Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer 2012 Schedule Update

It has taken me about six months, but I am finally caught up! The only other posts I have left to do are on the movies I have seen in theaters this year: Avengers and Prometheus. However, I am going to hold off on those due because I've gotten too busy with classes and work. Plus I still need to see The Dark Knight Rises so I'll just get those three posts up around the same time!

In early August I'll be participating in the My First Movie Blogathon hosted at Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear. Then in September I'll finally get to the summer 2012 movie posts. After that I'll be able to bring back my Tales from the Archives series on a regular basis. I am thinking about changing the day of the week for that and getting rid of the weekly wrap-ups for individual posts on films whenever I see them. More on that when the time comes.

Also I just realized that this is my 97th post on this blog. Three more until the big 100!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer 2012 TV shows: Wilfred, Louie, and cartoons

It's time to examine the summer TV shows I've been watching! As you can probably tell from the fact that I run a movie blog and not a TV blog, I generally prefer film to TV shows. I'm also not a big fan of current mainstream TV, though part of that is just because I don't have a lot of time to watch TV. All of these shows are a half-hour long (except Cartoon Planet which is a a bit different) and most are cartoons.

Wilfred Season 2 on FX
Last summer I saw a commercial for a new show called Wilfred. The ad explained the general premise of the show, which is that a young man named Ryan (played by Elijah Wood) sees his neighbor's dog (Wilfred, played by Jason Gann) as a guy in a dog suit. I thought the idea had potential as a strange mix of Harvey and Donnie Darko so I immediately started watching it. I quickly fell in love with the show and discussed Wilfred a couple of posts last year. I won't rehash what I wrote earlier so I'll just say that season 2 has been great so far. The first season ended with a huge cliffhanger and Wilfred found a creative yet satisfying way to handle that and let the show to keep growing. Wilfred is based on an Australian comedy of the same name, but having seen a good amount of that show, the FX version is going in a very different direction. Although I find Wilfred very funny, I don't really watch it for the humor anymore. I just love seeing the interactions between Wilfred and Ryan and well as the increasingly dramatic story lines. Wilfred is stretching the limits of what even a cable show can do and is constantly full of surprises. It may just be the best current show TV has to offer.

Louie Season 3 on FX
Last summer when I started watching Wilfred religiously I noticed that it was directly followed by a show called Louie created by comedian Louis C.K. At the time I was only somewhat familiar with the stand-up work of Louis C.K. but liked what I had seen so I gave it a shot. I already liked the FX shows It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Archer, and Wilfred and wondered if they could strike gold again. While I haven't seen the first season of Louie, seasons 2 and 3 (so far) have been fantastic. FX is really making up for FOX's reputation for canceling good shows early on. FX makes shows that of high quality and push boundaries. Then FX does a good job of marketing these shows, they become critically and commercially successful, and then are renewed for seasons to come.
Upon first glance Louie might seem like the show Seinfeld in that both are about the everyday life of a comedian who basically plays himself with short stand-up performances mixed in for good measure. While I enjoy both shows, Louie is quite different. When I said that Louie was created by Louis C.K., I mean that he writes, directs, edits, produces, and stars in the show. I think it is great that FX has given a talent like Louis C.K. full creative control over his own show, and their decision is certainly paying off. Louie doesn't rely on topical humor or reference jokes to be funny, simply draws inspiration from everyday life. The show is filmed almost like a documentary and the dialogue feels real. While the show has a great sense of humor, it also does a good job of handling the drama, which like the comedy is often the result of the awkward situations Louie finds or puts himself in.
Wilfred may or may not be the best current TV show, but Wilfred and Louie on FX at 10-11 PM Thursday night is without a doubt the best hour of Television on right now. 

Cartoon Planet on Cartoon Network
When I first heard that Cartoon Network was bringing back Cartoon Planet I thought it was a joke. There was no way Cartoon Network would bring back a show that featured Space Ghost: Coast to Coast characters Space Ghost, Zorak, and Brak hosting a variety show in the middle of classic cartoons! Now to be fair Cartoon Network did make some big changes to Cartoon Planet. First of all, Space Ghost is no longer part of the show so we just have Brak and Zorak. No big deal, though I love Space Ghost and his voice actor George Lowe. However, we do have brand new animations for Brak and Zorak which look great. The classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons between the host segments have been replaced with Cartoon Network cartoons from the 90s through the present. At first I was not thrilled with this change, but once I started re-watching Johnny Bravo, The Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory, Cow and Chicken, I Am Weasel, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy I realized that all these shows not only hold up well now that I am older, but are classics in their own right. I don't care much for the other shows aired by Cartoon Planet (most of which are more recent than the shows I mentioned) but that is why I usually watch this show on the DVR so I can fast forward through the ones I don't like... which does not happen often!

