Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day Fifty-nine - High School of the Dead: Episode 6, or "You wanted Fan Service? Well... YOU GOT IT!"

Time for more gratuitous sex and violence... though, this episode is mostly about the sex.

Upon finding a safehouse at the end of episode 5, Takashi and company take a moment of respite for the first time since the Zombie Apocalypse began, availing themselves both to the supplies and, perhaps more importantly, the very spacious bath that Nurse Marikawa's friend has in her apartment... said friend being the government sniper Rika Minami whom we occasionally see at the locked down airport providing fire support for the government beachhead there.

Really, this whole episode is about the tits.

All the girls disrobe and hop in the bathtub, showering Japanese style (which means they wash up first sitting on a stool outside the bath, then soak in the heat in the tub, itself, after they're already clean). It is a stereotype of anime to have a bathhouse episode where are the femmes get nekkid and kibitz while the guys get overheated outside... sometimes attempting to find peepholes and the like.

It's sort of a tension breaker after the struggle that they've all had to endure first with the outbreak at the high school, then separating from the bus and Shido's brainwashing. Mostly, though, it's just an excuse to see some titties.

This is one of the few times that I'm actually against portraying sex in media... mainly because the main bath scene is simply too gratuitous. It's not satire at that point, just sex for sex's sake.

The rest of the episode's lasciviousness had a point... whether it was Mari-chan or Rei's drunkenness lowering their inhibitions in contrast to the chaos outside or Saeko and her "Naked Apron" look which is both a manga trope and a commentary on her demonstrating domesticity versus her regular nature as the stoic warrior woman.

Those, I can get behind, as they're reflections on culture.

While the bath scene could have had a similar excuse, the lengths they go to when it comes to nudity and fan service here push the boundaries far more than necessary. Of course, that's not to say that I didn't react like a typical single male with a wagging wolf's tongue, but my critical mind was sighing the whole time.

I mean, c'mon!

I think the standout for me in episode six was Takashi and Rei's fight towards the end. I really dug how he finally got fed up with Rei moping over Hishashi, her dead boyfriend, whom she always chose over Takashi and has constantly brought up since he died at the end of episode one. It's a nice ultimatum moment for their relationship and ends in a rather similar fashion as the argument at the end of that first episode, with her realizing just how she's pushing him away.

Personally, I'd rather they didn't waffle and just finish it as friends so that the Takashi/Saeko shippage could run full course, but it's kind of a harem anime anyway as all the gals seem to love Takashi no matter what's going on.


Back to the mundane... or, rather, not so mundane, but back to the horror scenes... since, you know, this is actually a ZOMBIE series.

I love how things are playing out down at the bridge. Communication has broken down and all the weight and responsibility has fallen to the field commanders who are already overstressed and on their last good nerves... and, wouldn't you know it, "the people" are organizing a protest in spite of the danger and death all around that is stalking them, to blame the easiest target, the folks in authority they can access. Guess who? The police.

Powderkeg, meet Match.

I really enjoy the series... it's just that this episode is one of my favorite (for pervy reasons) and one of the worst (when my conscience kicks in). Next episode, though, we get the final members of the team to join up, the humanity redeeming Alice and Zeke/Zero.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day Fifty-eight - Justice League: Doom, or "Ze Voices... Zey do nutzing!"

I wanted to like JL:DOOM... I really did.

It had pretty much exactly what I wanted from DC in terms of casting... Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenburg, Michael Rosenbaum and Carl Lumbly all reprise their JL era roles and that's great! What's even better? Nathan-freaking-Fillion comes on as Hal Jordan continuing his tenure from Emerald Knights! Add to that Claudia Black, whose sultry voice never fails to send chills up my spine, and I'm sold.

Then the movie actually starts.

Now, don't get me wrong, it's not terribad. As far as recent entries go into the DC Animated Universe, it's actually decently high on the list considering the misses that were Superman vs. The Elite and Batman/Superman: Apocalypse, but it definitely wasn't as good as New Frontier which really, really grooved on the retro vibe even if it didn't have the regular cast.

There's just something about the art direction that seriously bugs the heck out of me. It's so far removed from my expectations concerning Bruce Timm's era of Bruce, Clark, and the rest that hearing Kevin and Tim, et al's, voices coming out of these alien faces ruins my suspension of disbelief right quick.

Then there's the story. Loosely based on the Tower of Babel storyline, it tells the tale of Vandal Savage's attempts (instead of Ra's al Ghul's in the orignal) to rule the world by having the Justice League be taken out using Batman's own plans against them.

Let me say that I would've much preferred to see the War Games storyline with the same thing happening in Gotham without the JLA than I would Tower of Babel. Especially since several of the plans are utterly ridiculous.

I mean, dosing Wonder Woman with nanites to make her attack everything on sight? Especially since it's obvious what is happening from the get go as she can HEAR what the fake-Cheetah's are saying and it's not threatening at all. Why on earth would she attack? Diana is no fool. And trying to sap GL's will by putting him in a no-win scenario? On the off chance a sorta-lookalike for his lost love, Carol Ferris (who has become the villain, Star Sapphire), dying would drive him insane? I might have bought it if they had laid ANY groundwork earlier for the Scarecrow fear toxin working its mojo on him, but that little tidbit shows up only AFTER Bats reappears to save the day. Total Deus Ex and annoying as all get out.

