Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day One Hundred and Twenty - Kingdom: Series 1, Episodes 3 & 4, "A bit more to sink one's teeth into here."

It has been a while since I've digested anything that Stephen Fry was in, seeing as how I've yet to come upon him in Bones and have managed to cleanse my palette of his horrible "100 Greatest Gadgets" by not finishing out the second half of the program, so I decided to revisit Kingdom in the hope that it was better than I'd remembered.

Oddly, it really isn't... but I'm okay with that considering the terrible beating I've been taking not seeing him in Bones and being terribly disappointed with his gadgets. It isn't any better than I remember, but it's strangely more consumable in comparison to the alternatives.

These episodes deal with a possibly sabotaged fishing trawler and a definitely sabotaged college enrollment, but the best of it for both episodes centers on Peter Kingdom and his repressed distaste for sister Beatrice's new beau, a rather bawdy artist.

I, personally, found it great to see him in a scrape. I could swear he was chittering like an angry badger there for a moment, but it's hard to tell.

Sadly, the latter of the two episodes features the return of Beatrice's outbursts, but, while she was happily content in her lover's arms, it was nice to see her sedate instead of impractically wacky or raging. If there's one thing that annoys me the most with this series, it's her forced zaniness and the lengths everyone around goes to humor her.

The boat drama was meh, but episode 5's family issue, where a brilliant young girl goes along with her mother's insistence on suing Cambridge (where we get a nice cameo from Richard Wilson) despite the fact that she threw her own admissions interview so she could help her illiterate father, is actually quite intriguing.

Add to that a bit of bonding time for Beatrice and Gloria over their individual love woes and you've got a halfway decent personal drama, that is certainly helped by Fry's ever present charm, which had previously been the only thing holding up the series... and not well, at that.

I find that, as the series progresses and the actors settle into their roles, I'm enjoying Kingdom more and more. I still find Snell a cartoon that is completely out of place and Lyle an utterly irredeemable tool, but nothing is ever perfect (at least until Hyouka is licensed).

Overall, I find myself actually looking forward to watching more episodes of Kingdom, which is something that I never expected after the first few. I suppose that's a good thing? Maybe that feeling will rub off on Dr.Who... but the wound there is still too tender, so that won't be for a while yet.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Monday, April 29, 2013

Day One Hundred and Nineteen - Happy, Texas, "Safe, Cliche, but not Over The Top."

You know, there's just something wrong with Happy, Texas... but, also something right.

In the perhaps not-so-proud tradition of prison escape/mistaken identity films like We're No Angels, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, and... Taking Care of Business, I guess... Happy, Texas pairs Jeremy Northam and Steve Zahn as a pair of convicts who steal a gay couple's RV in rural Texas and wind up posing as traveling beauty pageant consultants to the small town that hired them.

I think, nominally, the film is supposed to play on country living and fish out of water tropes, what with the small town folk just assuming any awkwardness from the faux-gay jailbirds is just natural for "them" and the not-too-bright country folk (like the slow gentleman who bids on his own tires at an auction), but things sort of take a turn in the second act when Sheriff Chappy (William H. Macy) reveals that he's gay, himself.

Now, I'm not saying the movie strays too much from its cliches... both of the masquerading convicts are still straight (not breaking any molds there) and both manage to play up the fake-gay for their own benefit, with Wayne (Zahn) taking up choreography and sewing and Harry (Northam) giving the beautiful Joe (Ally Walker) facials and footrubs. It's just that Chappy steals the show as a perfectly normal, perfectly adorable gay man just looking for love in a town where he can't rightly find it.

There's nothing cliche about Chappy. He's every bit a Texas Lawman without the stereotypical racism and bigotry that we, as a culture, have come to expect. He stern, but understanding... an outdoorsman and hunter... and has that quiet wisdom when dealing with folks, both outsiders and locals. Sure, a few things tend to surprise him, like when Wayne and Harry give him cause to believe his own preconceptions about the gay couple he's expecting, but Macy always plays it light and, well, straight-faced.

Honestly, there's not much of a movie here without Chappy.

As much as I like Zahn (That Thing You Do, You've Got Mail), here he is pretty much either a bundle of violent frustration or lust and Northam is just your typical lothario who makes good over the course of the film.

