Tuesday, February 28, 2006

James Cameron to direct another Sci Fi Pic anon

While taking in my daily dose of Yahoo! Movie News , I came across this article about film director James Cameron, and the announcement of an upcoming film that he will be helming. The project is called “The Dive”, which is based on the true story of two “free divers” Francisco Feraras and Audrey Mestre, and the romance which developed between them and culminated in their marriage. Sort of sounds like Walk The Line meets The Abyss.

However, it was not the announcement of “The Dive” that caught my eye. What I really got excited about was the film that Cameron will be working on before he tackles the bio-pic diver’s love story, Battle Angel. How this slipped under my purview, I’m not sure. Either I’m loosing my touch, or this next film is being kept, very, very hush hush. Apparently this past December, Cameron released a statement that he has begun work on the giant Sci-Fi blockbuster, Battle Angel.
The film will be written by Laeta Kalogridis, who wrote the Russian runaway sensation Nightwatch, who will adapt it from a well known anime graphic novel series by Yukito Kishiro.

Here’s a plot synopsis Cameron gave of the film in an interview with Comingsoon.net .

“…the story takes place 300 years after a societal collapse caused by a major war, but in that society, it's a technological dark age following a pinnacle of achievement far, far beyond where we are right now. So in a sense it's post-apocalyptic, but it's post-apocalyptic from a very high level. So now, you've got cyborg technology as just a way of life. People are augmented a lot as workers and so on, so being a cyborg is not unusual. The main character is a cyborg. She has an organic human brain, and she looks like she's about fourteen years old. She has a completely artificial body and she's lost her memory- she's found in this wreckage and she's reconstituted by this guy who is a cyber-surgeon who becomes her kind of surrogate father. It's a father-daughter relationship story that just has the most insane action that you can imagine. It will be PG-13 -- lots of blood, but it's all blue."

Sound bizarre? I thought so. I like the Frankenstein mythology built into the story of the protagonist, but I don’t really understand what Cameron means when he says “post-apocalyptic from a very high level.” As in civilization has been crushed but there is still a very high level of operating technology around?
Cameron has also said there will be fully CG animated characters, in the vein of Gollum and Jar Jar, but perhaps the most interesting tid bit of all is that it will be in 3-D. That’s right folks, we’ll be donning those goofy plastic glasses to see this pic when it comes out in 2008.

Cameron has gone to great lengths to show his passion for the film format that he has coined as cinema in “stereo.” His past two directorial endeavors have been 3D documentaries, Ghosts of the Abyss, and Aliens of the Deep. I saw Ghosts of the Abyss in an Imax theatre when it was released, and while it had some goofy narraration on the part of the amiable Bill Paxton, it was really impressive to see the sort of technology they had developed in order to film the wreckage of the Titanic in a way that had never been done before. The 3D element in GOTA did add a textured layer to the viewing experience, and it was especially clever because it made you feel like you were really riding side by side with the camera into the depths of the lost TItanic.

Conceptually, I think that 3D cinema can be really effective. Many people associate 3D with the sort of gag films that are at the Disney amusement parks where Jack in the Boxes are lurking at every turn ready to pop out at your face and make you yank your head back in your seat. Cameron definitely strays away from the gimmicky aspects of 3D, and wants to continue to expanding and pushing the boundries of the technique. However neat 3D might be, it is also the type of thing that works best in a vaccum. This probably sounds like a pedestrian concern/compaint, but there is an innate impracticality to 3D because of the necessary 3D glasses. I feel my cheeks burning red as I type this because of how nerdy it sounds, but as someone who wears prescription glasses on a regular basis, 3D glasses can be a real pain in the neck. You have to fit them over your glasses somehow, and they never fit right, and they can scratch your lenses. Even if you don’t wear glasses, you can still get stuck with a bum pair, one with smudged lenses, or cracked plastic. I think the downside of the progression of the 3D glasses from the flexible cardboard frames to unwieldy harsh plastic, is that you can no longer bring your own, as people would in the past.

3D aside, I for one am excited that James Cameron is getting back to his Sci-Fi roots. Remember James Cameron, the science fiction film director? He did some of the most memorable sci-fi films of the 80’s, greats such as Terminator 1& 2, Aliens and The Abyss? Since then he’s done some work as a producer on sci-fi films like Solaris, and the upcoming Godspeed, but it’s been about a decade since he actually directed one. It will be exciting to see the man who pioneered CG special FX to make use of it in a large scale after so much more progress has been made.

Monday, February 27, 2006

In Memoriam

Darren McGavin 1922 - 2006

Perhaps best known for his role as the scrappy newspaper reporter Cark Kolchak in the TV series The Night Stalker, Darren McGavin passed away yesterday from natural causes at the age of 83.

McGavin did plenty of TV and film work in his day and his career spanned five decades. His most famous film role was probably that of "The Old Man" or "Dad" in the 1983 cult classic, A Christmas Story.

McGavin had a tremendous amount of spunk and spirit which he infused into every role he played. Beyond that the ever present twinkle in his eye, and the wryness in his smile made him both charming and funny; it was difficult not to like him the moment he stepped on screen. As his obituary in the LA Times mentions, one of the reasons his character, Carl Kolchak, was so memorable, was because even in grim and ghastly situations, McGavin maintained his sense of humor throughout. McGavin took the concept of the buffoon in a haunted house (see Abbot and Costello) and morphed it into a sort of post-modern, self-reflexive, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, that was neither jaded nor sarcastic but jovial and good natured. Kolchak was chasing after vampires and Gosh Darn it he enjoyed his work. He infused that role with a silly and goofy fun which would later be emulated at times by David Duchovney as Fox Mulder in The X-Files. (A show which creator Chris Carter has openly admitted was largely inspired by Night Stalker.) Darren McGavin's influence on genre TV and on pop culture overall will reverberate for some time. McGavin was one of the good ones and he will be miseed...

Friday, February 24, 2006

More, New, Sci-Fi TV headed our way

Hot off the wire from yesterday’s issue of Hollywood Reporter , ABC has acquired a new independently produced series called “Masters of Science Fiction” and will air the episodes this upcoming summer.

The Series will be adapting famous well known science fiction stories and novels to fit the one hour tv format. But from the article it’s somewhat unclear as to whether these episodes will actually be strictly in sixty minute slots, or if they will be two hour endeavors. Some of the works that have been listed as probable adaptations are “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” by Ray Bradbury, “The Last Question” by Issac Asimov, “A Boy and His Dog” by Harlan Ellison, and “The Puppet Masters” by Robert Heinlein. Ray Bradbury is currently in negotiations to write the screenplay for one of these episodes, adapting his own novella, “Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed.”

Now how some of these novels and novella length works are going to be crunched into 40/45 minutes worth of actual story, I’m not sure. I’m particularly intrigued that “A Boy and His Dog” and “The Puppet Masters” were on the list since there have been feature film adaptations of both of those, and neither was particularly successful or well done. The 1975 version of Boy and His Dog starred Don Johnson, and is unbearably slow. The 1994 feature The Puppet Masters stars Donald Sutherland and plays like a lowest of the low B-movie horror flick.

There are a couple of other things that I find troubling in this article. The first is a quote from an IDT exec (head of the company that sold the show to ABC) who said: “ABC is the perfect venue for these interpretations of science fiction's seminal literary voices.”

It is? So just because ABC has a couple sci-fi shows on the air (Invasion, which is largely terrible, and LOST which is in a sophmore slump and is arguably a cross-genre piece) now it’s the Valhalla of all Science Fiction? Despite the tremendous ratings that ABC would allow the show to tap into, I would rather see an endeavor like this fall in the hands of the Sci Fi channel, who would be less interested in making it palatable to mass audiences, and give the projects some leeway to be as sci-fi as they like. I’m reticent to watch the influence that a mainstream machine will have on some of these more peculiar works.

This exec also confessed that “some of the content will be updated for the younger audiences while still staying faithful to the original material. Bradbury, for example, will move the setting of his book to a completely different solar system.”

The fact that the development executives already seem to be more concerned with the minutia of making it seem “hipper” and “more advanced” is worrisome. Shouldn’t they be more concerned about how they are going to fit a three hundred and fourty page novel (The Puppet Masters) into a one hour TV slot?

