28 February 2009

John McCain's Beef with Pork

You may find it curious that a self-identified liberal such as myself would do it, but I have "become a fan" of the Senator on Facebook.  I've always respected him as an honest, decent man and I was genuinely disappointed that his presidential campaign became such a train wreck.  In any event, I discovered today a note he posted (or, at least, authorized to post) concerning the Omnibus Spending bill.  Senator McCain has identified what he characterizes as the...

Top Ten Porkiest Projects in the Omnibus Spending bill

10. $1.7 million "for a honey bee factory" in Weslaco, TX
9. $475,000 to build a parking garage in Provo City, Utah
8. $200,000 for a tattoo removal violence outreach program that could help gang members or others shed visible signs of their past
7. $300,000 for the Montana World Trade Center
6. $1 million for mormon cricket control in Utah
5. $650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi
4. $2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York
3. $332,000 for the design and construction of a school sidewalk in Franklin, Texas
2. $2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii
1. $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa
What I find interesting about this list is that items are not ranked according to their monetary value; elsewise, item #8 would be item #10 and item #4 would be item #1.  What this suggests is that Senator McCain's beef with these pork items is not their cost, but their very existence in the bill.  Now, I would agree on first glance that many of these items seem entirely frivolous; they are not the sorts of things that scream, "federal tax-worthy."

Before passing final judgment, though, consider the Ripple Effect.  We'd be quick to dismiss the value of a school sidewalk, for instance.  The middle school I attended many years ago buried a student not so long ago because a driver going through the drop-off lane struck him.  Granted, there was a sidewalk, but there were no barriers to protect pedestrians.  (I never really followed the incident, but in the interest of full disclosure, I never understood how this could possibly have been an accident and rumors persisted that the driver had an abominable anti-Hispanic racist streak.)  My point is that we don't know the impetus for the sidewalk demand, and depending on the size of the building, $332,000 for designing and constructing it doesn't seem unreasonable.  I'm sure the project could be done more affordably, and someone ought to look into that, but on the whole I don't find it as outrageous as does Senator McCain.

My defense of the sidewalk request rests on its value to the locals, though, and I readily concede that it will have very little value to the rest of us.  Were this a line-item situation, I would ax this project.  But what about the honey bee factory in Weslaco, TX?  Did Senator McCain not see Bee Movie?  For the benefit of anyone else who missed it, it presented a cartoonized idea of what would happen if honey bees were no longer active participants in the environment.  Now, in the film, they quit because they won a lawsuit over the rights to honey production, but in real life studies have demonstrated that honey bee productivity--and population--are declining.  [Those of you who can't get off your cell phones for five minutes should be aware that the signals generated by your addictive gadget are shown to repel bees and you're at least partly to blame for the situation.]  Spending $1.7 million to ensure some healthy bee activity is well worth the cost as far as I'm concerned, despite the face value of the project seemingly small.

I also note that the list does not identify which locality has requested funds for its gang tattoo removal program.  Tattoo removals aren't cheap, and youth violence is, unfortunately, a real epidemic in many places.  If there's a chance that taking off a tat can help some kid turn away from the street life, I think we need to take it.  It would be far less expensive than investigating, prosecuting and imprisoning that same kid later.  Granted, there's a big, fat "If it works" at the end of that hypothesis, but given our spiraling justice department costs I think we need to pursue the possibility that a few hundred grand of prevention is worth several million of cure.

It's easy to pick apart everything in the bill and call it "pork."  We can cynically recall that "all politics is local" and think that our federal Congressional members are doing nothing more than pandering to special interest groups at home.  I don't deny that's bound to be true of at least a few projects.  When we start saying anything that only directly benefits someone local, though, we do two things.  Firstly, we miss the entire point of a representative government.  Secondly, more importantly, we continue the "You're on your own" approach to government that has clearly failed us.  That entire line of thinking only leads to one place--and we're desperately trying to get out of that place now.

Short Film: "Acting for the Camera"

Acting for the Camera
Directed and Edited by Justin Nowell
Written by Thomas Nowell
Starring: Joseph Urla, Mallory June, Eugene Barnes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

The Film
An aspiring actress (June) participates a film class stage excercise in which she re-creates the "fake orgasm" scene from When Harry Met Sally.  It doesn't take long for her instructor (Urla) to pick up on the fact that she can't convince anyone of her performance because she has yet to have an orgasm in real life.

The Digital Download
This was one of eight short films that were selected for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and made available for free on iTunes for a limited time.  It has since been removed from the iTunes Store (despite a link continuing to exist on the official website), and there are no announced DVD plans.  Essentially, this is out of print for the time being.

The Recommendation
This short film may not have actually been shot in real time, but the editing convincingly suggests that it was.  Mallory June's awkward and self-conscious performance is genuinely fascinating, and in just fourteen minutes, she has created a very believable character with whom the audience sympathizes--no small feat, and it is obvious why this was selected for Sundance.

27 February 2009

DVD: "Jeeves and Wooster - The Complete First Season"

Jeeves and Wooster
Directed by Robert Young
Based on the stories by P.G. Wodehouse
Dramatized by Clive Exton
Starring: Hugh Laurie, Steven Fry
DVD Release Date: 27 March 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
List Price: $39.95

The Television Series
Bertie Wooster (Laurie) is a turn-of-the-century, upper class slacker who comes to employ Jeeves (Fry) as his valet.  Wooster and his companions get into all sorts of debacles, chiefly the sort that people who have too much free time get into--i.e., relationship woes.  Bertie takes it upon himself to help right his friends's woes, and Jeeves is often pressed to finesse the situation once his master has exacerbated it.

The DVD
A&E completely botched this DVD release.  The first season is only five episodes, and they are split among two discs with nary a feature to be found.  As you can see in the promotional image above, each disc is housed in its own keep case, and these in turn in a slipcase.  It may be nice, but it will also consume a lot of shelf space for just five episodes.  Anne Dudley's theme music (chiefly reprised, if not outright recycled, throughout the episodes themselves) plays over the menu screens.  It may not overstay its welcome, but it certainly comes close.  A&E are out of their minds to price this at $39.95, though.

The Recommendation
Fans of Laurie's from his work on House, M.D. will be shocked to not only hear him speaking without an American accent, but playing a buffoon, to boot.  The chemistry between he and Fry is genuinely engaging, and the source material by P.G. Wodehouse is treated with reverence and whimsy.  Once you adapt to the vernacular (or at least find enough context clues to get the idea of what the characters are saying), it's a charming, fun little series.  As mentioned, though, there is no way even a dedicated fan of the series, Wodehouse or the cast can justify the $40 list tag.