Ally Walker was great as The Profiler, but is pretty much just a placeholder here, with nothing to really chew on emotionally in bonding and romancing Northam as Josephine the Banker. The same can be said for her counterpart Doreen (Illeana Douglas) whose actress often plays the same sort of heavily accented, hick gal. There's really no arc for either of them, just a smooth transition from suspicious to full on head over heels.

Put together, the only thing really entertaining and redeeming about the film is Macy's performance as the Sheriff who is trying to find love. Whether it's the heart to heart over beer (then guns) or the actual date at the dance club (two-and-a-half hours away) or the post-climax revelations, Chappy is what makes Happy, Texas somewhat redeemable.

Personally, I'd rather watch Robin Williams and Nathan Lane playing up the stereotypes in The Birdcage than I would Zahn and Northam faking gay to find themselves in small town Texas, but the film did have a moment or two... but only just that.

I'd say pass, overall, if not for Macy's performance... Happy, Texas is worth a lazy watch if there's nothing else in your queue, but I can't recommend it for much else.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Day One Hundred and Eighteen - Sleepless in Seattle, "Hanks and Ryan are a Charm Explosion... but I was bored."

I won't lie, I love these two as actors... in pretty much any film they're in they exude so much affable charm that it's sometimes hard to watch. One of my guiltiest of guilty pleasures is the cheesy You've Got Mail (a remake of the 1940 Jimmy Stewart picture) where they blindly fall in love over AOL.

Here in Sleepless, though, I found myself annoyed.

For one thing, the premise makes me tired. Architect Sam (Hanks) lost both his wife and the mother of his child far too early to cancer. Not coping well, his son calls a national therapy hotline (where's Doctor Fraiser Crane when we need him) because the boy thinks his dad needs a new wife... and their story goes across the airwaves and piques the interest of east coast writer Annie (Ryan) who is engaged to the perfect man (Bill Pullman) but feels no "magic" with him.

Written and directed by the late Nora Ephron (who also did You've Got Mail), it basically romanticizes a woman who stalks a man she's never met.

I mean, seriously, the some total of their interaction until the climax consists of a letter that Sam rightly dismisses and a shared look between the two across a sometimes busy, sometimes not street near Sam's houseboat. Honestly, I was expecting the soundtrack to start playing "Some Enchanted Evening" even though it was the middle of the afternoon.

I think what annoys me the most is how much it tries to sneak in references to An Affair to Remember. It feels like cheating when Annie is almost run over on the street and they repeat lines to each other. Perhaps the only thing that saved it from that schmaltz was the Dirty Dozen reference where Hanks and Victor Garber start bawling over that film to counterpoint Rita Wilson's (Hank's wife in real life) breakdown over An Affair.

Still, in spite of its weaknesses, Sleepless in Seattle features performances from both Hanks and Ryan that tug full force at the heart strings. There are moments when it's just them and the camera (always separated by distance) and you can just feel the aching loneliness that holds their characters in check.

That initial phone call where Sam is baring his heart and Annie is listening thousands of miles away in tears really gets me.

Switching gears, kudos to Ephron and Pullman for making an annoying character who you know won't get the girl in the end likeable and redeemable. It's ham-fisted and obvious, but I am so sick of romcoms where the other man/woman is a complete tool (as they did in You've Got Mail with Greg Kinnear and Parker Posey). Having that climax dinner where Annie tells her fiance that she can't marry him end amicably is oddly great.

I just wish they hadn't made him an allergy-ridden weakling.


Sleepless in Seattle isn't a great film.

I know it's sacrilege to say such, but it's driven too much by its silly premise and not enough by true character interaction.

I mean, seriously, the sum total of Sam and Annie's experience together consists of a look, a letter, and a meeting at the top of the Empire State Building. There's no relationship here... just "the magic." And that, alone, does not a good movie make for me.

It's cute and can jerk tears at moments, but its charms do not overcome its flaws. I'd say you should watch it at least once, but it shouldn't need more than that.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Day One Hundred and Seventeen - Paranorman, "Laika, you rock... HARD."

Made by the same crew who brought Neil Gaiman's Coraline to the big screen, ParaNorman tells the tale of a young boy who is a reluctant medium in an old New England town where no one, not even his family, understands his gift/curse for speaking to the dead.

