Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up (8/28)

The Adjustment Bureau
The Adjustment Bureau is loosely based on the 1954 Philip K. Dick short story The Adjustment Team. While that story is not one of his better pieces of short fiction, it is an enjoyable read. The movie takes the story in a different direction but keeps key elements. For example, the two main characters in the film are a politician and a ballerina. In the short story the main characters are a married coupled and the husband works in an office. As an adaptation of Dick's story it is not very close (like most science fiction/fantasy short stories you would have to make it into a Twilight Zone/Outer Limits episode to truly adapt it) but as a stand alone film its good. I don't have a problem with Hollywood re-imaging Dick's work as was the case here, but other films got closer to his themes, some which aren't even based on PKD stories! For example, this movie felt like the little brother to Dark City (1998). Both movies share similar ideas like free will and "adjustments," but Dark City explores these philosophical questions deeper while The Adjustment Bureau focuses on the love story. That said, the love story is well done and I'm not knocking the movie for doing something different with the source material. When dealing with films based on books or any other sort of media I try to judge it as a film first and foremost and through my preconceptions out the window. Getting back to the love story, it doesn't feel forced as Emily Blunt and Matt Damon have good chemistry together. The relationship aspect wasn't tacked on to the plot like in other films (*cough* Thor *cough*) as their attraction and love for each other is the driving factor in the story.
The film's story is grounded in real world as every one from Jon Stewart to Jesse Jackson make cameos as themselves in the opening scene. When the sci-fi/fantasy part of plot comes in with the adjusters the movie is still always pretty grounded. For example, we don't have the talking dog from the short story (its not what it appears to be, but still much more fantastical than the tone they were going for here). The film is a "romantic thriller" (my apologies to James Nguyen, the director of the crapfest Birdemic who coined that term) with both paranoia and heart.
The outfits of the adjusters in the 50s/60s style with hats was certainly a throwback to Dick's stories and is something that hasn't really been used in the film adaptations of his works until this point. One problem about the adjusters is that for some unknown reason they don't like water and it apparently affects their powers. It seems that this was just thrown in there to give them a weakness and doesn't really make sense.
Besides Damon and Blunt, Terence Stamp, Michael Kelly, and Anthony Mackie put in solid supporting roles as no performance stood out as particularly great or poor. There were not a ton of special effects in this movie but I didn't notice any CGI, so if it was used it wasn't distracted which was nice for a change in modern films.
The Adjustment Bureau is director George Nolfi's first film, and it is certainly a good start. I am interested to see what he will do next.

I had seen part of Gremlins on TV a long time ago, but never actually got around to watching the whole thing until now. Gremlins is a type of movie we don't see a whole lot nowadays: an original story (not a remake, sequel or based on a book/comic) that also has great practical effects. This movie features tons of familiar actors so I won't even waste your time listing them all. More importantly, these actors do a great job of playing interesting characters that you care about such as the old Chinese man who sells Gizmo, the inventor/salesman Dad, the war veteran afraid of gremlins, etc. The directing by Joe Dante is good. I'm familiar with his TV work and Amazon Women on the Moon so I'll have to check out more of his stuff. The script was written by Chris Columbus who would go on to have a nice career (wrote Goonies, directed Home Alone and first two Harry Potter films). Gremlins inspired a slew knock-off movies from the mediocre (Critters) to just plain terrible (Hobgoblins). Like tons of other TV shows and movies such as Back to the Future, Gremlins was filmed on the Universal back lot.

Gremlins is a throwback to 1950s monster movie as the film features a short scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well as a cameo from none other than Robby the Robot as himself! I was impressed with the attention to detail in this movie. Early on the lead actor's romantic interest says that she hates Christmas. I thought it was a bit odd but didn't think much about it until it was followed up on later. A more fun example is when Gizmo is in the backpack quietly humming "Hi Ho" while the other gremlins are watching Snow White in the theater!
Gremlins has a perfect tone for this type of horror comedy as it is funny but never silly and serious when it needs to be. The ending with Stripe dying is pretty creepy and would certainly scare younger children.
The movie is a lot of fun as we have gremlins singing Christmas carols, playing cards, and going to movies! The special effects are very well done and still hold up today. The mogwai and gremlins feel like real creatures and their personalities bounce off the screen.
While on could easily guess that this movie would have a happy ending, it also follows up on the beginning and is a perfect wrap-up. I felt bad that Billy couldn't keep Gizmo, but I'm glad this was in ending as it makes more sense and is as realistic as possible given the circumstances.