Deadman Wonderland on Cartoon Network's Toonami
I had Cartoon Network since I was a child and actually remember the very first incarnation of Toonami with Moltar from Space Ghost: Coast to Coast as the host. This was before anime ruled the roost at Toonami which mostly featured shows like the original 1960s Space Ghost, Johnny Quest, ThunderCats, and Batman: The Animated Series. I still watched the show as it went into more of an anime direction and enjoyed Steve Blum's work as the host, TOM the robot. Toonami ended in 2008 but was brought back in 2012 on April Fool's Day in honor or Cartoon Network's 20th anniversary. The April Fool's return of Toonami proved to be so popular that it was brought back permanently on May 26th. The current line-up features old shows like Cowboy Bebop mixed in with two new ones: Deadman Wonderland and Casshern Sins. I watched the first episode of both shows but Deadman Wonderland interested me more (plus its shorter with 12 episodes compared to 24) so decided to watch it. While I'm not a big fan of anime, I do like Deadman Wonderland. It's got a cool title, an interesting premise about an innocent boy framed for mass-murder and placed into a prison that doubles as a violent game show, and is dark as hell. Sometimes the show gets either too dark or ridiculous (hilarious creative cursing) but its all part of one unique experience and I can't wait to see how it ends.   

Aqua Something You Know Whatever on Adult Swim
Aqua Something You Know Whatever is the ninth season of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which was known as Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1 last season. Besides the title, the opening and closing themes have been replaced yet again. Why the changes? Why not! It certainly helps keep things fresh and adheres to the "never know what you are going to get" spirit of the show. So far this season has been great and an improvement over last season. Not that last season was bad, but the show felt like it was getting stale with a lot of episodes feeling repetitive or on topics you thought the show already covered (Predators, the ShamWow Guy). This season has been great so far as not only have we had some hilarious episodes, but even the weaker ones have been very creative. The animation was never the point of the show as it always has a cheap cut and paste style on purpose. Now we have some nice creative animations that breathe new life into the show. I noticed that some stories that actually have a beginning, middle, and end which is a surprise for this surrealist show. There has even been a twist on the fact that the show has no continuity. Usually in the past this meant that if all the "Aqua Teens" died they would be alive and well in the next episode with no explanation. But in one episode this season Shake accidentally killed himself but was perfectly fine in the very next scene! It's nice to see the show changes things up in a way that sticks true to itself and is hilarious, but is new at the same time.

Black Dynamite on Adult Swim
I loved the original live action movie, Black Dynamite (2009), which I reviewed on this blog. So when I heard last year that they were making an animated Adult Swim show out of the movie I was ecstatic! Most of those involved with the Black Dynamite movie have returned for this animated show which was great news. But how does the show actually stack up? I saw the pilot last year, which featured a plot about evil hand puppets, and it was fantastic. Unlike the 10 minute Aqua Something You Know Whatever, Black Dynamite is in a full 30 minute time slot. The first episode (of the first, but hopefully not last, season) premiered on July 15th.  Although I've only seen one episode so far, I'm hooked! The show captures the feel of the authentic 70s blaxploitation era that the live action movie handled so well, this time with stylish animation. The first episode features Black Dynamite meeting up with a young Michael Jackson and there is some great satire here. I can't wait for more of this show!

The Boondocks on Adult Swim
Although The Boondocks has been confirmed for a fourth season, there has yet to be an announcement as to when it will air. I am assuming that it will premiere late in the summer (August or early September) but maybe The Boondocks will be pushed back until the fall. I love what I have seen of the first three seasons of The Boondocks, even though I haven't seen all those episodes yet, and am eagerly awaiting new episodes. I'm glad that creator Aaron McGruber is still involved, especially since he seems to be permanently done with the great comic strip that the show is based on.

