Monday, October 31, 2005

The New Yorker bids all a Happy Halloween

Well, it's that time of year again. Where mischievous children dress up as ghouls and demand candy at doorsteps, and fall leaves rattle eerily down the pavement pushed on by a whispering wind.

In recent years I have often complained about the fact that Halloween for people in my specific age demographic is fairly lackluster. It is a holiday I love, but am no longer sure how to celebrate. Below is a proto-blog of mine that I wrote a couple years back on this spooky day. I emailed it to some friends to express my Halloween joys and frustrations. And now I share it with all of you...

what Halloween means to me: (ahem)
All Hallows eve, truly the best holiday ever invented, full of
everything that is good and crisp and fall and sweet and scary. I
mean candy AND scary movies -somebody up there in the great big blue
knew me too well.

I was the eighteen year old who still went trick or treating, I was
the one who would wear orange and black all day before I donned my
costume at night (I'm actually wearing a bright orange sweater, and
halloween socks today )

and now what? At twenty three, with little free time left to my
name, I have no tricks or treats up my sleeve -no really original
costume -no real plans of any sort. I don't live in a neighborhood
where there are lots of little kids, so I can't look foward to
passing on candy to little ones dressed in sheets and witch's hats.
And that makes me sad.

what does Halloween mean to me?
Halloween is one of the holidays that is inextricably linked to my
childhood. The way the moist inside of a pumpkin would smell when I
carved it -the last look I'd give in the mirror before heading out
the door with makeup all over my face making me look delightfully

And there is nothing better than coming home -bag full of candy in
hand- counting my winnings on the rug -snuggling under a blanket
with hot apple cider as I watch someone get stabbed reapetedly in
the chest on TV by Michael Myers, Freddy, or some other monster.

Perhaps I can find my own fun tonight -in this devious city of Los
Angeles, where the innocence of a childhood is like a smoggy vision
one can barely make out -I can still conjure what it is I love so
much about today.

So go bob an apple, bake a Halloween cookie, eat some candy corn.
Enjoy being snug and warm in your home, as the ghouls and ghosts in
the world, both real and pretend, stalk the streets tonight. And
try to picture me dressed as a colonial era safari guide at age 17, surrounded by ten year olds.…It'll make you laugh -I promise.

But seriously guys. Do something. Go eat some candy. Rent Poltergeist. TiVo Scream. For God’s sake keep the Halloween spirit alive.

Just remember to check your closets before you go to sleep tonight...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Countdown to the Deathship

Today, The Hollywood Reporter announced that the fire under a project called Deathship has been reignited, and screenwriting duo Michael Brandt and Derek Haas will be writing a new draft of the film originally done by Scott Burn and Stephen Gregg. Burn has no credits to speak of, and Gregg has a singular credit on IMDB for a small indie film. Bradnt and Haas, the team who will be rewriting the screenplay have written such subtle cinematic pieces as 2 Fast, 2 Furious, and Catch That Kid! The film will now be called Countdown, and is being produced by Paramount’s production house Mandalay Pictures.

Countdown aka Deathship was originally a Twilight Zone teleplay that Richard Matheson adapted from his own original short story. The original Deathship episode which aired in the fourth season of The Twilight Zone is fantastic. It stands out in my mind as one of the strongest Zone episodes, (and I’ve seen almost all of them) because of its creepiness and its emotional depth. Deathship tells the story of space craft E-89, carrying a crew of three men who explore various planets they come across in their exploratory mission across space as they search for new worlds for human colonization. When the captain of the ship notices some interesting readings from a planet on his monitor, they land their craft down to investigate. Instead of finding the unique scientific specimens they were expecting, they stumble upon the wreckage of another space ship. But it’s not just any spaceship; its an exact replica of the ship they have been flying. When the men go inside to see if there are any survivors, they discover three dead men ---and these three corpses bear an identical resemblance to the crew of three that has just landed on the planet. Horrified and confused by what they have seen the men scatter from the ship, wandering away from each other to try and collect their thoughts about what they have just seen. In their distraught state each man begins to run into loved ones who they left back on earth. After tender and emotional greetings, the men all realize these fantasies would be ideal, if not for one minor detail. All the family and friends they are encountering have died years before. The three men reconvene on the ship, and the captain insists they are merely victims of some strange hallucinatory force. As they try to fly off the planet, they find that they are unable to break away from the atmosphere, and that the ship is readying to land itself on the planet once again, where they must once again face their inescapable destiny: death.

I get chills just writing the summary for that episode. It is so well done that you feel as horrified as the three crew men do, with each passing morbid realization. I have never read the short story upon which the episode is based, but having read others by Richard Matheson, I have no doubt it is equally effective and disconcerting in its literary form. Matheson has an incredibly dense and macabre imagination and his works always present startling truths beneath the horrors they paint.