DVD: "Shaun of the Dead"

Shaun of the Dead
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton
DVD Release Date: 24 May 2005
MPAA Rating: R (For Zombie Violence/Gore and Language)
List Price: $14.98
Cinescopes Personality Types: Dedicated Idealist, Destined Hunter

The Film
"A smash hit romatic comedy.  With zombies."  That's the tagline, and possibly the best description there could be for this film.  Shaun (Pegg) and Liz (Ashfield) are in a rut.  She's tired of three years of spending every night with his flatmate Ed (Frost), her friends Dianne (Davis) and David (Moran) at the Winchester Tavern.  When Liz realizes that neither Shaun nor their relationship isn't growing, she decides to break it off.  This coincides with a zombie infestation, and Shaun's mettle is tested for the first time in a long time.

The DVD
Simply put, it is absolutely ridiculous that this is a single-disc release.  There are two commentaries (one with Wright and Pegg; the other with the five main cast members), as well as two viewing options (one with a running text commentary full of insights into in-jokes and references to other zombie movies; the other offering frequent comparisons to the original storyboards).  There are deleted scenes (with and without commentary), outtakes, footage shot during filming, a walkthrough by Wright and Pegg of their original story idea on a flip chart, make-up tests, test screening footage of the main cast, a breakdown of a few of the main special effects sequences and the full versions of a few of the segments shown at the end of the film on TV.  It will take hours to watch all of these extra features, and that's not even counting the four times you would need to re-watch the film to get the commentaries and storyboard comparions.

The Recommendation
Shaun of the Dead is a complete gem, and it's because this was clearly a labor of love.  At no point does this devolve into being a Scary Movie-type parody; everything is played straight, and that's what makes it so funny.  There are some genuinely disturbing scenes and real tension as the story progresses.  Each of the cast is terrific, and their characters all have real arcs.  I'm thrilled to have seen this in its theatrical run, and it easily ranks in my Top 20 Favorite Movies list.  If you want to see what a romantic comedy with zombies is about--or what the DVD format can and should be about--then Shaun of the Dead is "fried gold."

DVD: "Idiocracy"

Idiocracy
Directed by Mike Judge
Story by Mike Judge
Screenplay by Mike Judge & Etan Cohen
Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard
DVD Release Date: 9 January 2007
MPAA Rating: R (For Language and Sex Related Humor)
List Price: $14.98

The Film
Joe Bowers (Wilson) is an average guy who winds up in a hibernation experiment for the government.  When he awakens, it is to the year 2505, and to a world that has digressed to a state of idiocy.  Despite his limited intellect, Joe discovers that in the county of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.  Or, in his case, advisor to the President of the United States.  Basically, imagine if rednecks and gangstas were all that was left in the world and you have an idea what Joe is up against.

The DVD
The only feature is a small set of five deleted scenes.  These were clearly removed just for time considerations, because they only last about a minute each (if that) and add nothing to the plot or any character arcs.  To say the least, this is greatly disappointing, as a commentary track by writer/director Judge would have been a very welcome inclusion.

The Recommendation
Science-fiction, at its best, uses other times and places as a mirror for our contemporary selves, and Idiocracy does just that.  This is the film for those who fear that the extremists on the left and the right are each taking us too far (or not far enough) in any one direction.  If we're not careful, our narcissism might just yield to generations of self-absorbed idiots.  Think of this as a more humorous (and vulgar) version of Fahrenheit 451.

DVD: "Kronk's New Groove"

Kronk's New Groove
Directed by Saul Andrew Blinkoff & Elliot M. Bour
Story by Michael LaBash, Anthony Leondis & Tom Rogers
Screenplay by Tom Rogers
Starring the Voice Talent of: David Spade, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Tracey Ullman
DVD Release Date: 13 December 2005
MPAA Rating: G
List Price: $19.99

The Film
Kronk (Warburton) has settled into a pleasant life for himself, until he is informed that his critical father is coming to visit.  All Kronk has ever wanted in life is a thumbs-up from Papi--which he has been denied his whole life.  In sitcom fashion, Kronk tries everything to build an impressive resume to present his father and it naturally all blows up in his face.  Being a Disney direct-to-video sequel, the blowing up is literal, as well as figurative.

The DVD
There is a brief segment about how movies are made, featuring the two directors shamelessly playing goofball versions of themselves for the benefit of their anticipated younger audience.  It is somewhat surprising that they would assert that directors are the first ingredient in a movie recipe--before even having a story or a script!  Still, younger audiences might get their first glimpse of what goes into making movies from this feature, and it covers the basics.  Bonus: you get to see the late Eartha Kitt in the recording booth, vamping it up.  Otherwise, there are two games you can play on your DVD player; one is a trivia game based on the movie and the other has you operating Kronk's brain as he prepares for his father's visit.  I won the trivia game lickety-split, but found the brain game too confusing.  Children, of course, should fare better.

The Recommendation
I've still never seen The Emperor's New Groove, though I have seen several episodes of the television series The Emperor's New School.  This animated feature, to be honest, feels like an expanded episode of that series.  For fans of the franchise, this won't necessarily be a bad thing; for an audience expecting something that feels more like an actual film, Kronk's New Groove is weak.  Some of the laughs are cheap and tired; some are genuinely funny, partly because of Warburton's deadpan delivery.  There are better ways of spending 75 minutes, but there are also worse.

DVD: "The Aristocats" - Special Edition

The Aristocats
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
Story by Larry Clemons, Vance Gerry, Ken Anderson, Frank Thomas, Eric Cleworth, Julius Svendsen, Ralph White, Tom McGowan & Tom Rowe
Starring the Voice Talent of: Phil Harris, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers, Dean Clark, Paul Winchell, Liz English, Thurl Ravenscroft
DVD Release Date: 5 February 2008
MPAA Rating: G
List Price: $29.99
Cinescopes Personality Type: Invincible Optimist

The Film
Madame Bonfamille's longtime butler is outraged to discover that she has left her entire estate to her cats--omitting him entirely.  Knowing that he could not outlive the cats, he resolves to remove them.  In the middle of night, he drugs the cats, absconds with them and leaves them in the middle of the French countryside.  Duchess (Gabor) and her three kittens there meet Thomas O'Malley (Harris), a cocky alley cat that smacks of being an American despite his alleged European heritage.  O'Malley takes a liking to them, and decides to lead them back home for their confrontation with the butler, introducting them to jazz along the way.

The DVD
Fans of the film will discover a photo gallery (that's actually a bit obnoxious to navigate), an excerpt of a 1956 documentary, The Great Cat Family, hosted by Walt Disney and a vintage Figaro short, "Bath Time" (which is curiously not listed on the DVD package).  The appeal of this film is largely in its music, though, and the remainder of the features highlight components of the soundtrack.  Composers Richard and Robert Sherman reminisce about their work for the film in one segment, and Richard also introduces a deleted music segment "She Never Felt Alone."  If it suits you, there is also a feature that allows you to play each of the music segments with or without on-screen lyrics.  There are also some games, though you'll need a DVD-ROM drive to access all of them.