I will update later on with a follow-up post after these seasons are over (or start in the case of The Boondocks) and will probably do a fall TV post as well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Three Bad Movies

Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012)
This is the second movie released in 2012 that I saw! I'll get to the other 2012 films I've seen in my next few posts. Of course while I saw those in theaters, this movie made its premiere on the SyFy Channel!
Jersey Shore Shark Attack is both a Jaws rip-off and parody of MTV reality show Jersey Shore at the same time. I don't think it will surprise anybody that this movie has poor acting and terrible special effects. However, I didn't expect that Jersey Shore Shark Attack would feature two actors from Goodfellas: Tony Sirico and Paul Sorvino! Both actually do a good job in their roles here considering the material. I would hope that they are getting better offers than this, but maybe these guys just have a good sense of humor.
I must mention that Joey Fatone, formerly of boy band 'N Sync, has a great cameo appearance!
Jersey Shore Shark Attack was produced by Fred Olen Ray who has directed and produced tons of low budget B-movies and exploitation flicks. I've never seen an Olen Ray movie before but keep in mind this is the guy who brought us Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Reptisaurus!  
Jersey Shore Shark Attack is not really a horror movie but more of a comedy with jokes that are hit or miss. Some scenes like the one with Joey Fatone or the line "Is that spaghetti sauce?" (referring to blood) are hilarious. However, others attempts at humor fall flat or too padded with boring scenes.
The writing was actually better than I expected in terms of the parodies and jokes. We even have some character development and a use of Chekov's Gun, or harpoon in this case. Unfortunately the basic rule of "show, don't tell" us violated in a major way once. I guess the reason for that is that the budget didn't call for a flashback so a character just tells a long story about what happened instead!
Our main characters are Jersey Shore knock-offs who are almost as unlikeable as their real life counter-parts. Despite this face it seems that the movie thinks we should actually root for them. The attempt at solving this problem of main characters who are easy to hate is that the villains are annoying snooty, rich, yuppies but I just wanted to see everybody eaten by the albino sharks!
While this is not a good movie, I must give it some credit for being entertaining enough. Too many bad movies are just plain boring so when a dumb fun one comes around I can't hate it too much. I could even see Jersey Shore Shark Attack getting a cult following someday, though I think this movie will be forgotten about once the popularity of Jersey Shore fades away.
Oh, and I love the tagline on the above poster: "Forget The Avengers, we have a new contender for best film of the summer." That must be a joke, taken out of context, a fake quote, or the critic just got really drunk!
I'll finish this review the same way the movie ends:

No Holds Barred
I'm not a wrestling fan but have always found it interesting. Professional wrestling features good guys, heels, larger than life personalities, a mixing of reality with fantasy, has always had a large dedicated fan base. If you think about it like that it is no different from the world of film!
Although Hulk Hogan made his film debut in Rocky III as Thunderlips, No Holds Barred is the first movie to feature Hogan in a leading role. Not surprisingly Hogan plays a professional wrestler (named Rip) who is not much different from Hulk Hogan himself. A rival TV network tries to get Rip to wrestle for them but Rip refuses to break his existing contract at any price. This leads Brell, the sleazy head of the World Television Network (played by Kurt Fuller who was in Wayne's World and many other movies), to start his own wrestling competition called "Battle of the Tough Guys." This wrestlers are extremely violent and play by no rules. For some reason they even have a midget in a cage over their ring! Eventually a mysterious huge guy named Zeus wins the tournament and demands to fight Rip. Fuller's performance as Brell reminded me of Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation but as without the god powers and more of a scumbag. Brell likes to call Hulk Hogan a "Jock Ass" which is pretty funny though it gets irritating after a while. Besides Hogan and Fuller, Jesse Ventura has a cameo (as himself of course!) and I also recognized David Paymer who has been in tons of films and TV shows.
The most outrageously hilarious scene of the movie features the now infamous line, "Dookie?!"
Check it out here!
As you can tell from that clip, a lot of dialogue is grunting and yelling. I guess it makes sense in a movie about wrestling. I wasn't expecting Shakespeare, but its still pretty funny.
This is the 3rd Hulk Hogan movie I've seen after Santa with Muscles and 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain. I have reviewed all on this blog and as you could probably guess, this is my favorite Hulk Hogan movie so far!
The weekend No Holds Barred came out in theaters in 1989 it debuted second in the box office behind Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!
The first act is hilarious and engaging but the movie looses steam purely from an entertainment standpoint after that. These are still some amusing parts but after that the pacing slows down and the fighting gets repetitive. Although No Holds Barred is a bad movie its still a lot of fun. I watched it with a friend who is a wrestling fan and we have a blast. This is Hulk Hogan's Bloodsport though I still prefer that Van Damme flick to this one!

Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders
Ernest Borgnine died last week at the age of 95. He is one of my favorite actors as I love his roles in The Wild Bunch, Escape from New York, and many more films and TV shows. In honor of the late, great Oscar winner I watched the MST3K episode Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders with a friend.
The framing story of this movie features Borgnine as a grandfather telling stories to his grandson. The first story involves a couple with fertility problems who meet Merlin at his store. The husband doesn't believe he is really a wizard so Merlin gives him a book of spells to prove it. The man messes up the spell, fights a cat, then turns into a baby which his wife decides to raise. Then the grandfather tells another story about a toy monkey that can kill people when it clangs its cymbals which was stolen from Merlin's shop. Merlin tries to find the toy monkey before too much damage is done!
This movie is a stinking mess but at least there is an explanation. Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders was made out of the per-existing films The Devil's Gift (1984) with new footage stitched in. The monkey story obviously looks older than the other footage. The segments with the monkey is also said to rips off a Stephen King short story and I can't say I'm surprised.
Both stories are surprisingly violent, especially for what appears on the cover to be a family fantasy film.
Although this movie is terrible, its a great MST3K episode. This one is from Season 10 so its a Sci-fi Channel Mike episode. I loved the re-curring riffs on the infertility subplot and the geriatric grandfather.

Even though all these movies sucked, at least I enjoyed watching them for different reasons!
Next Up: Summer TV shows

Monday, July 9, 2012

Major League II and III

I'm a big baseball fan and watched these sequels while doing others things, such as catching up on blog posts!

Major League II
Sequels are generally considered to be bad. However, in my experience it seems that for sequels to movies not part of a franchise (such as Star Trek or Batman), the first sequel is usually not as good as the original but not horribly bad either. While this is the case with Major League II, it was still an unnecessary sequel only made to cash in on the success of the first movie.
There was a five year gap between the original and this sequel. David S. Ward returned to direct but didn't write the screenplay this time. Besides Major League, Ward's other claim to fame is winning an Oscar for best writing with The Sting.
Wesley Snipes did not return and Omar Epps takes over his character, Willie Mays Hayes. Chelcie Ross also did not come back and his character is not even mentioned. The two are essentially replaced with more screen time for real life baseball announcer "Mr. Baseball" Bob Uecker, Randy Quaid as self-loathing fan, and a young catcher with a throwing problem played by Eric Bruskotter.
The owner of team from first movie is back but it feels shoehorned in just re-hashes of the scenes from the original.
I noticed that there are more baseball jokes this time around than first movie, though its less realistic about the game later in the movie. The baseball humor is probably why I liked it even though its less focused than the original. I found it pretty funny and the character arcs were done well for what this is.
Major League II was ahead of its time with the depiction of a Japanese baseball player coming to the US to play in the Major Leagues and baseball players selling out by advertising for companies.
Jesse Ventura even has a cameo by way of the film within a film Black Hammer and White Lightning!
Trivia note: The Indians meet White Sox in ALCS. This is the same team the Angels faced in the ALCS in Angels in the Outfield (1994).
If you liked the first or are a baseball junkie like me, its worth a watch.

Major League: Back to the Minors
Although this movie is commonly referred to as Major League III, the number doesn't appear in the title. I guess technically Major League: Back to the Minors is a spin-off. This makes more sense since in the first two Major League movies we follow the Cleveland Indians team but some odd reason the team we follow in this movie is the Minnesota Twins and their minor league affiliate, the Buzz.
I'm not sure why this was made. Major League II didn't so well and the main characters played by Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, and James Gammon are absent. They didn't even bother to re-cast Willie Mays Hayes again as that character gone too. There are some returning characters (Twins Owner Roger Dorn, announcer Bob Uecker, spiritual outfielder Cerrano, Japanese transplant Tanaka, and catcher Rube Baker), but it's still loosely connected to first two movies with little explanation as to why/how these guys left the Indians and got on the Twins.
Scott Bakula does a nice job playing the manager of the Buzz, though it is strange that his character gets the most focus since he is a brand new character to this series. I guess this is because Bakula is the best actor in this movie! Ted McGinley plays the villainous general manager of the Twins and is fun as usual. I guess McGinley dooms not just TV shows but movie franchises too apparently! Though who knows, maybe Charlie Sheen will return for Major League 4!
While there are a decent amount of baseball movies out there, not many are about the minor leagues which puts a different spin. Probably the best film about minor league baseball is Bull Durham (which I saw awhile ago and need to re-watch sometime).
The main story of Major League: Back to the Minors is that of a big league team playing against their farm team. This actually does happen in pre-season exhibition games though never in the middle of the season as depicted in the film. While these movies are unrealistic but until this point usually contained enough real baseball for me, especially the first one. In this movie the Buzz are supposed to be at the AAA level but their stadium looks like a high school baseball field.
While this movie is not too funny as a comedy, Bakula's character is very likeable and easy to root for so at least it works on that level. Major League: Back to the Minors is watchable but not very good and completely unnecessary as feels more like a made for TV movie. This one is for completionists, baseball lovers, and Scott Bakula fans (like me!) only.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Two Kubrick Films

