera for the ages. The first, best and only true Star Wars. The only thing that even comes close to Episode IV is Empire, but even that is a pale shadow of the original. May the Force be with us!

• • •

9. Young Frankenstein

A comedic spoof for the ages from the one and only Mel Brooks. Brilliant performances by Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman are just the tip of this hilarious iceburg as we watch Brooks send up every aspect of the classic horror genre. Clever dialog and a respectful homage to film’s black and white era only add to the piles of funny that are stacked up like so many of Frederick’s body parts. My favorite outright comedy.

• • •

8. The Incredibles

It was tough picking just one PIXAR movie for this list, but The Incredibles wins by a nose. I’m a sucker for good super hero movies, and this combined with the fantastic family theme proved a winner for Brad Bird and company. I love Edna ‘E’ Mode and her passion for super fashion, Frozone’s arguments with his wife and the tilted humor found throughout the entire picture. I’m not much for sequels, but I think The Incredibles is one PIXAR franchise that is indeed worthy.

• • •

7. To Kill a Mockingbird

I remember the first time I saw To Kill a Mockingbird back in grade school. The film, told through the eyes of a child, was easy to relate to but also told the powerful story of a man, the family he loved and racial injustice in the Depression-era South. Gregory Peck’s quiet and determined performance as Atticus Finch won him the Oscar in 1962, and rightly so. I still get goose-bumps watching the last 20 minutes of this movie, even to this day. When Boo steps out of the shadow in Scout’s room, a big part of my childhood jumps right out with him. I love that about great movies, they can transport you. Mockingbird does it to me every time.

• • •

6. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Say what you want about George Lucas, but the man can create memorable characters. Indiana Jones is perhaps one of cinema’s most recognized heroes and that is in no small part to George Lucas. The story is a direct take on the serials that played in movie houses across the nation in the 40’s & 50’s and it single handily spawned the modern action era. Harrison Ford is perfect in the role of Indy, the locations are epic and the score by John Williams positively soars. Throw in a good helping of evil Nazis, the mythical Ark of the Covenant and an unforgettable showdown in a crowded Egyptian marketplace and you have one of the top movies of all time.

Also picked by Anthony.

• • •

5. The Princess Bride

It’s strange but when I think of The Princess Bride, I don’t really think of it as a comedy. It’s more like a tilted fairy tale, an obvious inspiration for more goofy movies like Shrek. Of all the films in my top 20, this one probably has the most memorable quotes, and there are lots of them. The dialog, pacing and performances all add up to a fan favorite that many people tell me is on their list of personal favorites. No matter what you think of Princess Bride, the film’s creators must have done something right to be loved by so many.

Also picked by Corey and Anthony.

• • •

4. Kill Bill Vol. 1

I love this movie. Let me say it again so I’m perfectly clear. I love Kill Bill Vol. 1. I love pretty much everything about it. Here are some things in no particular order that I think are particularly good: Uma Thurman, Hong Kong style action, anime sequences, the House of Blue Leaves super-long camera pan, Zamfir and oh yeah, Quentin Tarantino. I also admire the movie for what it is, not what some people say it is not. It is not pretentious and full of itself like Tarantino’s often touted Pulp Fiction. It is not a deep character study and it is certainly not a movie that all people enjoy. It is a kick-ass homage to martial arts films, pop culture and TV of the 70’s and I will watch it any time and any place.

Also picked by Corey.

• • •

3. Saving Private Ryan

Our parents have Bridge over the River Kwai and The Longest Day, we have Saving Private Ryan. The sheer fact that Spielberg decided to start the movie with the Battle of Normandy and not end with it, speaks volumes about the story to come. We embark on an epic journey to find a lone private caught somewhere in the allied invasion of France. The film brings rich characters to life and confirms the raw talent of Tom Hanks as cinema’s “every man”. Veterans have said that Ryan is about as realistic as combat gets for the movies, and watching the skillful direction it’s easy to see why. Saving Private Ryan may be cinema’s definitive war movie, and for that, it deserves a place in the roster of my deserted island movies.

Also picked by Anthony.

• • •

2. The LOTR Trilogy

Yeah, so technically this is three movies, but I don’t view them that way. I see the trilogy as three parts of one story that all inter-connects (hey, isn’t that the definition of a trilogy anyway?). The depth of the various plot threads and the level of character development give new meaning to masterpiece. Peter Jackson and company pay tribute to Tolkien in so many ways, from costumes and makeup to music and set design, the entire trilogy is one giant labor of love to the late author. I remember how hard it was to wait in-between releases of these films and I still enjoy every single minute of them on DVD now.

Also picked by Anthony and Corey.

• • •

1. The Shawshank Redemption

What makes Shawshank so brilliant is the way it weaves what really are a series of small vignettes into one, wonderful story arc. Take any one of them by itself and you have great story telling and compelling drama. Follow the entire series over the course of two hours and you have one of the best movies ever made. The tale told by Morgan Freeman is one of hope and despair, of freedom and imprisonment which leads to one of, if not the most, satisfying endings in movie history. I think I’ve watched Shawshank about 30+ times now and it never gets old or boring. The look on the warden’s face when he pulls down Andy’s poster is priceless. A great film.