I think “Masters of Science Fiction” is one of those projects that has tremendous potential, but in the end will be an ultimate butchering of these classic sci-fi works. I wish I didn’t have such a pessimistic outlook, but with these circumstances I feel hard pressed to speculate otherwise. Why is it exactly that sci-fi adaptations get so easily botched? There’s not often a middle ground with these things; either they’re good, or they are wretched, there’s not even much room for mediocrity. (On a brief aside, I think I was one of the few people in the country who enjoyed I, Robot with Will Smith. While flawed, I thought it was a pretty good adaptation) Apparently the independent production company did a “Masters of Horror” series which they aired for one season on Showtime, and they are subsequently are doing a second season. I had never even heard of this series prior to reading about it here, so can not comment on the quality of it one way or another.

After a while, it gets painful to watch such good material be mishandled, and so I await “Masters of Science Fiction” with a measured amound of anxious anticipation.

New Yorker in Hollywood turns one year old!

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear New Yorker in Hollywood, Happy Birthday to me!

Hooray! As of yesterday I have been running for this blog for an entire year. I can barely believe it myself --it seems like only yesterday I was reviewing the Jacket and doing a preview on The Island. My how time flies.

I just wanted to say thank you to all you folks who read this old thing. I hope I can keep you interested for another year to come.

Since it is my blog birthday, and everyone gets a wish on their birthday, I choose to use this event as an excuse to post my favorite picture on file ever...

Bryan Singer, here's lookin' at you kid.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The New Yorker recaps LOST, as the 15th episode of the season airs tonight

***Correction, it has come to my attention that ABC is actually reairing the full two hour pilot tonight, and will be airing the fifteenth episode "Maternity Leave", next Wednesday.

Last season there were twenty four episodes of LOST, which includes the two parter pilot and the two parter finale –so it was more like twenty two original episodes. Tonight will mark the fifteenth new episode of LOST during its second season; so we’re past the mid point of the season and heading quickly towards the two thirds mark.

It’s no secret that I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated with this show. I thought last week’s episode “One of Them” felt heavy handed and sluggish. It was once again an instance within the trend of trying to marginally expand upon information we already learned last season. First of all, I could not STAND the way they brought in Rousseau’s character for such a brief and irrational moment at the start of the episode. I actually love this character, but the fact that she had been gone all year, and then magically reappeared to tell Sayid about a prisoner she’s captured is ridiculous. Wouldn’t she have been caught if she had been lurking so close to camp, especially now that there are more survivors and they are more on their gaurd? If she is so terrified of the Others, wouldn’t she have just killed the guy in the net? If she was trying to ingratiate herself back into the favors of the survivors wouldn’t she have stuck around to take the credit for trying to protect them? They should have just had Sayid find the guy in the jungle on his own –why bring back Rousseau at all if they were going to shoo her away again so quickly?

Now I know what you little LOST minions are thinking. “Oh well, see it’s all going to pay off because…..blah, blah, blah” Because that is the battle cry of the LOST faithful “It’ll come back around.” “It’s all connected.” And sometimes it is, and sometime’s its great, but often the lines between the dots are too far apart. When you wait too long to spring your payoff you loose some of the effect.

But back to last week’s episode. We already knew Sayid had a history of brutal militancy and torture. OK, so now we know where its roots began –via the U.S. army. Not a particularly great revalation there, because the character’s emotional parameters remain the same. Sayid has the fortitude and the grit to carry out torture when necessary (as he did with Sawyer last season), but he hates himself when he does it, and more so he hates that he is able to do it. I don’t think this theme was especially enhanced in last week’s episode, there was just the added backdrop of his grief for Shannon which was a given. There was no climax in this episode, and if you think I’m counting that foolish moment when the Hatch’s countdown system suddenly started to go haywire, only to turn back, then you are wrong. That my friends is what we call, a cheap stunt, not a dramatic climax. I would have liked to see some real drama unfold with the man they found in the jungle. They could have built up the entire episode as a guessing game about that balloonist’s true identity. Have him momentarily escape or emotionally connect with another survivor, or something besides him cowering in front of Sayid. It was just ---boring.

Now a friend pointed out to me, that the Colonel who took Sayid and forced him to torture his captian, was Kate’s step father, whom she visited in the episode earlier this season after killing her real father. He noticed that the photograph the Colonel was looking at longingly in the truck, was a picture of Kate as a child. Isn’t it cool how everything is connected?! Isn’t just so clever how the lives of all the survivors are woven together! Wow!

Well extemporaneous cutesy B.S. like that will only fly for so long. If you ask me, at this point, the writers/creators are working to build nothing more than a tower of babble, where corners are malformed because walls miss each other, and certain construction plans are dropped all together.

I thought that this season got off to a rollickingly good start. The season opener which finally allowed us to delve down into the Hatch was terrific. The discovery of Desmond, the sole inhabitant of the Hatch, who knew Jack from another life was both shocking and intriguing. But already things were feeling a tad bit familiar. In the season premiere we learn about Jack’s miraculous surgical work with his future wife to be, Sara, helping her to walk again after a debilitating accident. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the theme and instance of someone regaining their legs after paralysis; i.e. Locke. But alright, I let it slide, ‘cause it was still a great episode, and because back then I too convinced myself it was all part of a master plan, that there were no coincidences on LOST.

In the second episode, we caught up with the folk on the raft, Sawyer, Michael, and Jin. The shark was exciting, and the dynamic of Sawyer and Michael is an interesting one, but the flashback, which revealed more backstory about Michael and Walt felt stale. It dealt with the court proceedings of Walt’s custody battle, and Michael’s eventual surrender to Walt’s mother outside of court. We got the gist of this situation last season, but what was emotionally poignant and riveting in the first season, began to feel like old hat when they touched upon it again in the second season.

The third episode dealt more with the hatch, and the constant countdown of the numbers, as dictated by the outdated computer. This as well as the discovery of the film by the Dharma Collective was very interesting, and while it opened a can of proverbial worms, I was fascinated by the direction the show was going in, suggesting the island might be the site of some sort of interdisciplinary scientific study. The flashback during this episode was one of Locke’s –and again in comparison to the episodes that focused on him in the last season was a little disappointing. Basically all we learned was that he had had a girlfriend and an anger management problem. OK, and? It’s right around here where I thought the season began to plummet. The episode titled “Everybody Hates Hugo” was the fourth of the season, and I thought it was weak. The connection they tried to draw between his being put in charge of the food and winning the lottery was forced and clunky. And nothing of consequence happened on the island.
Episode five? Sun and Jin’s backstory, which revealed the very first time they met. It was sweet and all, but I was more concerned with what was going on as Jin, Sawyer and Michael tried to cross the island with the other survivors. Obviously the reveal that there were survivors in the tale section of the plane was huge, but hadn’t this been hinted at all last season? Ana Lucia and her fellow survivors kept referencing “The Others’, but they are all loathe to talk about who or what they are. Everyone is cagey as hell.

In the next couple episodes, Sawyer’s gunshot wound becomes worse, and the Ana Lucia survivors get closer and closer to the Jack survivors. Shannon is also accidentally shot by Ana Lucia, and as shocking as this was meant to be, it seemed like a fucntion of a tactical career move on Maggie Grace’s part, not a story move on the part of the writers. Shannon’s final flashback was inconsequential at best. We learn she wasn’t always a gold digger, then she dies. The recap of the “other 48 days” had terrific potential, but instead felt rushed and haphazard, I would have liked to spent more time with these folk and their adventures on that side of the island. I find it hard to believe that they did nothing but sit and wait inbetween raids by the Others, while on the other side of the island, a baby was born, people were kidnapped, people died, a golf course was set up, people paired off, and huts were built, etc.

Episode eight. Virtually nothing happens on the island, as we learn that Ana Lucia was a cop with a vigilante streak. Her capture of Sayid was trite and lacked tension; we all knew they weren’t going to kill each other. Ana Lucia’s backstory was interesting and I like Michelle Rodriguez, but there was very little action going on in the present to accurately mirror her past, and the connection between the two was nearly non-existant.

Episode nine. The saving grace of this episode were the scenes between Locke and Mr. Eko. Their conversation about bible stories and the subsequent reveal of the missing pieces of film were enough to carry me through. But this was only the B plot. The A plot dealt with Kate seeing horses in the jungle, and us learning she killed her birth father, which is what caused her to be on the run in the first place. The backstory was unengaging, and the one big gasp-worthy event, --Kate and Jack finally kissing, was played oddly, and swept under the carpet too quickly.