But turning this story/episode into a film is a huge mistake. People who run movie studios should know by now that Twilight Zone episodes do not work as movies, at least 99.99% of the time. A short format of forty five minutes or so (Twilight Zone switched back and forth a couple times between half hour and full hour time slots during its duration) can do justice to a particular kind of story, that a full two hours cannot. Twilight Zone episodes are especially known for their twist/surprise endings; the last minute reveals that make us gasp or scratch our heads. There have been plenty of films in the recent years that have tried to capitalize on this “gimmicky” format, but very, very few of them have actually been good. In fact out of the past ten years or so, I can only think of one film that used this sort of finish, and was really a good film all around: The Sixth Sense. And even poor M. Night Shyamalan, has dug himself into a bit of a hole, in that everyone expects him to continue to use this formula, which is very difficult to repeat successfully.

TV can get away with things that movies can’t (and vice versa I’m sure). It’s a pyschological thing in part. When you’re laying on your couch after a long day’s work, flipping through channels, and you happen to come across a show that will not only capture your interest with its mystery, but will leave you a bit surprised at the end, you feel like you’ve gotten lucky. Maybe you’re even surprised. Assuming you happen to be an avid watcher of said show, the episode remains a neat little compartment of entertainment, that helped fill your night at home, where you weren’t planning to do much anyways. But when you go out to the movies, and you shell out ten bucks, and maybe even bring a date, or plan ahead, you expect a bit more out of it. If you sit in a dark theatre for two hours, and at the end of it, you learn that everything you’ve been watching is just a dream or fake, or a hallucination, you (or at least some people) will get pissed. Shows have chances to redeem themselves, films rarely do. Shows build a mosaic of themes and truths, week after week, films only have one shot.

While the episode “Deathship” is finely written and filled with interesting ideas, what makes it so effective is that we are seeing a brief glimpse of a loop that has been in place for God knows how long. The ship is a deathship, trapped in this planet’s atmosphere, its crew doomed to relive their deaths over and over until they can accept them. What makes it so creepy is that as the camera pulls out and we leave these three men to their fate, we know there is no salvation for them, and this is their eternity. A chilling thought.

But if this actually gets made into a movie, you know what’s going to happen. The three crew members are going to figure out a way to blast off and away from the planet, and head back into the arms of their friends and family who are alive and well back on earth. The story is no longer creepy. It’s lame. I mean, I would love it if they kept the original ending, but every studio would be terrified to have an ending that bleak. And judging from the fact that the script is being taken over by the men who penned such inspiring phrases as “Come on, man. Guns, murderers and crooked cops? I was made for this, bro.!”, “Do I even wanna know where the Skyline is, Dawg? Or where you've been for the past couple'a days? Or where the hell you got these rides from?”, and (who could ever forget) “I didn't know pizza places made motors.” My money is on the fact that they will not adapt the story with much grace. It upsets me that a smart and philosophical science fiction story will ultimately be turned into something like Red Planet (oh yes, I saw that puppy in the theatre).

Monday, October 24, 2005

Is it just me or are we in a huge movie slump?

Is is just me, or has there been a complete and utter drought of good movies lately? To be honest, I can’t even remember the last thing I was excited to see in the theatre that actually fufilled my expectations.

It seems like everything I’ve seen lately has run the gammut from absolutely terrible to mediocre with one recent exception. Capote, the small Sony Pictures Classic release starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the title role, was an incredibly strong film. The movie focuses on writer Truman Capote during the time period in his life when he concieved and wrote his non-fiction claim to fame, In Cold Blood. Hoffman puts in an unforgettable transformative prerformance as the ego-centric, droll, acutely insightful writer, and though the film was made by both a first time director (Bennett Miller) and a first time screenwriter (Dan Futterman), it felt as though it had been crafted by veteran filmakers. Not only is the film an intimate portrait of Capote the man, it is a close study of the writer and the writing process. Catherine Keener gave a warm and subtle performance as writer Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and there was a near voyeuristic pleasure in watching scenes between these two literary giants. Clifton Collins Jr. gave a starkly paradoxical feel to the role of killer Perry Smith encapsulating fierceness and brutality in the same space with lonliness and despair.

But other than that ? As I look over my recent reviews, I see the pickins are slim. The Fog? Horrendous. The Corpse Bride? So-so. The Exorcism of Emily Rose? O.K. The Brothers Grimm? Terrible. To adopt the youthful slang of the day, What is up with that?

Not only did the summer peter out in the sad sorry way it always inevitably does, but the fall ain’t been too pretty either. I haven’t seen History of Violence which I hear is quite good, and I haven’t seen Serenity yet because I need to finish watching Firefly. Good Night and Good Luck was pretty good, but we’ve also had to endure Into the Blue, Just like Heaven, Two for the Money and Domino. (A friend just told me he really enjoyed Domino but I’ll have to see it before I believe it)

And what’s next on our horizon? More soggy sequels. We have Saw II, and Mask of Zorro 2, and though its not a sequal, has anyone seen the trailer for Casanova ?!? Thank Goodness for Harry Potter, which comes out in less than a month on November 18th. I think the trailer for Memoirs of a Geisha is pretty stunning, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has my attention. Of course we all know what the most anticipated movie of the year for me is…. Peter Jackson’s King Kong, ---only fifty one more days to go!!

