Archive for November, 2008

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A Sort of Homecoming: Bob Clark’s Deathdream

November 30, 2008

DEATHDREAM (1974)
d. Bob Clark 

In this above average re-imagining of “The Monkey’s Paw”, Deathdream tells the story of what happens to a family when an American soldier, Andy (Richard Backus), returns home despite having been reported as being KIA in Vietnam.

A Sort of Homecoming

Death At The Drive-In!

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All The Real Girls: No Punches Pulled

November 30, 2008

ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003)
d. David Gordon Green

Alright, it’s official — Zooey Deschanel is a goddess. She needs to be in more movies like this. Of course, she has help from a great script co-written by David Gordon Green and lead actor, Paul Schneider.

David Gordon Green surpasses his moody first film, George Washington, to create something emotionally powerful and genuine. Both Zooey and Paul wrecked me with their amazing performances that had invisible seams; they inhabit their characters so wholly, and reel off dialogue so naturally you forget that these are actors.

Basically, Paul’s character starts a romance with Zooey’s virginal character, and they have to negotiate her brother’s disapproval because of Paul’s womanizing past as well as parsing their feelings to see if its genuine love or not. Paul is convinced that his feelings are real, but an act on Zooey’s part during a party at a lake house threatens their relationship.

This movie has a singular pacing and feeling that is lyrical and poetic. The music aids this floating feeling, that these characters drift into each other and may drift apart. And once again, the performances all around are very strong. Paul and Zooey wear their wounds openly and and what comes pouring out is revelatory. They convince you that they are trying to figure things out in the moment, and it is effortless.

The scene where Zooey confesses her indiscretion to Paul is a stand out, as well as the one where Paul, in an attempt at reconciliation, changes his mind and punches out the window of his car. Finally, the scene where Paul has it out with his mother, Patricia Clarkson, and she breaks down is devastating.

This film has a more cohesive narrative, but Gordon Green still finds many moments to include ambient “pillow” shots that help support and infuse scenes with an emotional quality missing from most films today. It’s a European sensibility filtered through a midwestern small-town ethos.

***1/2 stars. Highly recommended for great performances and a great script.

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Revenge Is A Dish Best Served… Glamorous! — Murder On The Orient Express

November 27, 2008

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
d. Sidney Lumet 

Yet another whodunnit adapted from an Agatha Christie mystery starring that irascible Belgian, Herecule Poirot (Albert Finney). This time set on the famous intercontinental steam train, Detective Poirot must solve the murder of a wealthy man on the snowbound train before it is set free and the report made to the Yugoslavian police who will take over the case.

Like Death On The Nile, this film is chock full o’ stars — a somewhat higher caliber of stars, many hailing from classic Hollywood. You’ve got a gorgeous collection of leading ladies, starting with Lauren Bacall, and then you have Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset and Vanessa Redgrave. On the men’s side you have Martin Balsam, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Michael York and Sean Connery. It’s amazing to see such talent in an ensemble getting brief scenes in which to have their moments and in longer scenes where they are gathered together to just listen as Albert Finney runs through a ten minute dialogue explaining the solution to the murder!

The mystery does not suffer under the mountainous amounts of dialogue being shoveled into our ears, though it can be a challenge to keep up when the relationships between each character becomes resolved. Still, Finney’s performance really shines here even if his Poirot is less warm than Ustinov’s interpretation, and more irascible.

The stars on-screen are not the only objects that dazzle. The sets are all very lavish, and the cinematography impressive. There is an amazing tracking shot down the length of the train in its berth that ends on the front lights being turned on. The music score is also very lush and timeless, avoiding the need to pin the movie down to its 30s setting.

If anything, the opening sequence detailing the kidnap and death plot of Daisy Armstrong (stripped directly from the real-life Lindbergh case) may be overwhelming and confusing because a ton of information gets heaped up-front.

All in all, Sidney Lumet does a great job balancing each actor, giving them their moments, and keeping the proceedings brisk even if the dialogue threatens to grind everything to a halt, much like the stalled train stuck in the snowbanks.

*** stars.

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Holiday With All The Trimmings

November 27, 2008

Hot DAMN! So stoked right now.

Big Bad Toy Store has just processed my pre-order for Wave 13 of G.I. Joe carded figures in which a new line, Resolute, makes its debut; Also Vehicle Wave 4 (which premieres the Sting Raider (aka Water Moccasin) and the Ghost Hawk (aka Sky Hawk)) is being processed. That means in about a week and a half or so, more lovely packaged pics for all to enjoy.

So I am extremely stoked! And poor. So very, very poor.

In any case, Happy Thanksgiving!

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Narfs, Scrunts and Eatlons… Oh my! — M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady In The Water

November 24, 2008

LADY IN THE WATER (2006)
d. M. Night Shyamalan 

Another film that appears to have been unfairly maligned, perhaps due to the malingering taste left from The Village and critics writing Mr. Shyamalan off as the “One Twist Wonder.” I certainly had fallen into the latter camp, but coming into this movie despite the negative press, I can say that I found a space in which to enjoy this film.

This Story's Got Legs

This Story’s Got Legs

Basically set-up as a bedtime story from the opening narration and animation, Shyamalan is telling us to set aside serious critical thought and forgive leaps in logic and suspend our disbelief for a fantasy film. It is a shrewd maneuver even if a bit arrogant in its attempt to be critic-proof.

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G.I. Joe — Wave 12: Python Crimson Guard —  Python Patrol Elite Trooper

November 23, 2008

Python Crimson Guard 1) PYTHON CRIMSON GUARD — Python Patrol Elite Trooper

  • Body/Weapons — Crimson Guard (w5)

This figure is just a repaint of the Wave 5 Crimson Guard, though it makes little sense to continue to call him “Crimson” when he is predominantly yellow and grey.

