Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yo, Joe! Episode 11

Cobra's Creatures

Ripcord, Mutt, and Junkyard (yes, Junkyard) parachute out of some Skystrikers, which would seem like a waste of some perfectly good airplanes just to test some parachutes if it weren't for the fact that Skystrikers crumble like they're made of construction paper at the slightest tap. Actually, Flint's there, too, and he has the three planes on autopilot, which seems like at least a basic misunderstanding of how autopilot works. But when Ripcord and Mutt hit the clouds, they don't come back out--they've been captured by Cobra helicopters.

Cobra Commander's new hideout is notable just for being a small castle; I guess the Architect Vipers didn't have time to finish the Cobra-themed decor before the Commander moved in. He's got a guy working for him called Doctor Lucifer, who has an invention that needs testing. It's a high frequency weapon, called Hi-Freq (pronounced "freak") that will allow Cobra to conquer the world in return for the freedom of the woman he loves, a fellow evil scientist called Dr. Attila, a prisoner at Stonehall.

Ripcord, Mutt, and Junkyard have been captured, but it's Junkyard the Commander wants. Dr. Lucifer tests Hi-Freq by pointing some kind of sonic gun at Junkyard that turns him evil. You can tell he's turned evil because his eyes get all blue and glowy. The Commander, once again in the mood for some sadistic sport--is this the only way he can get off when Zartan's not around?--orders Junkyard to hunt and kill his master, giving Mutt a five minute headstart (which he doesn't honor, natch).

When you think about it, though, why go to the trouble of capturing members of G.I. Joe just to get your hands on their dog? I mean, if you want to keep your op secret, you don't go snatching prisoners from a government agency whose only mandate is to stop you. What, the town their castle is in didn't have some villager with a pet dog in it?

So while Mutt and Junkyard are playing out The Most Dangerous Game, the Commander sends out soldiers with Hi-Freq weapons and begins enslaving animals. Lions chase oil workers from a plant, whales cause oil tankers to stop in the middle of the ocean! (In typical G.I. Joe fashion, they simply come to a complete stop, like cars.) Locusts wreck Joe Skyhawks! And all the while, Mutt is hunted by Junkyard.

I have to say, the boy-and-his-dog stuff with Mutt and Junkyard is really affecting, especially if you've ever owned a pet. Bill Morey really outdoes himself as Mutt, his voice filled with all kinds of hurt and pain as he begs and pleads for Junkyard to try and remember him. He doesn't want to hurt his dog--his friend--but he may have to in order to survive. Mutt even clubs Junkyard here and hates himself for doing it.

Meanwhile, Cobra Commander makes one of his broadcasts and demands the surrender of the world as we see wolves besieging Red Square, eagles keeping a watch on the White House, and elephants bringing traffic to a standstill. In true eighties terrorist style, the Commander demands the release of several prisoners with creatively insane names--Victor the Hun, Ekku the Mad Assassin. He also wants the release of Dr. Attila.

Doc is able to figure out that the animals have to be controlled by some ultra-high frequency device (how? Because he's fucking Doc, that's how) and that only Dr. Lucifer could have built it. The plan is to go after what Lucifer wants most, which is Attila. But Lucifer knows instantly that Attila is an imposter--she would never be so loving--and it's Scarlett in disguise. Well, it was a valiant effort Scarlett.

Scarlett is chained up in a dungeon next to Ripcord (oh, right, forgot you were there, buddy), but Scarlett has a device on her wrist band that allows her to signal Breaker, who sends Spirit (with Freedom) and Snake-Eyes (with Timber) to break her out before the Joes launch their attack.

Dr. Lucifer decides Scarlett needs to suffer for toying with his affections, and uses the Hi-Freq to send a thousand spiders down into the dungeon. And Scarlett hates spiders!

Meanwhile, Mutt seems to have lost Junkyard, but not for long. The dog drops out of nowhere and attacks. Their fight rouses a crocodile, and Mutt actually has to save Junkyard from being eaten, which does nothing to stop Junkyard from attacking again. Mutt, too weary to continue, decides to stop fighting.

Then Spirit and Snake glide in. There's a moment where Spirit puts a big turkey leg or something in the moat and it gets stripped by piranhas. I think I saw that in a movie, too. For the longest time as a kid, I thought that was standard issue meat used to detect piranhas. Hey, man, it was in the movies! They sneak in (with Spirit and Timber pretending to be their captors) and rescue Ripcord and a grateful Scarlett, who memorably says "I used to hate spiders; now I loathe them!" They make their way to the control room and destroy the Hi-Freq controls just as Flint leads the direct attack on the castle. All of the animals are freed from control, including Junkyard, just moments before he conceivably would have torn Mutt to shreds.