I haven’t seen Doom yet, though its gotten pretty poor reveiws, and didn’t do very well at the box office this weekend. In fact, according to Box Office Mojo , money wise, this weekend, might go down in history as the weakest October weekend of the decade. Egads. I’m looking for something to help break this boring streak. As of right now Harry Potter, all eyes are on you.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Surface makes the Cut (What in the world....)

This just in.

According to IMDB TV News , it was announced yesterday that the NBC Sci-fi show SURFACE would be picked up for the rest of the season.

Holy Mother of Pearl, I don’t believe this. After basically deciding to give up on the show, I skipped Monday night’s episode to finish watching Game 5 of the Astros/Cardinals playoff series. And now this. I’m still not sure if I’m going to delete the season pass or not, I suppose at this point, I feel compelled by a morbid curiosity of where the show could actually go in the span of eighteen more episodes.

Still no word on Invasion or Threshold making the cut. I suppose only time will tell on those guys, though I continue to be underhwelmed by each.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The New Yorker is finally bitten by Firefly

For almost quite some time now, people who know me and my science fiction sensibilities, have constantly asked me if I am a Firefly fan. Firefly is a sci-fi show, or more specifically a space western, that aired on Fox briefly from late ’02, into early ’03. The show takes place five hundred years in the future and focuses around the crew of the ship Serenity, as they try to survive the rough and tough galaxy by any means necessary. Led by the rogue Captain Mal, the crew includes the standard fare of any sci-fi group, including a navigator, scientist, engineer and the like. Created by Joss Wheadon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame, and it was cancelled after only fourteen episodes or so, a couple of which, were never even aired. Firefly was one of those shows which garnered a huge cult audience, but didn’t make a big enough impression to the studio in its ratings. This was in part, due to much botched decision making by Fox, which included telling Wheadon at the last minute that the pilot was too slow, and forcing him to write a new first episode in the span of a weekend. As I hear it, this was followed by further disruption of the proper episode sequence, which naturally had the effect of a disjointed storyline. Ironically, the two hour pilot titled “Serenity” was the last episode to be aired on Television.

Despite all this, Firefly maintained a huge support base among sci-fi fans. Its cult following only continued to grow after the DVD boxset was released in late ’03. I remember going to Comic Con in San Diego the summer after the show had been cancelled, and listening to Joss Wheadon speak about a Firefly movie in the works during a panel discussion. After a year or so or wrangling, it seems Wheadon and his team found their champions in Universal Studios and some International financiers who agreed to fund and distribute the Firefly film, Serenity. The film, which was released on September 30th, has gotten very positive critical reviews but has limped a bit in the box office race, still about $10 million shy of making back its money.

Now for the punchline. Up until this past Saturday, I had never seen a single episode of the show. Despite the fact that Firefly has been critically hailed as one of the most smartly written and inventive science fiction shows to come out in over a decade (think Star Trek: The Next Generation), somehow it managed to slip under my radar. The show originally aired in 2003 B.T. (before I owned a TiVo), when my hectic work schedule precluded me from following any episodic on TV on a weekly basis.

You may be thinking as you read this, well it’s been out on DVD for almost two years, you have no excuse. But again, while I had heard it was good, I just never had the direct inclination to pick it up. Wheadon’s work is considered to be high quality sci-fi and fantasy by many, but I never really got on the whole Buffy train, however up my alley that show might have been as well.

When the Serenity trailer started making the theatre circuits a couple months ago, I was hit with an influx of verbal assaults from friends of mine, who told me that once and for all I needed to get my *** in gear and watch all the Firefly episodes so that I could be prepared for the release of the movie. But I didn’t. Call it laziness, call it trepidation, for whatever reason, it ultimately didn’t end up at the top of my priority list. After the movie came out, friends told me how terrific it was, and how I needed to catch it on the big screen before it was too late. People offered me the DVD boxsets at every turn, but I poo pooh’d them, telling them it was difficult enough having nine season passes on my TiVo as it was (Surface, America’s Next Top Model, Lost, Invasion, ER, Night Stalker, Threshold, West Wing and Desperate Housewives). When on earth was I going to find the time to sit down and watch twelve hours straight of a TV show that went off the air two years ago??

And then, finally, this past Saturday afternoon, two dear friends of mine paid me a visit and ambushed me. They closed my blinds, turned out the lights, and forced me to watch the two hour pilot of Firefly.

My enthusiasm for Firefly did not come instantaneously. While I was quite taken with some of the dialogue in the prologue of the episode, I was also fairly confused about what was going on. There was none of the handholding that you see in a lot of pilots with obvious Tvmaking, Wheadon plunges you into this world immediately and expects you to learn as you go and roll with the punches. Within the first fifteen minutes or so of the episode you are introduced to new characters, jargon, spacecrafts, locations, political climates and conspiracies, and societal structures. It is a bit overwhelming to say the least. Even after about fourty minutes into the show, I was still not convinced. I thought that perhaps the show wasn’t for me, or that I simply wasn’t a fan of Joss Wheadon’s work.

But then something happened.

