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June 30, 2010

Crushed Entry

I have recently had or observed a few conversations with friends about an old, mostly harmless topic: crushes on people in the world of entertainment. This of course is about as flimsy and trifling a topic as I talk about here. This has little to do with real romance or even sex (at least for most of us!) but perhaps it tells us something about ourselves. Maybe. Let's face it, this is fantasy land and sure, I could be prognosticating about politics or the future of technology (I have the word "technology" in my job title, so I must be an expert on it, no?) but sometimes you just want to swim in the shallow end of the pool. I would love to hear from any of you about this topic, but I thought I should go first. So, in a desperate ploy to generate comments, I present my list of those in the entertainment universe who I, shall we say, dig. Dig?

Helen Hunt. Helen is one of my earliest actress crushes; she and I go way back, so to speak. I remember noticing her cuteness back in the 1980s on the TV show St. Elsewhere where she played a minor love interest of...hmm, I don't seem to remember the other character, but she apparently stood out. She has done some good and bad movies, plus her long sitcom run on Mad About You in the 1990s. I'll always have a soft spot for Helen, even in the not-so-good movies.

Meg Ryan. After seeing When Harry Met Sally back in 1989, I really thought Meg was simply the hottest thing on the screen. I am positive that I was far from alone in my appreciation for Ms. Ryan's blend of sweet naivete and pure hotness. Although my old crush on her has faded over the years, I still emit a slight sigh whenever I see that movie today.

Inara George. Inara is the vocal half of the pop music duo The Bird and the Bee. My crush here is entirely on this woman's voice, which I just can't get enough of. To borrow the expression: I could listen to Inara sing the phone book (if I had one)!

Mary-Louise Parker. I first began to appreciate Parker during her stint on The West Wing Parker's delivery of Sorkin's smart, lightning-fast dialogue with her vivacious presence was irresistible. Parker has done some other interesting character roles, often non-leading parts in movies. No matter where I see her, she's damned sexy. I am currently getting a kick out of watching her play the pot-dealing (smokin'!) suburban mom in the cable show Weeds

So how about it? Does anyone want to share? If so, leave it in the comments someplace.

June 29, 2010

"You step on the bug and the f*cking internet is never invented."

I had this past weekend to myself at home. On such an occasion, I have been known to cram in movies I've been meaning to catch up on. For whatever reason, I had other things to keep me occupied and only watched a single movie at my one of my friends' place. We watched The Mummy (1999), a movie I'd somehow managed to avoid all this time.. This popcorn movie is hardly going to dethrone the Indy movies anytime soon, but it was a lot of fun, had some pretty good dialogue, and managed to not take itself too seriously. Brendan Fraser is very good at these kinds of lightweight action leads and carries the show easily. Sure, the villain is fairly cardboard cutout-like, but we don't really need much more than this anyhow. A fun diversion that I should have gotten to before. I can be a terrible snob when it comes to movies, but I can always appreciate this kind of entertainment when it sticks to its popcorn strengths and doesn't overstay its welcome. Job done.

So on with this week's list of new releases.

Beautiful (2009) Also on BD.

Crazies (2009) Also on BD.

Don McKay (2009) Also on BD.

The Eclipse (2009) Also on BD.

Everlasting Moments (2008) Also on BD.

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) Also on BD. Ah, nothing like a nostalgia movie from the year of my HS graduation: 1987. Ouch!

Mad About You: Season 4

Night Train to Munich (1940, Criterion)

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) Another Chris Columbus "classic."

Stolen (2009) Also on BD.

The Warlords (2007) Also on BD.

The White Ribbon (2009) Also on BD.

June 21, 2010

"I got into this business so I wouldn't have to work."

What's the world coming to? I'm actually on the early side with the DVD stuff this week. Don't get too attached to it!

I haven't gotten through any movies since the last update; blame the damn video games. I do, however want to catch Toy Story 3. I'll probably see it in crusty old 2D. I've read that the Pixar short at the beginning actually makes better use of 3D than the feature does. In any case, I'm sure it'll be good, another notch in Pixar's post. They have this amazing streak of good movies. Even the lesser ones are far from stinkers and their total ownership by DIsney hasn't seemed to change this. Good stuff.