The plot of Cocoon is reminiscent of the original Twilight Zone episode "Kick the Can." However, I actually think this movie handled a similar premise even better. Cocoon is unusual for a Hollywood movie in that the leading actors are all old people. The three lead senior citizens are played by Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, and Don Ameche. A veteran actor since the 1930s, Ameche won his one and only an Oscar (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) for Cocoon, although it was essentially a lifetime achievement award. Steve Guttenberg is fun in a supporting role although nobody could have predicted that in 2011 the general public would be more familiar with Wilford Brimley than Guttenberg. Diabeetus! Speaking of Wilford Brimley, that man always looked old. I still can't believe that he was only 50 when this movie was made! Brimley looked old in The Thing (1982) and The Natural (1984) and surprisingly he turns just 77 this September!

Cocoon has nice score by James Horner, one of my favorite movie soundtrack composers. The opening soundtrack song is fantastic and used perfectly in the Super 8 trailer since most people (myself included) thought it was an original piece made for that movie!
The premise of older people feeling younger (but not looking younger) is quite good and also well executed. A friend of the group, Bernie, chooses not to swim in the "fountain of youth" pool because he says its  "reshuffling the deck" and like playing god. Cocoon is a film is about growing old that is not depressing, but a celebration of both life and death. Leaving earth is a metaphor for dying and going to another planet where they can't return from but will never die is like the afterlife. The pool is also an example of too much of a good thing as Joe obsesses over it to the extent that his wife (temporarily) leaves him.
Besides having a much older cast than most popular films, it is also interesting to note that Cocoon has no villains or bad guys. Instead we just have people trying to help each other despite obstacles. The old friends try to help each others health through the pool. The aliens try to rescue their friends who were left behind. Steve Guttenberg's character agrees to help the aliens in their quest. Even the Coast Guard is trying to at the end since they think the old people went senile on the boat and attempt to bring them back. The special effects still hold up pretty well, and they should since the film won an Oscar for best Visual Effects.

Cocoon was not as sentimental as I was expecting it would be. Instead it was realistic as possible when it came to the characters. There was also a great sense of wonder, which is has often been absent from more recent films. Like Gremlins, there is obviously going to be a happy ending, but its not sappy. There is a typical cheesy 80s montage about halfway through the film which feels out of place, although that is sort of the point. However, that was already cliche by this point and certainly could have been handled better. Something else I wonder is if the cast was too large. For example, Barret Oliver (Brimley's grandson), was an important character in the beginning then disappears for most of film. That said the acting was good all around and I think it not only handles the ensemble cast well but better than the second movie did.
I also gotta add that the picture quality of this film (and the sequel) is amazing in HD (free on demand thru comcast). Not a movie I would expect to look great but I gotta give credit for the pristine video and sound quality. When it comes it family films that don't play down (or up) to an audience that all ages can enjoy, you can't go wrong with Cocoon.
My favorite quote from the film: "It wouldn't be fun if we had permission" - Art Selwyn (Don Ameche)

: The Return (1988)
The lure of great HD picture quality was enough to get me to see the sequel. Another plus was the return of the entire ensemble cast. Even Brian Dennehy and the actress who played Rose return for cameos! This is rare for a sequel that isn't part of a franchise like Star Trek or X-Men. Besides all the returning actors we also have an early role for Courteney Cox. Ron Howard did not return to the directing chair and his presence is missed. It was interesting to see an older Barrett Oliver in one of his final film roles before he retired from acting. This sort of thing happens a lot to child stars, but he will always be remembered for his role as Bastian in The Neverending Story.
Although the sequel came out three years later, it picks up five years after the first film for some reason. While this sequel was certainly not necessary, it was not completely unnecessary either as there was a good reason for them to return to Earth that follows up on the last movie. It was also clever to bring back Bernie and follow-up on his character, who plays a larger role this time. Jessica Tandy is great as usual, and she gets more screen time in the sequel, along with the other wives of the main three old men.