Just a bit before the hour mark, the plot started to pick up a bit, and when my friends interjected offering to shut it off, I told them I was finally getting sucked in. In that hour, I suddenly realized that the characters had started to grow on me, and I already felt an affectionate familiarity for them. There was something about the performances of the actors, and the way the characters were drawn that was ultimately very engaging. Beyond that, there was a terrific chemistry between all the actors, something which I think is sorely missing from a lot of ensemble shows. I think in science fiction, it is particularly important to get good chemistry and interaction between the actors. In the same manner that an actual military vessel could not function properly with a crew that had weak interpersonal relations, a show cannot really fly without actors that play well off each other. Though none of the actors are very well known, the show seems incredibly well cast, and in particular I found myself a little slack jawed at the raw charima and charm of Captain Mal, palyed by Nathan Fillion.

Beyond that, the show has a terrific production value amd the design of everything has an original and unique feel to it. More than any science fiction show I’d ever seen before it really took that fusion of western and space into the next level, incorporating icons of both genres. There were spaceships and horses, smugglers who carried bio-medical cargo, and a prostitute with a heart of gold who could also handle her own space shuttle. There is also a sort of pan asian feel to the setting, which comes from Wheadon’s hypothesis that in the relatively near future China and America will be the two reigning cultures, and will meld together to create a new mass culture that most conform to.

In a word, this show is damn cool.

After watching the pilot, my friends being the devious little buggers that they are, promptly informed me they could not lend me the box set because it belonged to another friend of theirs who needed it back asap. (I never understood until now there was such a thing as a Firefly emergency). By Monday, I had caved, and ordered the boxset online, (in addition to the first season of sci-fi channels remake of Battlestar Galactica which I hear is also pretty strong). The more I think about the episode I saw, the more I'm convinced of its genius. My plan? To attempt to watch all the rest of the Firefly episodes this Saturday, and then go see Serenity on Sunday. It’s official, I’m hooked.

The Tomatometer almost bottoms out

Hey Kiddies,

So, I just thought I'd point out that The Fog got a 4% average rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer. I often find the Tomatometer a fairly good litmus test for how good or bad a movie is. I also find it somewhat reassuring that my extremely acerbic reaction to the film was not due to indigestion and heartburn, and that other critics, including those who are actually professionals, had my back.

While poking around Rotten Tomatoes I decided to look up other films which recieved a ratings mean in the single digits.

I discovered that even Gigli (which I admit I've never seen) beat the Fog by three percentage points, garnering a robust rating of 7%! Moreover, movies that rival The Fog remake for the worst rating ever include, Battlefield Earth, which also got a 4%, the Rollerball remake which got a 3%, and yes the fantastically abysmal Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever , which got a 0%!!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

So fogging bad....

Writing an extensive critique on why the remake of The Fog was so deplorable, would be like elaborating on why a car accident is bad. Anyone who has been witness knows why, words are unnecessary.

I know I’ve bashed a lot of these horror remakes on this blog, whined and complained about their unoriginality and lack of coherency: The Ring 2, The Amityville Horror, The House of Wax, among them. I even called Fantastic Four the (probable) worst film of the summer in my review a couple months ago. It was one of the most scathing reviews I’ve written since I began this blog.

This is why I am having such a difficult time trying to quantify the complete and utter worthlessness of The Fog. Words can not describe, and yet I will attempt to express my anguish over the two hours of my life which I can never get back, by way of some analogies.

The Fog is to me as:

Chocolate is to Dogs
Hydrochloric Acid is to eyeballs
Man-o-Wars are to babies

Even when a movie isn’t very good, there are still usually certain things that were well done. Sometimes a movie will have a terrible story and script, but will have beautiful art direction and cinematography. Sometimes, it may have a very low production value, and the plot may be completely forgettable, but the actors do a great job with what they have. Not so with the Fog, which lacked a single redeeming quality. I could ramble on for paragraph after paragraph about how poor the directing was, how there was zero character development, and how it lacked any scary or suspenseful moments. Instead I’ve chosen to focus on one glaring element which nearly made me scream with confusion and rage at the end of the film.

The Fog is a remake of the 1980 John Carpenter horror film of the same name. The plot of the original is fairly simple, but cleverly executed. Antonio Bay is a small island community in the Pacific North West, about to celebrate its centennial anniversary. On the eve of this historic moment, strange occurrences are beleaguering residents. Ghostly apparitions appear shrouded in thick fog, and odd artifacts begin to wash up on the beach. Eventually, the sinister origins of Antonio Bay are revealed; a hundred years prior, the town’s founding fathers deceived and killed a shipload of lepers. On a foggy night, the founders had lured the leper’s ship onto their rocky shore with a false fire. They stole the lepers gold, left them to die, and used the money to expand Antonio Bay. But on the hundred year anniversary of their death, the ghosts of the deceased lepers have come back to haunt Antonio Bay and take their revenge, traveling in the same misty fog that led them to their fate.

Straightforward enough right? It’s a traditional style ghost story that’s played as a mystery in the original film. Strange clues build up leading to the ultimate reveal of the town’s ghastly past. The remake, while changing around some of the characters, sticks almost exactly to the storyline of the original. In fact, the story is so similar, that John Carpenter and Debra Hill who wrote the 1980 version, got screenwriting credit in the remake as well.

