Tuesday, March 29, 2011

TV Thoughts: The Revolution Became The Institution

Imagine a restaurant with a great salad bar. Now imagine that 1 month later, it's only stocked with iceberg lettuce, carrots, croutons, bacon bits, and ranch dressing. That's not much of a salad bar is it?

Here's where I'm going with this:

I'm going to try to explain a big problem that I have with a lot of serialized shows. Be warned - I am trying to describe my aesthetics and why I think they're valid. Viewpoints are a pain to get across, so read at your own pace. I can't hint this is long; I tagged it. I have a label called "Long-ass Posts."

Many television shows are set, to their loss, on a few plots, motifs, what have you. It's true, when you watch "Pokemon," it won't cover the importance of intelligent participation in democracy. "Desperate Housewives" won't deal with ethnic cleansing.

But I don't need every show to be about everything that makes life real and complex. My problem is the way many long-running shows drown the viewers in repetition. I'm talking about more than clich├ęd plots.

Until recently, I did one TV review, for "Burn Notice." [DJ added his batch review of several new shows last Summer.] While it was an exercise, I was pretty excited at the time; what I wrote might've read like an advertisement. For my part, I was trying something new - a review combined with a recommendation, looking at a TV series, trying to address 2 seasons in one commentary....

Friday, March 25, 2011

Executive Decision, the Salieri of Action Films

Terrible poster, terrible tagline.
1996's "Executive Decision" is an obvious attempt to ride off of Tom Clancy's "Jack Ryan" novels. The pitch: a plane to D.C. is hijacked, and they demand a terrorist's release. Can US Spec Ops save the passengers before the Air Force shoots them down?

Since this is Clancy-inspired ("Clear and Present Danger" came out in '94), that plot isn't enough; there's a sinister secret - nerve gas got thru the check-in somehow, part of a plan to decimate the Capitol. The US special forces not only has to search for the bomb and stop the terrorists - they'll doing it by sneaking onboard in mid-flight!

The always-great Kurt Russell is our lead - he's usually an everyman, but he's set up to be successful and smart, like Jack Ryan. He's backed up by Steven Seagal, John Lequizamo, Halle Berry, and Oliver Platt. The result is a throwback to Golan/Globus pictures that's easy enough to appreciate, I guess. I don't recommend this, as it's largely mediocre (with one sublime moment).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Site Update: Labels, Overly Self-Aware Thought

Getting right to it: the first new feature is the "Double Dip" label. If that tag is on a movie review post, it means I'll return to that picture later; some films merit or almost require multiple discussions. It also avoids massive spoilers for an initial review and/or helps me address extra issues that don't fit the premise of one single entry. I could probably write both a review and a script analysis for "The Big Sleep."

There's also the "Recommended" label. Entries there include those that I wrote for film podcasts and Netflix' Streaming show, "Hyperdrive." Finally, I added a "Movie Aspects" tag (got a better title?) to single out articles that discuss what's so special (and weird) about movie trailers, film reviews, seeing movies before you're supposed to, and even popcorn (coming soon).

Large Association of Movie Blogs
That his "I'm taken ladies" pose.
Let me also note that tomorrow, on the LAMB website, you'll see a collection of reviews for Gary Oldman movies. Oldman was chosen for March's "LAMB Acting School 101," so various bloggers submitted their reviews and articles to form one great mega/meta-discussion of his work. Naturally, I asked them to link to my review of "Romeo Is Bleeding," as it's an all-time favorite.

That's pretty much it for updates. I hope the additions prove useful. On to the self-conscious part:

A look at the past 4 months on my blog made me realize that I'm averaging less than 1 review every 2 weeks. If I wanted to offer a cheap explanation, I'd say that in mid-December I wrote a Multiple Review - a site event where I tackle 7 movies in one post. Then the # goes up a lot.

Stressed out, I retired to the Chamber of Understanding. There, I realized that would be a cheap & incomplete reply. I wrote those reviews to make up for infrequent writing, among other things.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Netflix Changing its Instant TV Section

Last month, I noted that one tv series replaced 4 pages for its 4 seasons with 1 Netflix page for the whole show. I predicted this was a sign of a coming overhaul. This weekend, thanks to the imperfect recommendation system, I spotted the change in listings for "Xena," "21 Jump Street," and the excellent "Farscape." I have no idea why these genre shows were chosen for the upgrade.

I'm happy to have some news that's my own, that isn't re-posted off tAVC or Aint It Cool. Nobody likes an "I told you so," but my prediction was right: Netflix is changing the way that it displays its multi-season TV shows for the Streaming audience.

The new format is more versatile; you can choose between episodes and seasons smoothly. It's also more efficient - gone are 5 pages for the whole run of "21JS." I guessed it was a gradual change, and it looks like I'm right.