Cobra Commander escapes, but Dr. Lucifer is captured and the machine destroyed. And, most importantly, the boy and his dog are reunited.

Works for me.


Yo, Joe! Episode 10

Jungle Trap

Ooh, Paul Dini wrote this episode! Blurgh, but it has Recondo. Ooh, but it has Duke and Scarlett! And Snake-Eyes! Sold!

G.I. Joe is trying to make contact with Dr. Shakoor, inventor of the Vulcan Machine, who has turned down Cobra's offer of millions for his invention. Scarlett, Duke, Rock 'n' Roll, and Recondo are in India to meet him. In another nod to these characters being real people and not just superheroes, Duke introduces himself to Dr. Shakoor as First Sergeant Hauser. I still just appreciate that stuff.

Well, of course Cobra's not just going to let this invention go easily. Zartan is watching them disguised as a street musician (mesmerizing a cobra, a symbolic representation of the way Zartan also beguiles Cobra Commander, of course). On the Commander's orders, Cobra attacks, led by Zartan and the Dreadnoks. We get to see Scarlett kick some ass again, but Zartan captures Shakoor and rushes off. Then Snake-Eyes jumps out of nowhere and tries to stop them. And he's joined by Scarlett. They make an awesome team. But Zartan still escapes with Shakoor. Recondo has heard some stories about a snake cult that's taken over an ancient temple deep in the jungle. Duke has intercepted a coded message they can follow, and with the help of Wild Bill and Ripcord, the Joes get into Dragonfly helicopters and head off to find the Cobra base.

Meanwhile, there's this sort of bizarre scene where Cobra Commander demands that Shakoor bow to him and show him some fealty, which seems like the kind of power game he does to impress Zartan. Zartan really gets into it, too, shoving Shakoor to the ground when he won't kneel before the Commander. They've got some of those mind control headbands left, too, and Zartan puts one on Shakoor, who hails the Commander... Thankfully their scanners pick up G.I. Joe so they're interrupted before the real heavy stuff starts. Cobra Commander orders those Dragonflies shot down, which they are, leading to the Commander's gleeful cries of "Glorious! Simply glorious!" Now it's time for Dr. Shakoor to make one of these Vulcan Machines.

All in all, Duke, Rock 'n' Roll, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes, and Recondo are shot down and crash land in the jungle. I guess it's time for Recondo to earn some of that pay. He's pretty cocky about it at first, too, but these guys really have to work together to survive...

...the tiger trap!

...the pit of spikes!

...the mad rhinoceros!

...the hunting trap!

...the pack of hyenas!

It's like one of those old Frank S. Buck documentaries in here! (Not shown: crocodiles, a snake, some kind of laser fire, and Recondo's unbearable smugness.)

Well, it's about time we've got a new Cobra agent. This is Copperhead, and he pilots the Water Moccasin, which is sort of like a skiff/gunboat. He's got a real bayou kind of accent and looks pretty tough. Of course, he's easily defeated, and the Joes capture his Water Moccasin and disguise themselves as Cobra soldiers. They find Cobra Commander and the Vulcan Machine and attack, handily defeating Zartan with his dreaded sunlight and destroying the Vulcan Machine.

But the machine does gets off one shot, straight at the Earth's core, and molten lava starts bubbling up while Cobra Commander makes his escape, swearing revenge. The Joes escape with Dr. Shakoor and meet up with Ripcord, Wild Bill and Cutter with quite the story to tell.

Wild Bill: "I got the feeling this is goin' to be one whopper of a story."

Duke: "Wild Bill, you don't know the half of it."

Another great episode; simple premise, a few core characters, and a believable course of action. This is why the power suits in the movie look so lame; G.I. Joe was about people who were the best because they pushed themselves to the limits of their abilities. I love all of the jungle stuff; it's just a neat episode.


Yo, Joe! Episode 9

Cobra Stops the World

Right off, I had high hopes for this episode because it was written by Steve Gerber, who was also the script supervisor for the series and one of my favorite comic book writers of all time. We jump right into it with Cobra Commander announcing that during the last 12 hours Cobra forces have attacked drilling platforms, oil tankers, and vital links in the Alaskan pipeline. He's using yet another satellite to fire laser beams and make the world's oil supply vanish if they don't surrender to Cobra.

Thank heavens we've got Duke and Scarlett back this time, instead of Flint and Lady Jaye. I am so sick of those two widgets. The world makes sense again. Scarlett has discovered that Cobra isn't making the tankers vanish, but has some sort of cloaking device that can hide them. She's found a Cobra hideout on the west coast. How much better is she than Lady Jaye? Episode hasn't even started yet and she's already got leads, info, and a captured Cobra base.