The Recommendation
It's somewhat surprising that in "The Great Cat Family," Disney did their research and yet this film is set in 1910 Paris--with a raging jazz scene; it wasn't introduced to Europe until African-American soldiers brought it with them in World War II.  The jazz quartet itself is at the very least questionable, if not outright racist--especially the Siamese cat--showing it was a product of its time.  This may not be the most absorbing entry in the Disney canon, and it has its flaws, to be sure.  Still, the creators succeeded in generating a great-looking, atmospheric film with a fun soundtrack.  I first saw this film in its 1987 theatrical re-issue run, and so I've always been a bit partial to it; newcomers--especially younger ones--may not be impressed.

26 February 2009

George W. Bush and the Chosen Adventure of 2004

Dude, it's 2009; why bother discussing the '04 election now?  I'll tell you why.  First, because as a historian I feel there is no expiration date on discourse.  Second, because I just thought of this angle and researched it.  Third, because I can't research the '08 election yet.

The theory is simple.  People flock to see movies, and those trends suggest something about our society's state of mind for the year.  That "something" is linked to, if not the same thing as, the part that casts ballots on Election Day.  Armed with IMDB's list of the Top Grossing Movies of 2004 and my handy dandy paperback copy of Cinescopes, I have determined that Americans, in 2004, were Chosen Adventurers.

This is how George W. Bush defeated John Kerry.  Mr. Bush has always projected himself as a man of destiny, guided by God.  What could Mr. Kerry possibly have done to compete with that in a year of Chosen Adventurer voters?  In truth, nothing.  Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans re-upped their subscriptions to Manifest Destiny Weekly and the president was on the cover of every issue.  We wanted, maybe even needed, to feel that we were John Winthrop's "city on a hill," a beacon of hope and leadership to the rest of the world.  That kind of thinking is audacious, and clearly it infected us--and carried Mr. Bush to re-election.

The Top Ten Grossing Movies of 2004, with Cinescopes Personality Types
  1. Shrek 2 - Magical Creator*
  2. Spider-Man 2 - Chosen Adventurer, Destined Hunter
  3. The Passion of the Christ - Determined Survivor, Passionate Maverick
  4. Meet the Fockers - Invincible Optimist
  5. The Incredibles - Chosen Adventurer
  6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Magical Creator, Youthful Sage, Chosen Adventurer
  7. The Day After Tomorrow - Determined Survivor, Passionate Maverick, Loyal Warrior
  8. The Bourne Supremacy - Chosen Adventurer*
  9. National Treasure - Chosen Adventurer
  10. Shark Tale - Chosen Adventurer, Invincible Optimist
*These titles are not listed in the movies index, but these are the same codes as the other films in their series, so I assumed they would be the same.

25 February 2009

DVD: "Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye" - 25th Anniversary Special The Edition

Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye
Creative Director: Jay Bacal
Written by George Arthur Bloom
Starring the Voice Talents Of: Michael Bell, Corey Burton, Victor Caroli, Scatman Crothers, Peter Cullen, Dan Gilvezan, Casey Kasem, Chris Latta, Don Messick, Ken Sansom, John Stephenson, Frank Welker
DVD Release Date:  20 November 2008
List Price: $69.99

The Television Episodes
"More Than Meets the Eye" was originally aired in three parts on 17-19 September 1984.  For those not in the know, there are two factions of Transformers.  There are the heroic Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the evil Decepticons, commanded by Megatron.  Their war on their home planet Cybertron has drastically depleted their resources, leading the Autobots to search elsewhere; they are pursued by the Decepticons and crash land on Earth.  Four million years later, they are revived and resume where they left off.  The Decepticons waste no time plundering Earth in an effort to return to Cybertron and re-conquer their homeworld.

The DVD
Two editing choices were made for this DVD release.  Firstly, the sound effects are much louder than the rest of the audio mix--you've been warned.  Secondly, all three parts have been edited together as a singular, 70 minute feature.  For those who would rather not endure the opening sequence and end titles thrice apiece, this is good; for those who love the old song, it's disappointing.  In any event, there is not an option of going to a specific chapter, meaning you had best not get interrupted and need to pick up where you leave off later.  There are two character design images of Optimus Prime and Megatron, and a downloadable wallpaper.

Far more importantly, though, you get a replica of the Optimus Prime action figure from 1984 as well as a replica of Marvel Comics's Transformers issue #1!  Hasbro may have gone with cheaper plastic instead of the heavier metal pieces they used 25 years ago, but the essence of the toy is still there.  For fans and collectors such as myself, who had the original years ago and have long since parted ways, this is a very welcome return.

The Recommendation
Let's be honest.  You didn't need my little review to tell you if you were interested in this release; either you saw what it was and immediately wanted to know where to get one, or you'll never be convinced of how ultra-cool this is.  Because of the amount of shelf space these consume and the high price point, many retailers have already clearanced out their remaining supply of these.  If you hurry, you might find one lingering at Walmart (where I snagged mine recently for $33.00), or Target (where online reports have found them for $17 apiece!).  Otherwise, you'll likely be at the mercy of the secondary market.  Thankfully, plans are reportedly underway for a complete mass re-release of the entire series on DVD this year.

DVD: "Silver City"

Silver City
Written, Directed and Edited by John Sayles
Starring: Maria Bello, Thora Birch, David Clennon, Chris Cooper, Alma Delfina, Richard Dreyfuss, Miguel Ferrer, James Gammon, Daryl Hannah, Danny Huston, Kris Kristofferson, Sal Lopez, Michael Murphy, Mary Kay Place, Tim Roth, Luis Saguar, Ralph Waite, Billy Zane
DVD Release Date: 11 January 2005
MPAA Rating: R (For Language)
List Price: $24.96
Cinescopes Personality Type: Passionate Maverick

The Film
Dicky Pilager (Cooper) has reached the end of his bumbling days embarrassing his Senator dad (Murphy) and has chosen to run for governor of Colorado.  While filming a campaign spot, he reels in not a fish, but a corpse.  Danny O'Brien (Huston) is eventually tasked with discreetly investigating whose body the candidate has found, and he starts with three of Dicky's personal enemies.  The farther Danny's investigation goes, though, the more he learns of the shady side of the Pilager family and their relations with business mogul Wes Benteen (Kristofferson).

The DVD
"The Making of Silver City" feature runs little more than half an hour, yet is dense with insights into the characters (provided by many of the cast), as well as the filming itself (provided by key members of the crew).  Writer/director/editor Sayles is joined (arguably, led) in a feature commentary track by producer Maggie Renzi.  Despite the creative power Sayles exerts in three key capacities, he largely sticks to comments about a particular day's shooting rather than discussing the characters or the story.  It's a nearly academic commentary, intended more for a film student than a casual fan.  You also get a "Trailer Gallery," a collection of trailers for other films likely to appeal to fans of Silver City.