All right, on with this week's list of new titles:

Close-Up (1990) Also on BD.

Death Race 2000 (1975) Ah, Roger Corman makes it to BD!

Entourage: Season 6 Also on BD.

Green Zone (2009) Also on BD.

The Last Station (2009) Also on BD.

Red Desert (1964) Also on BD.

Remember Me (2010) Also on BD.

Riverworld (2010) Also on BD. The slightly drier sequel to Waterworld...nah, but wouldn't that be fun?

She's Out of My League (2009) Also on BD. This could have been my motto when I was in high school! (yes, I'm leaving myself open for many a joke, thank you)

A Star is Born (1954) The Garland/Mason classic gets a new film transfer on BD with apparently excellent results.

TOS Rewind #42: "The Gamesters of Triskelion"

Up today: The Gamesters of Triskelion (01/05/1968)

Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast; listen to or download it here. We tried a different method of recording our tracks this time. I've had to record our Skype sound on my end only. This did work, but it isn't the best audio quality, depending on how all our 'net connections were faring that evening. This turned out a little better, but if you listen you'll be able to tell that we or I have some more work to do.

Eric got the jump on me this time, so here's his review:

I just noticed that "The Gamesters of Triskelion" was the first Star Trek episode aired in 1968. Knowing that this was, to say the least, an eventful year, my curiosity was piqued to find out just what happened. I was actually surprised--here are some of the highlights:

· The Vietnam War escalated with the Battle of Khe Sanh, the Tet Offensive, and the Mai Lai massacre.

· Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

· 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered.

· The Beatles created Apple Records and released their self-titled album commonly known as the White Album.

· France detonated its first hydrogen bomb.

· Nixon was elected president.

· Elvis Presley made his concert return with the '68 Comeback Special.

· The Zodiac Killer began his murder spree in San Francisco.

· Apollo 8 entered orbit around the Moon allowing astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders to be the first humans to see not only the far side of the Moon but also the planet Earth as a whole.

I note this to give a sense of the times Star Trek commented on and reflected. Also, the success of movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the public fascination with the space program set the stage for science fiction on TV.

And while Star Trek is arguably the pioneer of serious television SF, "The Gamesters of Triskelion" is perhaps not the best example of classic Trek. It's not a bad episode, but its message is rather muddled and diluted, and I find the laughable production values to be more of a distraction than usual.

Despite these complaints, I did find an interesting theme. Obviously, there's Kirk's passionate defense of freedom and the human spirit (echoes from episodes like "The Menagerie" and "Metamorphosis), but beyond that, I saw this episode as an indictment of professional sports, particularly boxing. Admittedly, professional boxers aren't slaves...exactly. They are not the property of their "managers" and "promoters," and those at the pinnacle of the sport enjoy considerable wealth and prestige. But the rest (those who aren't at the very top) have to perform adequately, or they find themselves discarded and on the street. And even if they continue to please their handlers, boxers are generally washed up once they hit their early to mid-thirties. This is where the parallel to "The Gamesters of Triskelion" comes in. A central plot point is that the thralls are not educated--they're kept in a perpetual state of ignorance and dependence in order to provide entertainment for the providers. And when they can no longer compete, they're discarded. This insidious cycle isn't broken until the providers lose their wager with Kirk and have to free and educate the thralls.

So, there is a message to be found here (even if it's obscured). I would state it this way: Those who derive wealth and entertainment from the athletic abilities of others are little better than parasites, and they owe the people they feed on the means and opportunity to be self-supporting and self-determining.


Pity the Tool.

I went into this episode fully expecting to laugh at the cheesy costumes, gummy brained aliens, and a douchebag named Lars. In this respect, the episode did not disappoint. Lars was still a douchebag, the "Providers" still looked like rubbery brains in a large jar, and the costumes were...ahem!