At the start of the film, we are introduced to the quiet town of Antonio Bay, also approaching its centennial with a newly erected statue commemorating it’s four founding fathers. Unlike the original, the film actually opens with these four men on a rowboat swearing an oath to one another as they are about to board a large ship, i.e. the leper’s ship. So already they’ve deflated the reveal of the town’s dark secret.

Being the close knit community that Antonio Bay is, many of its residents are direct descendants of the original founding members of the town. (This is the case in the original as well.) The remake places particular emphasis on the four men who are to be honored with the statue, and stresses the fact, every chance it gets that our main characters share the same last names as those four men; Williams, Malone, Castle and Wayne. These characters, primarily Nick Castle (played by Smallville’s Tom Welling), and Elizabeth Williams (played by Lost’s Maggie Grace) seems to be suffering the brunt of the odd fog induced incidents that have begun to occur.

So far so good. We’ve got the ghosts targeting the relatives of the people who screwed them over. That makes sense. But then all logic seems to go out the window….

Early on in the film, Elizabeth Williams (just to re-emphasize, she is related to one of the four men who deceived the ship of lepers) reappears into town unannounced, after being away for six months. When things don’t go so well when she surprises her mother, (one of the town’s officials leading the centennial), she finds herself back in the arms of her X-boyfriend, Nick Castle. While crashing at his place, she has a terrible nightmare, which she describes as people screaming and a sensation that she’s drowning. As Nick tries to comfort her, she tells him that she’s been having a lot of these dreams lately, and this is the reason that she has come back home. ????? She also offhandedly says that she’s never felt like she belonged in Antonio Bay, and this is why she left in the first place. (Keep in mind we know precious little else about her character. How old she is, what she was doing in NYC while she was away ---none of it).

As the film progresses Elizabeth sense of foreboding dread only increases. An old sea hobo gives her a watch that washed up on shore, and suddenly she is compelled to google search the images engraved on it, because they seem familiar to her. She finds a diary of one of Antonio Bay’s forefathers stashed in an old boathouse. She has an encounter with one of the victims of the Fog when she is in the hospital, a dead man, whose corpse suddenly becomes reanimated and creeps up behind her. As she searches for “answers,” to all of these things, she begins to uncover the mystery of Antonio Bay, yet she is desperate that no one seems to believe her.

As the action on Antonio Bay unfolds, the film intercuts with flashbacks from the night that the four forebears boarded the leper ship and set fire to it. During these brief muddled scenes we meet the head of the lepers, Captain Blake, and catch glimpses of him stroking the pretty blonde hair of his wife. The director makes a clear point of hiding the front of her face from the camera. Funny, she sure has the same hairstyle as Maggie Grace….

AND NOW TO THE BIG REVEAL. The film’s climax takes place in the Antonio Bay Cemetary, in a face off between the town members and the army of leper ghosts. One minute Elizabeth is standing next to Nick, the next she is arm in arm with Captain Blake, her ghost leper husband, and is now also transparent. Let me repeat this for clarifications sake. Elizabeth Williams, great, great, grand daughter of Founding Father Williams, one of the men who aided in the destruction of the leper ship, is actually a ghost. But not just any ghost, she is the lost spirit of Captain Blake’s Wife, one of the lepers who died in the water that night.


After we see Elizabeth transform into this ethereal appartion, she tosses a coy little smirk as Nick’s direction. We then cut to the final shot of the film which is an old sepia toned photograph of Elizabeth in a wedding gown standing next to Captain Blake. You know, just in case we missed the fact that she was the blonde in the flashbacks on the leper ship. Just to reiterate that she was actually a ghost the whole time.


You know, if the filmmakers really wanted to go the whole ghost route, which is weak plotting at best, why make her the descendant of a founder. How could she be on the boat, but then related to the founder? Wha happen? I don’t understand it. How? Why? It’s driving me crazy. I can’t take it. I------------

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The New Yorker's Love/Hate relationship with Blue Tights

Well, its been quite a long time, since I’ve stopped by the Blue Tights Adventure Network! , the official blog/website for Bryan Singer’s film Superman Returns. I live in a perpetual state of paradox when it comes to this website; on the one hand, I can’t help but get excited by the iconic imagery shown as they recreate mythical elements of the Superman legacy. Yet on the other hand, I am constantly bewildered, amused, and irritated by the evergrowing size of Bryan Singer’s head, which currently could dwarf an orb the size of Sputnik. (It’s like an orange on a toothpick, man.)

One of main features of Blue Tights (yes, try to supress a giggle if you can), are the video journal entries that have followed Singer and friends from pre-production into the midst of principle photography. The latest two journal entries perfectly illustrate my ambivalent attitudes towards this site.

Take Journal entry #24 for instance, Stoparazzi , which shows the trials and tribulations that Paparazzi creat on an average day of shooting. Sure its funny to see the two crew members follow the paparazzi around with those huge beach umbrellas, but why must Bryan Singer carry on so? The problem with these blogs is that I feel like they are his excuse of getting to be all hammy and cute for the camera. Only he just comes off smug and obnoxious like. (The white panama hat he wears only aggravates this condition.) If you ask me he’s jealous that the paparazzia aren’t trying to take photos of him. You can see a excellent proof of this in the brief segment where they show the photographers shooting photos like mad at Brandon Roth (the star of Superman Returns), with a fast cut to Singer who looks positively dejected that none of the flashes are in his direction.