So while we await the release of more Python Patrol members (Python Copperhead is on the way), this figure on its own, while still an excellent mold, is somewhat ho-hum. But Wave 12 was never meant to blow us away with anything new and was only meant to be repaints and repacks like Waves 4 and 8.

Figure: ***
Excitement Factor: *1/2 

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G.I. Joe — Wave 12: Tripwire — Mine Detector

November 23, 2008

Tripwire 1) TRIPWIRE — Mine Detector

  • Head — Lt. Slip Stream (Target Exc. Conquest X-30)
  • Upper Body/Thighs — Sgt. Flash (w5)
  • Shins/Boots — New
  • Weapons/Accessories — New

Tripwire makes his single-carded appearance in Wave 12; he initially was included in the Comic 2-Pack (w5) with Cobra Commander. Unlike a straight repack, Tripwire has been packaged with a MASS element cannister. It is yellow to represent the meteorite element.

This character does a fairly good job of recapturing the likeness of the classic version, though I would have preferred the smooth padding as it was adapted for the H.I.S.S. Driver and AVAC Pilot since that would have been more accurate to the classic figure. But a mere collector’s quibble means nothing as the overall figure is excellent.

 The MASS cannister my figure came with has a removable glass casing, though I’m not sure if this is meant to occur or if it is faulty manufacturing. Therefore I wouldn’t suggest trying to twist off the cannister’s casing. The inclusion of this accessory means that you can complete your MASS device, along with the cannisters that come with the Cobra Diver (w12) and Cobra Commander (w8, w12).

***

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Belgian Upstart Solves Murder: Death on the Nile

November 23, 2008

DEATH ON THE NILE (1978)
d. John Guillermin

A very amusing mystery from Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile features Herecule Poirot, the Belgian detective, and a cast of characters all revolving around a rich woman, Lynnette (Lois Chiles), her sister Jacqueline (Mia Farrow), and Simon, who is stolen from Jacqueline to become Lynnette’s husband.

The action takes place mainly on a steamer as it chugs its way down the NIle, and in classic Christie fashion, we are introduced to a bevy of characters who all have a reason for hating Lynnette, and when she turns up dead, all have a motive for killing her. It’s up to Herecule Poirot, ably assisted by David Niven’s character, to solve the crime before more killings take place.

When I was younger and first saw this film, I confess to not being impressed by it; seeing it now, I cannot help but be dazzled by the assemblage of star power. It seems as if there were a lot of movies done back in the 70s that had all-star casts (The Towering Inferno, the Airport series, et al), and here we get a great collection: Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Jane Birkin, George Kennedy, Olivia Hussey, Jon Finch. Each character has their peculiarity (Bette Davis covets pearls, Angela Lansbury is an over-sexed Romance author, Jon Finch is a Communist) and all get a chance to shine.

And while it’s fairly easy to figure whodunnit, most of the pleasure is seeing how theydunnit when Poirot gathers everyone together to reconstruct the crime. I was surprised at the high body-count and took pleasure in seeing all these actors share scenes, though George Kennedy all but disappears toward the end.

The music is very grand, like the Nile, and once I found out that Nino Rota was responsible, it made sense.

So overall a very effective mystery — even if the solution is transparent early on — that is made interesting by the excellent cast and the memorable humane and humourous performance by Peter Ustinov.

*** stars.

I meant to see Albert Finney in Murder on the Orient Express, but the disc I received was cracked. So while I await a replacement, I should have Lady in the Water next.

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Something Is Happening And You Don’t Know What It Is… : M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening

November 20, 2008

THE HAPPENING (2008)
d. M. Night Shyamalan

Not the turkey I was led to expect by all the negative reviews, The Happening is a slow-burning, moody eco-thriller with many memorable and visceral scenes and some decent performances all around.

One of Many Memorable Images

One of Many Memorable Images

The movie tells the story of an unexplained rash of suicides in the North Eastern region of the U.S., and as the survivors, including an elementary science teacher (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife (Zooey Deschanel), make their way out of the infected zone, the possibility of the deaths being the result of a terrorist action become less and less likely.

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When There’s No Room Left In Hell, The Dead Will Walk The Earth… To Vote! — Masters of Horror: Homecoming

November 17, 2008

MASTERS OF HORROR: HOMECOMING (2005)
d. Joe Dante 

Not as bad as most of the episodes of this Showtime series, Homecoming manages to get a few good laughs with its broad satirical swipe at the Bush administration and its failing War on Terror.

Set on the eve of the 2004 Presidential Election, David Murch, a republican spin doctor inadvertently pulls a page out of the Liar, Liar book and makes a wish that goes horribly wrong. He wishes that the soldiers stationed abroad could come home, and come home they do despite having been killed in battle. And in a great twist on the zombie genre, instead of coming home to feast on brains, the undead have returned to vote against the reigning administration.

Joe Dante, known for The Howling and his segment from Twilight Zone: The Movie does a good job of keeping the satire broad and brisk, even staging scenes like horror films from the 50s to pay homage to its b-movie roots. The script is a little flat-footed with a lot of narration filling in for ellipses in time and feeding us explanations of what’s happening, but it offers some good scenes (between Murch and his mom at the cemetary) and some schmaltzy ones that are actually touching if corny (the undead soldier being sheltered in the cafe by the kindly couple).

And look for the names of movie directors of the undead in Arlington Cemetery when zombies erupt from their graves. Nice touch!

At an hour, it works fine, even if the gag is given away early in the game and there are few surprises at the end.

**1/2