One of the problems with this episode, even discounting the above, is that I feel like it covers familiar ground in the ideas department--I have a feeling I'll be repeating this statement before we're done with the series. The plot setup, which includes the Providers, aka highly evolved aliens who are now very powerful glowing brains in a glass case, abducting the landing party for use in a pseudo-gladiatorial slave colony. It is a rather obvious setup for a rousing speech about freedom and the evils of slavery. Not to mention the moral superiority of America/The Federation; and the combat is an excuse for Shatner to run around without a shirt, looking as Rob pointed out, rather paunchy. Kirk's talk about the free spirit of humanity is also a convenient way for him to talk his way into Shahna's (Kirk's "drill thrall") shorts. Shahna actually utters the line, "I will train you well." I'll bet you will! Like other episodes, Kirk uses his charms to take advantage of his current love interest. Shahna naturally almost kills him later in the episode and I do like the fact that she actually beats him. It makes up a bit for her being such a sucker.

One of the things that surprised me this time around was the scene where Lars goes into Uhura's cell looking for some slave on slave action. It could easily be read as an off-camera attempted (?) rape scene. It's pretty clear that Uhura fights him off, but the scene is actually intense and plays a bit edgy for 1968 television. Plus it comes at a commercial break where there's a natural tension, so this seemed like a bigger deal than I used to give it credit for. I just have to ask, what is the deal with Lars, anyway? He just has a lousy costume, not even some funky face makeup. The writers didn't even give 'ol Lars an alien sounding name, unless Lars was sufficiently foreign for 1968 audiences. I have to believe that Lars has pre-determined douchebaginess (is that even a word?) and that the character has no real choice in the matter. Lars is just a tool. I almost pity the guy...almost. I think we missed an opportunity to dissect this character on the podcast. Who knows, maybe there's some fascinating insight buried within this character that could even open up something really compelling about this episode. Or maybe not; just seeing if anyone's paying attention.

Meanwhile, Spock and the rest have to figure out where the hell Kirk and the other have gone. My main problem with this "B" story is that it seems to run out of steam before the plot requires them to show up. There are some good traded barbs of the usual sort between Spock and McCoy, but it plays like it could have used a bit of trimming.

The hand-to-hand combat, which is the main action, other than Kirk's little jaunt in the ruins with Shahna, that is. I appreciate the interesting camera angles and the three segment design of the floor and the choreographed combat isn't too bad, by Trek standards. The whole fighting set reminded me a little of the gladiator school sets from Spartacus. Of course the final fight where Kirk has to fight three other thralls is easy to ridicule; they often seem to be taking turns attacking him! Lars is satisfyingly offed by Kirk, so that's something at least.

In the end, Kirk turns the tables on the gummy brain aliens and they have to "challenge" themselves to turn their little slave colony into an actual society. We were asking ourselves, "what's a quatloo?" I think it's the cool new name for an advanced porta-potty: the Quat-Loo! Eric covered the episode's possible indictment of spectator sports as a society-crushing exploitve endeavor. I think boxing is perhaps the closest analog we have to what's portrayed here. And hey, if the sports comments don't get us some feedback, what will?!

I'm not sure the production values are really that far below what we've seen in past episodes. I think Eric was beginning to recognize the reuse of old sets and props from previous episodes and combined with the neon-colored rubber brains, was perhaps too much. I could also be accused of being to easy on old Trek. As I pointed out on the podcast, we will probably look back at this "so-so" episode with fond memories when we get deep into the third season!

I have a dim memory about watching this one while I was growing up and thought it was fairly OK. The action helps, plus there's nothing like watching Shatner writhe around on the floor under the pain of those collars. Sure, there aren't any space battles, but some hand-to-hand combat, complete with odd weapons, still does the job when you're 12.

The BD version of this episode looked great. Galt, the head thrall, had a poor man's Dracula costume and the HD image made his makeup look like it was a powder coat. The new effects were limited to a couple of planets, so nothing big here. I continue to be impressed at the overall quality of these BDs. They actually look better, in some ways, than the BDs of the Trek movies. There's something wrong about that; but that's another blog entry.

Next time: "A Piece of the Action"

June 15, 2010

"A flute without holes, is not a flute. A donut without a hole, is a Danish."

Here we are, another week with a late entry. Heh, at least I have an excuse this time as we were on a short vacation to the Lake Superior North shore. Okay, I wrote that last week and now it's become quite ridiculous, hasn't it?

While we were up at our nice Lake Superior abode, we had some evening/raining outside time to watch some DVDs.