Unfortunately for Norman, that means that he is the only one who can save the town when the curse of a witch who was hanged back in pilgrim times falls upon the town, threatening to drive everyone mad with mass hysteria.

Alright, I think it's pretty safe to say that Laika and its artists are pretty awesome. What they manage to do with wire frames and latex is awe-inspiring. Overall, their art direction is stupendous. I really love how everything is askew, from the character design to the architecture and props, there are bent angles everywhere and a general lack symmetry that serves to enhance the eerie mood of the picture.

Then there's the story... a simple ghost tale that follows a natural progression, I could definitely see it getting lost in someone else's hands (like, say, Dreamworks or Fox), but Laika and company use their character cliches and idiosyncrasies to drive things smoothly instead of relying on pop culture to connect superfluous scenes together (like Shrek or Ice Age).

ParaNorman is great family fare, but it doesn't dumb things down. It will be scary for kids, but the good kind of scary that inspires wonder and creativity as opposed to most horror films that are just out for shock factor. There's something in the story for everyone and plenty of interesting background noise to make the town and its citizens feel real and fully fleshed out... even the zombies.

That's not to say that there aren't a few silly jokes meant to pull people in (like the Halloween reference), but there are many more references and gags meant to satisfy film lovers (like the opening zombie movie) without being heavy handed.

I think my main complaint with the movie is that all of the ghosts that we're introduced to in the first act disappear until the denouement. Be it Grandma or Neil's dog or any of the plethora of spirits that Norman meets on his way to school, they all seem to disappear when they could've been used to greater effect during the crisis. This is especially disappointing in the case of Grandma who says, herself, that she's only there to look after Norman.

Well, where WERE you Grandma, when zombie pilgrims were chasing down your grandson? Hmm?

It's a valid issue/plothole, but doesn't really detract from the quality of the film as a whole. It's got great style, animation, story, and voice acting (mmm, Anna Kendrick... you're so dreamy~). I'm really happy to have this in my queue and recommend it to pretty much everybody.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Friday, April 26, 2013

Day One Hundred and Sixteen - Henry's Crime, "Oh, Keanu... I love you man, but sometimes..."

I think that I'm one of the few critics in the world who actually likes Keanu Reeves... at least, on the internet.

Everywhere I go, I see tirade after tirade that he's wooden, can't act, and that the ever eloquent "whoa" is the extent of his emotive power, yet I don't think there's a single film that I haven't enjoyed of his because he's in it. This is a fact that I tell you true because I even include such stinkers as Johnny Mnemonic, Chain Reaction, and Babes in Toyland.

The film centers around Keanu and his character Henry who we see is stuck in an existence he doesn't want and finds his initial escape by taking the fall for a bank robbery he didn't know he was helping commit. From there the movie starts proper as he's introduced both to his future partner in crime and the love of his life, all in a strange scheme to "find his dream" by getting paroled and actually robbing the bank he was wrongly accused of doing so several years previous.

It's weird.

In Henry's Crime, I see manifest many of the complaints people would make, chief among them that his range is limited to a small sliding scale between "Stiff" and "Slightly Pliant." Still, there's just something about his character's accepting earnestness that pulls you in and makes you feel for the man, makes you want to see his story through.

It certainly helps that James Caan, Vera Farmiga, Peter Stormare, Billy Duke, and Fischer Stevens are along for the ride. Its a weird smorgasbord of character actors in a much more sedate indie flick than I'm sure they're used to, but it oddly works.

Caan is certainly believable as the affable con-man who would rather be in jail than on the outside, and I can't help but melt a little as I see Farmiga and Keanu do their little mating dance. There's just something about how slowly it progresses over the course of the film.

Where most pictures take a light and happy, even comic approach to these sorts of courtships, Henry's Crime gives a slightly more hostile take as Henry and Julia enter in almost from the beginning with the full knowledge of where he's been and what he intends. There's just something sweet about the tacit acceptance that Julia offers him and authentic as they argue over the fact that he's ruining her life by making her an accessory to his crime.

I'm also a huge fan of how the film ends... and I apologize as it's a bit of a spoiler. During the climax, as the bank heist is going on beneath their feet, Henry fights for Julia who has brushed him off as merely a criminal who is using her. I love the way it mirrors (rather intentionally) the play that they're acting in and I love the way said play goes off the rails. Sure, there's a bit of cheese as the audience starts participating, but as Henry and Julia get closer and closer to that one last kiss, Farmiga's final line before the fade out is just bloody perfect.