Episode Ten. We learn about Mr. Eko’s past, and a connection is made between the body of the priest found in the jungle last season and Eko himself. This was a terrific episode. But even so, very little forward movement happened on the island. Eko faced off with the black smoke and proved he was not afraid. I really enjoyed this episode but it still didn’t move the island story forward.
Episode Eleven. Jack tries to stop Michael from dashing off alone to save Walt. I’ve already commented on this episode on this blog, but basically another redundant backstory (we’ve already seen plenty of Jack as miracle worker surgeon) and more stalling on the island. The brief run in with the Others accomplished nothing.

Episode Twelve. Charlie freaks out and think Claire’s baby is going to be taken away. Possibly my least favorite episode of the season. Again, we already knew that Charlie had issues with his brother and keeping his band together. We learned it last season. More melodramatic nonsense on the island, with no new information to move the story forward. I was not at all captivated by the tension between Charlie and Claire. Though it was cool to watch him be punched by Locke, I suppose.

Episode Thirteen. We learn even more about Sawyer’s history as a con artist. Even though this was another example to me of the show’s inability to introduce new facets of the character’s past lives this seasons, I still really enjoyed it. I thought it was structured cleverly, so that at first it appeared the episode was sluggish and then at the end you realized you had just been conned into thinking that. I liked that Sawyer took control of the guns and that Charlie had been involved. A solid episode, because although nothing was revealed about the island and its secrets, it did add an interesting change in the island survivor dyanamic, which I hope they keep.

And now we’re back with where we started. I guess I felt the need to go through all the episodes, because I’ve found that when I look back at them on a whole, there are only four or five episodes that I think were really great. That’s out of fourteen, so that’s only about 30% - 40%. Last year, I felt strongly about more than 50%, more like 70% of the episodes. In some ways I have become the junkie who just keeps going back for more, hoping they can recapture that high they used to get that was so amazing. I won’t stop watching the show, but I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as I used to. The writers have approximately eight more episodes to go. I hope they step it up. Although realistically speaking, my hypothesis is that they will drag things out till the season finale where they will end with another huge cliffhanger, having answered basically nothing all season, except what’s in the hatch. (And though we literally know what’s in the hatch, we still don’t know what we’re dealing with. Let alone the others.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Basic Instinct 2

Yes, who would have ever thought that one day the New Yorker would title one of her blog entiries, “Basic Instinct 2”. But then again, who would have ever imagined that they’d hear the phrase “Basic Instinct 2” in their lifetime?

The original film Basic Instinct was released in 1992. That’s fourteen years ago folks, a very long time, and a sizeable gap to have between films in a franchise --if one is even bold enough to use the word “franchise” in this context. The original film was an erotic thriller/murder mystery, surrounding a murder in which famous novelist, Catherine Tramell, is the prime suspect. Michael Douglas played detective Nick Curran, who was assigned to the case, and is charmed by the elusive Tramell. In all honesty, I’ve never even seen the first film in its entirety. I’ve seen certain famous scenes of course, and am quite familiar with the jist of it, but even so it was not self evident, that it had a vibrant enough story to be extended into another film.

Last week, I saw the trailer for Basic Instinct 2, and I confess I find it absolutely spellbinding. Aside from the fact that I feel embarassed for Sharon Stone (who spearheaded the sequal from the beginning), I am simultaneously apalled and delighted by the degree of cheap trashiness that radiates from each frame. I mean, it’s clear that MGM, and a handful of other production companies, spent some money on the film; so it isn’t so much a literal sense of cheap as a metaphorical one. The film does have a decent director for the film with a fair amount of experience, --Michael Caton-Jones has done City by the Sea, The Jackal, Rob Roy and Doc Hollywood among others. The supporting players in BI2, like David Thewlis, David Morrissey, and Hugh Dancy are all respectable and adept British actors.

So why is it that this trailer makes you want to grind your teeth in anguish and grimace in pain?

Since Basic Instinct was released those fourteen years ago, it has become the butt of many a spoof and joke by comdiens, TV shows, movies. It has become one of those pop culture entities that resides in the collective consciousness. People, such as myself, who haven’t even seen the film all the way through, know about the “ice pick”, and the Sharon Stone interrogation scene. For us, knowledge of the film came from parodies (Florence Henderson on SNL), and radio personalities, among other sources. We already know the film in the context of a joke. For there to be a sequal to the film, trying desperately to be taken seriously is almost unbearably ridiculous and not a little sad. As you watch the trailer, you have to ask yourself repeatedly if what you are watching is “for real”. You have to ask yourself if the filmmakers were aware of the irony of their project, if they realized the title of their film reeked of straight to video or premium cable after hours fare.

Because the bottom line is, why make it Basic Instinct 2? It appears the only returning actor is Stone herself, and I’m dubious if it relies heavily on unresolved plotting from the first. Was the character of novelist Catherine Tramell really so enigmatic and fascinating that she needed to have an extra chapter in her story. Why not just make a thriller set in London, starring Sharon Stone, and call it something else. I feel almost certain that this would do better business than “Basic Instinct 2.” The most awkwardly hilarious moments in the trailer to watch are those where Stone is mugging herself in the first film, by brusquely straddling a chair, sultrily puffing away on a cigarette or flashing her best come hither glance. Stone is making fun of herself, but she doesn’t seem to know it, and that is the craziest thing of all.

For whatever reason, I’ve watched this trailer more than a few times. It’s too good. It’s too bad. It’s too much.

Friday, February 17, 2006

When Nerds who have too much time on their hands get even more...

A friend forwarded me this link today, (it takes a little while to load so be patient), and my jaw dropped when I looked at it.

It's not that that the feat displayed on this link did is so astounding. What's shocking is that somebody actually took the time and energy to do this, and that the result, while mildly amusing, is also pretty underwhelming.

See for yourselves. You may want to make use of the fast forward feature at the beginning.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

He’s Back! (and by he, I mean Jason Voorhees)

This morning, an interesting story on Yahoo! Movie news caught my eye. According to this article , the Friday the 13th franchise will, once again, be dusted off and reinvigorated, courtesy of none other than yours truly’s favorite Hollywood bad boy, Michael Bay! This will be the TWELFTH chapter in the saga of undead psychopath Jason Voorhees, but apparently will also be a “prequel” to the original Friday the 13th film.

I’m confused about the way that Bay and his merry band of cohorts over at Platinum Dunes are going to handle the plotting for this film. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Jason’s mother, Mrs. Voorhees, responsible for the murders in the original film? In a manner of speaking, the original FTT serves as a prequal to the series in and of itself; it tells the story of Jason’s origins. Will the new film be about some scary thing that happened to Mrs. Vorhees when she was at camp…in the 1950’s? Not that plot and logic have ever been mainstays of the FTT series, and at best the Jason Voorhees mythology is strained. In the first film, we are told that years before Jason had drowned at Camp Crystal Lake at the hand of a couple counselors. His mother, Pamela Voorhees goes on her slashing spree, seeking vengance for his death. However, in the second film, known merely as Friday the 13th: Part 2, it is revealed that Jason had actually survived the incident at the lake, and that he has been living as a hermit in the woods. (Go figure.) Jason had watched his mother’s bloody actions, and after she died, he continued her quest in a blind mission to slay sexually promiscuous teens everywhere.

Looking back on the FTT franchise as a whole it’s interesting to see the many different twists and turns it has taken. The original FTT was released in 1980 and was a huge money maker, considering it’s shoe string budget. As noted above, Jason didn’t really appear as a character until the second film, and didn’t even get his mask and saw until the third film, Friday the 13th: Part 3, which was released in ’82. Initially Paramount had intended to lay Jason to rest in 1984 with Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which incidentally starred Corey Feldman AND Crispin Glover. But when it did surprisingly well at the box office, in typical studio fashion, decided to resurrect the beast in ’85 with FTT: A New Beginning. In another bizarre trend of non-linear story telling, JV does not even appear in the fifth film. In A New Beginning, it is a copycat murderer, posing as the infamous Jason, that goes on a killing rampage of his own. In 1986, filmmakers tried to revitalize the series with Jason Lives, the sixth film, and one which favored better than the previous installment, perhaps because of its tounge in cheek tone. It is in this chapter of the saga that Jason is established as an undead/zombie type, though there is some debate among fans about this. Having died in “The Final Chapter”, Jason’ s corpse is exhumed, and accidentally reanimates when it is struck by a bolt of lightning. Paramount churned out two more films in ’88 and ’89, The New Blood, and Jason Takes Manhattan. (Jason Takes Manhattan being my personal favorite of the series, because it reaches new hieghts of ridiculousness in cinema.)