Then there’s Journal Entry #25 Jimmy Meets Jack , which is actually pretty cool, because it captures a historical introduction of sorts in the Superman universe. The character Jimmy Olsen, played by Sam Huntington, in Superman Returns meets Jack Larson, who portrayed Jimmy Olsen in the original Adventures of Superman series that ran on television in the 1950’s. Larson has a bit part as a bartender in Superman Returns, and I can’t help but give Singer props for having the insight to give that nod to the Superman fans and legacy alike. There is something strangely moving about watching the elderly Larson, and the young spry Huntington greeting one another with an affectionate hug, like the passing of a torch or something. I also like this journal entry, because unlike many of the others up on the web site, it actually deals with characters and moments from the new film, and has minimal focus on Singer’s blind desire to be in front of camera, instead of behind it. (Is there a reason why I had to see Bry-bry do a shot of whiskey?)

Stay tuned for the next pairing of video journals from the site, when they show the magic behind making Superman fly, after discussing how craft services makes Singer’s roast beef sandwiches just the way he likes them.

Monday, October 10, 2005

In Glorious Black & White...

Last night, I went to see George Clooney latest directorial effort, Good Night, and Good Luck. The film is set during the politically volatile era of the early 1950’s, and tells the story of CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and his quest to inspire debate about Senator Joseph McCarthy and his HUAC (House Un-American Activites Committee) trials.

Good Night, and Good Luck., was entirely in black and white. I always find it interesting when directors, in this day and age, choose to forgo the world of color, for the nostalgic shades of grey. Shot by cinematographer, Robert Elswit who has worked under directors ranging from Joel Schumacher to Paul Thomas Anderson, Good Night, and Good Luck. has a glorious feel of cinematic days gone by.
Black and White film has the unique ability to both heighten the realism of a film, while lending it certain surreal abstract qualities as well. Because the events of the film took place in the early 50’s when TV and film were predominantly all shown in black and white, Good Night, and Good Luck seems historically legitimized because it is in the format of the times. When I was a child I used to believe that the world operated in black and white up until the 60’s when color film began to gain wide spread popularity. I thought that even when the cameras were shut off, people would leave set and live their lives in a smoky hazy world, where the sky alternated from gray to black, and women’s lipstick shone like obsidian. It’s an odd truth that films set in the 50’s seem more believable when they are in black and white. Particularly since it is such a narrowly catagorized era. Not all period films are thought of in this way. Though Hollywood produced black and white films in the 20’s and 30’s, filmmakers don’t seem to graviate as much towards portraying these eras in the black and white format.

Color is such a marvelous tool of the filmaker, it can be lush and vibrant, or dull and dreary; either way playing a large part in setting the tone for the entire film. I can’t imagine watching Martin Scorceses’ The Aviator or Speilberg’s Raiders of the Lost Arc in Black and White (despite the fact they span the 30’s and 40’s). The color in these films add such a richness and a personality, not only to the overall looks of the film, but to the stories as well.

The thematic elements of Good Night, and Good Luck., and the 50’s in general, resonate particularly strongly in the black and white format, for this was a time when things existed in world of extremes. The era of The Cold War and McCarthyism did not allow much room for gradients within the poltical spectrum. You were either a commonist sympathizer or you were a loyal American; one was right, and the other wrong. The starkness of the political landscape during that time period coincides with the austere images of a world that is literally painted in strokes of black and white.

Black and white film was also particularly fitting for Good Night and Good Luck because of the large amount of archival footage that was woven into the film. Instead of casting an actor to play the role of Senator McCarthy, Clooney chose to strictly use film of McCarthy in the HUAC trials, as well as the actual rebuttal to Murrow that was aired on CBS. Clooney also used segments from various episodes of “See it Now” to further create a sense of realism. The fuzzy and and old film stock did much better when viewed in the black and white world, then I imagine it would have if surrounded by color (which I think would have made it feel more dated). There were moments in the film when Clooney cut completely to archival films and they filled the screen entirely. This all worked more smoothly because the whole film was shot in black and white.

The scenary of a black and white film has an almost ghostly, unearthly feel to it. There is an unavoidable darkness in tone and visual cues that spark mystery about what may lurk in the hidden shadows behind a desk. Clooney used cigarette smoke a great deal in this film. I don’t think there were more than a handful of scenes where at least one character on screen wasn’t lighting up. Murrow himself smoked even while giving his weekly telecast. Smoke wafted in delicate tendrils up to the ceilings of the CBS offices, it unfurled out of nostrils in foggy puffs. It was everywhere, and the thin veils of smoke that hovered around the characters intensified their urgency. Like the black and white film stock, the constant presence of smoke thoughout the film served to make the film both hyperrealized and dreamlike. The characters were some how more organic – more of their times, demolishing those sticks of tobacco before our very eyes. Inhaling and exhaling breath that we could actually see. But the hovering clouds of smoke that floated in and out of the shadows also created a sense that these characters were living in a dream, a nightmare, where at any moment their livlihoods could be snatched away in the witchunt.