Well, maybe it wasn't the line itself so much as her delivery of it. It gave me that sudden rush of shivers that climax kiss scenes should but often don't. Kudos to the both of them for it.

It's kind of sad to think about, but Henry's Crime isn't all that great a movie. It's too quiet and more than a bit boring. I liked that Fischer Steven's villain came back, but it was done sloppily and resolved too easily. The heist, the conflict, the Cherry Orchard... they were all too blah as a whole... but I still liked it.

As independent features go, Henry's crime is edited and shot well, it's just that the story and the performances lack that certain oomph that I prefer. It definitely bears the mark of precise craftsmanship when it comes to the grand majority of its technical aspects, it's just not thrilling.

I couldn't recommend it... but I liked it. And that's a bit of a shame, isn't it? I don't think I feel that it's a guilty pleasure or anything, something to be embarrassed about, but I certainly won't be beating down peoples' doors trying to get them to watch it. It was okay and occasionally cute, but ultimately bland.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Day One Hundred and Fifteen - Continuum: Season 1, Pilot, "So Vancouver is going to be the center of the world in 2077?"

I mean, really?



I guess I can suspend my disbelief a little. Probably more than I ever could for Lost Girl in terms of the universe conspiring to have all Fae politics center somewhere in Canada, but still.

Continuum's first season just hit Netflix and various folks have been prodding me to give it a go, so what the hey, am I right? It has a pretty interesting looking scifi bent to it even if main character Kiera (Rachel Nichols) is married to the douchiest corporate tool that I've seen in a while (who is hinted in the opening "timejump" event to be somehow involved or, at least, prescient to what would happen).

It does look stereotypically rough. The future scenes look like they're trying for Deus Ex:Human Revolution, but fall a bit short as it all looks way too clean. This is supposed to be a cyberpunk dystopia, after all, only six months after the main villains have destroyed several buildings in Future-Vancouver's skyline, yet there's not a mote of dust in the air or discarded paper or trash blowing by in the elevated train's platform. The air is smogfree and the view from Kiera's apartment is magnificent.


Say one thing about Future-Vancouver, though... it does have The Smoking Man (William Davis of X-Files fame) playing the future version of Alec Sadler. I have to say, that small smile he gave right after the "timejump" in the first act really worked for me... and I hope, as I continue in the season, that he shows up more and more.

I'm really intrigued both by the old Sadler and the young one (played by Eric Knudsen whom folks might recognize as Dale from Jericho)... especially his own personal connections to the revolutionary groups.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how I feel about Rachel Nichols yet. Her portrayal of a distressed mother was unconvincing and her cop-walk in the future was wooden at best. I wasn't really bothered with her procedural behavior in the past (our present), but we'll see how that develops along with her obviously budding partnership with past-detective Carlos (Victor Webster).

I think what seems to have the most potential for me are the Liber8 cell members themselves... well, a few of them anyway. Tony Amendola, Roger Cross, and Lexa Doig are all veterans of Stargate: SG-1 and it's good to see them back on a scifi show. You can bet I'll be crossing my fingers that they show up often for fun villainy.

Continuum gets off to a shaky start, but I think I'm willing to give it a fair try. Here's hoping that it doesn't disappoint.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Day One Hundred and Fourteen - My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Season 1, Episode 11, "Such a simple thing as a song to brighten one's day."

There's something about MLP:FiM's musical episodes that just tickle me for some reason.

While not all of their songs are golden, they do seem to ring with a sort of earthiness and authentic flavor. Occasionally that means there's an awkward phase or two that's off beat or rhyme, but they still manage to retain their homespun vibe.

Episode 11, is kind of the midpoint epi for the first season and, as such, is a full ensemble piece that gives main character Twilight Sparkle time with each and every one of her friends, failing spectacularly to help at the pony version of the spring festival, dubbed Winter Wrap-up.

Not really the fertility or religious gathering that us humans are used to, the writers nevertheless have incorporated the traditional themes of nature's reawakening and planting that should be familiar to most folks.

Unfortunately for Twilight Sparkle, the Ponyville folks celebrate the holiday a different way than she's used to and it leaves her feeling left out... so much so that she breaks their taboos trying to help.