Still, Cobra Commander seems to have a good plan in place this time; even Destro's impressed. I mean, how long can the Joes search for them until they run out of oil, right? Destro's cautious, but he's impressed.

Unfortunately, this episode also features Deep Six and my despised Torpedo. They head underwater to find a Cobra base in the ocean and have some sort of scuffle. Ugh, Torpedo.

You know Duke is doomed because he's riding in a Skystriker with Ace, the Joes' resident plane crasher. And sure enough he gets shot down, this time in a canyon. The Cobra pilots really want them gone, too, firing on their open parachutes and sending them into a river. They make it out, only to be captured by Major Bludd, who's doing a Belloq and leading a tribe called the Yellow Mamo. So... fight in the canyon mirrors the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back, now we've got a Raiders steal... yeah, Gerber wasn't really putting his best effort into this one.

But we do get a scene where Scarlett bursts into some kind of Cobra safe house and kicks some major ass. She just goes in and does it and tries to get her information. She's not so, you know, desperate for validation.

Oh, and there's Sparks. Sparks is alright. Not much of a distinctive personality, but he does his job pretty well. They handled him much better in the comic. Anyway, Sparks thinks he's found the frequency Cobra's using and might be able to locate their base.

Major Bludd reveals that the Yellow Mamo are on Cobra's side because of a trade: superior weapons for "nothing these lads will miss--just the means to stop the world." Ace feigns an attack of sickness, so the major decides to just dump him in a snake pit (which Ace could probably use, motivationally speaking). But Duke manages to push Major Bludd into the pit instead and the two Joes make their escape with the tribesmen after them.

Their village, as it turns out, has been converted into an airstrip and a diamond mine, which is what Cobra is using to power the cloaking device. (Whatever.) Duke drives a plane into the mine and destroys a bunch of other planes--he's effective when he's not being thrown into the Arena of Sport--and and he and Ace scramble the hell out of there in a Cobra Rattler.

Sparks, who has been working like hell, has managed to put together a remote frequency scanner just in time for Cobra Commander to make another broadcast. Turns out Cobra is just off the coast of Patagonia this time, and Duke orders everyone to mobilize. And they do; the assault team includes Roadblock, Cutter, and Rock 'n' Roll. The Cobra base is captured pretty easily and the cloaking device destroyed.

Cobra Commander still has some tricks, though, which is part of why he's just so cool. When Duke tries to take him into custody, the Commander's face mask releases a gas that paralyzes the Joe leader; Destro and the Commander escape again. But at least the job got done, and Duke and Scarlett make plans for dinner and a movie because, unlike Flint, Duke's not afraid of women. Yo, Joe!

I dug this episode; it focused less on action and more on the technological aspects of what the Joes do (like Sparks scrambling to find the Cobra frequency). It was a little more grounded and believable than some episodes, and using a smaller cast of characters made the episode feel less crowded and more plot-oriented.


100 Years of Errol Flynn

One of my very favorite actors, born today in 1909.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Playlist

1. Rihanna: S.O.S.
2. Blink-182: First Date
3. Stevie Wonder: Superstition
4. Ennio Morricone: Cinema Paradiso
5. Johnnie Taylor: Cheaper to Keep Her
6. Bauhaus: Slice of Life
7. The Doors: Break on Through (To the Other Side)
8. New Order: State of the Nation
9. Dave Brubeck Quartet: Alice in Wonderland
10. Joan Jett: Bad Reputation

1. This one holds up, actually. I really dig this. Rihanna's usually good for a single or two.
2. One of the two Blink-182 songs I like. What's the deal with them? Some people act like they were huge, but if they were, I missed it. They always seemed like low-tier Green Day to me, and I don't care much for Green Day.
3. Great single from Talking Book. God damn advertisers for the way they've cheapened Stevie Wonder's music by putting it on countless commercials and movie trailers.
4. From Morricone's magical score for Cinema Paradiso.
5. A little classic soul there.
6. I've always found this prettier than the average Bauhaus song. It's good on a rainy day like today.
7. I've come around a bit on the Doors; I used to hate them, but it used to be so stupidly "cool" to be in love with the Doors. Anyway, I dig this song.
8. Great song. The singles collection of New Order is all I need, but I need it. It's an essential component in my music library.
9. From the wonderful Dave Digs Disney. I love that album.
10. Joan's first solo single, and an absolute classic.


Ganked from Jaquandor.

1) What author do you own the most books by?