The Recommendation
In case the caricatures of George W. Bush and Karl Rove weren't obvious enough, Sayles and (especially) Renzi make clear that the impetus for this film was their opposition to our last president's administration.  In point of fact, they recorded their commentary track on Election Day 2004.  If you take the film in the context of being just a liberal Hollywood attack on George W. Bush, it becomes uninteresting quickly.  Left-wingers will love the satire; right-wingers will dismiss it as tripe.  Those of us with a sense of humor who just like a well-told, interesting murder mystery should enjoy it.

DVD: "Sideways" - Widescreen Edition

Sideways
Directed by Alexander Payne 
Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Based on the novel by Rex Pickett
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
DVD Release Date: 5 April 2005
MPAA Rating: R (For Language, Some Strong Sexual Content and Nudity)
List Price: $14.98
Cinescopes Personality Types: Loyal Warrior, Dedicated Idealist

The Film
His wedding a week away, Jack (Church) takes off for a week long, one-on-one bachelor party tour of wine country with Miles (Giamatti).  They met in college, and could not be further apart in many regards.  Professionally, Jack is a small-part actor past his prime; Miles is an English teacher with delusions of one day being a published novelist.  Regarding marriage, Jack can't even stay interested in his own forthcoming wedding, and Miles has yet to recover from his wife leaving him several years ago.  Jack wastes no time detecting a long-held attraction by Miles for waitress Maya (Madsen) and prods his buddy off the bench and back into the dating game; which would probably have gone better had Jack not simultaneously pursued her friend Stephanie (Oh).

The DVD
Of course you get the original theatrical trailer.  For those who've not seen the film, I would honestly advise them to watch the trailer after the film.  Not only does it include several spoilers and shots from the final act, it's structured in such a way that it actually suggests a different picture than the one that was finished.  Otherwise, you get seven deleted scenes, each introduced by on-screen text prepared by director Payne and a brief featurette about the film featuring Payne and the lead actors.  The gem, though, is feature-length commentary between Giamatti and Church.  Of course they reminisce about a particular day's shooting here and there and alternatively sing one another's praises, then mock one another; Church, though, came to the film having just tried his hand at directing, so he offers many of the insights that one would have hoped to be provided by Payne.  Be warned, though: you may need a dictionary handy to keep up with the extensive vocabularies of these two articulate actors!

The Recommendation
Women will very likely loathe Jack and Miles, and I'm not entirely clear how much men should like them, either.  They take narcissism to a Seinfeld-ian high, and while their words and actions can, at times, be morally outrageous, they are nonetheless greatly entertaining.  There's a theory about films that they should take daily life a step further than we'd really go, and omit the boring parts of the day.  Sideways adheres to that theory, and has earned a spot in my top 20 (if not top 10) favorite films list.

24 February 2009

Advertisement: "Batman" 20th Anniversary Edition Blu Ray



DVD: "Never Say Never Again"

Never Say Never Again
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Based on an Original Story by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and Ian Fleming
Starring: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandhauer, Max Von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Kim Basinger, Bernie Casey, Alec McCowen and Edward Fox as "M"
DVD Release Date: 17 October 2000
MPAA Rating: PG
List Price: $14.95 - Currently Out of Print
Cinescopes Personality Types: Passionate Maverick, Chosen Adventurer

The History
At its heart, Never Say Never Again is a remake of 1966's Thunderball.  You can research the convoluted history of this particular chapter in the James Bond canon elsewhere, but suffice it to say that this film is not part of the James Bond series by Eon Productions.  I only bring this up because none of the conventions of a Bond film are present here.  There is no gun barrel opening, the supporting cast is comprised of actors who have not appeared in any of the other Bond films and, most significantly, "The James Bond Theme" is absent.  In many respects, though, this film gets to the heart of what James Bond--as a character--is about, because even without any of those things, this film could only have been a Bond story.

The Film
SPECTRE, an international criminal/terrorist organization, successfully conspires to hijack some nuclear bombs from NATO with the intention of blackmailing government leaders.  Intelligence operatives pursue leads across the globe, and British agent James Bond (Connery) conducts his own investigation in the Bahamas.  There, he meets Domino Petachi (Basinger), the sister of the pilot murdered by SPECTRE.  Bond quickly determines that her boyfriend/keeper Largo (Brandhauer) is involved with the blackmail plot.  Can the veteran spy locate the bombs in time and foil the plot?  Of course he does--he's James Bond.  The only real question is how interesting things get along the way, and the truth is that this is a genuinely entertaining outing.

The DVD
You get the original theatrical trailer and a behind-the-scenes booklet.  Truthfully, the booklet is actually fairly informative and nice.  MGM spent quite a lot of money to acquire the rights to this (and the 1967 Casino Royale) to cement its ownership of James Bond film rights.  To their credit, the aesthetics of this DVD are uniform with the other Bond DVD releases of the time, though they clearly skimped on features out of spite.  Fortunately, a two-disc edition with features is on its way.

The Recommendation
A James Bond movie that doesn't use the Bond formula?  An African-American Felix Leiter?  An "M" that doesn't even like Bond?  In 2006, of course, audiences went ga-ga over these things in Casino Royale, but Never Say Never Again was trounced at the box office in 1983 by the official Bond movie Octopussy (starring Roger Moore as Bond) for being different.  Time, however, has proved this film holds up quite well (excepting a video game sequence that has not aged well).

DVD: "Death Tunnel"

Death Tunnel
Written, Shot, Edited and Directed by Philip Adrian Booth
Produced and Written by Christopher Saint Booth, Shane Dax Taylor
Starring: Steffany Huckaby, Annie Burgstede, Kristin Novak, Jason Lasater, Melanie Lewis, Yolanda Pecoraro
DVD Release Date: 28 February 2006
MPAA Rating: R (For Strong Bloody Violence/Gore, Language and Nudity)
List Price: $14.94

The Film
Waverly Hills Sanitorium operated early in the 20th Century to house and treat tuberculosis patients.  A reported 63,000 patients died there, and rumors have persisted since its closure in the 1960s that the facility is haunted.  Locals have often trespassed in the night for various rites of passage, and it was only a matter of time before a film would be set there.  Essentially, the idea is that a group of sorority pledges are challenged to stay the night.  They are, of course, stalked throughout the night and disposed of one at a time until sunrise.

The DVD
There are two featurettes, one on the making of the film and another on the wardrobe for the Death character, as well as a photo gallery.  A director's commentary would have been nice, on two fronts.  One, having co-written, filmed and edited the film as well, Philip Adrian Booth is poised to have very unique insights into how the final film came to be.  Secondly, it would have been interesting to hear his recollections of actually shooting at Waverly.

The Recommendation
Having gone to Waverly Hills Sanitorium (for one of their annual haunted house tours) and done some research, I confess to being fascinated by the place.  I don't believe in ghosts, so the myth of the place as genuinely haunted is bunk to me, but the actual history is interesting.  This curiosity about the place connects me as a viewer to this film, because I've been where this was shot.  Without that personal connection to the film, though, this will very easily become just another generic, gratuitous slasher film.  Louisville locals will have that connection; others should probably approach this release with extreme caution.