I find this a fascinating study of when cultures clash, even on such a small and harmless scale as this. Sure, Twily messes things up big time, but she also saves the day in a compromise that highlights how her particular talents can help.

A good lesson for the kiddos about respecting tradition while still making a valuable mark in the world.

Yes, it's cheesy and silly, but also cute (in typical MLP fashion)... and also features quite a few background ponies that the Bronies love to latch on to, particularly Dr.Whooves (the Stallion with brown hair and an hourglass cutie mark... whom folks have morphed into a David Tennant analog) and Derpy Hooves (the cross-eyed goofy pony who, in fandom, is The Doctor's companion... usually Donna).

No sign of DJ PON-3 yet, but she will show up eventually.

The fare is light in this one. None of the conflicts are all that thrilling, but they do give mildly entertaining diversions to go along with the overarching soundtrack. While the episode only really has the single song, as opposed to most of the premiere and finale episodes that feature quite a few, it carries the bouncy happy mood of the epi with pleasing distinction.

Most of the time, the art is meh, but there are a few segments that stand out... particularly when Rainbow Dash and the pegasi create a screwdriven whirlwind in the sky to clear out all the clouds. Cool stuff!

MLP:FiM always manages to please, even if only a little, but there's plenty to smile at in this episode. As always, I recommend folks taking a chance on it. It's not all that deep, but it doesn't need to be.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day One Hundred and Thirteen - Double Jeopardy, "Wow... I didn't believe this movie one bit."

The late 90's and early 2000's were a boom time for crime thrillers. For a while there, you couldn't swing a cat without hitting an Alex Cross or Ashley Judd movie (sometimes both, when you think of Kiss the Girls) and that trend has sort of died out lately. So much so, that I'm actually afraid that Fincher's take on the Millennium Trilogy will be stuck at one (granted, it was a tremendous 'one,' but still).

How... how did I get in this picture, again?
Back to the matter at hand, in 1999 Ashley and Tommy Lee Jones costarred in a silly thriller about a loving wife who is framed for murder by her husband and the best friend he was sleeping with. In the opening act of the film, there's really no clue as to what the film is about. Everything is lovey dovey and there's absolutely no tension save that the husband, Nick (Bruce Greenwood), is a bit of a dick when it comes to his art collection and there might be financial problems a'brewing.

Granted, you know what the premise of the film is going into it, but it just seems to come out of nowhere... and I suppose that's the idea as Judd's Elizabeth is blindsided by both her husband's supposed death and the litany of evidence against her. Still, it feels a little stupid that there was no real tension to build upon. No suspicions of an affair, no meaningful glances... just a single line that would be better for another situation, "better you hear it from us," used for something completely innocuous.

Then there's the prison sequence.

So close to a giant lesbian meth orgy!
Elizabeth spends six years in prison before she is paroled in the second act... and despite the emotional strain she is under, the big house seems like a rather reserved and sustainable existence. Now, maybe the writer skipped on the stereotypical prison drama to keep the focus on Elizabeth's mortification at having her child stripped away from her, but even uplifting prison films like Shawshank (admittedly, a much better film) had the Sisters and quite a bit of physical abuse. I really thought they were setting something like that up when the Margaret and Evelyn characters are introduced. There needed to be a least a pecking order beatdown before they became bosom buddies, but all it took was a few stolen smokes. Blech.

Honey! Ixnay on the aked-fey eath-day!
Once our righteously pissed heroine gets her parole and we're finally introduced to Tommy Lee Jones' parole officer, what should be a great game of cat and mouse is just a simple half hour of connect the dots that wastes a perfect opportunity for Judd to out Greenwood at a black tie gala and sends the audience sightseeing tourista N'awlins... from the French Quarter to NO's famous above ground cemeteries (where a prime chance to kill her is wasted) and back again.

I think my main problem with the film is that there's just no smarts involved. It's a paint by numbers movie that has no real tense moments or true emotion. Even when Elizabeth is supposed to be breaking down in tears or full of righteous anger, Judd plays her so false and wooden. I'll tell you true, I wouldn't have believed her crocodile tears on the witness stand and her denouement hug of her long lost child felt like a camp counselor giving an awkward going away embrace to her favorite camper whilst simultaneously avoiding his first boner.