Fear and Desire
Fear and Desire is an interesting watch as even though it is Stanley Kubrick's first film he essentially disowned it. While it's not that bad, Fear and Desire is basically a student film so I wouldn't consider it Kubrick's first "real" movie. It is also pretty short with a run time of 72 minutes. Either way its fascinating for Kubrick fans as this early work shows how far he came with his craft. While Kubrick obviously learned a lot while making this film, there isn't much here that hints at his later work other than the fact that this is a war movie and therefore shares some thematic similarities to Full Metal Jacket.
Turner Classics Movies showed this (back in December 2011) as part of their George Eastman film archive day and the print was gorgeous. It could be restored to look even better so hopefully it will get a home release on DVD/Blu-Ray for collectors.
It kinda feels like a Twilight Zone episode in the way its shot and acted, although this is not science fiction/fantasy and came out several years before that show premiered.
Fear and Desire is for Kubrick aficionados and film buffs only.

The Killing
The second Stanley Kubrick movie I watched for this post was also made in the 1950s. Although The Killing was only released three years after Fear and Desire it is clear Kubrick learned a lot during this period as there is a night and day difference in the quality of film making.
Sterling Hayden stars as Johnny Clay, a long time criminal who wants to pull a big final heist before settling down and marrying his girlfriend. Hayden would later play General Jack Ripper in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and as in other well-known films such as The Asphalt Jungle and The Godfather.
The acting is great all around. Ubiquitous actor Elisha Cook Jr. does a fine job as a horse racing bet teller in  on the scheme to steal the money from the counting room of a racetrack. Cook was in tons of movies and TV shows from the 1930s through 1980s with his most famous film being The Maltese Falcon.
A young Joe Turkel, who would later be in Kubrick's The Shining and Blade Runner has a small role.
The directing and camerawork are excellent. The Killing shows the beauty of B&W cinematography as I don't think this movie would've been as good had it been filmed in color. The film is made like a docudrama showing a reenactment of real events. This realism is reinforced by a narrator and scenes being shown multiple times from the point of view of different characters (ex: fight scene, horse being shot, etc.) while the heist is being committed. By playing with time we are able to better see how all these characters and events are inter-connected.
Another thing The Killing does very well is that every set-up has a pay-off. When I watched the scene with a woman talking to an airplane employee about her poodle being excited for the arrival of her husband I was wondering what this was doing here as it seemed superfluous. A few minutes later there was a great payoff for this scene that made it necessary!
Although The Killing is not one of Kubrick's best known films, and doesn't really feel like a Kubrick film, it was still quite influential to directors like Quentin Tarantino (who admitted the film helped inspire Reservoir Dogs) and James Cameron (there is very similar flower box disguising a gun in Terminator 2: Judgement Day).
The Killing was Stanley Kubrick's first (of many) great movies and is on Roger Ebert's Great Movies List.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Spring Wrap-up Part Four