Like Ed Wood, and The Man Who Wasn’t There, Good Night, and Good Luck did not just use its black and white film stock as a gimmick, but used it to its fullest pontial in exploring the moments in history that it showcased. It married a sense of journalistic historical realism, with glamorous, artistic flourishes. An utmost example of a film where “style over substance” is not the case, GNAGL is a gorgeous looking film that creates a perfect dreamy realism in which to tell its story. It is style and substance working together in perfect harmony.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Kong la la la

Well, as seen on Aint It Cool , this is the pic that is going to be used for the teaser poster for Peter Jackson's King Kong. To be honest, I can't really believe the teaser poster hasn't been plastered EVERYWHERE by now. I'm also assuming that the full length trailer is going to hit any day now. My guess is it will be pegged in front of some pre Halloween horror release.

I think this image is amazing. The radiant sunset and clouds in the background. The glassy looking metallic industrialism of the sky scraper pivoted against the great big hairy ape. Naomi Watts truly could not look any more the part.

Sixty Eight days and counting!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New Yorker puts in her two cents on Invasion and Threshold

You know, funny thing about this new fall TV season.


Ok, I might be getting a little carried away with myself, but so far the big new sci fi shows of the season have for the most part underwhelmed.

I’ve already made it abundantly clear on this blog how I feel about Surface. But after parking myself in front of the couch for hours this weekend, I was finally able to catch up on the rest.


When I say that Invasion is better than Surface, I mean it in the same way that I prefer the odor of urine to that of feces. In essence, they both stink.

Invasion suffers from many of the same problems that Surface does –wonky casting, clunky dialogue, and overused concepts.

One of the biggest problems with Invasion is the casting and the chemistry (or lack there of) between the actors/characters. It’s not that any of the individual actors are doing a particularly bad job, their performances all range from good to fine. But there’s just something about the combination of them together that doesn’t feel quite right.

Invasion primarily follows the story of two families that are connected to each other by remarriage and children. Russell Varon (played by Eddie Cibrian) was once married to Dr. Mariel Underlay (played by Kari Matchett) and had two children together: Jesse (Evan Peters) and Rosie (Ariel Gate). Already the casting here doesn’t really match up. Russell is played by a thirty two year old actor, who comes off like he’s in his late twenties. Mariel is played by a thirty five year old who comes off like she’s in her late thirties. There’s also the more pressing fact that they have absolutely no chemistry to speak of. Obviously as X’s who have happily remarried, the two might not have sexual tension any longer, but should relate to one another in a complex and unique way. Usually even when we see divorcees on screen there is usually a small glimmer that shows why these people were together in the first place. Usually its followed by a moment that shows why they split as well, but its seems more effective to show both sides of the coin. Unfortuntaely Russell and his X-wife Mariel have a chemistry vacuum, and it is difficult to imagine why they were ever together in the first place. In addition, Russell doesn’t really fly very well as a father of two, and in particular Jesse, his teenage son. The actor who plays Jesse is actually eighteen, but he comes off fairly well as a fifteen/sixteen year old. Even so, that makes Russell an awfully young father –and since he looks younger than he is, it results in an awkward repor between the two. He seems more like an older brother than a father.

Both Russell and Mariel remarried after divorcing –Mariel, to an older man, the town sheriff, Tom Underlay (played by William Fichner, late 40’s) and Russell, to a spunky TV reporter Larkin Groves (played by thirty year old, Lisa Sheridan). Mariel and Tom make a pretty decent match, because Fichner looks young for his age, and Matchett looks older. But despite the fact that Cibrian/Russell and Sheridan/Larkin make one attractive couple, she, like Cirbrian, looks very young for her age, only accentuating the fact that their household feels more like grad students playing house than anything else.

The other big problem with Invasion is the plot line. It’s hackneyed and trite, like ia TV movie of the week from the early 80’s instead of a fresh new modern show. I mean, the locale is sort of an interesting aspect. There aren’t many shows set in the Florida everglades, which provide an intriguing and unusual backdrop. But what of the premise?

After a violent hurricane, the residents of a small town begin to experience strange occurrence; witnessing odd things, and noticing bizarre behavior in their neighbors.

In short it’s Alien Nation meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it is neither as gripping nor as well executed as either of those sci-fi fables. Everything is so painfully obvious, there is no mystery. By the end of the two hour pilot, (which is all that has aired thus far) we already have a decent sense of how the entire season will play out. Dave Groves, (played by Tyler Labine) Russell’s brother in law, is the loopy, conspiracy theory type, who has a hunch about what is REALLY going on in his town. If I got a dollar for every time Dave said EBE (extra-terrestrial biological entity) during the show, I could buy a new Ipod Nano. Constantly out in the swamps and trolling for evidence of alien life, Dave discovers a desecrated carcass with ominous implications. It appears to be a human skeleton that has either mutated or been ravaged by some sort of “monster”. Dave dumps it into the trunk of his car, and shows it to Russell. This is followed by neverending sequences of shots, scattered throughout the episode showing Russell shining his flashlight into his trunk and pondering what to do. But Russell waits and ponders to long, and the next time he goes to have a look in his trunk the remains are gone. Later on, when Dave decides to go on another one of his little fieldtrips, he gets attacked in the water. He is left with bizarre looking wounds on his leg, and as we find out in the following episode, other victims have been pulled from the Hurricane wreckage with these same wounds on them. Despite what the doctors are saying, we know that “ain’t no gator do that”.