This wasn't a great outing for Jones, either. His motivation is tacked on and the stories need to always have him following footsteps instead of really asserting himself means that when he actually tries something during the climax, it feels out of left field and is just as false as Judd and her antics. I mean, at least in The Fugitive he felt menacing in his dogged pursuit... like a noose was actually tightening. Here it was just "Oh hai, Ashley!"

Thank the Maker he made No Country For Old Men with the Coens or I'd have no more respect for him.

I feel a bit bad for Bruce Greenwood. He's redeemed himself for this terrible showing in recent years thanks to his work with J.J.Abrams, but I can't help but laugh every time he's on screen in this picture.

At best, I think Double Jeopardy is a date night movie that you can throw on for something in the background while you're spending most of your attentions snogging your partner. It's definitely the kind of film you can slide in an out of without missing anything.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Monday, April 22, 2013

Day One Hundred and Twelve - A League of Their Own, "A little schmaltzy, but still a decent nostalgia/period film about baseball."

A flashback movie starring Geena Davis and Tom Hanks about the women's professional baseball league that was started in the tail end of World War Two, when many male MLB players were overseas fighting in Europe or the Pacific, A League of Their Own is less a baseball movie and more a tale of family and female empowerment.

That's not to say that there isn't a decent amount of baseball drama both on and off the field, but the in-game scenes are mostly montages... and brief ones at that.

Anyways, the main thrust of the story is the family drama between sisters Dottie (Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty), both fast pitch softball players in Oregon who are scouted for the new women's league by the wonderfully acerbic Jon Lovitz. As they head to tryouts in Chicago's Wrigley Field (renamed "Harvey Field" to get around certain legalities) and are eventually picked, you can tell there's a lot of rivalry between them. This is mostly on Kit's part as she's jealous of always living in her talented older sister's shadow. Some of that is justified, but most of it feels played up for the drama of the movie.

The other main role is that of the reluctant coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), who starts off as a souse but turns into a competent and enthusiastic leader over the course of the film, mostly due to the subtle reforming and competition that Dottie gives him.

To the side there are quite a few good supporting players like Rosie O'Donnell, Madonna, Megan Cavanaugh, Bitty Schram, and David Strathairn. As an ensemble, everything works pretty well, even if there are a few awkward sequences here and there.

I think my main beef with the film is two-fold.

First, Madonna has top billing, occupying the general cast roll and poster as the third lead over Lori Petty. I find this to be a grave injustice as, at best, she's a supporting actress, not a lead. I don't give a good goddamn that her star power may have helped the film along or that she won a Golden Globe for her tie-in song. The headliners for A League of Their Own were Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, and Lori Petty... AND THAT'S IT.

My second issue was how little actual baseball was in the film. Major League came out a few years earlier and, despite it not being a historical piece, was a better baseball film... even though it was a silly underdog sports comedy. Hell, Tom Selleck's Mr.Baseball is a better baseball film than this. I really shouldn't give A League of Their Own as much crap over this as I do as the story is more about female empowerment than the actual sport, but still.

Overall, Penny Marshall did a pretty darn good job with this film. She managed to pull together a terrific ensemble with lots of great leads and supporting actors (even including Madonna... she may not have the best reputation, but her performance here worked). Brother Garry is great in the few scenes we see him as candy mogul Harvey and David Strathairn is just fine as well. Honestly, he always delivers and whenever I see him on a cast list, I'm happy.

While there could have been more bonding scenes between Dottie and Jimmy, I was decently pleased with their back and forth. There may have been more left on the cutting floor as the running time was pretty long for a nostalgia dramedy like this, clocking in at over two hours, but you can't always get what you want without overbloating a film. If I had all the baseball and personal drama I wanted, it probably would've broken three hours.

I can definitely recommend A League of Their Own. You just have to forgive the first five minutes' schmaltz before the film flashes back to the Forties and starts proper. Also, kudos to Penny for finding elder actresses who really did look like aged versions of Geena Davis and Lori Petty. It (and the dub job) was so convincing that I was trying to look for makeup lines the whole while.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Day One Hundred and Eleven - Career Opportunities, "Proof positive that an era can end."

If there is one truth about movies in the 80's, it's that John Hughes was the master of the coming of age teen dramedy.