Holiday (1938) A Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn comedy we hadn't seen in a long while. A very funny soaking of the 1930s rich, complete with quirky supporting characters (Edward Everett Horton is even better than usual) and amusingly sharp dialogue. The Grant character strains credibility a wee bit: I'm not sure I buy his young dreamer/ruthless wizard of finance combo, but it doesn't matter a whole lot. We know pretty quickly how this one's going to turn out, but in a film like this, getting there is the whole point. And hey, not every movie can be The Philadelphia Story.

Shrek (2001) Despite some dated elements here and there, this CG animated Disney spoof still amuses me. Mike Meyers is of course going with the full-on "if it's not Scottish, it's Crrrap!" mode, but it works fine on an animated ogre. Of course the jokes at the Disney empire are hilarious and the story is actually kind of sweet. Confession: I unwittingly watched the full frame version of this stretched on the widescreen TV we had. Ouch! I just happened to grab the wrong disc from the case and it's one of those older DVDs where they put both copies in. I blame it on exhaustion...yeah, that's it!

Dave (1993) Speaking of dated movies... I actually have a soft spot for this 1990s updating of the Frank Capra political everyman film. The movie has just enough sharp edges to keep it grounded in the late 20th century with Kevin Kline's performance making the whole thing work. The film is a hybrid of the George HW Bush and Clinton presidencies complete with appropriate references to a philandering prez. The film, in my mind is often stuck under the long shadow of Aaron Sorkin's West Wing (and The American President, which is kind of like "West Wing: The Movie") but that isn't entirely fair. The style is different enough for Dave to stand on its own as a more "old Hollywood" political fantasy, as opposed to Sorkin's brand of sharp-witted mile-a-minute dialogue political fantasy. Each are fun to watch and equally improbable. This DVD is an older one with a dated-looking film transfer. It'd be nice to see a new HD version since I'm sure the film looks great on the celluloid.

Here's the list of the stuff that came out last week:

180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless (2010) Also on BD.

Animation Express (2009) Also on BD.

Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories Collection Thaaaaanks for the memories, 100 Years of Funny (isn't there a line in that song about someone's steely dan?)! Oops, inside joke, moving on...

Caddyshack (1980) New to BD.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 7

From Paris With Love (2009) Also on BD.

Not the Messiah (2009) Also on BD. Did anyone see this?

Shutter Island (2010) Also on BD.

And here's the list for this week:

The Book of Eli (2010) Also on BD.

Circle of Pain (2010) Also on BD.

Control Alt Delete (2010) Check out the Netflix synopsis: "Jilted by his girlfriend, programmer Lewis Henderson (Tyler Labine) decides to take a different approach to love -- but after Internet porn stops thrilling him, he focuses his ardor on the computers in this deviant romantic comedy. With his boss determined to find out who's been violating the office equipment, Lewis tries to evade suspicion by dating mousy receptionist Jane Fredrickson (Sonja Bennett) ... who turns out to be a bit kinky herself." after Internet porn stops thrilling him.....bwhahahahahahaha! Sorry, spit out my coffee in abject horror there.

Darkman (1990) I'm sure glad they're concentrating on bringing the classics of the cinema to HD these days. Sure, we don't have Lawrence of Arabia, but we do have this. "I am everywhere and nowhere."

Family Guy: Volume 8

Flash Gordon (1980) New to BD this week. "What do you mean, 'Flash Gorrrrdon aproaching?'" "Dispatch war rocket 'Ajax' to bring back his body." Tee hee. DVD Savant has an interesting review here

Leave it to Beaver: Season 3 Sit around the house...

Mystery Train (1989) Also on BD from Criterion.

Showgirls 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition Man, Blu-Ray is getting the royal treatment this week! I was trying to think of a particular line from an old review of this movie...oh yeah, "No matter how curious you may be, it's not worth it."

Unthinkable (2010) Also on BD.

When in Rome (2010) Also on BD.

Youth in Revolt (2009) Also on BD.

June 1, 2010

"I don't have time for a grudge match with every poser in a parka! "

I'm trying to cram a lot of stuff in this week as I was apparently unable to get anything written last week. The cries of outrage were deafening.