I'm a big fan of Andrew Niccol's directorial debut Gattaca but had not seen another one of his movies yet. S1m0ne was his second movie, which like Gattaca he also wrote the screenplay for.
Al Pacino plays once a once successful film director named Viktor Taransky who is now struggling for a hit movie. After a demanding star actress (she only eats red M&Ms!) leaves the production of his current film it seems all is lost, until Taransky is given a computer generated actress from a computer scientist friend, which Taransky can manipulate any way he wants and is indistinguishable from reality. We even get the see images of the actresses that Simone is drawn from, in a subtle but hilarious joke includes... Ernest Borgnine?!
It is probably the dream of every director to be able to control their actors in this way and its fun to watch Taransky directing the fakery of Simone. While this starts off with Taransky controlling her acting, it quickly leads to him also having to keep up the illusion that she is a real person due to her skyrocketing popularity!
S1m0ne was ahead of its time in that it deals with concepts such as CGI, holograms, Photoshopping movie posters, technology in films like Avatar, and even reality TV. The themes of hero worship, cult of personality, celebrity culture, "manufactured celebrities," are hammered home with imagery that focused on cameras and eyes.
S1m0ne is a satire that feels like a Charlie Kaufman film with the biting wit of Heathers. Since the movie is a satire it doesn't take place in the real world, but instead in a universe that is real enough only with exaggerated features to prove a point. For example, Taransky works for "Amalgamated Film Studios" and the other women up against Simone for the Best Actress Oscar all have the last names of software (Apple, Corel, etc.).
Here are some of my favorite lines:
"I can't imagine any other actress playing the part!" "Hal, it's a remake..."
"It was so artificial... I didn't believe it was 17th century Lisbon!
"The escalating threat of violence and all out war was overshadowed today by the Oscar nominations"
"We're okay with fake, just don't lie to us"
Although I really liked S1m0ne, it does have some flaws. The two paparazzi guys are funny enough but I felt they were never fully pulled into the story. From the beginning they felt like a humorous but unnecessary side story. At first I thought the pair were stalker fans until it was later explained that they work at a newspaper, which was confusing.
The concert scene in which Simone becomes a pop star is a showstopper. Sure its necessary to show how big of a star she is, but did we really need to listen to her sing an entire song to prove this point?
Without giving anything away, the ending is a deus ex machina. Satires usually have trouble with endings as they often don't have an answer for how to solve the issue they are discussing. This is the case with S1m0ne, although to be fair I'm not sure how else the movie could have ended without making a huge shift in tone. The ending basically accepts the problem of celebrity overload but a great satire should figure a way how to fix the problem. Even though I felt the ending was a weak spot and could have been better, it didn't really harm my enjoyment of the movie as a whole. I can't wait to see more of Niccol's work!

Ghost Rider
I'm not a huge comic book reader and have never read any Ghost Rider. This movie is based on the Marvel comic and is one of the few Marvel properties that got a film which Stan Lee had little to nothing to do. Mr. Excelsior is listed has a producer but we don't get a cameo from Stan the Man!
Nicolas Cage plays our main character, stuntman Johnny Blaze, who becomes the superhero (or perhaps antihero in this case) Ghost Rider. Cage delivers a fun performance. It is not one of his better roles but that has to do more with the screenplay than his acting.
The premise is a deal with devil story in the vein of Faust. Johnny Blaze makes an agreement with Mephistopheles to cure his father's cancer in return for Johnny's soul. This eventually leads to events which cause Johnny to become Ghost Rider.
Sam Elliot does a nice job as the Caretaker, a predecessor of Ghost Rider. The Caretaker in the movie is apparently an amalgam of the character of the same name from the comics and and the Phantom Rider comics character.
I don't usually get into spoilers but there was something near the end that bothered me.  Highlight the text below if you are fine with spoilers.
Near the end of the movie the Caretaker reveals his true identity. This sets up that Ghost Rider is going to team up with the Caretaker to battle the villain. But right before the big showdown, the Caretaker changes back to human for no reason and says he used his last change which means he has permanently lost his powers. It was so stupid and disappointing as I was pumped up for a cool final battle and it ended up being a letdown.
Ghost Rider is not a good movie but its not terrible either and entertaining enough. A sequel came out in February this year and despite David Goyer (Dark City, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) having a writing credit I think I'll pass on it.

The Last Unicorn
Rankin/Bass is probably best known for their Christmas specials such as the stop motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and the animated Frosty the Snowman (1969). Besides these holiday specials they also made many TV series and feature films, such as The Last Unicorn. Peter S. Beagle wrote the fantasy novel upon which this film is based but I never read it.
The fantastic cast includes the voice talents of Christopher Lee, Keenan Wynn, Angela Lansbury, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, and Rene Auberjonois. The animation is also quite good though you'll never get it confused with a Disney film.The Last Unicorn is a kids movie but is intelligent and never plays down to its audience, which I highly respect. It's not the best animated movie ever but certainly something kids can enjoy with their parents. There is some slow pacing and weird stuff like the harpy and the "Red Bull" but I overall I liked it.