Be it Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller... Hughes was gold when it came to tapping into the zeitgeist that was adolescent ennui in the age of Cyndi Lauper, INXS, and Bananarama. So much so that I doubt anyone who grew up in that era would argue any different and anyone who was born too late would be instantly beat down in any internet fight if they said otherwise.

But there's a flipside to the argument, because once he left the zaniness of the 80's, the market changed rapidly and, where Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson were once the gods of the Brat Pack, the 90's demanded a more real and gritty take on growing up, preferring Reality Bytes and Empire Records to Baby's Day Out and Home Alone.

I sort of weep for Career Opportunities. Not only did it come at the wrong time, but it was trying to bridge the gap between the old and the new, straddling the stylistic canyon between checkered suits and grungy flannel shirts.

The story is very much a slant on what Hughes did a year before with Home Alone, just with a pair of teenagers in a department store instead of a precocious kid in his own house. Essentially, Jim Dodge (played by Frank Whaley, who really isn't leading man material) IS Kevin McAllister, just older and a brunette... but the endless tirade of lies and manipulations that come out of an eight year old's mouth are cheap and really rather pathetic from a young adult.

Jim is the Town Liar. It's obvious from the start when Hughes has him almost playing to the audience and breaking the fourth wall till we see he's regaling the dogs of an animal shelter with his fantasies. He spins his tales to a trio of pre-teens, who believe and revere him, while the rest of the town is wise to his tricks. He's a born loser.

Josie (Jennifer Connelly) is the spoiled rich girl whose idea of "doing anything" to get her father's attention consists of attempting to shoplift but chickening out. There's also a seedy undercurrent of physical abuse that you never see but is hinted at without any real drama, very much to the detriment of the movie. Instead of Judd Nelson's "carton of cigarettes" monologue from The Breakfast Club, we get Josie in monotone to Jim confessing her dad "beats her ass." No drama, no impact, just bleh.

Together, the two of them get locked into the local Target (the Big Red Dot being a new and weird thing back then) and proceed to spend the night goofing off and bonding until a pair of murderers and thieves somehow manage to break inside in a way that is never actually explained. This is especially disconcerting considering the movie expends several scenes on the notion that Jim and Josie can't get out.

The entire premise and all its little sundries are laughable. Where I could get behind Ferris and his trip across Chicago, even crashing a parade float... I cannot for one second believe in Jim and Josie, either their separate issues or their instant concrete bonding. This is especially true when Josie goes Stockholm Syndrome with one of the robbers and the last fifteen minutes of the film becomes a version of Die Hard.

I feel really bad for Jennifer Connelly in this film. She's obviously too beautiful for the room and there definitely isn't much to chew on in the script. Anyone with a brain can see she's just being used for her ample rack here. Sure, she was pretty much just starting out at this point, but OH MY GOD am I thankful her agent got her in Dark City, Requiem for a Dream, and A Beautiful Mind instead of more crapfests like this.

Her, I can forgive. Hughes? Not so much.

Plot holes, superfluous scenes, useless melodrama away from the action (Josie and Jim's respective fathers and their sleepless nights)... you can definitely see why this particular entry into Hughes' catalog never comes up on anyone's lists. I most certainly recommend that everyone stay away unless they're feeling masochistic and want to go through his entire film repertoire... all the way up through Drillbit Taylor.


Though, I will admit that it was fun to see racks and racks of cassette tapes again in their annoying white plastic security cases to keep folks from slipping them in their pockets. Freaking hilarious. It did beg the question, though, of how exactly Josie and Jim pried them out to play in the various HiFi's of the store.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Day One Hundred and Ten - Explorers, "Some of that Spielburgian Scifi Wonder and Awe."

If you've read the blog or listened to OotV's podcasts you know that I love films like Super 8 that don't really dumb down family science fiction. Movies like Close Encounters and E.T. manage to entertain and inspire without over-complicating the message or resorting to the lowest common denominator, either.

It should probably go without saying that Explorers holds a similar place in my heart.

Focusing on three adolescents who are brought together both by their sense of adventure and the oddly prescient and vivid dreams that they share, Explorers stars a very young Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix. Joined by Jason Presson (who sadly didn't have similar star power), the trio discover that the dreams that Ben (Hawke) is having translate into an undiscovered technology that can allow them to travel anywhere in three dimensions.