After I noticed the latest additions, I scanned through Streaming-available TV series. I found 8 more: "Cagney and Lacy," "Angel," "The A-Team" (snicker), "Quantum Leap," "Columbo" (yay), "Hunter," "Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles" (hahaha), and BBC's "Torchwood." This makes 12 total, including USA's "Psych." A regular superstar wall of great shows, huh?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Netflix Gets Its First Show & New Competition

Netflix has bought the rights to air "House of Cards," a David Fincher-directed, Kevin Spacey-starring TV show.  The announcement is already 2 days old, but I've been following Netflix in the news here, so I can't pass this up. The AV Club gave me the heads up first, so I invite you to read about it there.

Done? Well, it's an odd development, as this means Netflix beat out folks like HBO, Starz, and/or AMC to get these rights. It's also odd because it doesn't have a channel on which to air anything. No matter what, this will be the first major Internet-only show...

Of course, this is also a significant event in what I've dubbed "The Rental Wars." This particular phase involves a big move that will distinguish Netflix from the competition (which will eventually include Redbox). This series is a drama, and it already has two big names attached to it. Could Netflix become the next AMC?

Almost certainly not, given how expensive shows are. Then again, the model used by cable in the original programming market is a big help. It's actually not too much of a strain to finance 19 total eps for two seasons of "The Walking Dead," or 12 for "Boardwalk Empire." It's certainly easier than the 20-24 episode standard of network tv.

So this blending of tv and streaming internet raises lots of possibilities. Will Netflix make the show available at a specific time every week? And how long before it's released, ironically, as a dvd? It's the incorrect use of the word irony, but you get my point.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yes, F Yeah Strutting Leo got its own entry

I referred to - and used - this several times in my "Inception" review. Let me just say this flat-out: The Strutting Leo Meme is a wonderful work of post-post-post-post-modern art.

It's not the sort of thing I'd usually hype. This was the meme that actually made me pay attention when another, even better one, popped up.

I mean, this
is funny enough

but the many great variations you can find on one compilation page alone are just a gift. An unexpected one, at that.

"Leo, like many Italian-Americans, had a large family."

I guess it's just another way that Christopher Nolan was a blessing in these troubled times. I mean, in addition to all the many things his "Inception" accomplished, it gave us a brief glimpse of a world where Leonardo DiCaprio just smiles, cocks his head, and kicks off to his fate. Him, his strut, and that radiant, raw joy are all he needs.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Recommended: Netflix's UK TV Selection

A lot of people like tv shows from other countries. I was a big fan of "Father Ted," but the series' lead died, ending "FT" in 1998. I also loved HBO's long-ago heavy rotation of "Mr. Bean." Oh, simpler times! What do you do today if you want to watch some foreign tv? Well, Netflix can help you out...

Hulu, mind you, has a pretty sizable collection of foreign shows. A lot of them are Korean dramas - though I don’t watch them, I don't avoid them. I can make no recommendations, there, nor even tell you how many are available. Why? Because you (still) can't select "Foreign" when you browse through Hulu's tv options.

That's pretty much most of Hulu live-action foreign selection. They do have 4 shows from BBC America, and some from Australian's Food network. So, um, yay?

The rest/vast majority of Hulu's foreign offering is made up of Anime. By "majority" I mean about 139 whole shows and counting; this is not good. Whereas I'm just not sure if those Korean and Aussie shows are decent, most tv-anime is clearly like a polio vaccine: best experienced at an early age.

On the other hand, Netflix' foreign streaming choices provide a selection of actual, non-animated, adult shows to watch. The offerings are deep enough to keep you entertained for a while.

Why no love for tv-series Anime? Rumiko Takahashi’s series really impressed me when I was 19. The woman is an excellent, inventive writer, and I can understand why she was the richest woman in Japan for so long. She deserved her success, and I greatly enjoyed “Ranma 1/2” and “Maison Ikkoku,” among others.

But any time I check out tv-Anime from the last 8 years, I see the same flawed junk over and over; most just seem to fall flat. Shows like “Monster” and “Death Note” have a great rep, but I'm already turned off. I long ago tired of impossible bust-to-waist ratios, descriptions of some lame-ass guy's weapon’s power/fighting style/whatever. "Venture Bros." is a mature cartoon, and it's not some badly-written storm of Japanese cliches.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dark Knight Facebook, Ipad Netflix, NYC's Free Korean Anime, & Dreamworks 2011-14 Schedule

So I just have a little string of news to bring to your attention. I wanted to post this yesterday, but adding my "Rebecca" post was already overdue.

So on the one hand, we have news that Warner Bros. has a deal with Facebook to stream WB movies on FB. Honestly, I heard about this thru The AV Club (again). As always, much of the news I highlight came through them first. They describe the situation neatly, so feel free to read about it on their site.

What I will repeat/condense flat-out: it's paid with "Facebook dollars," which can be converted from real dollars; it's a WB application on FB, not FB software. Deadline also put out the news, but they focused on the stock market dip Netflix suffered after the announcement. I don't know why.

As The AV Club's revered Scott Tobias pointed out, the first Warner picture available will be "The Dark Knight," so it's clear they're going for the jugular off the bat. Their choice is inspired, of course - I'm sure The Joker would approve -  as it's a great movie that I loved to pieces (if less than Batman Begins).