I do like Cyborg's inclusion, but it feels out of place considering the casting choice implies we're operating in the DCAU where there should be plenty of heroes in the continuity. Their absence makes things all weird for me, especially in the conclusion where it feels like, due to this one adventure, Cyborg is added to the Core Seven... er, excuse me, SIX (since Aquaman is conspicuously absent) while Batman is being kicked out. I preferred the JLU way of Bats bowing out to become a part-timer as opposed to this.

I want to give this feature more credit, due to the fact that it was written by the late Dwayne McDuffie, who died shortly after finishing the script... but the art style and, unfortunately, sloppy writing bug me to no end.

It doesn't meet the standards set by the Justice League series that I've come to expect save for casting... and that makes me a bit sad.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day Fifty-seven - Cosmos: Episode 7, or "Beyond Pythagoras and the Backbone of Night"

I really love Cosmos.

If I had children, when I have children (should I be so lucky), I would/will show it to them the moment they start to reason and understand. There's just something about the way Carl breaks down such complex topics as our place in the stars and relates it to the history of man, civilization, and science that makes it so interesting and awe-inspiring.

This particular episode of the series talks about not only the early concepts of the Earth, the Sun, and the stars, but also deals with a lot of the pushback that has occurred in history concerning science.

Now, you'd immediately think from that sentence that he went after the Dark Ages and the Inquisition and the like, but no. Instead, he explores and explains a source of suppression that I really wasn't expecting... especially since it comes from a name that I've been taught to revere for decades thanks to its intimate connection with how we learn mathematics.


Yes, the man whose name reminds us of one of the most fundamental formulas in algebra, was party to the suppression and persecution of observational scientists whose ideas and experiments may have contradicted his belief in the five perfect solids.

I'd never known... or, at least, never absorbed the information before that one of the hallowed forefathers of math and science was himself a sort of mystic who considered the fifth form, the dodecahedron, to be too dangerous for the public to consume and thusly had to be hidden from their hearts and minds. That sort of behavior seems antithetical to me.

Yet, here we are... and there I was, learning about it from Carl as he traced the line of thought from Aristarchus to Kepler to today.

I was especially fond of this episode's classroom sequences, where Carl speaks to a room full of elementary students about images taken by Voyager of the other planets in our solar system. To see the wonder in their eyes and hear their excitement as he passed out the photos, then see the gears turning in their minds as he gave a quick demonstration on detecting planets by their star's wobble.

Fun stuff!

As I said before, I love Cosmos. Every episode fills me with a sense of wonder and understanding, even as I know that I am thoroughly ignorant, a babe in the woods. This episode is no different from the others in giving me that feeling.

One thing that does stand out, though, is one of my favorite Sagan lines... that "the sky calls to us... if we do not destroy ourselves we will, one day, venture to the stars."

My main fear in life and living is that his couched warning will come to pass... that our current and continuing willful disregard for ourselves, our neighbors, our future generations, and the nature, fauna, and planet we call home will lead us to destroy any possibility of spreading out to other stars and worlds... that we will be a footnote in the cosmic history, doomed by our own hubris and petty jealousies and bickerings to die out, having poisoned our world beyond sustainability before we step out into the stars.

I think that and despair... yet, somehow, I still have some small measure of hope.

I wish he were still here with us, but I'm also glad he's gone so he wouldn't have to live in this current anti-science climate.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Monday, February 25, 2013

Day Fifty-six - Project X, or "No, I mean the ape movie, not the kids-ACTING-like-apes movie."

Alright, just so I don't flood the blog with two straight weeks of High School of the Dead, and possibly because it's being dropped from streaming on the first of March, I decided to revisit an old 80's PETA flick about animal testing on chimpanzees that starred Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt, and Bill Sadler.

To be honest, I felt a bit jaded from the get go.

I am completely open to discussing the ethics of animal testing, but the movie slants the whole thing firmly in the negative first by depicting the killing of main ape star Virgil's mother so he could be sold to an animal exporter, then moving straight to the rather mercenary scene of Virgil and other apes being resold to various research institutions while a government contractor whines about cost and the like.

Look, when you weight your prologue chapters this way, it's no surprise where you're leading your audience. This effort is, of course, redoubled when, after a brief respite in the loving arms of Helen Hunt, who teaches Virgil to communicate via sign-language through empathy and positive reinforcement, that Virgil is again ripped from a mother surrogate and sent to an Air Force research facility.

That's where Matthew Broderick comes in.

Having just gone for an erotic joyride in an Air Force plane, Broderick's character Jimmy Garrett is in the stockade and in fear that he's about to be drummed out of the military. Luckily, thanks to the fact that his father is top brass, his commanding officer bows to the pressures of nepotism and reassigns him to a crap detail, cleaning the ape cages in the aforementioned research facility.