The film follows their journey (both literal and figurative) as they build a ship to navigate space with this new technology and decided to slip the bonds of Earth and see just what is out there. It's a nifty sort of coming of age story that mirrors the Vision Quest (again, both figuratively and literally).

I really enjoyed the Tron-esque dream sequences that featured early CGI. It was brief and pales by far to today's standards... but, for its day, was pretty impressive.

Plus, any movie that has clips of This Island Earth and the original War of the Worlds just begs for geek support. Hard to say 'no' to that.

That's not to say it's not without problems, though.

Unlike its true Spielburgian cousins, it's rather lacking in scope, has several glaring plot holes that don't resolve, and definitely peters out far too quickly as soon as the extraterrestrial reveal is made. Once the aliens make physical contact, it all becomes a goofy pop culture exploration that feels like it wants to be serious through surreal comedy but is instead very gauche and trite.

I was particularly disappointed with how easily early plot points (the bullies, the helicopter cop) are completely forgotten by the midpoint of the film. There's no continuity with either lost thread and it messes with my sense of balance concerning the film.

Attempts are made to try, such as with Darren (Presson) and his callback line about his father... and Ben's love interest Lori, but a much better job could've been done overall to tie up the loose ends.

It's definitely not a perfect movie, that much is certain, but it still manages to pull off a decent amount of suspension of disbelief.

It's also a semi-decent showing for Robert Picardo. Not his best foray into that wacky character repertoire of his, but the man has been the go-to guy for small roles like this for decades. You can't knock them all out of the park... and, really, when I think about it, the movie's problems aren't his fault at all. For what he was asked for, he delivered his part pretty well. It's just that the effects (especially the alien suit) were crap.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

Friday, April 19, 2013

Day One Hundred and Nine - High School of the Dead: Episode 9, "Mmm... Saeko. I love you."

It's been a while since I watched any High School of the Dead, so I figured I'd head back and take a few in. The episodes are short on time and long on fanservice and, sometimes, that's just what you need.

Episode 9, "The Sword and The Dead" teams up the group's nominal male lead, Takashi, and the ever deadly and beautiful Saeko as they are separated from the rest of the group. The meat of the story revolves around the two of them bonding as they are generally cut off by the horde at just about every opportunity and are forced to improvise and spend the night rough in a shrine temple.

I really love this particular episode because it highlights my favorite shippage in the series. There's just something about Saeko's character archetype that pushes all the right buttons for me. She's vicious, but not evil. Refined, but also primal. Sexy, but demure.

Granted, the series makes no qualms about showing her in a few states of undress, giving her a dousing in river water to force an impromtu wet t-shirt contest (in which she is the only contestant), a sequence where she's braless in a tanktop, and so on, but this is High School of the Dead.

It has two modes... Zombie Violence and Fan Service... and the series is REALLY heavy on the latter. If you're at all surprised with what you get at this point, I have no respect for your powers of observation.

In addition to all the service, we also get to see the weaker side of Saeko (probably just to ramp her moe factor, but still). Despite her deadly ways, she balks when confronted with zombie children and is almost bitten until Takashi intervenes. We are also treated to a bit of her backstory as she relays her fears concerning her possible status as a psychopath who loves to kill and maim.

It's weird how much I love how beautiful her darkness is... and it obviously rubs off a little on Takashi, BUT that last bit is kind of my problem with the series.

HSotD is an obvious harem anime... where the main male lead is the object of both attention and affection for all the female leads. That means that it's all super cheesy, super convenient, and the shippage that I may particularly root for is only around for a few key episodes before it falls into the background in favor of the main romance.

Or, at least, what is HINTED to be the main romance... and, based on the clues, I'm guessing it won't be Saeko.

Unless, you know, the party manages to form a comfortable trois or quart.

Or pentacle.

So many of these buxom girls are just gaga over Takashi, of course, that it annoys the hell out of me. Maybe because I, personally, am more like the chubby otaku character Kohta Hirano whose own love interest is, of course, head over heels for Takashi.

Ah, jealousy... over fictional anime characters.

I wish there was more HSotD. The anime ends on a cliffhanger in a few episodes and its source material, the manga, has been on hiatus for quite some time (over a year) and has only recently started back up again.

For what is there, though, it works on just about every primal caveman/reptile brain tendency. If that's your thing (like it is mine) enjoy with my blessing!

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~