DVD: "My Super Ex-Girlfriend"

My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Don Payne
Starring: Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, Anna Faris, Eddie Izzard, Rainn Wilson and Wanda Sykes
DVD Release Date: 19 December 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Sexual Content, Crude Humor, Language and Brief Nudity)
List Price: $14.98
Cinescopes Personality Type: Chosen Adventurer, Respected Champion, Rebellious Lover

The Film
Two of the most popular genres of late have been romantic comedies and superhero flicks.  My Super Ex-Girlfriend is the inevitable amalgamation of the two.  Matt (Wilson) feels pretty good about having met Jenny (Thurman) and started a relationship, entirely oblivious to the fact that she is, in truth, super-heroine G-Girl.  Jenny doesn't have a particularly strong grasp of her own identity and the strength she has in costume is entirely absent as a civilian.  When Matt reaches a breaking point in the relationship, Jenny reaches one emotionally.  All the while, her former partner cum arch-nemesis Professor Bedlam (Izzard) is plotting her demise.

The DVD
20th Century Fox really botched the DVD release.  I understand the marketing value of double-sided discs, featuring the original, widescreen aspect ratio on one side and the pan and scan, 4:3 version on the other; still, I'm firmly entrenched in the anti-flipper camp.  ("Flipper" is the colloquial term amongst DVD collectors for discs that must be flipped over for all content.)  What makes this release particularly bothersome is that the bonus features are split up across both sides.  Deleted scenes, and extended Shark Sequence and a music video for Molly McQueen's "No Sleep 2 Nite" are all that's included, so there really is no reason they would not have all fit along with a 90 minute long feature on each side of the disc.  The deleted scenes get an optional commentary track by director Reitman; unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the feature itself.

The Recommendation
With so much talent working off a genuinely interesting premise, My Super Ex-Girlfriend is unfortunately disappointing.  Jenny/G-Girl, as a superheroine, ought to be virtuous; instead, though she worried about revealing her identity to Matt, she does not hesitate to seek revenge on him--in costume--after the break-up, including throwing a shark into his apartment.  When the superheroine is petty and neurotic, it devalues her as a protagonist unless it's played just right, and neither Thurman's performance nor Reitman's direction found that balance.  Without sympathy for her, the whole thing collapses.  We dug this out of the $5 section at Walmart last year, and at that price it wasn't entirely disappointing.  Still, I would suggest renting this on the cheap before committing to a purchase.

51st Annual Grammy Awards - Soundtrack Field

Another belated entry, I had the idea for this a while ago and entirely forgot about it until I reflected on the music categories of the Academy Awards.  Since there are only a couple of movie-related categories, I am providing you with a list of nominees as well as winners for the 51st Grammy Awards.  Winners are noted by an asterisk (*).

Soundtrack Field
Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
American Gangster
August Rush
Juno*
Mamma Mia!
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
The Dark Knight* - James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer, composers
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - John Williams, composer
Iron Man - Ramin Djawadi, composer
There Will Be Blood - Jonny Greenwood, composer
Wall-E, Thomas Newman, composer

Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
"Down to Earth"* - performed by Peter Gabriel for Wall-E; composed by Peter Gabriel & Thomas Newman
"Ever Ever After" - performed by Carrie Underwood for Enchanted; composed by Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz
"Say" - performed and written by John Mayer for The Bucket List
"That's How You Know" - performed by Amy Adams for Enchanted; composed by Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz
"Walk Hard" - performed by John C. Reilly for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story; composed by Judd Apatow, Marshall Crenshaw, Jake Kasdan & John C. Reilly

Additionally, two compositions for films won in the Composing/Arranging Field:

"The Adventures of Mutt" - composed by John Williams for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull won Best Instrumental Composition

"Define Dancing" - arranged by Peter Gabriel & Thomas Newman for Wall-E won Best Instrumental Arrangement

Finally, the music video for "Another Way to Die" from Quantum of Solace by Alicia Keys and Jack White, directed by PR Brown and MK12 and produced by Mick Ebeling, Sheira Rees-Davies& Jane Tredget was nominated for, but did not win, Best Short Form Music Video.

Note that to be eligible for the 51st Grammy Awards, the recording had to have been released commercially between 1 October 2007 and 30 September 2008.  The nomination of the "Another Way to Die" music video is dubious, because even though the single was made available as a digital download on 30 September, the music video itself did not debut until 3 October 2008.  To date, it has not been available commercially, though it can be streamed for free on select websites.

23 February 2009

Redbox Replay

I love Redbox (even though it's been a while since I last rented from them).  First of all, I love that the price is $1.00 daily; they also provide a code for a free rental on Mondays.  Secondly, I love not being obligated to return a title to the same machine from which I rented it, meaning that if my wife and I rent on a whim at McDonald's after having lunch, we can drop it off at Walmart instead of having to go back to Mickey D's.  I also enjoy the ability to not only browse online, but to reserve a title online at a specific vending machine.

What I really appreciate about Redbox, though, is the selection.  They stock current mainstream titles, but they have also included several indie and less-publicized titles.  Last year, for instance, we rented Sex and Breakfast and Shattered, having heard absolutely nothing about either of them beforehand.  The fact that a movie could star Pierce Brosnan, Gerard Butler (right after 300) and Maria Bello and be entirely unknown to us was surprising; we loved the film itself.

Now, Redbox has added popular catalog titles to boost the appeal of its machines.  Most of these titles that interest me are already in our library, but I have to give props to Redbox for adding classics such as Lawrence of Arabia (yeah, I know!), Glory and The Professional, as well as 80s standards like Ghostbusters and The Karate Kid.

Check out the entire list of titles here.

81st Annual Academy Awards

I shouldn't have to tell you that they held the 81st Annual Academy Awards ceremony last night, because according to the TV spots I saw for it, it was the single most important night ever.  Still, in case you don't worship at the altar of Oscar (and I don't), I thought I'd remark on some of the awards.  Note that I did not watch the televised coverage, or any other Academy Awards ceremony since they decided not to bring back David Letterman as host.  Maybe I'm in the minority, but I actually enjoyed his hosting duties in 1994.  "Oprah...Uma; Uma...Oprah" is comic gold, and I double-dog dare anyone to find any phrase from a subsequent awards show that has entered our lexicon on such a level.

For a complete list of final nominees, click here.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Sean Penn (Milk)
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Best Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Foreign Language Film: Departures
Best Music (Song): "Jai Ho" (Music by A.R. Rahman; Lyrics by Gulzar) (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Music (Score): A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Film Editing: Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Sound Mixing: Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Visual Effects: Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton Craig Barron (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Documentary Short: Smile Pinki
Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Best Short Film (Live Action): Spielzeugland (Toyland)
Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Makeup: Greg Cannom (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Costume Design: Michael O'Connor (The Duchess)
Best Art Direction: Donald Gram Burt (Art Direction); Victor J. Zolfo (Set Decoration) (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Short Film (Animated): La maison en petits cubes
Best Animated Feature Film: Wall-E
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Writing - Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black (Milk)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona)

Don't ask me why Best Actress in a Supporting Role is the last item on the list, because I didn't sequence it.  This is taken directly from the Academy Awards website.  Is there some sexism involved?  Hard to say, since I don't know how they determine the order of these things.