It's nice to see these older actors having fun in these roles. Wilford Brimley and the guys play basketball against 20-somethings which was hilarious even though it didn't move the plot forward at all. The pregnancy (?!) sub-plot was just plain ridiculous. Also, the more screen time the alien Antareans have in the natural form, the sillier they look. Less is more in this case.
Obviously Cocoon: The Return is not as good as the original, but its not a bad sequel. If you liked the first movie I'd be surprised if you didn't like the second one at all. The follow-up is much more episodic than the original which told a more cohesive story. As a result the pacing drags at times and has bigger shifts in tone. Perhaps the movie could have been better if it was shorter (say closer to 90 minutes than two hours) and focused more on rescuing the cocooned Antareans, which is why they came back to Earth in the first place. The credits are played over scenes from both movies which is unusual but works in this case.

The best part about the sequel is that it ties up all the loose ends so that there can't be another one. And since all of the seniors except Brimley are now dead...
we don't have to worry about a Cocoon 3 unless Wilford Brimley REALLY wants to reprise his role! Although knowing Hollywood it wouldn't surprise me if they remade Cocoon with Shia LaBeouf as Steve Guttenberg's character or Gremlins with LaBeouf as Billy... now that I have given you nightmares, see you on Thursday!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tales from the Archives, Part 2: James K. Hackett

This post is a follow-up to my first Tales from the Archive post which can be read here.

I am still helping out at the archives, but have completed my task of going through the parish monthly calendars. What this means is that, against all odds, I now have a plethora of primary sources relating to film history! Since I have finished collecting materials, I am now in the process of going through what I have discovered and doing further research. From now on there will be scanned pictures of the articles. This week's installment of Tales from the Archives is about stage and silent film actor James K. Hackett.

This article is entitled "A Generous Non-Catholic" and appeared in a Feb. 1927 monthly parish calendar from the Philadelphia suburbs (St. Joseph Church in Downingtown, PA). The piece praises American actor James K. Hackett for entertaining the troops in WWI. Hackett was ineligible to fight in the war due to a knee injury he sustained while performing in Macbeth (as the title character) on stage. Although Hackett was not a Catholic himself, this Catholic publication was impressed that he helped the Knights of Columbus and supported the troops by entertaining them. The article also serves as an obituary since it informs us that Hackett died in Paris on November 8th, 1926 at the age of 57.

As mentioned in the article, James Kelteltas Hackett (1869 - 1926) was an actor. His father, James Henry Hackett, was also a stage actor who was most known for his portrayal of Falstaff. James K. Hackett was born when his father was 69 years old, and the elder Hackett died two years later.  Although James K. Hackett was an American, he was actually born in Ontario, Canada and would later make his stage acting debut in Philadelphia in 1892. Like his father, Hackett made quite a name for himself as a Shakespearean actor. At the age of 43 Hackett entered the burgeoning film industry. Film mogul Adolph Zukor started the Famous Players Film Company in 1912 which brought stage actors such as Hackett and Sarah Bernhardt from the theater to the silver screen. Zukor's company grew and later merged with Jesse L. Lasky's film company to eventually became known as none other than... Paramount Pictures!

Hackett's debut film was The Prisoner of Zenda (1913) which is considered to be the first five-reel American film. The Prisoner of Zenda was based on the 1894 adventure novel by Anthony Hope and there have been many other films versions of the novel made since Hackett starred in the book's first film adaptation nearly a century ago. The story of The Prisoner of Zenda calls for the lead actor to play two roles, which Hackett did in the film version. I am guessing that this was one of the earliest examples of an actor playing two different characters in a movie. Although Hackett played the role on stage, he was reluctant to move into the new medium of film. According to film critic and historian Neal Gabler: "When Hackett came to visit Zukor, he was the very picture of the faded matinee idol. He wore a fur-collared coat with frayed sleeves and carried a gold-headed cane." Despite being past his prime, Hackett was convinced by Zukor to take the role. The film also featured Hackett's wife at the time, Beatrice Beckley.