Also picked by Anthony.

• • •

I define “Guilty Pleasures” as movies that you love, but wouldn’t necessarily admit to loving in mixed company. I’d sure as heck take these movies to a deserted island if there was room on the boat, but I might watch them in a cave on the other side of the lagoon, far away from the judgmental eye of the tribe. :-)

Starship Troopers – This cheesy excuse for a big-budget sci-fi flick has it all: big overblown sets, method acting, scene chewing dialog “You’re some kind of SMART BUG!”, and Doogie Howser! Top it all off with a dash of Denise Richards, and a side helping of Michael Ironside and you’ve got the perfect guilty pleasure. It’s so bad, it’s good.

Legend of Boggy Creek – Sure it was shot with a 16mm handheld camera, employes the entire Crabtree family and has one of the sappiest love songs about a swamp monster you’ll ever hear, but it still ROCKS! Boggy Creek is by far the best of the 70’s docu-dramas about Bigfoot you’ll ever see. It’s regular viewing in my home and the Iconfactory in October. I take pride in the knowledge that I have hooked all the guys at the office on this super bad, super scary, low-budget number from my childhood.

Zoolander – Ben Stiller hams it up to perfection in this goofy flick about a model idiot. Filled with cliches and snappy pop tunes, Zoolander is nothing more than trashy, bubble gum fun, but it always brings a smile to my face. The exchange between Derek, Hansel and Billy Zane is classic, as is Derek’s one look – The Magnum.

Ghost – To say Ghost is sappy is an understatement. It’s so corny, that I can’t even get my wife to watch it, my WIFE! I’ll admit that it pushes a bit too many stereotypical buttons, but when that penny floats across the room to land in Molly’s hand, damn if I don’t tear up every single time! Sometimes you just gotta have a good cry, and so there’s Ghost.

HOL•E Cow!

August 21, 2007

The website of buynlarge.com seems like just another online marketing space dedicated to touting the wares of yet another global conglomerate. The site offers news about the latest and greatest coming out of their R&D labs, mission statements and core company values. A seemingly endless number of divisions including robotics, engineering, government, energy and even aerospace all are pumping out impressive contributions to improving our daily lives. There’s only one catch… none of it is real.

In fact, Buy n Large is just one of the latest installments in the relatively new field of viral marketing. The site is the fictitious home page of the central character’s creator in Disney’s upcoming animated feature WALL•E. Due to hit theaters in June of 2008, the film is purported to be the last of the “original ideas” brainstormed by PIXAR’s John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter & the late Joe Ranft. Given the incredible track record of animated features that the Disney/PIXAR partnership has produced, WALL•E looks to be the team’s latest computer generated masterpiece.

The amount of effort and attention to detail that can be seen in the Buy n Large website, a destination that is pure fiction from start to finish, should come as no surprise for fans both young and old. These artists relish the opportunity to hone their craft and weave entire universes in which their characters can romp and play. The site is filled with in-jokes, flies in the face of corporate America and gives WALL•E an instant, credible backstory. BnL press releases tell how the “company” managed to ship over 5 million video game consoles in its first week of launch and touts its system of 10,000 weather control satellites, all with a straight face. BnL even manages to poke gentle fun at Disney and PIXAR themselves by announcing “Pix-Vue Animation Studio’s next film would be based on a lovable duck that can walk through time.” Classic.

I’ve always admired the talented folks at PIXAR and the wonderful creations they’ve shared with us. Browsing through the seemingly endless pages at buynlarge.com, I’m reminded of why. This skilled group of artists, designers, animators and producers love every aspect of their job. From bringing 3D characters to life, right down to creating a phony website to promote their film, they see every aspect as part of a whole. As John Lasseter has said on many occasions, PIXAR’s primary purpose is to tell stories. Stories that the audience will relate to, recount and treasure for years to come. Spending some quality time surfing BnL’s website reveals WALL•E to be a fun adventure filled with wit and irony for kids of all ages. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go browse their corporate store for a new garden bot. Oh, right. Damn!

File this one under “It’s about frickin’ time!”. Ever since Quentin Tarantino released Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 in the theater, Mindy and I have been patiently awaiting the inevitable box set of the twin films on DVD. There were rumors that Tarantino would release both parts in their original, combined version, so we held out and didn’t buy the lame American single DVDs. Now it seems as if all of our waiting has paid off as word comes from Amazon of a new 4-disc set coming in November called Kill Bill – The Whole Bloody Affair. The set is listed on Amazon as NC-17 which means it has to have some new footage, perhaps the longer, full color version of the House of Blue Leaves scene that Japanese fans were fortunate to experience.

Kill Bill is one of my all-time favorite films and I’m glad to see Quentin finally getting this expanded set out the door, even if it means waiting a few more months. To help pass the time, here is a link to a classic clip of Zamfir (master of the pan flute), performing The Lonely Shepherd. Set it on loop for 5 months, and you’ll be set.