Otherwise, I've only seen two of the films that won anything: The Dark Knight and Wall-E.  I was interested in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but having Crohn's disease makes seeing a three and a half hour long movie theatrically somewhat impractical.  (And, yes, The Dark Knight pushed my limits, but the stars all aligned and I made it through the whole thing in a matinee showing a few days after it opened.)  I also want to see Slumdog Millionaire; I just haven't gotten around to it yet.  Milk, The Reader and Vicky Christina Barcelona were all movies I decided I was interested in seeing, but only as DVD rentals.

I have nothing to say about Heath Ledger that hasn't already been said by one side or another, other than to say that I think it's a shame that Aaron Eckhart's performance as Harvey Dent has been overshadowed.  He gave the film its humanity and its emotional tug-of-war.

What I find bothersome are these categories with only three nominees.  I mean, really, they only found three films worthy of receiving an award for Best Makeup?  Better still, only three songs were worth considering for Best Music (Song)?  Figure most movies average at least ten songs (excepting, of course, those that strictly employ a score).  Even if we exclude six songs for being pre-existing songs they licensed to use in the film, there are still a ton of original songs that were eligible.  And in the case of that specific field, two of the three final nominees were from the same film!  I don't mean to belittle the work of either A.R. Rahman or Gulzar, but this seems like a category that existed this year solely to ensure that the Slumdog Millionaire DVD could boast of winning at least one Academy Award.  I say, either find five worthy nominees or drop the category.

DVD: "Big Trouble in Little China"

Big Trouble in Little China
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Gary Goldman & David Z. Weinstein
Adaptation by W.D. Richter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall
DVD Release Date: 27 August 2002
MPAA Rating: PG-13
List Price: $9.98
Cinescopes Personality Type: Destined Hunter

The Film
Jack Burton (Russell) is a trucker whose only interest is collecting on a gambling debt from his pal, whose fiancee is kidnapped upon arrival from China.  She is taken, it is learned, by Lo Pan, an ancient Chinese villain with supernatural powers--and a wicked curse that can only be cured by marrying a specific girl with green eyes.  To appease another faction, though, he must sacrifice said girl after the first curse has been lifted.  Jack is in entirely over his head, but determined to help his friend save the girl, and stop a 2,000 year old villain from returning to power in the process.

The DVD
You get a choice when you first insert the disc of viewing in either the original widescreen aspect ratio, or the pan & scan format.  As far as actual features, there are only two: the obligatory, original theatrical trailer and a commentary track by director Carpenter and star Russell.  There is always a difference in commentary tracks recorded long after a film was shot and released, and Big Trouble is no exception.  You should be warned up front, for instance, that these two clearly enjoy one another's company, and this film, enough that Russell spends about one minute in two just laughing throughout.  They periodically get sidetracked discussing their kids, but by and large they have a genuinely interesting discussion on the work ethic of actors, the merits of having the writer on set and memories of specific days of shooting.  There is a two-disc special edition (in widescreen only) that has more features, though it is long out of print and will cost some extra coin if you can find a seller.

The Recommendation
In his commentary remarks, Russell notes that he's only met two types of fans--those who love this movie, and those who've never seen it.  He and Carpenter lament the mis-marketing of the film by Fox back in the day, though ultimately they concede that the audience for this is so specific they don't think it would have helped the box office performance had more people known about it anyway.  This is the very definition of a cult film.  Everything is played for laughs, and while Jack Burton isn't an anti-hero, per se, he's also far from being a standard hero.  In short, it's a role that fit Kurt Russell's on-screen charm perfectly.  If you enjoy kung fu movies or Kurt Russell, you'll dig this.  Bonus: If you're trying to get your ladyfriend to watch it with you and she has no interest in the premise, tell her it stars a young Kim Cattrall (from Sex and the City); that should do the trick.

Nancy Grace and the LWG Fetish

My grandmother is among the Court TV/Tru TV junkie crowd, and recently she's roped my mom into watching a lot of their coverage.  I generally avoid such subjects, as I have little interest in following the investigations and prosecutions of people I don't know.  In many respects, a fictionalized account as you might see on Law & Order is more thought provocative because even though the actors portray scripted characters in a specific light, there are no other filters betwixt the story and audience.  On Tru TV's coverage, though, even when they put a camera in the courtroom, they frequently interrupt to have a moderator ask questions of the talking heads.  And here is where I get angry.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 797,500 children were abducted in a single studied year per the U.S. Department of Justice.  They spared me the math and determined that translates into 2,185 daily.  That's just in the U.S., mind you.  Why is it, then, that every time I catch my mom and grandmother glued to the TV, rapt with anticipation of new evidence as they formulate their own theories and pass their own judgments, that the coverage nearly always concerns a little white girl (LWG)?  They behave urgently over a solitary LWG, as though she is the only child in all of America that has been abducted, and I've reached a point where I find it absolutely infuriating.

Mind you, I do not mean to dismiss the significance of these girls's abductions, exploitations and, sadly, their frequent murders.  These are heinous acts that ought to be investigated and prosecuted; I am not disputing that.  What I am angry about is wondering who in the Tru TV editorial department determines which of the daily 2,185 missing children is worthy of national outrage.  It's never a 14 year old African-American male named Jamaal that seems to make the cut.  No one seems to care about him except whoever reported him missing.

Ultimately, however much Tru TV would like to pass themselves off as an informative channel, the truth is that they are nothing more than an entertainment channel.  They have to pick stories that will capture the attention of their audience, which if my family is any indication, is primarily comprised of older, white women (OWW).  I'll go ahead and stereotype, since that's exactly what Tru TV's editorial department uses in their selection process.  OWW have the following values:
infant <> adolescent
female > male
white > minority
That young children outrank adolescents seems common knowledge, but why do young children outrank infants?  Simply put, infants don't play as well on TV.  It's harder for an audience to connect with a televised infant because what makes an infant so special in person is absent.  You can't smell them on TV, or hear their cute little gargles.  Consequently, it's much easier to tug at the heartstrings with a young child, who will very likely resemble someone known to the audience; their own daughter, or a neighbor's, maybe.  The rest of the OWW value scale is probably evident to anyone who thinks about it, so I won't go into it.