According to IMDB Hackett appeared in two more films: Ashes of Love (1918) and The Greater Sinner (1919). He also co-directed one film with Lloyd B. Carleton called The Walls of Jericho (1914). IMDB says that a copy of The Prisoner of Zenda survives at Eastman House in Rochester, New York. I'd love to see a restoration of the film and home video release for historical purposes, but I won't hold my breath waiting. From what I understand it seems that Hackett's other films are lost. According to the Find a Grave website, Hackett has another fascinating connection to film history besides appearing in a  few silents: "He [Hackett] eventually formed his own theatre company in the actor-manager tradition, and at one point produced a play by the legendary film director D.W. Griffith." Although Hackett will remain best known for being a stage actor and the son of James Henry Hackett, his contribution to the early world of cinema is important. Hackett was one of many stage actors who came to film and brought legitimacy to this new form of entertainment. Hackett could also get people to the movie theater as he was a known name from the stage that could sell tickets to the cinema. As you can see in the two The Prisoner of Zenda posters featured in this article his name was used prominently as a selling point. Going back to the article for a moment, it is noteworthy for its praise of a non-Catholic at a time when the KKK was popular and prejudice towards groups such as Catholics was commonplace. Hackett was able to put religious differences aside to work with Catholics and entertain the troops, which the tone of the article seems to imply did not happen too often back then. Hackett is virtually unknown in 2011, but he was certainly a popular actor in his day and still remains an interesting historical figure.

Additional Reading:
My follow-up article about Hackett's surviving films
Find A Grave

Sunday 8/28 is the weekly wrap-up, see you then!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Limitless (2011)

Although I enjoyed the reconstruction of London After Midnight and two new Wilfred episodes, I only got around to watching one movie this week. To make up for that I wrote more about this movie than I normally would for one film in the weekly wrap-up. Enjoy!


Limitless (2011) is about a struggling writer, Eddie, who discovers a secret drug which gives him enhanced concentration, memory, and intelligence. I had seen the previews and advertisements for Limitless over the course of several months for both its theatrical and Blu-ray/DVD releases, but just didn't have a desire to see it. The movie looked predictable and gave me a feeling of "been there, done that" as to where the story would go. Although I didn't seek it out, I wasn't actively avoiding it either. However, my Dad heard it was good and wanted to see it so I watched it with him hoping the trailers and TV spots were misleading. Limitless is the 7th movie made in 2011 that I have seen so far.

I'll start with what I liked about the movie. I was impressed with the directing and camera work. The film's stylish visuals do a great job of showing how Eddie sees the world after he takes the drug, as well as depicting the drug's bad side-effects like short term memory loss. The zoom camera effect of these flash forwards was stunning. The director of Limitless is Neil Burger, the same guy who directed The Illusionist (2006) which starred Ed Norton. Although The Prestige overshadowed that film since they came out the same year and were period pieces about magicians, I enjoyed both movies. I do admit that I liked Nolan's The Prestige better, but both were solid films by young directors. Limitless is only Burger's fourth film and his next project is set to be a movie adaptation of the video game Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

I felt the acting was good in Limitless. Nobody really stood out but there were no noticeably poor performances either. Bradley Cooper did a fine job as the lead even though his role was originally supposed to go to Shia LeBeouf before he got into a car accident! Bradley Cooper was able to carry the movie, as well as help sell it to the masses, so I think we'll see The Hangover star in more leading roles. Abbie Cornish had limited screen time but was enjoyable as Eddie's girlfriend. I'm not sure why Robert De Niro chose to be in this movie as I imagine he receives a lot of offers and can probably handpick his projects. That said, De Niro was fun to watch as a Wall Street fat cat and even though he no longer in his prime, his screen presence was great as usual.

The biggest issue I had with Limitless was that I felt "50 steps ahead" like main character as the plot was too predictable. One bad guy was set up so obviously as a villain that I thought it had to be a red herring and he was actually a good guy trying to track down and help Eddie. I was wrong because I didn't think it could be that obvious! The story didn't bring anything new to the table, as its a typical new found power/gift tale that has been done in everything from non-fiction celebrity biographies to superhero comics. A guy gets a power which leads a positive change in his life. However, it turns out to have some bad consequences, and he must get out of the mess by learning to live with it or getting rid of it. This is an old plot which has been done over and over again, and this story doesn't really bring much new to the table which makes it seem like the writer got lazy. I felt like the movie was going to have a deeper message, shocking twist ending, or tell us about the origin of the drug but none of those things happened.