It all seems rather harmless, at first, though not really. Even through the cute innocence of Garrett learning his way around the apes and forming a bond with Virgil, as he trains the ape to operate an arcade version of Windows Flight Simulator (probably stolen from the WOPR mainframe in WarGames), there's a seedy sort of menace in the background... particularly when it comes to the weighted silences of Bill Sadler and the other lab personnel.

The curtain is pulled back when Garrett's good job performance yields him an office promotion (but not a rank up... bummer), to the "Graduate Program" where his first duty is to lead a harmless fuzzball named Bluebeard to his doom. Seems Bill Sadler and his cronies are testing the effects of radiation on pilots and, to not kill actual humans, they're using apes.

Garrett, of course, has ethical issues with this seeing as how he's bonded with the animals, but the Doctor's arguments are all weak versions of what they should be, showing him to be more of a douchebag than a scientist. This leads Garrett to break several national security laws in contacting Helen Hunt, who subsequently tracks him down and facilitates an ape escape by providing an unintentional distraction while the apes, themselves, hatch a plot of their own.

When I watched this, as a kid, I wasn't aware of the manipulative film techniques that went into humanizing the apes and amping the drama of the two death scenes for Bluebeard and Goliath. Not knowing any better, I actually assumed that you really did just go into a slow-motion haze of a death spiral when exposed to lethal radiation.

Now, to be fair, it's hard to convey the moment of destruction depicted when your actors can only understand simple trained commands, so the director and cinematographer took a few liberties in order to show what would actually happen as, yes, you would become confused and lose cognition at such a high and fatal dose.

Still, the over-dramatization is a bit heavy-handed now that I'm not seven and not so much worried about the cute apes as I am the humans relying on CLEAR GLASS to shield them from radiation.

Twenty five years later, though, I'm mostly disappointed at the lack of any meaningful dialogue and character chemistry between any of the human characters. The apes weren't that much better, but they have an excuse. They're only as good as the "awww" moments the trainers can squeeze out of them in front of the camera. The human actors have no such excuse (I would hope).

I mean, c'mon. This is Ferris-freaking-Bueller we're talking here. Where's the charisma? I certainly didn't see it. And Helen? She's a great actress if we were allowed to see her, but her bar scene with Broderick was stilted and pretty much the rest of the movie she just stands around and watches while OTHER people (and apes) do things.


Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Day Fifty-five - The Sky Crawlers, or "So pretty... so, so boring."

Still in an Anime mood, I decided to see what features Netflix has. Sadly, they are few as most of the titles you can find in their genre folder are series. Sure, a good many of them are quality series, but there aren't any Miyazaki films or Saotoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress) and, if I had to choose between Vexille (as interesting as the CGI is) and Street Fighter Alpha, I'd pretty much rather bow out.

Still, there was one title that intrigued me... The Sky Crawlers.

Made by one of my favorite directors, Mamoru Oshii, who also did some of the most groundbreaking scifi pieces to come out of Japan, the Ghost in the Shell movies and Patlabor, The Sky Crawlers tells a really rather sedate tale of fighter pilots in an alternate universe.

The exposition only comes in dribs and drabs as everyone in this film is pretty much loathe to tell their compatriots anything. This is particularly true when it comes to main character Yuichi... as it seems that the pilot he was replacing left under mysterious circumstances and no one wants to tell him why.

Oshii has always been known for minimizing dialogue and focusing purely on atmosphere. In that he is almost a European Existentialist when it comes to his films. I pretty much think he went overboard with that aspect when it comes to Sky Crawlers.

For the longest time, I had NO earthly idea why there was air combat but no ground war in this film. It took a good 2/3rds of the film to pass before it sunk in that it's all for show, that the air campaigns these genetically engineered teenagers fight and die in are proxy wars fought between the two superpowers of the world (think Robot Jox).

These teens, called Kildren, are frozen at the beginning of puberty. They drink, smoke, have sex, and one of them even has a daughter who is quickly catching up to her in age. A lot of the film focuses on their ennui as they don't really have memories and can't tell if those that they do are real or implanted a la Blade Runner.

They're also very cold.

It's hard to root for the main pair, Yuichi and Suito, as they have pretty much no passion. Even when they kiss in the car, the most emotional aspect between them is one preventing the other from shooting either themselves or the other. It's an odd sort of emotional despair where they cannot decide whether to continue living their trivial existence as disposable pawns in an Entertainment War or just end it and enter the lethe of oblivion.

It's a little harder for Suito as she has both a daughter to care for and the fact that the lover she had previous to Yuichi was his clone, Jinroh... or rather, Yuichi is Jinroh's clone... brought back in a vat because his particular genome made him an excellent pilot.

The problem with this movie is, as beautiful as it is, it's far too subtle to be enjoyable. It really does rely too much on atmosphere and doesn't give enough exposition to engage the audience. The true enemies in the film are the governments and corporations who are using these artificial humans to fight their battles, but instead of having a conflict with them, Oshii forces his characters to fight each other... ultimately leading to a face off with the opposing nation's ace "The Teacher" who is repeatedly explained to be just a normal adult man, not a Kildren.  Somehow, he's just too good and never loses even though he's just a man. It's also hinted that he might just be the father of Suito's child, though Oshii cleverly never reveals if this is true, leaving the parentage up in the air between "The Teacher" and Jinroh.

