Monday, November 29, 2010

Leslie Nielsen has passed away, aka "Why couldn't you take David Spade instead?"

Since we're not in heaven, it's the fun and funny guys who die first, leaving we the living with a bunch of jerks. Leslie Nielsen, known best to me as Lt. Frank Dreben (or even Enrico Palazzo), died this past weekend. I hope that he really pigged out this Thanksgiving, and passed on with a delicious and huge meal under his belt.
I come here to praise Leslie Nielsen, not to bury him. Sadly, I have a daytime job, so there's a limit to how long I can write about this actor who will be deeply missed. I won't give Leslie sub-standard coverage or writing, but I haven't the time, so I leave it to my (professional) colleagues in film review: try this link, this other link, and this third one. Those writers have time to/are paid to cover these sorts of things, and probably none of them woke up and got to work at 5 this morning.

I will have more to say about the man later - and I will do it well. Let me say for now that Leslie Nielsen was a fine working actor who was freakishly gifted at comedy. I've caught him in random episodes of Columbo, Police Squad, and Creepshow, but I'll always remember him for Airplane! and the Naked Gun pictures. I know next to nothing about Nielsen's personal life, but I respect him enough that I'll watch more of his work - starting with Forbidden Planet - before the year is out.

In the end, one of the most impressive things about Leslie is that his appeal stayed so strong for so many years - and the success of movies like "The Naked Gun 2 & 1/2" and "Scary Movie 3" meant that this seriously un-young man had a big number of fans in age groups far younger than you would expect. He may have been typecast in comedy, but Leslie's career must've seemed a little blessed because he was so good in movies that were so well-known, his popularity never died out. Certainly not in the 1980's and after, anyway.

Leslie, I am so sorry that you're gone. I will always remember how funny you were, and how up for anything you were. I will try to keep this memory alive by hunting down a video clip of you appearing on MTV with Ed Lover. You did the Ed Lover Dance with him, on the beach, and it was bloody hysterical.

Because today is an awful, unfortunate day, Irvin Kershner has also died. Yes, the man who directed "The Empire Strikes Back" has gone from this world, leaving George Lucas even more reason to continue keeping his head up his own backside. The man who out-classed Lucas in his own work is now gone. I guess there's nowhere left for George to look and realize that he no longer produces work of real quality (beyond fx, of course). Ainticool has a great writeup on him here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Netflix changes the game - but doesn't blow the doors off

Somebody jumped all over the "video buffet" market created by Hulu Plus: Netflix will offer streaming-only service for $7.99. Basic (1 DVD) service goes up by $1, to $8.99. Everything else rises another $3-8. It all starts January 1.

You can read about it here, here, and here. See the email Netflix sent me below.

It could be a pretty big move, but I don't think it's controversial. For many, the financial change is so small that they'll barely notice. Also, Netflix has dramatically increased its streaming lineup through deals made with Fox and other studios. Even before this announcement, the rental giant provided an instant online dose of Archer, The Girl Who Played With Fire, Full Metal Jacket, Iron Man, 30 Rock, Buffy, Veronica Mars, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Jerk… The list goes on.

Hulu's move to offer full seasons of tv created this situation. Hulu's price is now $8, which is the same as Netflix will charge for streaming-only service. In fact, they have so many of the same shows, I feel silly having access to both (even free Hulu). Netflix offers every season of Futurama, for example, but only the first season of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Hulu offers both seasons of the show, but won't give you Hackers, or Blue Velvet, or Delicatessen. I guess the choice comes down to whether you have constant internet access, and how much you're willing to pay to watch videos.

When all's said and done, if you're looking to ditch cable or satellite bills, $9 is pretty cheap for 20,000+ movies and tv shows. But I hope everyone tries the free route, at least for a week; today, most shows are on their network's website the day after they air... I'm happy with a deal that still gives me one DVD at a time. Aw, hell, this is probably why Netflix offered me 2 months' free service in exchange for a 45-minute q&a session...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Two classic fan-made movies that I overlooked.

If you want, you can just scroll down to the two videos and watch them. You will be happy you did so. If you care about more than the pretty pictures, however, I'll set these up for you quickly...

Cast yourself back to 2003. I know, it's not exactly ages ago. Super-hero movies were not a trend then, because 1997's "Batman & Robin" was one of the most awful things ever put into movie-theaters. It's so painful that it's sometimes entertaining, but it's still an experiment in masochism.

Yet Hollywood loves profits, so it "took a chance" on mediocre franchise offerings like "X-Men" in 2000, as well as "Spider-man" in 2002. Neither movie was particularly good - they were ok, they were "meh." The financial success of each, however, ushered in a new era of comic-inspired pictures.