Okay, so I managed to get a couple of movies in this past week.

An Education (2009) IMO, this movie was certainly worthy of all the critical praise that was heaped upon it. I didn't see The Blind Side, but I have to think that Carey Mulligan was at least as deserving of the Oscar as any of the nominees. The whole cast is excellent and the film manages to address the social issues of the time in a complex, non-simplistic fashion. Check this one out.

Watchmen (2009) This really is a "now for something completely different" thing. I am of course a sucker for sci-fi and this movie looked interesting enough for a rent. This movie has plenty of science fiction elements as it is an alternate history scenario and even has a character who can zap himself between here and Mars whenever he wants.

There is some really interesting material in this movie that keeps things interesting for me. The alternate history and 1980s setting has tons of references and visual gags that reward close examination. Several of the characters are complex, troubled personalities who are about as far removed as can be from traditional super heroes. Hell, the idea of a comic book super hero becoming a black ops agent for Nixon by itself keeps the character arcs interesting. I found the non-linear aspects of the story very compelling. I'm not necessarily a fan of this technique as it's often just used as a gimmick, but here it works to better weave the backstory into the plot. Plus, it seems more "natural" in a movie that features a character (Dr. Manhattan) who, shall we say has "issues" with time/space.

The things I didn't like:

It was too long. I did watch the longer "director's cut" (the one Netflix sent me), so maybe I'd have preferred the 3 hour instead of the 3.5 hour.

The violence in this movie is pretty obnoxious. The DVD Savant reviewer referred to it as "gore porn." It's also done in a stylized video game-like way that was distracting. Portrayals of violence in movies can be very effective depending on how it's done and even appropriate. This stuff either reminded me of a FPS game or an updated fight sequence from The Matrix. Yes, can we please have a break from the CG trick of stopping bullets/fists/bombs/arms/legs/noses, etc in mid-flight prior to impact? It was old 10 years ago. Oh hey, I hear they can recreate dinosaurs with CGI now; sweet! I'm sure the filmmakers (hmm, how much actual film was used in this movie? Should we now call them, "Filemakers?" sorry...) were trying to capture the look of the action in the original graphic novel, but it didn't work for me. And while I'm at it, if I hear the song "Hallelujah" in another movie or TV episode, I'm going to vomit. Crap, I really sound like an old fart now, don't I? Please feel free to give me grief about this stuff!

I found the storyline surrounding the Rorschach character interesting, but his diary voice overs got old pretty fast. It came off sounding like the director had seen Taxi Driver a few too many times. The actor sounded like Batman with a sore throat. The narration was also unnecessary, like the voice overs in Blade Runner.

I've been told that the original graphic novel is quite good and that I should read it. Maybe I'll overcome my indifference to comic books/graphic novels (yes, a geek who isn't into comics) and give this one a read.

In the end, I can't say I'm sorry I watched this movie. There are many compelling elements in the film and the cast is very good. However, the whole thing is very dark and dreary. The world the story takes place in is kind of like our world, just a lot suckier. That makes it hard for me to whip up much interest in watching it again, but who knows.

The BD, as expected, looked great.

In case anyone noticed, I didn't get the blog out last week. Click here for last week's list.

Dear John (2009) Also on BD. Strangely, I have no snarky comments about this one...

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008) New to...BD? I had no idea there was demand for this Internet-distributed show on HD disc. Hmm, OK?

The Road (2009) Also on BD. Speaking of dreary movies...the "feel good movie of the year," no doubt.

Stagecoach (1939) Criterion issues a new copy of the classic on DVD and BD. 1939 was quite the year for movies.

True Blood: Season 2 Also on BD.

And onto this week's new stuff:

Alice in Wonderland (2010) Also on BD. The 3D version will apparently show up later for everyone to re-purchase.

Burn Notice: Season 3

Life (2009, BBC series) They're selling this one in two different sets: one with the BBC/Attenborough version and the other with the Discovery Channel/Oprah version. Would it have killed them to put both on one set? At least they're making the UK one available here. Also on BD (this is, after all, an HD spectacular).

Mister Ed: Season 3

The Red Baron (2008) Also on BD.

The Wolfman (2010) Also on BD.