Several basic questions were left unanswered like: Who exactly killed his ex-brother-in-law? Who made the drug? Why did they make the drug? If everyone had access to a drug that essentially gives super powers then nobody would be able to gain an edge on anybody as it would be an even playing field. Maybe the drug's creation was accident but if that was the case maybe it would have made more sense to have its creator be the main character.
The film clearly has writing issues, which is a shame since it could have been much better if the writer took some risks. The screenwriter of Limitless is Leslie Dixon, the writer who gave us turds like Look Who's Talking Now and the 2007 remake The Heartbreak Kid. Neil Burger has directed four films so far, and this is the only one that he didn't write the screenplay for. I guess that explains everything! To be completely fair to Dixon there were some clever things like how Eddie improvises when he needs to get his drug and the Russian gangster who funds Eddie at first. Even though the movie's plot is derivative and the writing is mediocre, it is still a well-made thriller thanks to Burger's directing. I would like to see more movies by this director as long as he keeps writing his own material or works with another writer. I've only seen two of Burger's films, but really liked what I have seen. Neil Burger (pictured below) is an up and coming director to keep an eye on.

Limitless is based on the premise that
"we only use 20% of our brains" but that the miracle drug in the film can unlock our brain's full potential. Obviously this is an old false urban legend, but it didn't really bother me since I knew it was a Sci-fi thriller from the beginning. I have no problem when a film makes up its own rules contrary to the real world, as long as it never breaks its own rules. Limitless had some writing problems but did follow the rules it set up.

Limitless is based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn. Apparently the film is close enough to the book, although I have heard there are some key differences such the ending. The back of the Blu-ray for the Limitless claims that the alternate ending included in the special features "changes everything," but it turns out that ending is actually very close to the original movie ending. I still liked the original movie ending better just because it showed you what the other one simply told you. The film looked great on Blu-ray, but to be fair I haven't seen a recent release that looked bad on Blu-ray! I saw the unrated extended cut of Limitless which is basically the way it was intended to be seen. However, that version would have gotten an R rating from the MPAA, so the studio cut it to get a PG-13 rating to make more money. Although I hate this tactic, the ploy worked as Limitless was a surprise box office hit. The film had a budget of $27 million but went on to make $80 million in the US and $155 million worldwide. While I didn't love Limitless, I did like it and I'm glad I saw it. It's refreshing to see a lower budget movie that is not a romantic comedy and competently made perform well in theaters. Take that Transformers and Smurfs!

Score: 6/10

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reconstructing Lost Film: London After Midnight (1927)

My film topic posted have now officially moved to Thursdays starting today. Enjoy!


Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is doing its Summer Under the Stars program this summer, which dedicates every day in August to showing movies strictly from one movie star each day. August 15th was Lon Chaney day and one of the films aired was the reconstruction of London After Midnight, which is one of the most sought after lost films. The only known surviving print burned in the 1967 MGM Studio Fire. As someone interested in film history, I had to check this out.

London After Midnight was reconstructed using more than 200 still photographs and a "complete continuity script" in 2002 (coinciding with the film's 75th anniversary) by filmmaker and archivist Rick Schmidlin. The film is considered to be one the "holy grails" of lost cinema for several reasons. First of all it starred Lon Chaney, the "man of a thousand faces" and was directed by Tod Browning who is most known for directing Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932). The film was based on the Tod Browning original story, "The Hypnotist." December 17, 1927 was the premiere date for London After Midnight. Even though the film did well financially, critical reception at the time was mixed. Lon Chaney made ten movies with director Tod Browning and London After Midnight was the pair's highest grossing film. Below is a picture of Browning.

London After Midnight
was also the first American vampire film and influential on the imagery of vampires in popular culture (creepy eyes and teeth, plus a cape). One of the most interesting stories about this film is that in 1928 a man accused of murdering a woman in Hyde Park, London used the film as part of his defense. He claimed that Lon Chaney's performance drove him to temporary insanity. However, his excuse did not hold up in court as he was still convicted of the crime.

This reconstruction is almost like reading a comic book since we have still images and text, although obviously music was added. Being a silent film is advantageous to doing this type of reconstruction. With a sound film I'm not even sure how something like this could be done. Would you hire new actors to dub lines? At that point you are basically re-making the movie to some extent.