Probably Robert A. Heinlein. I'm trying to get myself a copy of every one of Isaac Asimov's 500+ books (I even have one of his math textbooks), but when I was a delivery driver for a printing company, one of the women I delivered to (she had a home office) was moving and getting ready for a massive garage sale and asked me if I liked Heinlein. Of course I did, so she gave me her entire Heinlein library, so I have a copy of every one of his books. I also have nearly every Philip Jose Farmer book, too.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

I don't collect multiple editions of books. I do have a number of different bible translations.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

Not especially.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

Ayla from The Clan of the Cave Bear and its sequels. Friday from Heinlein's Friday.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?

I'm not sure, but I think it's Richard Adams' Watership Down. I read that a number of times throughout my life. Surprisingly, as it's one of my favorite books, I don't own a copy of it. When I do have one, I'm going to read it again, probably for the seventh time. I've also read The Lord of the Rings and The Once and Future King a few times.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?

I was ten in 1986. Probably Watership Down. I was also reading The Prydain Chronicles and the Oz books, and I loved them. But I also loved Charlotte's Web and had a very soft spot for Bunnicula. He's the only literary vampire I don't get bored with.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?

Well, I'm reading Twilight right now, and it's utterly terrible. Really, just embarrassing. That said, I'll probably have the first installment of "Twilight Summarized by a Smartass" up on Sunday. So enjoy these last few days of Electronic Cerebrectomy without fangirl rage in the comments section. It's going to be my Orlando Bloom post all over again. Maybe.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?

I didn't blog about it, but I absolutely loved Arthur and George by Julian Barnes, one of my favorite modern authors. And I also really loved Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. And Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?

I'm not going to tag anyone, and I'd never force anyone to read a book. But I'd highly recommend The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan to everyone.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?

How should I know?

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

I still think there could be some good movies made from The Prydain Chronicles, but I don't know who's the one to do it. I'd like to see a really fantastic version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz before I die.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

The Catcher in the Rye. Every one in a while I hear people talking about who should play Holden Caulfield and just shiver. Excellent novel, but a movie? Why?

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

I don't remember any I've ever had about books. I have had a number of erotic dreams about JK Rowling, but that was a while ago.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?

I don't like the whole concept of "lowbrow" and "highbrow." I don't give a shit what's elite or intellectual or whatnot. I remember when everyone looked down on you for reading Stephen King; now people act like he's the literary establishment. So, I mean, does it matter? As a corollary, I also hate those people who automatically assumed popular=bad. I don't hold myself in that high a regard and I'm not desperate for people to know how smart I am. I just care if I am engaged by a book or not.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?

Michael Crichton's The Lost World. Well, it's not difficult, it's just terrible and vague and plotless. I never read Crichton again.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?

Never seen one, actually.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

I don't have a preference, really. I loved Crime and Punishment and The Plague, for example.

18) Roth or Updike?

I've only read short fiction by each, but I liked both.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?

I don't care for either of them too much.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

Milton, with Shakespeare a very close second.

21) Austen or Eliot?

George Eliot? I've never read her. I don't like Jane Austen at all.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

I have no idea; I'm sure different people would say different things depending on who they were championing. Like Jaquandor in his answer, I constantly feel as though I am behind on my reading. I recently read "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which is wonderful and which is my first F. Scott Fitzgerald--I'd like to read more by him.

23) What is your favorite novel?

Right off the top of my head, I'd say A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes.

24) Play?

Inherit the Wind. Then Angels in America.

25) Poem?

There are a lot I could choose from, and none is jumping right out at me as a favorite. Probably it's something by Robert E. Howard.

26) Essay?

Gosh, just about anything written by Harlan Ellison, especially his essay about Norman Mayer.

27) Short story?

Harlan Ellison's "The Deathbird."

28) Work of non-fiction?

Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World.

29) Who is your favorite writer?

Harlan Ellison

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

Jaquandor says Stephenie Meyer, which I could agree with, since her writing is so bad.

31) What is your desert island book?

Paradise Lost. There's so much there to get lost in.

32) And ... what are you reading right now?

Well, Twilight. I'm also reading Julian Barnes's memoir/philosophical piece Nothing to Be Afraid Of.

Dejah Thoris

Hidden amongst the news that Gambit from X-Men Origins: Wolverine is going to play John Carter in Pixar's first live action film, Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, is the far better news that Lynn Collins is going to play Dejah Thoris.