I want to like this film more than I do. It really does have wonderful atmosphere and imagery. I generally do love those subtle existential pieces where beautiful fictions love each other through weighted silence... but it's just too boring. Not enough happens and what does is just spinning wheels. Nothing ever goes anywhere and, the moment you think it might, during the climax, everything just falls back into the cycle of death and rebirth.

Rather annoying when the main character's last lines to the woman he loves is "you have to keep living till you can find a way to change."


Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day Fifty-four - High School of the Dead: Episode 1 - Spring of the Dead, or "Sex, Violence, and Despair... ain't it great?"

Let's face it... we're still in the Zombie Renaissance. For almost a decade now, and perhaps beyond, Zombie films have been chic. Most recently it was Warm Bodies and, coming soon, Max Brooks' World War Z is getting the A-list treatment courtesy of Brad Pitt.

I think, maybe, it all started with Zack Snyder's remake of the classic cult horror flick Dawn of Dead, changing the social satire of consumerism of the original into a bleak survival scenario with a simple alteration. The slow, plodding zombies just weren't scary enough... he made them fast, running and devouring with the force of madmen.

But maybe it wasn't Zack Snyder who started the Renaissance... maybe we could trace it back two years before his remake to Danny Boyle and Cillian Murphy with 28 Days Later... the zombie movie that wasn't a zombie movie, where a "Rage" virus turned everyone infected into brutal murderers who didn't care about brains or consuming the flesh of living, just vicious homicide by their own hands, snuffing out all non-"Rage" life.

Hmm. Something to think about, but not really why I'm blogging today.

I was in the mood for some anime when I woke up this morning. Unfortunately, the catalog on Netflix is kind of light. There are actually quite a few quality series that I'll no doubt be watching over the year, but they're all Americanized and dubbed. What I wouldn't give for an agreement between Netflix and TVTokyo or AT-X to get the hundreds of shows the studios produce on a yearly basis, quality or no, subbed and streamed.

I long for Hyouka to make it to these shores.

Still, I was in the mood for something anime but not in the mood for the likes of Full Metal Alchemist or Darker Than Black. I needed some fluff and while, at times, both of those could fit the bill, I also wanted some fan service that didn't really pull punches when it came to content.

For that, I chose High School of the Dead.

Basically, it's a zombie survival series set in Japan where a group of high school students and teachers, the grand majority of them voluptuous babes, with cup sizes to make even Americans blush, and all of them with the will to survive at any cost.

Of course, it makes sense for the lucky few who manage to make it through the zombie apocalypse to be the ones with the physical and mental fortitude to live by any means, but it does stretch credulity that they would mostly happen to be peak specimens of the female form.

It's pandering, and I cannot deny it.

I mean, you get bouncy breasts on the order of a Dead or Alive game from the start, and it doesn't take long for the low angle panty shots to dominate the frame, be it on the lead survivors or the nameless lolitas who are doomed to be eaten by the exponentially growing horde of the undead.

Yes, it's crass and gratuitous, but... it fits, somehow. It's sex appeal meant to draw in the base male brain and it works. It also serves to contrast the death and destruction as society breaks down immediately and bosom buddies betray each other during the moment of truth.

I especially liked those opening minutes when the outbreak spreads to the school. What could've been a protected area with high walls and a reinforcable gate, possibly with enough supplies and blunt instrument weapons to beat back the horde, falls to the simple arrogance of a staffer who abuses a walker trying to get in. The PE teacher gets bit and that's all it takes.

There's also the matter of language. Thanks to all the sex appeal and violence, there was no way HSotD was going to get a G or PG rating. It's TV-M at the very least, so the dubbing team decided to preserve the language. High schoolers actually sound like high schoolers again, cursing as much as I did when I was their age. Yay!

I also love how they lampshade the fact that they're in a zombie film/series by referencing that their situation really is like the movies (bites kill you and turn you, blows to the head are the only way to stop the walking dead, etc.). It's hilarious and a bit on the nose (I'm looking at you, Gomez), but worth it to have the nod. One of the tropes I hate in most zombie media is how long it takes for survivors to fight past their disbelief and experiment with the cultural myths to find a movie monster's weakness. Doesn't take long here and that's a boon!

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of progress in this series. This single episode only covers the outbreak and lingers quite a bit on running around the campus trying to find a safe place only to have one of the first trio get bitten. There's too much drama surrounding the love triangle and not enough time and effort given to the other characters who will eventually form the main party with the two who are up on the roof living out their own version of Twilight.

Heh, I kid, this trio shows MUCH more acting talent (and facial movement) than those other teen horror movie folks.

Still, it's sex, violence, and the existential angst of surviving in the zombie apocalypse. What more could a guy ask for when it comes to fluff? Maybe a little less death and a little more sex, but, oh well.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Friday, February 22, 2013

Day Fifty-three - Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter: Nobel's Last Will, or "Too bad Liza and Stieg couldn't have a love child."