It's hard to judge the film itself based on this reconstruction as it is essentially a historical artifact to recreate the original for future generations in case it is never found. That said, Lon Chaney's vampire make-up is creepy even by today's standards. The praise he received for his ability to "become" other people in his acting and make-up is definitely deserved, and he played a dual role in this film. I liked the twist ending as it tied up everything and felt organic to the story and not forced like many twist endings often are. London After Midnight was re-made by Browning in 1935 as Mark of the Vampire (with Bela Lugosi as the vampire) which I am now interested in seeing. I wonder if Lon Chaney would have reprised his role as the vampire in the remake had he not died in 1930.

This is a fascinating re-creation of a film that is most likely (although hopefully not) lost to time and may be as close as we will ever get to the original. I know that there have been reconstructions of other lost films but I wonder if any of those films have eventually been found. If you have seen a reconstruction of this or any other lost film please let me know your thoughts in the comments section. If London After Midnight is ever found it would be interesting to compare the original with the reconstruction to see how close it came.

See the Reconstruction here at google video!

Come back Sunday for the weekly wrap-up!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Schedule update

I just want to announce that my film topic posts will now be moved to Thursdays. Weekly wrap-up posts will still be on Sundays. This will make my weekly schedule of posts more balanced with two regular days for updates.

Since I had a short week due to the late update last time, I didn't get a chance to see any movies this week. Thursday 8/19 will be the next film topic update. I might have a post in the meantime but I'm not promising anything.
See you Thursday!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Summer TV Follow-Up

The most recent season of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, re-branded Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1,  has ended after a ten episode run. The finale was awesome, and they even pulled out some nice new animations! This was another solid, surreal season. If you love ATHF then you will certainly like AUPS1. But if you never got the show its basically more of the same, which is a good thing for fans of the show. I am curious to see if the next season will carry the AUPS1 moniker and the "moved to Seattle" gag or just go back to being ATHF. It's hard to tell with these guys!

Speaking of Adult Swim, I actually like NTSF:SD:SUV. Created by Paul Scheer, the show is a parody of police procedurals like CSI, and so far it is pretty funny. Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager) is hilarious as the leader with an eye patch. Live actions shows on Adult Swim haven't been very good, but this is the best one yet. I know that is not saying much, but its certainly a step in the right direction.

Jon Benjamin has a Van
just finished its first season of ten episodes this week. While I liked the season overall, it remains to be seen if Comedy Central will bring it back for another season. I am sure Jon Benjamin would like to do more of the show, and its post-South Park time slot certainly doesn't hurt. The biggest problem with the show is that it is pretty hit or miss. However, just when I am bored or don't find it funny, something hilarious will happen to keep me watching. I noticed that I tend to like the short segments better as opposed to the longer ones, so maybe the next season will do more shorter segments. Of course that is if there is a next season. They blew up planet Earth is the last episode(!), but continuity doesn't really exist in this show (even though it is a mock news show) so we'll see what happens.

FX's summer sleeper hit Wilfred has been renewed for a second season. The pilot was the highest rated comedy premiere for the channel, so this isn't a big surprise. So far 8 of 13 episodes have aired and I have been enjoying it. Although I think it could be a little less vulgar (I'm not a prude but it often feels forced) and could also do without the marijuana references, this writing is usually very clever. It has been a long time since I have been regularly watching a half hour show like this (Jon Benjamin has a Van is essentially a sketch show) show I must give Wilfred credit for that. IFC recently aired some episodes from the first season of the original Australian Wilfred. That show lasted two seasons and the actor who played Wilfred (Jason Gann) has reprised his role in the American show. It is interesting to compare the two versions. The Australian show is even more off-beat, indie, and low budget. If you aren't a fan of the American Wilfred, I don't think you would enjoy the Australian version. Both shows are different even though the basic concept is the same. In the Australian show the main character gets involved in a relationship, only to discover that he sees his new girlfriend's dog as a human in a dog suit and that the dog (Wilfred) is quite protective of his owner. All the episodes I saw came back to the theme of the love triangle between the couple and Wilfred, with the girl wanting her boyfriend and dog to get along since they are both important to her. There is also a theme of isolation as some episodes only had those three characters, but maybe this is simply a product of a low budget. Also it is pretty clear that Wilfred isn't a figment of the main character's imagination (which is a possibility in the American version although I think its just fantasy as it is in this show) as we see from Wilfred's perspective when he gets lost in a dog pound.