This wasn't a total success, mind you. X2 was a runaway hit in July 2003, but Ang Lee's "Hulk" came out two months earlier, and it was an amazing disappointment. Nothing was a guarantee, even with a decent cast, a great director, and hundreds of millions in the budget...

Many were still wondering when Warner Bros. would get back in the game; they were the ones who gave us Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Christopher Reeves as a mild-mannered alien, after all. People who cared about comics (this did not include me) wanted to see a revival of the Superman and Batman films - even though both franchises had collapsed under the weight of internal stupidity and poor film-making...

And then lots of people found out who Sandy Collora is. A creature designer who had worked with Stan Winston, Rick Baker, and others, Sandy used $30,000 to make a short film to showcase his talents. The designer-turned-director released "Batman: Dead End" at that year's Comic Con, and the feedback was overwhelming positive; "600,000 downloads in the first week" positive. Before twitter.

Enough introduction. Click below to watch what Kevin Smith called "possibly the truest, best Batman movie ever made."

Harsh.  "Dead end" indeed.

Impressive, right? Amazing, right? Keep in mind that Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" didn't come out until 2005. And that Collora did this with no studio funding, for less than the cost of a mid-sized sedan (with the options package). This isn't just an advertisement for one guy's talents, this is a creative feat that almost makes up for every Martin Lawrence trailer I've sat through...

Fortunately, "Batman: Dead End" had copyright notices that swore the film was made "for fun" and not for profit. These disclaimers, and the widespread popularity of the short film, probably protected Sandy from the legal version of an angry orgy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"The Dark Knight" - director Nolan strikes again

Their turn on "So You Think You Can Dance" was provocative, but brief.

Batman gets close to reaching his goal of stopping Gotham's crime problem. Once he does this, he can hand the reins off to trustworthy authorities who will help restore the city. Meanwhile, everyone feels the pressure from collapsing mob empires, as well as a new villain who's bent on destruction at all costs. What's left to say about this critical and commercial megahit?

Putting it simply, it's a fantastic action film. Everything about the movie is an enjoyable pleasure for a movie-goer, whether you like big fight scenes, snappy dialogue in a fleshed-out world, or a visceral story that is as psychological as it physical. I can't really argue if people say it's the better picture, but I still prefer "Batman Begins" because the pace was more even and the emotional tone affected me more deeply.  It's like comparing an "A++" to an "A+."

The action is great, the actors are fine. "The Dark Knight" has a fun and emotional tale with brilliant visuals to stun you all the while. Scenes effectively use near-dark lighting, IMAX footage gives a stunning depth to the scenery, the city-scape is magnificent, and the fx are smooth. Heath Ledger's part is a thoughtful and entertaining masterpiece. Your jaw drops at the poor (dead at 28) guy's transformation, and the exceptional writing that backs him. It's wonderful.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Movie Review Quickies, Part IV - Halloween Edition

My late Halloween entry skims through Suspiria, Scream, Final Destination, Halloween, From Beyond, and Saw... It's a last little grasp at the holiday - and, for the next spell, scary movies. I actually don't watch horror often, outside of the rare mood or the great Pagan holiday. But I think a good scare-fest is a truly beautiful creation. Many of us have been terrified in real life, and I think we'd agree that it's better to be afraid of something on a screen. And you can still find roles and exciting sequences that are every bit as impressive, inventive, or character-heavy as any drama or comedy... I chose a small stable of solid pictures.

This film does not contain stupid voiceovers or repeating the word "Suspiria."

This Dario Argento classic is on Netflix Instant Viewing, a surprise since the rest of their genre selection is mostly junk. I feel sad that "Suspiria" just doesn't feel as great as when I was 19, or even 23.

Story: A pretty young American is entering into a famous European ballet academy... On the same stormy night that a furious double-murder leaves a mess in 4 rooms of a local apartment building. I guess in order to survive, the new student better stay on her toes (...Sorry) The pic is still beautiful, still fun, with skilled and inventive use of camera-work and color…

It hasn't lost much over the years, at least insofar as the violence remains jarring, cruel. The ideas are neat and the visuals are fine, so it's an easy film to like. Nice appearance by a young Udo Kier, too. The biggest victims of age here are the flaws in story and dialogue, which seem greater and more problematic now. Large bits of exposition (aka infodumps) are awkward, tho I guess it makes sense that the narrative is a bit like a fever dream. At least it's a pretty, entertaining fever dream, full of black magic…

If you haven't seen this yet, DON'T watch the trailer. See the movie first.

Things get bloody in a small California town full of good-looking people. Like every secluded spot, personal feuds and problems lurk beneath the pretty, quiet exterior. Soon, no one knows when or if violence is going to break out. Or even why. I would normally do this flick as a full review, and I still might...