Thus concludes the final spring wrap-up post!

Next up: Two movies by a famous director, Two baseball movies, 2012 movies I have seen so far, and TV shows I am watching this summer.
And if you didn't notice the banner on the right, I'll be participating in the My First Movie Blogathon hosted by Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear in early August.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Spring Wrap-up Part Three

I just realized that my blog has been up for over a year! Yay! Well since I just figured this out now and am over a week late I don't have anything special planned. Maybe I'll do something next year... if I remember! But in the spirit of this blog here is another post on three very different movies as my seemingly endless quest to get caught up continues!

Saved! reminded me of Heathers as both movies are satires that take place in high school. Jenna Malone's performance even recalled Winona Ryder in that movie. But Saved! takes a different route as it's about religion, specifically fundamentalist Christians. However I never felt that the movie was mean spirited as there are some religious characters at "American Eagle Christian High School" who are perfectly reasonable.
Saved! features one of Macaulay Culkin's first film appearances since 1994's Richie Rich. Culkin's comedic timing was very good and its nice to see him acting again even though he hasn't done much since.
Pop star Mandy Moore has a major role in the movie and she did a good job, especially for somebody who is not primarily an actress. I am surprised she would accept a villainous role given her image, but commend her for taking the risk here as it paid off.
I quite liked Saved! and found it pretty funny but I felt that its biggest weakness was its shift in tone at around the midpoint. The first half of the movie is a satire while it turns into a straight-up teen dramedy for the last half.

Alice in Wonderland
I came into this movie ready for great special effects but not much else. I pretty much got what I was expecting, although to be honest it was a little better than I thought it would be.
I liked the angle of an older Alice coming back to Wonderland. In this sense it feels more like Return to Oz meets The Chronicles of Narina than an Alice in Wonderland movie made by Tim Burton. There are already tons of TV and movie versions of this story so I guess they tried to put a different spin on it while not making it too dark, which has already been done anyway. I'm only familiar with the Disney animated version, which I love, and have never read the original Lewis Carroll stories.
When it comes to the acting Crispin Glover (who has a surprisingly large amount of screen time) did a nice job, as did Helena Bonham Carter who played the Red Queen. Christopher Lee, Alan Rickman, and Stephen Fry all provided voices which was a lot of fun. Of course this movie was advertised as a Johnny Depp film but he isn't in the movie quite as much as you would think and wasn't as over the top as I was expecting for the Mad Hatter.
Alice in Wonderland won Oscars for art direction and costume design. It was also nominated for best visual effects but lost out to Inception. Lighting and Compositing technical director Brian Blasiak also worked on Avatar (among other movies) and worked his special effects magic for this film as well. Alice in Wonderland looked fantastic in High Definition. It was marketed as a 3-D film even though it was not filmed in 3-D but was instead converted in post-production.
Usually I have some issues with CGI but this is exactly how it should be used. The real world bookend scenes were done well made and are a nice contrast to the CGI world of Wonderland. The Jabberwocky was CGI but its design appeared to be influenced by the designs of Ray Harryhausen's monsters.
While this is not a bad movie, it's not very good either and is a movie I probably will never watch again. Still, I enjoyed it more than Burton's weaker efforts like Mars Attacks! or his 2001 Planet of the Apes remake.
I was surprised that Alice in Wonderland made so much money (11th highest grossing film of all time without adjusting for inflation), especially since it didn't come out in the summer or around Christmas. I'm don't think it deserved to make $1 billion worldwide but if you look at how much those Transformers movies made I guess I'm fine with it! It was rated PG so I could see it appealing to families with older and/or younger children as well as adults which is probably why it hauled in so much dough.

Garzey's Wing (1996)
Technically this is not a movie but a three part OVA (direct to video) anime with each episode being 30 minutes long. Garzey's Wing was written and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino, the same man who developed the classic Gundam series. This is proof that even the best creators can have horrible misfires.
I'm not even going to bother describing the plot as Garzey's Wing is an incoherent disaster that is unintentionally hilarious due in part to a terrible dub. You can see what I mean here and here.
Garzey's Wing makes the infamous MD Geist (which I wrote about earlier) look like a masterpiece in comparison which is really saying something!
Despite being a total mess I must admit that Garzey's Wing is an enjoyable watch even though its for all the wrong reasons. If you want to watch a bad but fun anime with a group of friends this certainly fits the bill!