In the American show, Wilfred is the dog of Jenna, who has a next door neighbor named Ryan (Elijah Wood). In the first episode Ryan tries to commit suicide, but fails. The next morning Jenna asks Ryan to look after Wilfred for the day and Ryan accepts. But when Wilfred enters his house he sees him as a man in a dog suit! While it seems that Jenna and Ryan will eventually become a couple, Jenna currently has a boyfriend and Ryan is in the process of getting his life straightened out. The American show is more of a buddy comedy than the original. Although they are a bit different from each other, both shows are certainly cut from the same cloth. Before I had seen the original I wondered if the Australian version was as profane and contained the stoner reference,s and yes it does indeed have both. I need to see more of both shows, but so far I like them both as they are different but do compliment each other. Wilfred the dog is essentially the same on both versions, but the other two main characters are quite different and each feature different subplots. Both shows are "out there" and unlike anything else on television. Sometimes sitcoms have interchangeable plots that could be used on other shows with minor changes. But not Wilfred! Wilfred is refreshingly twisted and original, a combination which we need to see more often. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out as I am looking forward to seeing Mary Steenburgen's guest appearance and if Ryan and Jenna will get together by the season finale.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up (8/7) Yeah it's late...

Thanks again to Nate and everyone who participated in the monster movies blogathon! I greatly appreciated all the wonderful comments. Sorry for the long time for an update. I was going to post Tales from the Archive Part 2 on Saturday, but then I realized that I have too much content for one article! This is a good thing, so I'm still doing further research and figuring out how to break it up and present it. So without further ado, here is the belated weekly wrap-up.

The 60s Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward was quite enjoyable. Sure it was silly, but it was trying to appeal to all age groups and is responsible for bringing Batman to a larger audience. This movie was made between the first and second season, with Julie Newmar noticeably absent as Catwoman. However, Lee Meriwether did a good job filling in, and Cesar Romero (Joker), Frank Gorshin (Riddler), and Burgess Meredith (Penguin) are fun as usual. If you like the TV show you will like the movie as it is basically a long episode. I actually liked this more than Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever and Batman & Robin because it goes all out for humor while those two (especially Forever) tried to keep themselves in the Burton Batman universe. Sadly this is the only part of 60s Batman to be released on DVD. The TV show has yet to have a DVD release for unknown reasons, despite the demand by fans.

Winnie the Pooh (2011)
I saw this in theaters with my family and we all enjoyed it. It's not quite as good as the original Disney Winnie the Pooh films/shorts as its a little louder and busier at times, but its pretty close. The movie is short (just over an hour) and while I wanted more, I applaud the decision not to make it longer just to pad its running time. Instead the intent was to put out the best possible cut of the film. I noticed two pop culture references (Batman and Raiders of the Lost Ark respectively) which seemed a little out of place in a Pooh film. However, they weren't distracting if you weren't in the know, which is how reference joke should always be handled. The end credits were great and I loved the after credits scene. The short before the film, The Ballad of Nessie, was very good and the animation was straight out of 60s Disney (think Sword in the Stone). Winnie the Pooh goes back to the original A.A. Milne source material, so maybe we will see another movie in this style as there are still plenty of stories they can adapt. This movie is proof that Disney can still make a great traditionally animated film if they want to.

Bad movies can be a lot of fun, as long as you avoid the ones that are bad because they are boring. While The Dungeonmaster is pretty damn bad, it is never gets too boring. The main reason for this is because the story is about a guy sucked into a video game (by Satan himself!) and he has to fight through a lot of different game levels. For some reason each level has a different director, but this is still not an anthology film. When a non-anthology movie has seven directors, you know its going to be bad! Besides my love of crappy 80s sci-fi/fantasy/horror flicks, the main reason I wanted to see this is because it contains the origin of the line "I reject your reality and substitute my own" which was popularized by Adam Savage of the TV show Mythbusters. In its original context it is used by the main character as a comeback, but its use in Mythbusters is much better! Richard Moll (Bull on the 80s sitcom Night Court) hams it up as the Devil, while we are also treated to a cameo by 80s metal band, WASP! For some reason this movie is also called Ragewar which makes about sense as its plot.