Based on the logic of my last piece on Alex Rodriguez, one would suspect my anger in this issue to be directed at my mom and grandmother (and the rest of the Tru TV audience).  While they do infuriate me, like the Citizens as Consumers in my Federal Bailout piece, I recognize that despite their role in the debacle, they lack the ability to authorize the acts that anger me.  My mom isn't on the editorial staff for Nancy Grace, cherry-picking a LWG out of the day's 2,185 missing kids.  Tru TV has the power to not only assist in finding a missing child by featuring his or her photograph to a national audience, but perhaps more importantly, they have the power to help shape and influence their audience's sensitivities.  "If you build it, they will come."  I understand why Jamaal doesn't play on TV as well as Little Susie, but is that a good enough reason to overlook him every time?  Chosing ratings over Jamaal is certainly a hypocritical act for a channel supposedly dedicated to justice.

21 February 2009

DVD: "Casino Royale" (1967)

Casino Royale
Directed by John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath
Screenplay by Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, Michael Sayers
Suggested by the Ian Fleming novel
Starring: Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven, Joanna Pettet, Orson Welles, Dalilah Lavi and Woody Allen
DVD Release Date: 7 August 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
List Price: $14.95 - Currently Out of Print

The Film
Charles K. Feldman secured the film rights to Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel prior to, and separate from, the deal that generated the film series starring Sean Connery and subsequent leads up to current star Daniel Craig.  When Connery set an unprecedented asking price of $1 million to star in this film (and betray the main series which employed him), Feldman balked and decided to use his rights to create a parody instead of a straight-up adaptation.  His idea was to enlist as many different talented directors and actors as possible, let each director have control over his segment, and edit the segments together as a comprehensive film.  In that endeavor, Feldman and his team failed miserably.

Ostensibly, the premise is that James Bond (Niven, one of author Fleming's original picks to play the role cinematically) is asked to come out of retirement when SMERSH begins targeting high ranking British officials.  Bond's decision is to recruit six different agents, codename all of them "James Bond" to confuse SMERSH and force a showdown against Le Chiffre (Welles).  Whether they ever succeeded in confusing SMERSH is a matter of debate; that they confused audiences, however, is widely accepted.  Feldman himself reportedly told Connery after the film was finished that he wished he'd just paid the million.

The DVD
Val Guest narrates a feature that traces the convoluted history of this film, from how Feldman came to own the rights to the chaos of its production.  There is no shortage of material in print and online about this film, though this documentary is as clear and comprehensive as any resource that I've found.  The original theatrical trailer is also included, but the real reason to own this DVD is its inclusion of a 1954 episode of the American television series Climax! featuring the first-ever screen apperance of James Bond.  Being an hour-long, live TV episode, much of the original novel was cut for time, though the essence of the story is remarkably retained.  Some characters were consolidated for brevity's sake, but most notably, the lead character is Jimmy Bond, an American agent, assisted by British agent Clarence Leiter.  Unfortunately, the final segment of the episode is missing from this DVD (though it can be found on the Spy Guise VHS release for those who want to see it in its entirety).

The Recommendation
Some consider this the grandfather of the Austin Powers franchise and other spy parodies.  The counter-argument is that this film isn't actually very funny--and with a run time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, it's entirely too long to not be funny.  It has its fans, but most audiences will be very disappointed if they come to this expecting anything resembling the Bond series proper.  Even Bond fans will likely only want this for the 1954 version that's included as a bonus.  This version is now out of print, replaced by a 40th anniversary edition on the market; that release has a commentary track, but does not include the '54 version.

20 February 2009

DVD: "The Spy Who Came In from the Cold"

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
Produced and Directed by Martin Ritt
Screenplay by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper
Based upon the novel "The Spy Who Came In from the Cold" by John le Carre
Starring: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner
DVD Release Date: 13 July 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
List Price: $9.99
Cinescopes Personality Types: Chosen Adventurer, Passionate Maverick

The Film
Released in 1965 at the height of spy-mania and Cold War tensions, and based upon what is arguably the greatest spy novel ever written, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold follows career British operative Alec Leamus.  In a plot similar to The Departed, Leamus accepts an off-the-books assignment in which he is disgraced in order to infiltrate the Communist party operating in East Germany.  If he plays his cards right, he can strike a hefty retaliatory blow against Mundt; if he fails, he will forfeit his own life.  This film is in black and white, it is entirely faithful to the novel and a masterpiece in itself.

The DVD
The bad news: There are no features whatsoever to be found on this DVD.  The good news: Last year, a two-disc edition was released as part of the Criterion Collection chock-full of features.  It will, of course, cost thrice as much as this earlier release, meaning that this is the now the default purchase for casual fans.

The Recommendation
This is not a spy film in the James Bond tradition, so don't expect gadget-laden car chases or a slew of scantily clad women throwing themselves across the screen at the protagonist.  This is the gritty side of a spy's life, filled with paranoia, alcoholism and a nearly sociopathic inability to sustain relationships.  This  film won't make you feel good, but you will feel that you've just witnessed a very human story about an almost inhuman time of our recent past.  I would advise anyone interested to read not only the book, but le Carre's first novel, Call for the Dead, beforehand.  You mustn't read either to appreciate the film adaptation, but I found it far more rewarding to have read them first.

DVD: "The Dream Team"

The Dream Team
Directed by Howard Zieff
Written by Jon Connolly & David Loucka
Starring: Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Boyle, Stephen Furst, Lorraine Bracco
DVD Release Date: 1 July 2003
MPAA Rating: PG-13
List Price: $9.99

The Film
Billy (Keaton) convinces psychiatrist Dr. Weitzman (Dennis Boutsikaris) that a group field trip to a Mets game is in order.  In true 80s comedy fashion, Weitzman becomes separated from the group and witnesses a mob hit.  The four patients are compelled to overcome their differences--and their issues--long enough to find and save their psychiatrist, knowing full well that with their profiles, they will be the first suspects in the doc's disappearance.

The DVD
Despite first hitting DVD in 2003, Dream Team's sole bonus feature is its original theatrical trailer.  At least the film is in its original, anamorphic aspect ratio.

The Recommendation
This is one of those films where its "premise" is code for "excuse for things we thought would be fun to make a movie out of."  At nearly 2 hours in running time, it seems that either the script needed one more draft, or the editing could have been a little more supervised.  Without a commentary or any other insights from the director or writers, we're left to guess which is the guiltier culprit.  Still, it's a fun romp with the cast all playing their roles to the hilt.  Especially fun for fans of Everybody Loves Raymond is Boyle, stubbornly convinced he is Jesus Christ.  Fans of baseball will find this a tangential endorsement of the unifying power of the game, though like nearly everything else in this film, it's incidental.  Fans of the cast might find this a worthy blind buy; others should rent.

You've Got the Power, Activision

Okay, so I'm a little late getting to this.  I was adding some .mp3's I downloaded from Hasbro's website a couple of years ago today and was browsing the 'net for track information to update my tags.  (If anyone knows that actual performer of the Transformers G1 theme, I'd appreciate knowing who it is.)  Along the way, I discovered that apparently, the issue has arisen of getting Stan Bush's cult favorite "The Touch" into Guitar Hero and/or Rock Band.  Bush himself favors getting the song into both games, having even gone so far as to take it upon himself to contact Activision--to no avail.