I really like the Millennium Trilogy and the American remake of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so when Annika Bengtzon showed up as a recommended pick, I naturally gravitated its way, since it had some of the folks involved in the Trilogy behind the scenes.

To be honest, I expected much... and got almost everything that I wanted.

Sure, it was tamed down for television, but Nobel's Last Will was actually fairly sophisticated, especially when compared to American procedurals.

I really liked the gimmick of the gag order as it's pretty foreign to me for a police inspector to be able to muffle a reporter so effectively without a National Security order... let alone for her to keep to it so well, whereas an American reporter would find a way to leak it immediately.

There's also something awesome about Annika's personal drama, too.

I'm used to seeing family as a minimal presence... something to balance a main character from the stresses of their work, and that is here, but the bully plotline with her son is pretty damn compelling. This is especially true with how she chooses to confront it as, after not getting much support from her boyfriend, she does something so immediately protective and primal that she could get arrested or sued... and I loved every second of it saying "RIGHT ON" with my Id and "Oh, that's gonna bite you in the ass" with my Superego.

The mystery is a little drab, though. The clues that fall into place aren't all that clever. I mean, the way a letter uses one name over another that causes pressure and another murder? Also, the episodes final puzzle being a guessing game based on a random desktop photo? No, no, please try not to stretch my incredulity any further.

Also, the dream sequence was fine until it added an irrational bit. I thought it was reality until the murder victim showed up in faux Japanese-ghost-story fashion. If you're going to do a dream sequence, please be irrational right from the start in some manner. Even if the subject can't see it, the audience needs an obvious clue (like a flame going out or box falling up or something).

Still, it touches on all the right points. Strong female lead who is both a mother and a professional. Excellent camera work and color use. Proper, if predictable tension moments for commercial breaks. It all pretty much worked, even if the misdirect villain was a bit too obvious and the Yellow Eyes too preposterous.

I definitely look forward to watching the rest of the series.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Day Fifty-two - Outsourced, or "Cliche, but somewhat on the nose and harmless."

I was totally in the mood for The Birdcage after yesterday's horrible revisit to early Murder, She Wrote. Unfortunately, at some point in the last few weeks between when I added it to my queue and having the desire, nay, need to watch it, the Williams/Lane/Hackman/Wiest comedy classic was dropped from Netflix.


So, instead, in dire need of a pickmeup (but when am I not, lately), I took a chance on what looked to be a possibly racist, possibly culturally aware romantic comedy, Outsourced.

And, yeah, there are a few bits that made me uncomfortable... especially when the leads, Todd and Asha, trade accents for a scene. It's a little amusing, mostly awkward, and partly forgiven as they lampshade just how horrible that particular bit was.

Overall, though, Outsourced is a fairly okay look at culture shock. Sure, it had cliched bits like the street urchin with a heart of gold and sticky fingers, but even as it's by the numbers, it's faithful to its outline without seeming too crass or heavy-handed. Even the crude bits are toned in such a way that they're funny, not gratuitous.

I just wish that the love story could've been the focus. Todd and Asha's courtship doesn't even start until their second act trip to pick up a wayward package and, even as it progresses, it's certainly not the focus of the feature as I would it want to be, being the lovesick lonely puppy that I am. What could have been a study of their relationship as a continuum is more just an intro picture for ignorant Westerners to the cultural basics of modern India.

I'm also not a fan of how they portray the caste system in the country. While, yes, there are very stark differences illustrated in the film between the high tech professionals and the very, very poor, even going so far as to reach an olive branch between the two and have a nice sit down to visually represent just how meager an existence so many people live there, it's only visually shown. I very much felt the need for verbal confirmation and discussion.

But, then again, I wanted a love story, so what do I know.

Personally, I was kind of confused with the way the call center imploded... I was sort of expecting them all to band together and form their own independent contracting group seeing as how the company was just going to write off all the equipment (save for the plasma screen that the American executive steals for himself), but I was pretty satisfied with Todd's homecoming as a more serene individual, better for his time in India.

And, it didn't hurt that the fade to black was on his phone ringing to Asha's Bollywood tune. No sappy reunion where one decides to take the plunge and commit to the other's world, just a nice moment where we know the possibility of their breaking convention exists and it's up to them to make it work out of our, the audience's, sight.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day Fifty-one - Murder, She Wrote: Season 1, Episode 3, or "Why are there no gay men here?"

You may think that's a strange thing to ask, especially concerning an 80's murder mystery about a middle-aged female author who solves killings as a sort of hobby, but, I assure you, the question is definitely begged by this episode.

It does so not because the episode is set in San Francisco, what could be the prime city for Friends of Dorothy in America, but because it's set in San Francisco at a Drag Club.

Wait! Excuse me... it is a nightclub, no one says anything about Drag Queens. In fact, its feature act is a comedian who plays the drums. Wha-huh? Did that just happen? I know, I can't believe it either, but what is even worse is that, even though it's just billed as the top hot spot of The City's nightlife and two of the three acts we see are men in women's clothing, it's not a Drag Club.