Death at a Funeral (2007)
Comedy is the most subjective form of creative expression. However, it is clear that Death at a Funeral is well written with fine acting performances and interesting characters. I have to rank this movie right up there with The Hangover as two of the best comedies from the last ten years. Not many movies revolve around a funeral, and of the ones that do this is probably the first comedy! I don't want to get too much into the plot as there are tons of fun surprises, but the basic story is about the chaos that ensues after the patriarch of a British family dies and his dysfunctional family and friends must come together for the funeral. Death at a Funeral had an American re-make in 2010, although I have no idea why as besides the accents and location, nothing is particularly British about this film. Believe or not, Frank Oz directed this movie. Yes, THAT Frank Oz!

Highlander (1986)
I had been meaning to watch Highlander for awhile and finally got around to it, in high definition no less! I have a good friend who loves this movie and it sounded like something I would enjoy. What struck me most about this film is how well it was directed. Not only are the scenes in Scotland beautiful, there are some fantastic cuts, great cinematography, and the action is paced perfectly. Sean Connery has a minor role, but steals the show as the mentor to Christopher Lambert's character, Connor MacLeod. I noticed that Highlander is kinda like The Terminator. But instead of soldiers from the future fighting in the present, these are soldiers from the past. The similarity is probably unintentional as they are pretty different movies, but its interesting to think about.
I've heard the sequels are terrible so I'll avoid them and stick with the original. There can only be one!

Legend (1985)
Legend is Ridley Scott's first, and so far only, fantasy film even though I would like to see him take another shot at the genre. Although the usual whipping boy from Scott's catalog is G.I. Jane, Legend isn't considered to be one of his better movies. Coming right off of Alien and Blade Runner, Legend looks spectacular (especially in High Definition/Blu-Ray). When it comes to the directing, camerawork, lighting, make-up, atmosphere, and special effects, Legend is a masterpiece and an incredibly beautiful film. However, the plot is thin and too simple, the dialogue is often silly, and the acting is hit or miss. Tim Curry is fantastic as the Lord of Darkness and genuinely terrifying with his fantastic make-up and gigantic horns. Remarkably this was Mia Sara's first film and although I have only seen her in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Timecop, this is easily her best performance. On the other side, Tom Cruise was miscast. The voice actors for the other characters, especially for the elf named Gump, are over the top which is distracting and sometimes unintentionally funny. I saw the theatrical cut (only 89 minutes) but there is a director's cut which adds about 25 minutes to the total run time. While I enjoyed Legend, it had the potential to be much better. And despite all the beautiful scenes, beware of the ridiculous amount of Tom Cruise crotch shots!

Source Code
I loved Duncan Jones' directorial debut Moon (2009) and while Source Code is a different type of film, it is almost as good! Source Code is a high paced sci-fi thriller about a man who wakes up on a train in a different body and has to figure out who planted a bomb on the train since this person has another bomb going off later int he day in Chicago. I don't want to go any further because I don't want to spoil anything. Source Code is quite different than Moon, but I think anybody who liked Jones' first film would certainly enjoy his followup. Duncan Jones is now two for two, so I can't wait to see what he has up his sleeve for his next movie!

Iris (2001)
Normally this isn't the type of movie I would seek out, but my brother wanted to watch it so I figured what the hell. Iris is the biopic (based on a book) of British author Iris Murdoch and her struggle with Alzheimer's disease. I actually enjoyed this movie quite a bit, especially the acting performances from Jim Broadbent (Professor Slughorn in the Harry Potter movies), Judi Dench, and Kate Winslet. Broadbent won an Oscar for his role and the other two were nominated. Dench probably deserved to win an Oscar for this role more than for her performance as the Queen in Shakespeare in Love (only because she was barely in that film!), but whatever. Memory was one of the main themes in this film, and I liked how the flashbacks were not always in chronological order, but as the characters in the present remembered past events.

On Friday I'll post a follow-up to my Summer TV article. See you then!