Running along side in confluence to the aliens attacking people plot, is the apparent aliens changing people plot. Mariel, a doctor who is passionate about her children and her new husband (the Sheriff) vanishes after a nasty fight with her husband just as the hurricane hits. She is found the next day, naked and left for dead in the swamps. Though she survives the ordeal, no one is sure exactly what happened to her, and she seems somehow changed -- behaving cold and removed. Her little daughter Rosie, keeps dropping hints about how odd her mother seems, (only to abandon her fears at the end of the second episode, why, we’re not sure) ---leading the audience to believe that all is not right with Mariel. We also get the sense that the Sheriff is not what he seems, and Willam Fichner’s quirky looks actually help accentuate this. He has been put in charge of the town which has gone under quarantine, and has military inforcing the Sheriff’s rules. Is he responsible for the disappearence of the body from Russell’s car? Is he just shady, or is he already one of…..them (the aliens).

The entire series seems to have the story potential of a single X – Files episode. But it’s gotten good ratings –and with the help of a terrific lead-in show (LOST), it may just weather the storm of an entire season. Depressing.


Surprisingly, this show has been my favorite of the lot. I missed the two hour pilot, but I’ve caught the second and the third episodes, and I thought the third episode in particuar was pretty solid. Last Friday's episode involved a convicted psycho-killer who burned his family when he was only a young boy, and escapes his mental institution. As it turns out, his family had become infected by the alien "virus" and were virulently dangerous. So actually, the poor kid had done the right thing by setting them on fire. I thought it was sort of interesting.

The primary reason Threshold is stronger in than either Invasion or Surface is that it has pretty good casting. It has a well varied cast with some unique character actors, and a stalwart lead; it acheives the endearing tone of a motley crew (as much of a motley crew as can be allowed on CBS at any rate). Carla Gugino, who has been doing film and TV work for a while (most recently the Spy Kids movie and Sin City), plays the lead: Dr. Molly Caffrey, a government agent, who has been devising a plan for the possibility of a hostile extra-terrestrial threat. After years of planning, the unthinkable has finally happened, and aliens are attempting their “takeover” of earth. It is a slow and stealth operation, and only a small number of humans have been exposed to the aliens and their technology, (once humans are exposed to the alien lifeforms they are altered forever). Among Dr. Caffrey’s comrades are Cavennaugh, a no-nonsense square-jawed military guy, who’s biggest boon to Caffrey is his physical strengh and combat know how. There is a glimmer of tension between the two that implies they may become romantic interests for each other down the road. Next Generation vet, Brent Spiner, plays Nigel Fenway, a doctor and scientist, who monitors Caffrey’s health as she is exposed to various alien elements. He also serves as a biological and forensic analyst of sorts. Robert Benedict plays Lucas Pegg, a technologically savvy, albeit slightly uptight individual who backs up the teams efforts by calibrating and researching important technological alien findings. Peter Dinklage, of Station Agent fame, plays Arthur Ramsey, a pompous mathametician, who spends most of his time calculating and generating various possibilities, probablities and other “answers” by use of his outstanding mathamatical abilities. His wry sense of humor, and egoism in this character are the comedic highlight of the show. The aimiable Charles S. Dutton portrays J.T. Baylock, the gruff, but old softie boss, who leads operations out of headquarters….wherever that is….

All the characters are fairly par for the course, but Gugino’s intelligence and competence as Dr. Caffrey are sufficient to help bouy the rag tag team around her. On the whole, the show has a bit of a CSI feel to it, which I am not a big fan of, but it at has at least striven for something different than just another LOST ripoff. The thing that I like about the show is that it has created a format for itself, where there can be a running mythology, while having encapsulated storylines from week to week. While Caffrey and her team struggle to elimate the aliens that are infiltrating the earth, they encounter different mysteries and challenges in each episode. Unlike Invasion, or Surface, which are wieghed down with lofty cumbersome season long storylines, Threshold has allowed itself ways to bring new story elements and characters in and out of the show with relative ease. I think this will capture the interest of audiences weary of plots the become entangled upon themselves. I wouldn’t say its particularly spectucular, but it has solid writing and acting, and I am definitely keeping it on my TiVo to see where it goes. Besides, after Brannon Braga (Threshold’s series creator) took the Star Trek franchise where no show should go (with Enterprise), he has a lot of making up to do. Threshold might just be his penance.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

In the Meantime....

I know I have been remiss in my postings the past couple days, but I've also been fairly ill, and convalescing in my home.

So in the mean time, here are two hilarious links that were passed my way.

The first is merely called "The Sawyer Song" ---as in the Sawyer from LOST.

The second , well you'll just have to see.... It takes a moment to load, but trust me its worth it.

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