Activision, whatever it takes, do this for me.  Do it for an entire generation of boys who thought Optimus Prime going into battle one last time was the baddest thing they'd ever see on a big screen.  Do it because, after snagging The Boss, it will be another feather in your pimp hat.  Do it because it needs to be done.  And if you really want to win us over, you'll throw in Bush's "Dare."

18 February 2009

DVD: "Six Days, Seven Nights"

Six Days, Seven Nights
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Michael Browning
Starring: Harrison Ford, Anne Heche, David Schwimmer, Temuera Morrison
DVD Release Date: 8 December 1998
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Language, Sensuality and Brief Violence)
List Price: $14.99
Cinescopes Personality Types: Chosen Adventurer, Vivacious Romantic

The Film
Dorky Frank (Schwimmer) takes Robin (Heche) to the tropics as part of an elaborately orchestrated proposal.  Robin's boss, however, insists that she hop a quick flight to Tahiti to oversee a photo shoot for their magazine.  Though reluctant to spoil her stay in paradise, Robin acquieces, but soon discovers only one pilot willing and able to fly her to Tahiti that night: Quinn (Ford).  They take off in a storm and are forced to land on an unidentified island with little hope of rescue.  Once they witness an act of piracy, though, their differences become secondary to their desperate attempt to leave the island safely.

The DVD
Six Days, Seven Nights was released so early in the production of DVDs that it was among the titles available for free during a promotion to entice consumers to purchase a DVD player in the late 1990s.  Consequently, the only bonus feature is the original theatrical trailer.  Hopefully this will one day receive a deluxe treatment with at least a commentary track.

The Recommendation
Despite the premise sounding like the set up of a thriller, this is largely a comedy with a dash of an action/adventure film.  What makes Six Days, Seven Nights work is that Harrison Ford, after years of playing intelligence operatives and presidents, returned to playing a scoundrel.  Quinn sits comfortably beside Han Solo and Bob Falfa in Ford's filmography; in fact, by this point in his career, Quinn might be argued as being against type for Ford.  His every word drips sarcasm, and yet he remains endearing throughout.  It's scenic, it's fun and it's at least worthy of a rental.

The James Bond Art of Richard Chopping

Inspired by a recent blog entry by a friend of mine, I have again reflected on how brilliant many of the past James Bond novel dust jackets and movie posters were.  This magnificence is exposed especially when put side by side with recent re-issues.  Perhaps the greatest artist to touch James Bond was Richard Chopping, contracted by Ian Fleming to design the hardback dust jackets for the original publications starting with From Russia with Love and continuing until John Gardner's debut Bond novel, 1981's License Renewed.  Here is a gallery of his 007 work:


I especially love that not only does the art for The Man with the Golden Gun sprawl across the front and back, but so too does the title text.  My personal favorite of these covers is Octopussy and The Living Daylights with the aquatic life contextualized menacingly.  It's all but forgotten in the cinematic Bond universe, but Ian Fleming's novels were full of references to nature, especially sea life.  Fleming went snorkeling each day in Jamaica when he wrote these books, and that enthusiasm (like his passion for golf and drink) manifested itself in his literary works.  My second favorite is probably From Russia with Love, because I love the simplicy of the revolver and the rose.  What's astounding is that of all these covers, only Dr. No features a woman at all, and she only in silhouette.  And yet, sex permeates all of these covers somehow.

DVD: "Night Shift"

Night Shift
Directed by Ron Howard
Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel
Starring: Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, Shelly Long
DVD Release Date: 27 July 1999
MPAA Rating: R
List Price: $9.98
Cinescopes Personality Types: Dedicated Idealist, Invincible Optimist

The Film
I first saw Night Shift on TV in a late night broadcast several years ago, found it absorbing and then promptly forgot about it until we found it in the $5 DVD's at Walmart last year.  Originally released in 1982, this is the story of Lumley (Winkler), an employee at the New York City Morgue, who had walked away from the intensity of Wall Street.  Billy Blaze (Keaton, in his motion picture debut) is hired on and assigned to work the night shift with Lumley.  Lumley manages to discount Billy's ideas until he becomes sympathetic to his prostitute neighbor (Long).  Together, they take over managing the girls--out of the morgue!

The DVD
Unfortunately, having been originally released in 1999, there are no bonus features on this disc, unless that's how you classify interactive menus and scene access.  This is a double-sided disc, with the widescreen version on one side, and the pan & scan full screen version on the opposite side.  For those who don't like the so-called "snapper" cases, this was re-issued in 2006 in a keep case and new artwork, though the discs are the same.

The Recommendation
Night Shift is a bizarre entry in the filmographies of all concerned, perhaps none moreso than director Howard.  Despite being completely insane, the thrill of seeing such actors as Richard Belzer and Kevin Costner in bit parts, coupled with the crazed intensity of Keaton's performance (and the charm of Long's) makes this an oft-overlooked, early 80s gem.

DVD: "Dick Tracy"

Dick Tracy
Directed by Warren Beatty
Screenplay by Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr.
Based upon characters created by Chester Gould
Starring: Warren Beatty
DVD Release Date: 1 September 2003
MPAA Rating: PG
List Price: $9.99
Cinescopes Personality Types: Courageous Detective, Passionate Maverick

The Film
I've already blogged about seeing a midnight screening of this for its 18th anniversary last year, which you can read here.  This is a big screen, big budget film based on Chester Gould's famed comic strip detective.  Tracy is determined to nab "Big Boy" Caprice (Al Pacino), and Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) and Tess Trueheart (Glenn Heady) are just as determined to win over the detective's affections.  Tracy only has room in his heart for Tess, but only has room in his schedule for his pursuit of Caprice--and Breathless is a key witness he needs.  It's a love triangle amid a gang war.  The four-color production design, costumes, wardrobe and sets are all top-notch and rightly won a few Academy Awards.  The soundtrack is full of period-sounding songs, even though they were all written newly for this film, and Danny Elfman's score is superb.  Madonna has her detractors, but as far as I'm concerned, there is no one else who could have bested her in this role.

The DVD
Rumors have persisted for years of a deluxe DVD treatment being prepped by director Beatty, including many deleted scenes, commentary tracks, making-of featurettes, etc.  Unfortunately, to date this is the only edition that has been released and it is devoid of any of those things; there isn't even one of the numerous original trailers or TV spots.  Fans of the film will be disappointed by the complete absence of such materials, of course, though for now this barebones release will have to suffice.

The Recommendation
Dick Tracy is a large production in the old school sense, from a large cast of A-listers (Beatty, Pacino, Madonna, Dustin Hoffman, James Caan) to a soundtrack so large it warranted three separate releases (Elfman's score, Madonna's songs and the various artists who recorded source material).  Beatty allegedly learned to read by sitting on his father's lap and going over the Gould comic strips in the newspaper, and his devotion to the original characters shines through.  This was a labor of love, and it's great fun.