At this point the film count was up to nine, but Jason would still not be laid to rest. New Line Cinema purchased the franchise from Paramount, and in 1993, put out the first Jason film in four years (in the 80’s there was a new Jason film every single year, with the exception of ’83 and ’87). New Line’s release Jason Goes to the Hell: The Final Friday, seemed to be another attempt to close out this series with a bang, or at least an attempt at the beginning of the end. Jason dies (again) at the start of The Final Friday, and his spirit goes on to posses several characters throughout, and the film was maligned by many hard core fans. However, the film did end with a psuedo-cliffhanger; a shot showing Freddy’s arm grabbing Jason’s mask into hell. This laid the groundwork for the Freddy vs. Jason concept, which had many horror fans salivating over it.

But fans would not get to cheer at this celebrity deathmatch between the two monsters for another decade. The script for Freddy vs. Jason got caught in its own brand of hell, known as development kind, round these parts for years. In the meantime, Sean Cunningham, who had previously directed many of the FTT features, started working on another project, the tenth film, also known as Jason X, which was released in 2002. The most farfetched of the chapters yet, Jason X was set in the future on a spaceship by the name of Grendel (what a clever literary reference!). The movie proposes that Jason Voorhees had been cryogenically frozen and then accidentally thaws out while on board this ship. There he carries on with his usual sort of bloodletting, before being transformed into an a beefed up titanium robot. Like I said, story, and logical plotting don’t really follow suit in the FTT films.

The last time we were treated to the lovely sight of Jason’s bedraggled hockey mask, was in 2003, when after ten years of indecision on the script, Freddy vs. Jason, was finally released. In this last installment, Freddy manipulates Jason into being his fear monger on Elm Street as he tried to recooperate his own powers, but Jason takes the job two far. The two eventually duke it out over who gets to kill the kiddies. A fairly streamlined story, in comparison to some of the earlier ideas, including one which entailed “Jason being raised from the dead by a teenage girl using the heart of her dead boyfriend, to save her sister from a cult of psychotic teenagers who worshipped Freddy Krueger and were seeking to raise him from hell via a ritual sacrifice.” However, this concept was shelved after Columbine because it was deemed too controversial.

What I want to know is, how is it that this franchise has lived for going on twenty six years? What is it about the crazed undestructible JV, that audiences just can’t get enough of. I understand that the films have made a pretty penny in their day, but they’ve also had their fair share of financial failures. It’s ironic somehow, that just in way that Voorhees can never be killed off, the franchise itself refuses to die, and just keeps on going and going and going. Maybe the better question to ask is why people keep on going to see these movies. Has Jason really transcended the generation gaps to touch the hearts and minds of teenagers for the last two decades and then some? I myself, have never been a huge fan of the Friday the 13th films. I like horror films, and have a tolerance for foolish concepts in the sake of good fun, but the Jason films are just so redundant to me they have become unwatchable. Vorhees isn’t the only immortal killer on the block, and I myself have always been more partial to the Nightmare on Elmstreet films. I still find the original film, the horror classic Nightmare On Elmstreet, to be pretty creepy, and it holds up well over all; even the second and third films have some intriguingly bizarre and disturbing sequences. Also as a child, Freddy always seemed more frightening then Jason; he was a better concieved character. An undead child molester with horrible burn scars who can find and kill you in your dreams? Terrifying. Of course Nightmare on Elmstreet went on to beat a dead horse as well. New Line Cinema, who’s owned Freddy from the start, churned out a total of nine films about Freddy K. There’s something a little depressing to me that these two monsters Freddy and Jason, modern equivalents of enduring figures like Dracula and Frankenstein, have lasted for over two decades each. In part because neither of them has merited as many chapters to their stories as they’ve received and any originality they once had has vanished long ago. But also because Jason in particular, is so spectacularly unoriginal to begin with; he is the product of a studio afterthought more than anything else. Somebody needs to come up with new, better monsters.

According to the Yahoo piece, Bay is wasting no time with silly frills like screenplays and cast. Though the announcement has only been made today, Bay has promised New Line that it will be ready to be released by October 13th. That’s nine months to find a writer, get a script, hire a director, cast actors, shoot the damn thing, edit it and then have it readied for distribution. The more things change, the more things stay the same. It’s clear the quality of this prequel won’t stray from the bar set by the previous, or should I say, latter, chapters.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Torino helps NY’er navigate through boredom and more

Every few months I get into a pop culture rut. A TV show I’m watching will finish its season or get cancelled, a few weeks will go by without anything exciting released in the cinema, and I’ll be forcing my way through a book that I don’t care that much about.

Such is the state that I find myself on this banal day in mid February, and up until recently my stopover in dullsville was seeming to have no end in sight.

That is until the twentieth winter Olympic games in Torino, Italy! Hooray!

Ever since I was a young child I have adored watching the Olympics. I during the Barcelona Summer Olympics of ’92, I taped hours and hours of footage on my parent’s VCR, watching it over and over again. I’m not particular either –Winter games, Summer, track and field, curling, speed skating, diving, --I love it all.
I don’t much follow professional sports, with the exception of Major League Baseball (go Mets!), and I have never been very athletically oriented, as I have all the grace and hand eye coordination of an earthworm. But perhaps it’s because of this very reason that I am so awestruck by the sleek, swift athletes that perform their sport with such precision and agility.

But it’s not only the wowee factor that I find engaging about the Olympic games, it’s the emotional undertow of what these athletes have at stake. I remember two years ago (in Athens 2002) watching Deena Kastor, the American, coming in third in the marathon. She was crying(with joy) the entire last mile she ran as she realized she was going to get the bronze medal. Kastor had not been favored to medal at all, and traditionally American woman have not done exceedingly well at the marathon. For her, winning a medal was a miracle. Last night, as I was watching the figure skating pairs compete, NBC did a piece on Chinese figure skating coach, Yao Bin. Bin, himself had tried his hand at competitive skating decades ago. In 1979, for the first time, China sent representatives to the World Championships of figure skating. Yao Bin was twenty one years old, and his female partner, Luan Bo, was only twelve years old. At the time, China did not have the monetary funds to send along a coach, and as it was their training and experience was limited. The pair literally pieced together their routine by looking at newspaper photographs of other skaters. Bin and Bo did terribly, literally becoming a laughing stock in Germany as they struggled to complete their routines on the ice. Yao Bin swore that he would not be defeated, and today he has become China’s leading skating coach; last night his team Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao won the silver medal –no one was laughing anymore.

These sort of sentimental underdog stories are the sort of thing that I eat up in the context of the Olympics. They are almost too sweet to be true –if we saw them wrapped up in the cellophane of Hollywood, we would chide them and call them hackneyed. And yet when we see the tear stained or determined faces of the athletes and the coaches behind them –real faces, we are inspired, or at least I am. What’s more is, the Olympic Games often highlight stories that prove the meaning the proverb, “it’s not all about winning.” In the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Phillip Bitok of Kenya, was the first athlete of an African nation to compete in Cross Country Skiing. Bitok was a runner who had taken an interest in cross country skiing through a Nike Olympic sponsorship program two years prior. During the ’98 games, Bitok became friendly with Bjorn Daehlie, a Norweigian world class Cross Country skier from who had won many a championship. On the day of Olympic competition, Bitok took twice as long to complete the course as Daehlie (who took home the gold medal that day). But as Bitok crossed the finish line Daehlie was there waiting for him and cheering him on; the two have been friends ever since. Phillip Bitok has returned to Torino this year to compete in the Cross Country Skiing competition. It is these sorts of stories about personal friendship and triumph that also make the Olympics so uplifting. Who could forget the story of the Jamaican bobsledding team, which made their debut in Calgary in the 1988 Winter Olympic games, and inspired the film Cool Runnings? (Feel the Rhythm, Feel the Rhyme! Get on up, It’s Bobsled time!) They didn’t win a medal but they’re quirky mix of tenacity and temerity made them a inspired and welcome presence at the games.