Now, while I'm pretty sure that director Andrew Stanton isn't going to follow Burroughs in having Dejah Thoris be nude throughout the story, I am looking forward to seeing her in sexy princess outfits. What's even nicer is that Lynn Collins is an actress I really want to see in a big movie, and I hope the part is well-written and gives her something to do. I absolutely loved Collins in The Merchant of Venice and have wanted to see her in something more than, say, her short-lived role on the incredibly wearying True Blood, ever since.

I'm looking forward to some pulp action with a little cheese. I hope this movie's good. We'll see.

Happy 31st Birthday, Garfield

31 years ago today, Jim Davis' Garfield first appeared. The strip has declined in quality rather a lot over the years, but when I was a kid (huh, I'm two years older than Garfield), he was a pretty big fat hairy deal. I used to buy the books and watch the TV specials (I remember Garfield in the Rough being my favorite, for some reason--probably because I was into camping at the time). I remember one Christmas morning waking up to a stuffed Garfield and Odie under the tree--I still have the Garfield, but I don't know where Odie went. (Actually, I gave the Garfield to Becca a long time ago; Garfield is a pretty big figure in the Beccaverse.) And those days were fun for me. So happy birthday, Garfield.

10 Facts About Garfield (Mental Floss)

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Some more pictures from my sister in Australia.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How a Time Lord Rolls

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

A postwar allegory by Kurosawa. Takashi Shimura stars as an alcoholic doctor doing what he can to help patients in a Tokyo that has been destroyed by war. There is a gigantic open sewer pit in the square, people are in poor health, and corruption surrounds them. A very, very handsome Toshiro Mifune wanders in as a hard-drinking, chain-smoking gangster who demands the doctor remove a bullet from his hand. The doctor discovers the gangster has tuberculosis and angrily admonishes him to stop smoking and drinking and get help; the gangster follows his orders in his own way, begrudgingly, hating to ask for help. The relationship between the two men is never one of caregiver and patient, but always adversarial. When Mifune's boss gets out of prison, Mifune sinks back into his old lifestyle, endangering his health and finding out he's completely expendable to a system he thought himself invaluable in. Both men are where they are because of past irresponsible decisions, and so, Kurosawa seems to say, is Japan. There is some signal of redemption at the end, but the implication is that it must come from the young and a new direction, and that the ways that led Japan to destruction will lead further into corruption and violence. **** stars. Mifune especially is powerful.

RED BEARD (1965)
I think this may be my favorite of the Kurosawa films I've seen, and I'm surprised this isn't more spoken of. It's a beautiful movie, a paean to humanity and good will. In feudal Japan, Yuzo Kayama is a doctor who has recently graduated from the Dutch Medical School in Nagasaki. He dreams of being the personal physician of the Shogun, but his father has him serve as an intern at a public clinic for the poor under Red Beard, played by Toshiro Mifune. At first, Red Beard seems imperious and detached, but as their relationship grows, Kayama's doctor sees the compassion of Red Beard and learns to be compassionate himself. He learns to see the human and the need for care and dignity in his impoverished patients. The film has an episodic nature, but each experience adds to Kurosawa's rich portrayal of humanity and each action Kayama takes ripples throughout as others learn from his example. Kurosawa apparently called this film his "monument to goodness." It certainly is that. **** stars. On a side note, I think this is yet another Kurosawa film that influenced George Lucas on his way to Star Wars; the relationship between Kayama and Mifune feels very much to me like the relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. I think Red Beard, more than anyone, influenced Qui-Gon. Just for the sake of trivia.

I'm not sure how to describe this film; it doesn't have a plot, exactly, but exists as a sort of momentum of progression, emotion, and sex. And it's ingenious. Paz Vega, beautiful and raw, stars as Lucia, a Spanish woman who falls in love with Lorenzo, a writer she admires. He falls in love with her, too, but he's also got a daughter with Elena, a woman he had a one night stand with while on vacation. He's frustrated, working on a new novel that is terrible, but his story soon intertwines with his search for his daughter and his sexual obsession with her nanny Belen (who lusts after her mother's boyfriend). It's life-as-story, or reality-as-narrative, and the whole thing folds back on itself several times. And this is all to inform the main line of the story, which is the grief of Lucia and the grief of Elena after personal tragedies which must be addressed, sometimes in surprising ways. And it all holds together; it shows how literature and film can combine, how personalities can be transformed by twists in the narrative of life, and how reality can pass through possibility and become something new. It's magic. **** stars.