No, it's a nightclub... that features "female impersonators." Not Drag Queens... impersonators. What's weirder? These impersonators are completely straight. And I mean completely straight. One is having an affair with the club owner's wife and the other is engaged to Jessica Fletcher's niece (one of the many she accumulates over the series).

I'm sorry, but there's just something wrong about a Drag Club that isn't a Drag Club... and Queens who aren't Queens. Now, I've got nothing against transvestites who are straight, BUT THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE SAN FRANCISCO!

And not a gay man in sight.

You know, at least until we get to the police station where a butch biker propositions Zack Allen (the late Jeff Conaway) for a date, which is, of course, met with hostility instead of a polite refusal.

I realize this was the 80's and we were right in the middle of the Reagan culture war... that Will & Grace's much hyped kiss between two men and Ellen's very public coming out were more than a decade off, but still... I'm more than a bit disappointed.

Anyways, most everyone is annoying in this episode, even Jessica. The bit players have no depth and the suspects all make you hate them. Jeff Conaway is obviously a fall guy, but he's only in the situation because of a plot hammer that is hard to believe. Martin Landau is horribly underutilized as the victim (would've been MUCH better as the killer), and Gabe Kaplan? Woof.

What could have been a progressive episode for its time was either too cowardly or two overwritten by network censors. The latter seems most likely to me as it was a CBS show... and said network is not entirely known for its forward thinking views.

Ah well. No use crying over spilled milk, but I know that this episode's preposterous notions did sour me on continuing to revisit Murder, She Wrote for the near future.

Maybe I should watch The Birdcage next to balance it out?

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Day Fifty - Jumanji, or "Surprisingly romantic and layered for a family movie."

Most family adventure movies tend to rely heavily on the cheese factor, especially when it comes to one-liners and sight gags. Where Robin Williams is involved, you'd think that would most certainly be the case. Especially when you consider some of his other 90's roles like Mrs.Doubtfire and Flubber, both misses that seem to show up regularly as low rent Saturday afternoon movies.

It's because of those titles that folks often miss his rather varied 90's catalog that is filled with gems like Jack, The Birdcage, Good Will Hunting, Bicentennial Man, and... Jumanji.

I really love this film both for breaking traditional plot structure (by having not one, but TWO prologue chapters) and for not forcing its child characters to have cutsey, cliche problems. There's a lot of darkness in these kids lives... from violent bullying to parental death and separation to the very real and scary thought of institutionalization.

For the most part, all of those issues are mostly asides during actual plot progression, but they're not without merit to the motivations of both sets of children.

Additionally, there's great symbolism involved when it comes to how Jumanji plays on the fears of its participants. This is most obvious and played to great effect when it comes to The Great White Hunter, Van Pelt, who is performed by Jonathan Hyde who plays both Van Pelt and Alan's father Sam Parrish. It's a great reversal of the protector/antagonist role of the parent.

Jumanji was also a good film for its lead actresses to shine, as I adore Bonnie Hunt's flaky fake psychic and Kirstin Dunst's sweet and protective early teen who is also a pathological liar. I really can't say the same for Bonnie's younger self, played by Laura Bell Bundy, but oh well.

Now, of course the CGI is obviously dated, but for the most part it holds up. The same could be said for most of the film's puppetry. I can't exactly get behind the cheap plastic spiders towards the climax, but the poisonous jungle vines and the lion work pretty darn well. Granted, both are created using a hybrid of CGI and practical effects, but still.

And the rhino who lags behind the stampede is just too adorable.

I think my only problem with the film is the disappearance of David Alan Grier after he and Bebe Neuwirth end up on wooden doors during the flood sequence. She manages to show back up to the house for a nice freakout scene, but David's "Soul-man" character, who's spent a great deal of the film chasing down the Jumanji players (Alan, particularly), is nowhere to be seen until after the universe reset at the Christmas Party.

That, to me, was quite a let down.

Still, Jumanji is a great film, even if it's showing its age and I very much recommend it as a family feature, even if it CAN be a little dark (there's a madman running around with high-powered rifles for half the movie, for crying out loud!).

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Monday, February 18, 2013

Day Forty-nine - Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension, or "Epic (Made for TV) Movie Time!"

With 80's week over, I felt the need to bring back an old favorite to the Blog in order to not necessarily purge that New Wave taste from my mouth, but return me to some sense of post-millennial normalcy.

To do so, I decided to queue up the P&F made for television movie, Across the 2nd Dimension, which has the boys inadvertently helping Dr.Doofenschmirtz create a portal to an alternate dimension. Not really clear on why Doof wanted to do so, but that's generally the case with most of his Inators.

Anyways, since Perry the Platypus couldn't break cover in front of the boys to stop it, they all are transported along the great dimensional circle to a reality where Doof is an actually competent evil scientist and has taken the Tri-State Area over and everyone and everything is Doof branded and miserable.

Of course, things go wrong when the more-evil Doof decides to invade the boys' reality and dooms them all to, well, doom!