A lot of people have legitamite gripes about the Olympics. They point out that judges are sometimes paid off and that the athletes use performance enhancing drugs. There is also the valid concern that the international representation is stilted and many underdeveloped nations do not have the funds and resources to send their athletes to compete. Yet there is something about the fundamental ideology of the Olympic games that is irrefutably ambitious and progressive. The idea that groups from all over the world can congregate and peacefully interact with one another under the tenets of altheleticism is a hopeful one.

The Olympic Games may indeed have room for improvement, and the American Television broadcast is no exception either. I love the John Williams score which has stuck as the theme song of the Olympics since they were in LA in 1984, but some of the other pop and circumstance can border on the grating. There’s only so much running commentary from Bob Costas, who runs the gammet on everything from the temperature to the costume fit of an interpretive dancer during the Opening Ceremonies, that one person can take. In fact the opening short film that kicked off the first night of broadcast for the games was magnificently cheesy and overblown. Some of the voice over sounded like it might have been lifted from a loftily written high school essay, with phrases like “Since the dawn of man…” and “One has to go back hundreds of years to understand the origin of…”

And yet…

And yet, I love the Olympics. I can’t help myself. Every plot convention and sappy story that I eschew in Hollywood Studio films and average TV shows, I devour in the form of Olympic glory. I’m aware that I’m doing exactly what NBC wants me to do, when I get a lump in my throat watching a triple axle landed with perfection, or a fifty two year old woman get a decent time in the luge competition, but I don’t care. There is something about the Olympics that will always remain magical in my mind; when they are good, they are almost too good to be true.

Sentimentality packaged in real life?

I’ll take it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The New Yorker asks: “What ever happened to Baby Harrison?”

For those of you that have been largely hibernating from the cinema during these Pre-Oscar doldrums, you probably didn’t see Harrison Ford’s latest film, Firewall, this weekend. Heck, even if you weren’t, you probably didn’t see it anyway –the Warner Brothers release opened at the number four slot this weekend, and made a paltry $13 million.

That’s $13 Million on an opening weekend for a Harrison Ford Movie.


I mean this was no small independent film with a limited release in New York and LA only, it was a big cheese studio film which probably clost a pretty penny, and hit 2, 840 screens across the U.S.

OK, let’s forget the money for a second, because we also know that not every great movie does well at the box office. But the sad truth is, Firewall wasn’t a great movie, it wasn’t even a good movie, --in fact it was pretty poor.

Now I didn’t shell out any clams this weekend to go see it, but I did have the luck of being invited to a free screening a couple weeks ago. I had seen the trailer for it a few times, and suspected that the film could go either way as far as, fairly straightforward thrillers, with a hostage/kidnapp scenario thrown in, go. Sometimes these “protect my family member(s)” pot boilers can be pretty good (like Panic Room and Ransom), and sometimes they range from mediocre to weak (like Hostage and Don’t Say a Word {–“I’ll never teeeell”}).

In Firewall, Harrison Ford plays Jack Stanfield, a chief security officer at a mid- size bank. Jack is in the midst of dealing with a mildy annoying corporate merger, but other than that life is pretty good. He has a nice house and car, a supportive wife, two strapping kids, and a cute dog. That is until Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) comes into his life, fronting as a potential associate in a business venture, only to reveal himself as a sleek but brutal bank robber. As Jack slips into his car to head home for “pizza night”, Bill puts a gun to his head and shows him pictures on his cell phone of his daughter screaming. Jack is forced to drive home and discovers that Bill’s team of thugs has barged into his home and taken his family captive. Bill tells Jack that he will either help him rob the bank he works for, or his family will be killed.

The game’s afoot.

Bill’s thugs keep Jack’s family under house arrest, while Jack has to continue to go to work and pretend everything is normal, despite the fact that he is hacking into his company’s system to deplete several big time accounts of their funds. Of course every fiber of Jack’s being wants to fight against Bill and his master plan. So we witness a series of attempts on Jack’s part and subsequent foilings by Bill, as Jack tries to alert someone as to what’s going on but Bill keeps finding out.

Filmmaker Richard Loncraine (Wimbledon, My House in Umbria) tries to develop a real tension between Bill and Jack. He portrays Bill as a viscious and ruthless villain and Jack as the beleaguered protagonist who must fight on behalf of his family. But there was a much better Harrison Ford film, that captured this dynamic adroitly about fourteen years ago, and it was called Patriot Games. Except in that movie the tension felt much more organic, because the villain (in that case played by Sean Bean) actually had a reason to seek out a personal vendetta on Ford and his family. His younger brother had died in at Ford’s hand, and his desire for retribution was so great it drove him to bloodlust. While Bill in Firewall, had an objective, --to steal the money from the bank, we know so little about his background, M.O., or relationship to his thugs, that it is difficult to understand his behavior towards the Stanfield family. I kept asking myself questions as I watched the film, like –is this Bill’s first robbery? Where does he get all the fancy equipment that he uses from? Does he work for anyone? Unfortunately, very little background was revealed on the Bill Cox character.

There is a creepy scene in the film where Bill knowingly feeds Jack’s son cookies that contain peanuts in them. It had already been established that the young boy has peanut allergies and that Bill knows this. As Jack’s son begins to go into anaphylactic shock, Bill watches the family around him panic, and waits a beat before he hands over the epinephrine that will save his life. Bill seems quite the candidate for a psychopth in this moment, and yet throughout the entire film Bettany’s performance totters between that of a measured control freak master mind, and a sadist sociopath. That’s the other thing about this film, it had some dark moments, but studio and filmmakers alike seemed concerned about making it REALLY dark. There was certainly room to use the brutality of Bill and his cohorts to explore certain themes and elements, but instead a haphazard happy medium of a little dark but not too dark, led to a generic tone.

Generic is probably the best word that I can think of to describe this film; --there wasn’t a whole lot to laugh about, cry about, scream about, or gasp about. It was just there; fairly flat one dimensional characters and a predictable plot with lacklustre visuals. Harrison Fords preformance actually wasn’t bad. The knack that he showed in The Fugitive (a far superior film) for mixing his character’s vulnerability with steel like tenacity was once again visible in Firewall. Ford’s desperation and gruffness at the situation at hand felt sincere enough, though it would have been nice if his character had been a bit more well rounded. Jack’s goal of “I want my family back” gave him a one note pitch, and I think it would have behooved the film if we had seen more of what he was like when he wasn’t in this ultimate do or die situation.

While I enjoyed seeing Ford on the big screen, as I always do, –I couldn’t help but ask myself what he was doing in this movie. Why was the man who has become tantamount to the Hollywood sign itself in his iconography, ---the man who has toted the laser blaster of Han Solo AND the whip of Indiana Jones, starring in a second rate, boring as peas, thriller?

The last film that Harrison Ford was in that I genuinely enjoyed was Robert Zemeckis’s What Lies Beneath. Though WLB was predominantly a Michelle Pfieffer vehicle, I thought it an interesting and laudable choice for him. Ford played a villain, which was against type, and I liked the fact that he seemed comfortable taking a secondary role. But that film was six years ago, and his last strong film before that was Air Force One, and that was nine years ago. The man is a film legend, and I don’t understand why he keeps ending up in celluloid liabilities like “Hollywood Homicide” and “Six Days, Seven Nights”.

Would somebody just hurry up and make Indy 4 already?!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

BloodRayne? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

A show of hands please from any of you who have heard of or even seen the movie Bloodrayne . Apparently it was released about a month ago, on January 6th. I had seen posters and billboards while driving around LA, but I honestly thought they were promoting some new sci-fi/fantasy show on USA, or something. It wasn’t until I saw the trailer that I realized what a special little gem this was.

Here’s a brief descripition of the film from the official movie website :

“BloodRayne is a genre all to itself. It is packed with action, but it’s not an action film per se. It is a mighty adventure, but it’s not a pure adventure film. There are mythical and immortal creatures of great power and evil, but it’s not a typical vampire movie. BloodRayne crosses all genres. There is romance, adventure, action, drama and a raging battle of good and evil.”