Seann William Scott stars as a grocery store assistant manager (in Chicago; nice skyline) who hopes to be named manager of a new branch. He's married (to Jenna Fischer, lucky fucker) to a nurse, and they hope to buy a house. But then a new assistant manager (John C. Reilly) transfers down from Canada and wants to be considered for the job. And so, as you might expect, the two men become frustrated and end up trying to sabotage one another. What's nice about this movie is that it never develops into the silly comedy you think it might; it's a smart movie with dark around the edges, and both men are basically good guys with believable feelings instead of props of a comedy plot. John C. Reilly is especially good at bringing nuance and emotion to his character, but I liked Scott a lot more than I usually do. ***1/2 stars.

The life of Harlan Ellison, my favorite writer and personal hero. So I'm probably biased here. It could just be Ellison talking to the camera for five hours and I'd have loved it. But it's a very good, very succinct portrait of someone I admire and why his work matters. **** stars.

The problem I have with a lot of movies written and directed by David Mamet is that the characters are completely in service to the plot. There's nothing else to them but exactly what serves the plot. And I guess that's just cutting the extraneous to get to the point, but it also leads to performances that feel a little too heightened and less interesting. That was the case here, although Steve Martin, who sometimes comes across this way, was very good. But I did like the movie, it's just hard to identify with the characters. It's not as great as House of Games, Things Change, or Homicide, but I did appreciate the mechanics of the film and the writing. It's worth watching for sure. Campbell Scott plays an inventor who invents a formula that will make his company millions (the plot is unconcerned with exactly what the formula does or how it can be applied to business or science or anything, really). While at a meeting in the Caribbean, he meets one of his company's new secretaries (Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet's wife) and a charming businessman (Martin) who he becomes friends with in New York and who introduces him to the world of money and privilege. How the plot unfolds I won't reveal, but it's fascinating how everything unravels and then ties together. I just wish there had been more of a human element to ratchet up the suspense and really make me care beyond the intellectual level. A smart film, but not an involving one. *** stars.

Another Fellini masterpiece, with Giulietta Masina as an aging streetwalker who wants something more out of life. She meets a movie star and dreams of glamor, but there's nothing there for her. She tries religion, but sees it as a sham. But then she meets someone who loves her for herself and wants to make her happy, and the possibilities of life seem to open up for her. It's a simple, yet somehow complex story of a woman who has never lost her vulnerability and, in a way, fights to hold on to it, and when she's knocked down she somehow finds a way to move on, over and over again, into a world where caring is rare. The ending is one of the most magical moments ever captured on film, a testament to the talent of both Fellini and Masina, his wife. **** stars.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: The Previous Generation (Or Two). That's not to make fun of it, but it's a pretty good description. Dustin Hoffman plays Harvey, a jingle composer who flies to London for his daughter's wedding and is about to lose his job. He's living detached in a sea of humanity; no one wants to bother with him, and he feels like a stranger at the wedding; his daughter decides she wants her stepfather to walk her down the aisle. With nothing left to lose, Harvey sort of latches on to Kate, played by the wondrously beautiful Emma Thompson, a single woman caring for her mother and still single. They spend a day and a night together and make a real connection. Emma Thompson is especially good; she's not so jaded she's given up on the happiness she wants, but she's too world-weary to do anything but cut straight through the bullshit and be direct about her feelings. Hoffman, older than her (and the movie at least has the grace to point this out instead of acting like Thompson is some kind of old maid who can only get an old man), gives one of his best performances in years. It's a very easy movie to like, easy to get wrapped up in, and I enjoyed it very much. There are some who see a character piece like this and write if off as just another soppy romance. But some of us get touched by soppy romances. ***1/2 stars.

TAKEN (2009)
Liam Neeson as a retired government agent whose daughter is kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers while on vacation in France. I didn't realize this was another movie written by Luc Besson; as such, it's a pretty straightforward, stylish action thriller. And since it's easy to sympathize with a father searching for his daughter--and Liam Neeson is very good as an action character here--it's an absorbing thriller. And it's very satisfying. I'd recommend Spartan for perhaps a more grounded look at a similar plot, but I'd recommend Taken as a highly entertaining film. *** stars.