I really like this super-extra-long episode as it fulfills quite a few fanboi dreams of the show: the boys finding out that Perry is a secret agent, their ultimate human/platypus teamup, a Candace that actually participates in the shenanigans (which happens occasionally in the series, but I just like alt-Candace's attitude)... and Isabella finally lays one on Phineas.

Sadly, there are quite a few things missing or that are awkward in their implementation. For one thing, there's no alt-Vanessa. I would've really have liked to see her either more-evil version or have her show up as a resistance mole or something. At the very least, there needed to be a moment for her and either alt-Ferb or regular Ferb.

Plus, it was weird having Major Monogram as alt-Doof's butler or aide de camp or swami or whatever he was in the 2nd dimension... especially when he showed up post-thwarting with the alt-dimension Fireside Girls to arrest alt-Doof. Made no sense.

I did like the climax, though, where a deus ex device that Major Monogram introduced at the beginning of the movie is used to recreate every cool invention the boys have made all summer in order to fight the invasion of Norm-bots from the portal. It was a fun way to remind us of the good times and allow the kids and townspeople (with musical accompaniment by Love Handel!) take up arms against the overpowered Norm-bots.

Fun times, I just wish they didn't have to rely on a memory-wipe to reset everything at the end of the episode. For one thing, they could start cross-polinating the A and B stories of the regular show more often... and for another, Isabella and Phineas could finally stop the whole "one's ignorance to the love rays of the other's" bit. Sure, it's a tried and true sitcom gag, but it's run its course over the years. Need some development!

If you're a fan of P&F, I heartily recommend it. It's a quadruple long episode with tons of fun... and its tie-in game isn't that bad either. Not great, but not bad.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Day Forty-eight - Murder, She Wrote: Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2, or "Melodrama mystery for the retired set!"

I have a special place in my heart for Murder, She Wrote.

For one thing, it stars the incomparable Angela Lansbury in the lead role of part-time writer, part-time police consultant Jessica Fletcher, who, as we see in this two-parter pilot, is reluctant to be either.

For another, its a series about a writer who done good: published, bestseller, happy, active.

But, mostly, there's this one last thing. Murder, She Wrote was one of the few "adult" series that my parents allowed me to watch in the 80's. Jessica, along with Angus MacGyver, were the heroes I grew up with, fighting for truth, justice, and the sensible, intelligent way.

Now, that's not to say the series is excellent. It suffers horribly from obvious melodrama.

There's nothing really smart about it, to tell the truth, aside from Jessica's occasional one liners at the expense of someone looking down their nose at her. The two clues that were the key to the whole mystery were a single interaction between the victim and culprit, the reasoning for which was buried in post reveal dialogue, and a misspoken excuse, not actual clue-finding. The latter I can forgive, the former... not at all. 

Additionally, the supporting characters lack depth and serve only as possible suspects or victims. It would have been nice if her nephew Grady had his own ambitions, or one or two of the misdirects had cleverer explanations.

Still, as silly as it is, it's harmless.

Sure, it mentions sex in passing, but in that prim way of yesteryear, where the furthest a suitor got was first base and a fade out. It's certainly not Magnum, PI, with its skinny dipping Swedish tourists... nor is it anywhere close to Miami Vice with its bedrooms and onscreen strangulation.

One benefit to the pilot was Ned Beatty as the half-bumbling, half-competent chief of police for the small commuter community where Jessica's first murder takes place. I always love it when good stage and cinema actors take on supporting roles like this on television. It's gotten to be the norm, now, where producers mine the b and c-level casting lists for movie stars, perhaps on the decline, who want to move to television and pick up a steady paycheck. That's certainly the case with most procedurals. I'm making it sound negative, but it's actually a great thing and helped here.

Anyways, If you like your murder mysteries tame, then Murder, She Wrote is for you... in fact, I'd probably say that were its audience around today, they'd be watching NCIS.

But, I do love Jessica Fletcher. She's a smart, Agatha Christie-style investigator who always gets her killer, even at the expense of her own desires, muted though they may be. Plus, as I said before, she's an author... and I always have a soft spot for those in cinema and television (go Castle!).

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day Forty-seven - Flashdance, or "Pittsburgh... where most dreams die a horrible death."

When you consider the wide catalog of film from the 80's, invariably there are a few that infected the cultural zeitgeist despite themselves, whether it was due to their music or imagery... action or eroticism.

Flashdance takes three of these and tries to make them its own.

There's no action, of course, unless you count the rather awkward parking lot assault and attempted rape by my very favorite Lee Ving (who played Mr.Body in Clue), but there's plenty of the other three. Mostly in the form of the occasional "classy" strip club sequences where nubile young women of the 80's, complete with power haircuts and toned bodies, dance down to their thongs and wet t-shirts (but never all the way, remember, Mawby's Bar is the "classy" one) to punk, rock, and soul.

Lead actress Jennifer Beals is one such exotic dancer, Alex, who has dreams of joining a renowned Pittsburgh dance troupe. Unfortunately, when confronted with the bevy of younger, well-trained applicants, she chickens out... and spends most of the movie trying to gather her courage.