(I think the person who wrote this copy could have used a Thesaurus. But moving on…)

“With an all-star cast, including Academy Award Winner, Ben Kingsly, Michael Madsen(Species), Michell Rodrguez, Meatloaf, and Kristanna Loken (T-3, The terminatrix), BloodRayne takes you to another place and time to experience a world where good and evil battle it out – with mankind as the very prize. “

First of all, I love that the credit they give to Michael Madsen is “Species”, --not Resevoir Dogs, or Kill Bill or even Sin City, but a b-movie creature feature that came out eleven years ago. Why didn’t they mention “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home” while they were at it. Secondly…Meatloaf? Yes, if you watch the trailer closely, you will see that Meatloaf plays some insane Monarch. You will also notice that the credits say “WITH Michelle Rodriguez”, don’t get me wrong, I like Rodriguez and everything, but has she really earned a WITH, I mean in the context of this trailer, it seems a step away from AND Michelle Rodriguez as so and so.

The website summary also left out poor Billy Zane, but does its best to committ to a rousing depiction of the film’s plot…:

“It’s 1723 and evil rules Eastern Europe. An evil Lord Kagan has so much power that no one stands boldly against him. No one would dare try. And as great as his power is, this Kagan has an opportunity to become utterly invincible. Three secret treasures, once united in his presence will give Kagan immortal powers of untold horror. But there is some hope. Throughout history there have always been those brave few who take up a cause for the good of mankind. The Brimstone Society is a small mighty group made up of just these kinds of men and women. They have banded together to car for each other and to make themselves the avengers of the weak. To smite evil where they can and to perhaps someday restore law and order to the rest of society. As these two forces converge, there are whispers across the land about a legend. “

Oh my God, I’m dozing off already. Is this a logline for a movie, or a brief history of fuedal social dynamics? And who would think to name a vigillante group after something found commonly in hell? But wait, it doesn’t end there…:

“A young and beautiful woman might harbor the secrets to defeat the mighty Kagan. Will Brimstone find her before Kagan does? If they find her, will she help them or go her own way? Even if she does help, will it be enough to defeat the evil armies of Kagan? And what is her dark secret that would make even Kagan fear her? Join us for this mighty adventure and immerse yourself! BloodRayne, all myth begins in reality!”

Well thank goodness for that informative plot synopsis, or I wouldn’t have had a clue about the movie based solely on the trailer.

The film’s director, Uwe Bol, is a German filmmaker, who’s last outing in the U.S. was the underwhelming “Alone in the Dark” starring Christian Slater and Tara Reid. Need I say more? Do you even remember what movie I’m talking about? Previous to AITD, Bol had directed a couple of severely under the radar indie horror flicks. But despite the notoriety that his work might or might not receive, he appears to get constant work. His profile on IMDB says he’s slated for five upcoming movies in the next couple of years. It’s perplexing.

Everything about this trailer is shocking, --the over the top voiceover guy, the terrible looking wig Ben Kingsley’s wears, the lackluster way the actors say their lines. The screenplay was written by Guinevere Turner, an actress/writer/director, who has done a lot of indie work, and who’s most notable piece of writing is the script for American Psycho. It seems that this was her first foray into genre work and well, ...it shows. Every possible cliché that exists in the heroine within a comic book setting was used here, from the leather bodice, to the castle and vampire backdrop fused with the kung fu-esque fighting.

BloodRayne was released by an independent distributor, but they have Universal doing their DVD release, so I’m assuming they are hoping to get some decent mileage out of that. Though heaven knows how. I might just be tempted to rent it to see Meatloaf in what is sure to have been an unforgettable performance.

“Cause I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that….No, I won’t do that…”

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Silent Hill Scares the New Yorker

I had never even heard of the film Silent Hill, until last night when I was scanning the Apple Trailers site , and this poster caught my eye:

Maybe I’m more skittish than Abbot in Abbot and Costello meet the Mummy, but there is something about this poster that really freaks me out. There’s lack of a mouth on the little girl for starters, and the glassy, piercing eyes that stare at you, no matter which side of the computer screen you move to.

Then I watched the trailer for Silent Hill.

At first the movie seemed to be going in a very familiar direction. A fetching young mother and her creepy raven haired daughter go on a lonely drive and run into a ghostly version of the daughter. Immediately I was reminded of Dark Water, The Ring movies, and the recent remake of The Fog. I think for now the whole ghost doppleganger theme has been a bit exhausted, and it seemed likely that the entire plot (as is often the case these days) was revealed in the first sixty seconds of the trailer. Mother and daughter end up at in a deserted town and get seperated. The Mother discovers there was some terrible tragedy in the town, and one of the victims looked just like her daughter. The ghost of the victim kidnaps the daughter so she can steal her soul to live again and the Mother must try to stop her before its too late.

Sound like a reasonably good guess?

I thought so too, but then the trailer took an interesting turn. For one thing, I think I was taken in by the visuals of the film. I love that moment where we see the Mother wandering through the fog, and she realizes that the snow flurrying down on her from the sky is actually ash. In general the production design seems to have good attention to detail and a penchant for creative landscapes. The director, Christophe Gans, is a French filmmaker who is probably best known for his feature “The Brotherhood of the Wolf”, which had some decent exposure in the U.S. I never saw Brotherhood of the Wolf, but I’d always heard great things about it, I’m curious to see more of Gan’s work.

While the action that takes place in the town of Silent Hill looks creepy enough, it wasn’t until the “Mother” played by Rhada Mitchell, went underground that things started to look really freaky and interesting. According to the mean looking woman in the trailer with the frumpy hair, it would seem that Rhada must literally go to hell itself to retrieve her daughter. Now this is an interesting twist, I thought. Typically the “Moms” in these films don’t leave the grounding normalcy of Planet Earth to go fight the montsers and dead people at the gate of Hades. The scenes in the underground have simple but effectively grim art direction, and that posse of twisted ash covered statuesque corpses that reach out for Rhada made me shiver. (In fact something about the images recalled City of Lost Children in my mind)

The trailer reveals the hellish sub-terranean industrial complex about two thirds through the trailer. I’m wonder how accurately the trailer reflects the proportions of the film itself. I’m hoping they spend a good amount of time with Rhada battling horrible ghouls and such; I’m always game for a good demon.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Why "When a Stranger Calls" doesn't call to the NY'er

The top draw at the box office this weekend was Sony Screen Gems “When a Stranger Calls” which made a decent clip more that was estimated, and tallying in at $22 Million. Now to those of you who read my blog on a somewhat consistent basis, you may have been surprised to discover that I didn’t run out to see this movie and subsequently post its review on my blog. Under normal circumstances I would have, because, well, it’s what I do. I have seen all the other recent horror remakes from the past couple years, but I think this one was just the last straw for me; I couldn’t do it. It isn’t that the film’s plot doesn’t intrigue me –it does. In fact when I was younger I was thoroughly frightened by the 1979 original starring Carol Kane. Based on an age old urban legend, the film is about a young woman who is babysitting children one night and begins to receive threatening anonymous phone calls. The stranger on the phone keeps asking her if she’s “checked the children”, and after a while she gets spooked and calls the police. The police then notify the babysitter that the calls are coming from inside the house. In the original, by the time the babysitter has found this out, it is too late and the children have already been murdered. The film then jumos forward into the future when the babysitter is grown and has children of her own. The killer has been released from prison and he goes about terrorizing her all over again.

I’m not sure how the plot is dealt with in this remake, but based from the trailer , it seems as though the action takes place over the course of one night. So not only have they simplified the film to a veritable four hour game of cat and mouse, but everyone already knows the twist (that he’s in the house), and the actress, Camilla Belle, while most likely chosen for her looks and economical payrate seems ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE in the role. I mean bad, really bad, makes Paris Hilton in House of Wax look great, bad. No, seriously, watch the trailer again. When she says the line “Stop calling me you sick---“ she seems as scared as a whiny child in an Oscar Myer bologna commerical.

Still it makes me wonder if I’m loosing my stamina. Time was, I would have gone out to the movie theatres to see this sort of flick straight away. Have I become jaded? Am I loosing hope that there will ever be good genre stuff again? I hope not. I’m aching for something to jolt me out of these remake doldrums…

Defying the Impossible: Could Mission Impossible 3 actually be good?

I would imagine that most of you saw the Superbowl TV spot for Mission Impossible III. Even better than the TV spot, in my opinion, is the full length trailer for the film. Now trust me, I am as surprised as you might be that I’m about to endorse this movie, but I have to confess I thought the trailer made the film look like a great, fun, summer blockbuster.