So, as I said 2 weeks ago, let the Rental Wars begin! [Although in this case, it already did.] Redbox will be in the game soon enough, and I'm sure Apple will be in the position of either competing directly via ITunes, or just reaping tons of indirect (and vapid) profits by providing the hardware for all this Streaming.

It's not even just an "I told you so." This Monday, Netflix announced they're supporting the IPad more than ever. They do mention the IPhone too, but clearly their effort is to quickly gain sway over the growing Internet Tablet market - which still pretty much means "the IPad." Heaven help me, Netflix isn't just supporting Safari up the wazoo, they're supporting Mobile Safari up the wazoo. Can they also ditch Microsoft Silverlight at some point?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Rebecca" - Hitchcock gets Best Picture

Last week, I wrote about this review of mine - one I wrote for another blogger's page. Everything below is exactly what was posted onto The Flick Chick's site, and now that it's had a week to percolate over there, I'm publishing it here below. Enjoy, please!

"Rebecca" begins with images of a lush wilderness - mist blowing across the ground, sunlight broken by branches and leaves. The shafts of light pierce across the screen, and there's a lovely contrast - the thick tree trunks are so dark that they seem more shadow than anything else. The credits finally close with the words, "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock." Ah.

Then we hear a woman's voice. It's high-pitched, but rather stately.
"Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again..." 
She intones these words - like a spell, like chant. She continues, describing exactly what the camera shows: rolling through metal bars, the screen tracks an over-grown forest road up to a massive mansion. The castle-like structure, of a size with St. Patrick's Cathedral, is ominously imposing by moonlight. She goes on...
"I looked upon a desolate shell, with no whisper of a past about its staring walls. We can never go back to Manderley again... But sometimes - in my dreams - I do go back; to the strange days of my life, which began for me in the south of France."
Jane Austen, anyone? The screen fades out completely, to open with waves on a cliff. A man stands at the very edge, staring darkly at the drop ahead. He takes a half-step forward - and our narrator's voice gives a shout. Because they're both English, he pretends she simply annoyed him, then tells her to leave. She's embarrassed, and half-explains before letting him insist on his lie.

Monday, March 7, 2011

2011: The Year of the Remake/Sequel

Apparently, the Chinese got it wrong: it's not the Year of the Rabbit, but the Year of the Remake/Sequel. Admittedly, their calendar is very old and might not have an animal to cover "remakes." Hmmm... maybe the Year of the Donkey counts?

The people at The AV Club put out a nice recap of 2011's coming remakes and sequels. But The AVC did more than just point to the Box Office Mojo article on the topic. They also used /Film's own article to put together the list. The tally is pretty staggering.

30 movie sequels and remakes is the conservative estimate. As it stands, 2011 will break records for the most #4 or #5 entries in a series in one year. A lot of these pictures seem like "blockbusters," whether or not they deserve the term.

I mean, "Harry Potter 7b" is one thing, but really, "Johnny English Reborn?" Rowan Atkinson is great, but the first film (from 2003!?) was critically reviled. Still, it made $160M, and that's really all that matters.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Taxi Driver" back in theaters! Also, I Pimped Myself Out

If you're a fan of "Taxi Driver," then you'll be happy to know that it'll be re-released in select theaters this month, March 19th and 22nd. If you've never seen it, now's the time to find out why this performance - and that famous line - have become such staples. Here's the link to location listings; sorry, New Mexico.

De Niro is very easy to admire, and this is a great starting point to understand the adoration he's received. In truth, I wish the guy would find work that's genuinely challenging. I mean, once you've parodied your own work in bad movies... Well, Martin Scorsese's freak-filled street-life story may explain how Robert's work is still defended, revered, and appreciated.

I know what you're thinking: "Taxi Driver" better be really good.

Which makes my second bit of news all the funnier, because I kinda/sorta pimped myself out last month. I'm a member of The Large Association of Movie Blogs - LAMB, for short. They're nifty, and highlight over 800 people who submit their blogs to contribute to try to form a film cornucopia. In addition to its own articles, some of the members put up requests or notices.

Well, The Flick Chick put up a request in December, asking people for help with a special project. Her smart idea: after the Oscar nominations are announced, start posting reviews for every single Best Picture winner, from the start to 2010. Good move, right?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Predator: The Musical

How can I explain how happy I am? jonandal, the brilliant creator of this work, has played with Rambo and some Schwarzenegger movies, like Commando. But there's two reasons why I chose the Predator musical: for one, it fits the movie so nicely. In tone and use of the original score, it's top-notch.

For another, most Broadway-style productions rely on a really good hook - a line that might be repeated by many characters at different times, and is often used in the show.

The hook here is perfect, the Les Mis-style flow is amazing, the songs fit the characters frighteningly-well. Make sure you're in a safe place for cursing - or hysterical laughter - and check this out:

Isn't this wonderful? Whoever made this is obviously a expert in musical theater. I'm not claiming to be a fan, too, but I respect their skill and wit.

While you're at it, check out jonandall's site, or their tumblr. They have "24 Season 2: The Musical" among others; you could like it a lot, even if it's audio-only...

My next post will be up in a couple of days; I'll see you then.