It's not all indecision, though, as Alex isn't just a dancer... she's also an 18-year-old journeyman welder (must've started at 15 to get her union card so fast) who works for Michael Nouri's character, Nick Hurley, the rich owner of the construction company who came from the streets and made good for himself.

Sure, he's trolling Mawby's strip club with his foreman, but he's still a gentleman.

Anyway, the movie follows mostly Alex, but also the peripheral characters, her friends Richie and Jeanie, who have dreams of their own... to be a comedian and ice skater, respectively... but whose aspirations may not be in their cards.

To be honest, as annoying as Richie's laugh is, and it IS that grating, I rather enjoyed his small background arc as a fry cook trying to make it big. Sure, it doesn't turn out all that great, but he remains a standup guy pretty much throughout. There's a seed of doubt planted when he comes back for Halloween having failed and it's revealed that he never called Jeanie after he left, but I prefer to think he was making a clean break, not trying to hurt her, and her judgement is obviously impaired seeing as how her revenge is to hook up with the movie's resident scumbag, Johnny C. (Lee Ving).

Jeanie's fall from grace is a bit more problematic. She goes from accepting a large tip from said scumbag to dressing slutty and baring it all in his club between her appearances (which are brief since we're always on Alex). Hard to sympathize with her. True, she didn't make the Ice Capades, or Ice Dance America, or whatever it was, but she had a great support cushion in her family. Richie leaving for LA to try and follow HIS dream shouldn't have pushed her into the arms of Johnny C..

Ah well.

That's kind of the problem with this movie. Everyone is plot-forced into acting stupidly. Alex and her jealousy and pride, Nick and his meddling, the background characters and their general flakiness.

It doesn't help that there are weird music montages that don't seem to fit at all with the narrative... like the gym sequence and its unintentional comedy and the street dance sequence (that actually worked till we got to the traffic cop). It was like FAME performance art. I mean, at least with Fame, they were at a school of the arts.

Still, it's iconic. It's not great, by any stretch, but it's iconic. It could be argued that it defined what it was to be an independent woman for pretty much the rest of the decade... and that makes me a little sad.

I mean, it was great how Alex tried to keep her personal life separate from her day job and how she went (tentatively) after her dreams, but the message that she needed to be pushed... and had to have help, wasn't very empowering.

At least she picked herself back up and started again... I just wanted more than Nick picking up the phone and getting her the audition. It would've been more satisfying... for me and for Alex.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Friday, February 15, 2013

Day Forty-six - Biloxi Blues, or "For some reason, my memory told me this was Cadance."

For the longest time, I thought this and Charlie Sheen's 1990 film, Cadance, were the same movie.

It's weird. I remember seeing the poster for Biloxi Blues hanging in the extra panels of those mall map kiosks at Southlake Mall in suburban Atlanta, and I remember Charlie and Laurence Fishburne doing their bit with the chain gang song, and that's it.

In my memory, the two were one and the same.

Of course, I was tremendously wrong.

For one thing, Biloxi Blues is a film adaptation of Neil Simon's coming of age stage play where a New York Jew goes through basic training. Not to say that Cadance isn't an alright film (I probably won't find out any time soon as it's not on Netflix), but Biloxi has a better pedigree when it comes to its author (I say that with no intended slight to Gorgon Weaver).

For another, while Charlie probably has more notoriety and a wider movie catalog, the 80's were Matthew Broderick's time. Be it Project X, Ferris Bueller, or Wargames, you cannot say that it wasn't his decade.

This entry into his filmography is decent enough, but is really rather lacking in comparison. Especially to Ferris Bueller. Granted, it's better than Project X, but at least in that film I was able to go goo-goo over a young Helen Hunt (she's still a fox, by the way... or, was the last movie I saw her in, As Good As It Gets).

Anyways, back to Biloxi Blues.

A sort of ensemble film, where a group of fresh recruits to the Army at the tail end of WW2, with Broderick as its main focus and narrator, Biloxi is a tale of "America, The Melting Pot," as the core six all come from different places and have a hard time coming together as a unit and as friends.

Of course, it doesn't help that Christopher Walken is their drill sergeant and takes an instant disliking to both Private Jerome (Broderick) and his fellow Jewish compatriot, Epstein, who is an odd fellow to say the least.

I like Chris Walken's character, but I never really feel a sense of menace from him, not even towards the end of the film where he confronts the two New York misfits in a drunken stupor where he is brandishing a gun and threatening their lives.

To be honest, I couldn't tell if he was homicidal, suicidal, both, or neither and just joking. The entire sequence of scenes during the climax and falling action felt more like a somewhat boring, somewhat disingenuous dream sequence.

Really, Walken had nothing on R.Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, but maybe I shouldn't compare the two.

I did feel that the homosexuality subplot could've been handled better... and the romance between Daisy and Jerome was limited to montage and one dance scene that really should've dominated (or at least had parity with) the entire second half of the film, but oh well... it's Simon's play. Can't fault him for his artistic choice.

I just would've done it different.

It's an interesting commentary on America in the 40's, multiculturalism, and sexuality, but really fails to deliver on its key conflicts. I wanted more from Walken, but such is life.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~