I have mixed feelings about the Mission Impossible franchise. I thought the first one was solidly enjoyable, and since it was dirceted by Brian de Palma before he officially went over the edge (Femme Fetale), it had a snazzy visual style, and was in certain ways as successful as a thriller as it was an action movie. While I think John Woo has a good handle on the action genre (I liked Face/Off), I thought Mission Impossible II was absolutely terrible. It was terrible in that Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life type of way; M.I. 2 it was just boring, confusing, and was nearly impossible (excuse the pun) to follow.

The thing about the Mission Impossible films that make me scratch my head is this: the films have gotten so far removed from what the original televsion show was, why not scrap the format and just make a generic Tom Cruise action film? The original show was very much an ensemble show, like the A-Team, yet Ethan Hunt seems to fly solo these days. The only other character who will have been in all three films is Ving Rhames, as Luther Stickell, hacker extraordinaire who helps out Hunt in a pinch. I guess in a way Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise’s character) has become a James Bond character of sorts. There are new women in each film, new missions and new villains. But after the second installment of Hunt’s adventures, the third one is going to need to be a heck of a strong showing to make up for it.

And so far the signs look promising. TV guru J.J. Abrams wrote and directed Mission Impossible III. This is actually Abrams’ first feature since 1998 when he worked on Armageddon; he’s spent the last eight years making some neat little TV shows you might have heard of -- like Felicity, Alias and of course most recently, Lost. I think Abrams is smart and I like the way he thinks. It might just be that he can put a creative twist on the standard action movie and Mission Impossible formatting. While Abrams is known for drama, he is also fairly adroit at injecting some good-natured humor into his work, and I think this franchise could benefit, after M.I. 2 which was particularly humorless. Certainly some of Abrams’ casting seems to be eclectic and unique which I take as a good sign. I am so excited to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman play the real “heavy” in a huge action film, and I love the snippets of him in the trailer; he radiates a brand of suave understated evil. The rest of M.I.’s cast also includes some old Abrams favorites like Keri Russell and Greg Grunberg, some indie veterans like Laurence Fishburnes, Jonathan Ryhs-Meyers, and Billy Crudup, and some new faces to boot.

In terms of action sequences I look forward to seeing the rest of that shot where Cruise is thrown by an exploision and nearly misses getting his head taken off with a missile. The film will be released on May 5th, 2006, kicking off the glorious summer movie season. Here’s to this year’s Opening Day being a great one.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Brokeback to the Future

I found this to be very silly, but very amusing at the same time...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The New Yorker reaches the Dark Tower at last

(If you haven't read the Dark Tower books, and are planning to do so at some point in your life, you may want to stop here as there are massive spoilers below.)

It is difficult for me to begin writing this, because it hasn’t fully sunk into my brain that I’ve finally completed all seven of Stephen King’s Dark Tower books. There are so many thoughts in my mind, so many things I feel like saying, and the effect of this is tumultuous and renders me speechless.

It was a week ago that I last posted an update on my journey. At that point I had completed King’s fifth entry, Wolves of the Calla, and expressed that though I was fully committed to this saga for the long haul, I felt that there had been a drop in quality between the fifth book and the previous four, or at the very least between the fourth and the fifth –the fourth still remains one of the strongest in my mind. Now that I’ve completed the saga, I no longer feel as certain about passing a judgement on the quality of the last three books. At first, I was dubious about the direction that I saw King veering the story in; it felt unexpected and strange. Books I – IV deal with Roland the gunslinger’s worlds of mid-world, end-world, etc. but not exclusively so. The traveling companions who form his “ka-tet”(or fellowship if it do ya) are “drawn” through magical portals between Roland’s world and New York City at various points in history. It sounds bizarre enough, but somehow King makes it work really well. He’s able to siphon in elements from “the real world” as we know it, through the characters that have been plucked into mid-world/end-world, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake. In the fifth book, King goes a step further with the surreal, by incorporating a character (Father Callahan) from one of his previous books ‘Salem’s Lot, into the Dark Tower. By Book VI, Stephen King has inserted himself into the plot of the sprawling story.

In Book VI, Song of Susannah, Roland and Eddie go on a tower related side mission to Maine circa 1977. It is there that they begin to piece together that Stephen King, who himself is ignorant of this, is their creator. Both confused and terrified by this prospect, Roland and Eddie go to confront King, who has the original manuscript of “The Gunslinger” (Book I) buried somewhere in a box in his basement. The idea is that if King doesn’t dust the book off and continue to write and complete the Dark Tower story, Roland and his world, as well as all worlds, will cease to exist. By Books V, we’ve begun to learn that there are a seemingly infinite number of parallel universes; there is universe where Co-Op City is in the Bronx, and another where it is in Brooklyn. But all of these worlds hinge upon the Dark Tower, and if Roland is not around to save it, then it will fall, and so will all of existence. Stephen King lives in the “keystone world” –the world that seems to be the most “real” –where things happen with a clang of finality, and nothing can be undone.

Confusing stuff I know, but as I was reading about the importance of Stephen King to the Dark Tower, and the reoccurring significance of the year 1999 in the story, I finally began to realize what was at work here. King was gearing up for the climactic and pivotal moment in the series, a moment which occurred in reality on June 19th, 1999, when King was hit by a minivan while on a walk and barely survived. My first response to King’s insertion into the story was that of a grimace and a sigh. I braced myself for some sort of pretentious, egotistical self-referential nonsense. And then, as I began to realize what he was doing here, I realized the simple brilliance of his decision. It was in fact true, that if King had perished from that car accident, Roland’s universe would have been shoved into a horrible limbo. The series would have been left half finished, at the end of Book IV, with Roland and his ka-tet straggling on the borders of end-world forevermore, or worse yet, unable to save the tower, and then unable to save existence. King makes Roland his friends his saviors on that fateful day, and there is a sort of beautiful reciprocity to it. Roland and his friends are able to glimpse into the future and discover that without their help, King would die on the road that day. They must save King from dying on this day or loose their universe. The idea, of a writer’s creations coming alive to save him, so that he in turn as their creator, can save them, is moving.

Now there are all sorts of time-travel type paradoxes and quandaries of logic that crop up with the way King executed things. How is it possible that Roland and Eddie could have gone back to ’77 to convince King to pick up the Gunslinger book and finish off the story? If King had never written the series to begin with, how could they have existed in order to coerce him? And how is it possible that Roland and Jake saved Stephen King in the middle of Book VII, when at that point in time, they (Roland and Jake) were actually still somewhere in the void of story between Books IV and V? But despite these contradictions, King smoothes things over because the idea that he is trying to convey is not necessarily that he created everything (Roland and the rest of ‘em), but that their story is funneled to him through Gan (God), and his job is merely to put it on paper. There is a neat little epilogue at the end of Song of Susannah, where King includes a “Writer’s Journal” of sorts –and he talks about how when he is writing about the Dark Tower, he’s not really thinking, he’s just…flowing. I thought this was a very adept way to fuse together the concept he was trying to sell in the book, with the way that writing actually feels when you’re doing it and it feels right; because one can loose a bit of consciousness and fingers may move with a mind of their own. My initial response that King’s insertion of himself into the story was just a cheap shot changed by the time I completed the books, and I really think King’s inclusion of himself worked well.

Structure and plotting aside, I was completely engrossed by these last two books. It felt as if there wasn’t a moments’ rest, only a fast and furious barreling of event after event and showdown after showdown until the very end. Book VI, Song of Susannah was the shortest installment since Book III, at about 415 pages, and I was able to finish it in about 24 hours. As great as I thought the plot twist of Susannah getting pregnant was, I wasn’t all that crazy about the way that Mia’s character (the mother of the chap which first manifested itself as another of Susannah’s split personalitiss) was reconciled. For a moment there I thought Mia was going to turn out to be Susan Delgado’s spirit who had been trapped in the underworld, dead but still pregnant with Roland’s unborn child. Of course as it turned out Mia had no connection to Susan; she was some sort of disembodied demon elemental type thing that was given human form and I found both her identity and her M.O. to be a little murky and confusing. Nevertheless she served as a great device. The relationship King established between Mia and Susannah was tension fraught yet organic. Surely one of the most horrifying scenes in all the series was the strange dual mother birth scene of Mordred, and the subsequent suckling, which ended in Mia’s death. Mordred. What a terrific name. It is no more than the condensing of the phrase “more dread”, but it has such a great and terrifying ring to it; if ever there was a name that could instill horror by merely being uttered, Mordred is it.