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)
I will say that I didn't think this movie was as bad as a lot of other people did (though, is the DVD a differently-edited version?), but there's also something about it that I can't quite put my finger on that doesn't work. After having just seen and enjoyed the first four films in the series, I appreciate the re-creation of Jason. (I know there are a lot of people who have problems with this, but for my generation, Jason and Freddy are basically the modern versions of Frankenstein's Monster and Count Dracula, okay? So they get to be re-created, reimagined, and remade, too.) But did it have to be so joyless? It's not the terrible, shitty, offensive, idiot remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Marcus Nispel's movies just have no personality beyond a sort of touchy cynicism and a bizarre fixation with sadism. But I did like a surprising amount of this movie. Most of the kids were good--I've loved Danielle Panabaker since before it was appropriate to do so, I have an appreciation for Willa Ford, and Aaron Yoo is always likable to me. I've never liked Jared Padelecki ever in anything, but I really liked him in this movie (he's a very sympathetic character). And I really wanted more of Ryan Hansen (sexy, sexy, sexy, sexy Dick Casablancas really needs to be, like, more naked in stuff). But the kids were mostly likable (even the douchey frat kid I could appreciate as the requisite douchey kid, although the forced cynicism about the black kid was really tasteless--oh, and America Olivo should be barred from ever taking her clothes off again, because she's the most unpleasant-looking thing in this movie). But some of the set-up falls apart logically, like the mine under the camp where Jason lives, which Becca and I spent too much time discussing. (Did he dig it out himself? If it's a mine, why does it come out in the back of an overturned bus?) And they've put aside the horror aspect and replaced it with cruelty and sadism. It's an action movie with a mean streak. Again, I didn't hate it as much as a lot of people did, but it's not the great film it could've been with a different director and a refocus. Marcus Nispel's not directing the sequel, looks like... unfortunately he'll be off doing my beloved Conan instead. Shit. *** stars.

Australian Sunset

My sister, who has lived in Australia for a couple of years or so, finally emailed me some pictures.

I'll have crocodiles tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 27

Not much to say this week. I've been feeling a bit lethargic the past week or so; I'm in some kind of funk. Not sure what it is or why, but that's that. Getting really, really sick of being home alone without much to do (except I am waiting to hear about going back to school). Getting really, really sick of all this god damn rain--I'd like to go swimming at least once this year, or at least take a freaking walk. And I'm getting really, really sick of the internet in general.

I need to read more. Except I'm reading Twilight for something I'm going to do on this blog, and I've got to say, it really is a shit book. What a slog. Ugh, if this piece of garbage got published, can you imagine what Little, Brown rejects? It reads like a rough draft. Just find the story, idiot! I swear I've finished about two pages in the last four days; it just will not grab my attention at all. It's so badly written it's become a major chore to get through a paragraph. I crap better art than Twilight.

I can't believe I found something to read for a Summarized by a Smartass series that's duller than the bible. Honestly!

No, Joe

I don't know if this is a spoiler for anyone. I see that, although I missed it, this news has been out there for a while now.

Okay, so "The Doctor" actually is Cobra Commander? That's just so... lame. And apparently he doesn't even become the Cobra Commander until nearly the end of the movie anyhow. And we're not going to see him in the hood or the face plate? Yeah, I know, I'm being a baby, but it's lame enough to keep me out of the theater this time around. So, big no on G.I. Joe.

80s Revisited: Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th is a film series I've always been pretty ambivalent towards. I'd seen the first three movies years and years ago and, despite a couple of scares, they'd never made that much of an impression on me. I hadn't seen any of the others except for Freddy vs. Jason, which was an opportunity wasted (though almost worth it to see Robert Englund play Freddy Krueger again), and for some reason Jason X. With the remake coming out on DVD today, I just kind of decided to revisit the early movies and take another look at them. I saw a lot of classic 70s and 80s horror this past Halloween, so I figured, you know, why the hell not?

Friday the 13th (1980)
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham; written by Victor Miller; produced by Sean S. Cunningham

This is a much, much better movie than I remember it being--and it has a really good twist that, if I hadn't already known it, would've been even better. The set-up is fairly simple, which is what I liked about it: 20 or so years earlier, a kid named Jason drowned in the lake while some camp counselors were busy screwing, and now the camp is set to re-open. Enter a bunch of camp counselors with sex on the brain, and they start getting picked off one by one. I dug that the set-up was so uncomplicated; modern horror movies often take too much time justifying themselves instead of getting right into the story. Sean S. Cunningham really put us in the atmosphere of the camp and the small town of Crystal Lake. We take a little time to see townspeople and the old Coca-Cola signs and the remoteness of the place, along with the requisite (seemingly) crazy guy giving dire warnings about a death curse at the camp.

Granted, there's not a ton in the way of character development, but I didn't mind. As a scare movie, it really works. It's not Last House on the Left, but it's not a bad movie at all. It sets up its interior logic and builds on it, and as a visceral experience (complete with Tom Savini make-up effects), I was surprised by how enjoyable it was. I wasn't sitting there thinking "Oh, this is stupid." I was caught up in it. I think it's worthy of horror classic status.

You know what it is I think I responded to the most? It has a sort of low tech quality. None of the effects are overly-elaborate or completely unbelievable. It actually wasn't as gory as I thought, either, although that's probably because I've become so jaded by movies like Wolf Creek. But there's also this sense that Cunningham will throw anything at you to scare you; right away, the opening title rushes up to the screen and shatters the camera lens. It's kind of charming.