One of my favorite portions of Book VII, was the whole stakeout that Roland and his friends conceived to free the “Breakers” in Algul Siento. King’s description and elaboration of the lifestyle in Algul Siento, and the way he tied into Book V with the twins was elegant. I was completely riveted as the gunslingers took down the Taheen and the Humes, and at long last saved the beams radiating from the Dark Tower, thereby ensuring a large chunk of safety for the universe. Of course, it was also at this point in the novel, where the beloved ka-tet finely broke, and the first of the main characters, Eddie, died. As wary as I might have been at the appearance of Pere Callahan in Book V, I realized just how much I had grown to like him when he died at the beginning of Book VII. I found myself tearing up as I read about his final showdown in the Dixie Pig with the vampires and Taheen. I was sad to see Callahan go, but I was heartbroken about Eddie. If someone would have told me that I would one day read a Stephen King book and be crying through at least a third of the way through it, I would have laughed in their face. Yet, that is exactly what I did in Book VII, The Dark Tower. Over two and a half months, seven books, and almost four thousand pages I spent with these characters, --and to say goodbye to Roland’s ka-tet, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy, was incredibly sad and difficult. I knew at least one of them had to die, and that most likely it was only Roland who would make it to the top of the tower, but all of their individual goodbyes one by one? It was almost too much to bear.

First Eddie was careless and was shot by a Hume. Then Jake, sacrificed himself to save the universe, by pushing King just enough out of the way of the speeding minivan so he would not be struck dead. I was sobbing like a child. For these were my friends too. My traveling companions, and to have to witness the broken hearts of those who remained was almost more painful. Reading those last few chapters where it was just Susannah and Roland and Oy was so sad and yet so dear. They still had each other, and went on through all their despair and exhaustion –for each other. The introduction of the poor, broken-spirited, but immensely talented Patrick the artist, seemed well placed and timed. They needed someone else walking the path with them, who was not carrying the same burden of their grief. Patrick added a nice dynamic to the group, as they broke past the snow and made it to the very last edges of end-world. I felt strangely about the premonitions that Susannah had to leave Roland and go rejoin with Eddie and Jake in some other universe, through another magic door. Part of me wanted her to stay with Roland, if at least to keep him company, and keep the semblance of their ka-tet. Yet I knew she too had to leave; and better that she vanished through a door than have to face a bloody death. Though maybe because of this Susannah’s departure was the most difficult to bear. Most painful because of Roland’s open desperation at her leaving him.

I thought having Mordred finally reveal himself, and charge towards Roland, only to be blindsided by Oy was perfect. As sad and heart wrenching as it was to say goodbye to precious Oy, the billy bumbler, it was so fitting that he died defending Roland. That he died doing exactly what Jake had probably whispered in his ear to do as he lay bleeding to death on the pine nettles in Maine.

And then down to almost the very, very end…. Roland and Patrick slowly making their way to the field of blood red roses, where Roland must met his final obstacle, to entering the Tower. The final battle with the Crimson King was great, still fraught with as much tension as ever, and I love the fact that it was Patrick’s artistry which ended up defeating the King, --not with a sandlewood handled gun, but a nubby pink eraser. And then… then….the Tower was his! The Dark Tower belonged to no one but Roland, and he raced down the path to it calling all of the names of his beloved who had died on the way, I cheered for him with tears streaming down my cheeks, all the while in disbelief the whole saga was at an end.

And it wasn’t. Next came the epilogue. Susannah on the other side of magical door she had dreamt about and made Patrick draw so it could become a reality. A snowy flurry day in New York City’s Central Park of some alternate universe where Nozz-a-la is drank instead of Coke, and Takuro Spirits are driven instead of Honda Civics. Eddie and Jake are brothers, and they somehow know they are supposed to meet Susannah in the park as she comes through the door. But it is not the jubilant reunion it might have been because Eddie and Jake don’t seem to remember her, they know there is a connection between them, and Eddie knows he will come to love this woman, but it is foggy and dreamlike. Not exactly a joyous reunion of the ka-tet. Yet what made me saddest is that even though these three will rebuild new memories with each other, they have forgotten about Roland, and the wonderful, terrible, journey they went on with him. To me this might have been the saddest thing of all.

And yet, it still wasn’t over. There was a second epilogue titled -- “Coda” (or closing). King starts it with a sort of whining warning about how the wise reader should not continue reading on, and simply stop and be content with knowing Roland got to the Tower and Eddie and Susannah and Jake found each other again. Yet he begrudgingly gives us more of an ending, at what I imagine was the strong behest of his editors and publishers.

Roland opens the door to the tower. He begins to climb the stairs madly, finding room upon room filled with memories and objects of the past. The floors and the rooms continue on and on, and he worries that he might never reach the top, that that tower might be an unending spiral. But he does reach the top. At last he goes to grab the doorknob and complete his final mission, his one wish in life, forever.

When he does, Roland’s moment of realization is brief but agonizing. He has done this before. This is what its like every time. The exact gut wrenching thought he thinks is “Oh no! Please, not again! Have pity! Have mercy!“ My veins filled with chilled mercury at the sight of this phrase, and I was chilled to the bone in horror at Roland’s fate. Suddenly Roland is back on the desert –the very same desert where we first meet him, six books ago. Right at the moment where he realizes that reaching the Tower might just be in reach, if he can catch the man in black. Of course this time things are a little different. He has the horn of Eld, the one that he was wishing he had grabbed from Cuthburt on Jericho Hill; the one he wished he had had with him to blow upon exaltedly as he crossed the field of roses, only moments before.

Since I read these last few pages last night, I have been thinking about them, and turning them over and over again in my mind. I have so many thoughts, not only about alternate endings, but questions and confusions. While Roland has been obsessively coveting his ascension of the Dark Tower, he has also had to undertake the noble quest of saving the beams. He had to save the Dark Tower (in its permutation as a rose in keystone New York), in order to save the beams. He also had to scatter the Breakers in order to save the beams, and he had to kill the Crimson King in order to save the Dark Tower too, and on and on. Roland’s quest was much more complex and less self-centered than merely reaching the top room of the dark tower (although it has been his darkest desire). Does this mean that he needs to keep on saving the universes until he learns to resist, and not go up to the top room of the tower? Was it really ever about saving existence at all, or does it simply boil down to Roland and the room at the top of the Dark Tower? And what of the world “moving-on”? How does it tie into Roland’s mind-trap from hell? Why does his world, (and really all worlds) keep coming to the edge of caving in on itself? But I suppose it does no good to keep contemplating all these things. One must merely accept the fact that Roland saved the universe once and he can do it again, and maybe next time he will learn to resist the temptation of the Tower. I suppose trying to get to the room at the top of the Tower is equivalent to trying to see the face of God (or in this case Gan). It is something that no one can do, and only punishment can come of trying.

Ultimately, the thing that fills me with the most regret about the end is all the amnesia that seems to set in on everyone at the end. Eddie and Jake don’t really remember Susannah and all of them will forget Roland, and Roland has forgotten all of them by the time he’s back on the desert trailing the man in black all over again. They shared such a deep and special bond; it seems cruel that it could just evaporate in an instant. I wonder if Roland will keep drawing those three over and over again out of different worlds or if he draws new people every time. It would somehow cheapen their ka-tet, if it was different folks at every turn of ka’s wheel. Truth be told, part of me wanted Roland to walk through the door at the top of that Tower and enter the Clearing at the end of the Path. There he would reunite with Susannah, and Eddie, and Jake and Oy, and Pere Callahan, and Cuthbert, and Alain Johns, and Sheemie, and Susan Delgado, and all have punch and cookies in eternity. But I suppose that would have been too upbeat and sappy for the King of horror. Another part of me wondered what would have happened if Roland had opened the door and stepped out onto the drop at Mejis just before he met Susan Delgado. If given the chance, would he have been able to recapture his true love and youthful heart? But that too I guess falls under the category of too sentimental.

In the author’s note following the Coda, King says that he himself wasn’t crazy about the ending, and yet it was the only ending there was. As foolishly literal as the statement might seem, I find myself in a strange state of agreement with it. The ending to the Dark Tower was the only ending there was.

As King himself admits, these books were not perfect, and there were things I wish had been different, but after all is said and done, I really grew to love them. I journeyed with Roland and his friends for many a day and night, and I am really going to miss that. We were well met, we were very well met.

Roland, may you find your tower, but find some peace this time as well.

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