When I first saw Final Destination on DVD, I remember telling someone at work "Any movie that's willing to throw one of the leads into a bus without warning just to get a shock out of the audience can't be all bad." I feel the same way about a movie so eager to scare and entertain the audience that it cracks the camera lens with the title.

Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981)
Directed by Steve Miner; written by Ron Kurz; produced by Steve Miner and Dennis Murphy

I was expecting the second movie to try too hard to top the original, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's got pretty much the same set-up--horny camp counselors are stalked and killed, this time on a different side of the lake--but it matches the atmosphere and creativity of the original. It also helps that it's a different killer this time; Mrs. Voorhies in the original, Jason Voorhies in the sequel. It adds a lot to the mystery; Jason hasn't put on the hockey mask yet, and I find the white sheet over his head with the single eye hole scarier. There's a scene in this movie where the lead girl (there's always a lead girl) watches as Jason approaches a cabin in pursuit of her. Seeing him approach from the distance, a hulking shape in a white sheet, is terrifying enough on its own.

Basically, it does what good sequels usually do and reverses the premise of the original. In the first movie, the killings came down to an insane woman talking to herself and taking revenge. In the sequel, it's her supposedly dead son, silent and devoted, taking revenge for what happened to his mother. It doesn't quite work logically, but if it did, it would be a lot less scary. The two films work so perfectly as bookends that it's kind of a shame they made more.

Friday the 13th: Part III (1982)
Directed by Steve Miner; Martin Kitrosser & Carol Watson; produced by Frank Mancuso Jr and Tony Bishop

This seems to be the most popular of the original films, and I have to say, I don't get it. It's not a bad film, but it's not really a good one, either, and certainly not as good as the first two movies. And this is where it starts to stray from the premise and become kind of pointless. I mean, I get the premise of Jason Voorhies and why he kills camp counselors and all of that. But this time it just doesn't quite hold together for me. I mean, the Friday the 13th date doesn't even come into it anymore, and now Jason's just some deformed guy who murders teenagers. There's not even a camp anymore. There's no mystery, no purpose, nothing psychological going on--there's no horror. It's an action movie.

But like I said, it's not bad. Some of it was enjoyable, despite the scenes thrown in for the lousy, gimmicky 3-D, which always sucks throughout history (and which necessitates more wires than usual and looks shitty even in 2-D). The action climax was pretty creative. But they're in a rut here, with the first few minutes of each film taken up with tying up loose ends that don't really matter from the previous films (it worked in Part 2, but seems superfluous here, since the third movie doesn't really have anything to do with the first two movies) and the is-it-or-isn't-it-a-dream endings. Predictability isn't really fun in horror movies, which is certainly the case here.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Directed by Joseph Zito; written by Barney Cohen; produced by Frank Mancuso Jr and Tony Bishop

For what was once intended to be the last in the series, the filmmakers pulled out all the stops and returned the horror to Jason. I even give them some credit in trying to tie the film to the first two movies through more than just having the same main character (there's a guy hunting Jason who wants revenge for his sister). Even the let's-revisit-the-end-of-the-previous-film opening works. It's so much better than Part III, and I can't quite explain why. It has something to do with the teenagers this time having better personalities, which I mostly attribute to one of them being Crispin Glover. He's always just off-kilter enough to be fascinating. The idea of someone hunting the hunter could've been played up more, but it's still an interesting enough wrinkle and a fresh enough idea to work.

What really ties the room together, though, is Corey Feldman as a kid who loves horror make-up and is a little Tom Savini in training (Savini returned to do the make-up this time--he had only done the first film--and I wonder if this was why). The way Feldman ends up distracting and confusing Jason--and then killing him--is kind of ingenious. And it really made the horror itself work, because by this point Jason has become scary as a force, but stopped being scary as an idea. The way this movie ends is pretty brilliant, as a real horror movie ending. They should have stopped at this one; it's the perfect place to end, on a psychological note. A jarring, scarring note.

It won't happen, but if the new remake was actually, surprisingly, a sequel to this movie and Jason took off the mask and was really Tommy underneath... now that would be a movie worth making.

So, ultimately I liked all four of these movies, even if I found Part III kind of pointless. Should I keep going, or does it really descend into the Police Academy series of horror movies--unstoppable, inexplicably popular, and crushingly stupid?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Great to See You

Arise, Sir Christopher Lee

As of this past weekend, Christopher Lee is a knight.

Kristen Bell Mondays