September 30, 2013

THE LOST BOYS: Rockin’ the Mullet and the Cruelty of Time (Part 3)

Starring Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Jami Gertz, Corey Feldman, Dianne Wiest, Edward Herrman, Barnard Hughes. Directed by Joel Schumacher. (1987, 93 min).

The mullet…the most maligned hairstyle in human history. Entire websites are dedicated to its ridicule, and unless it’s atop the head of an NHL hockey player, we tend to chuckle at anybody still sporting one in the 21st Century. Along with the Sly Stone afro (I had a friend in school who had one so huge he resembled a giant microphone), no other hairstyle so acutely represents the decade from which it sprang. But even today, a guy can get away with a big-ass ‘fro and be considered retro-hip. However, when we see a dude rockin’-the-mullet in the check-out line at Safeway, we automatically assume nobody told him the 80s ended decades ago. I don’t know if this is because it’s a silly haircut or it was just a silly decade. After all, this was the decade that gave us parachute pants, Members Only jackets, headbands, shoulder pads, skinny ties, Union Jack T-shirts and leg warmers, fads which all died the second the ball dropped in Times Square on January 1, 1990 and never came back.

I guess the big difference is once these fads died, you couldn’t get a Member’s Only jacket unless you ventured to Goodwill, but anyone could still “party in the back” if they chose to. And some folks did. Billy Ray Cyrus kept the torch burning for a few years. Actually, so did a lot of country artists and NASCAR drivers, which may be the reason the mullet is now associated with white trash, cheap beer, trailer parks and engine blocks sitting on front lawns. By the time Kid Rock made a career out of cultivating the same image, he intended it ironically.

But for a gloriously-brief time, the mullet was the hairstyle. Everyone from Olivia Newton-John to Michael Jackson to Bonnie Tyler to Rick James to every member of Duran Duran rocked bitchin’ mullets. In Hollywood, the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell sported classic mullets in a few of their most iconic films. Mullets were everywhere back then, but never more collectively prevalent than in The Lost Boys. There are more mullets on display here than the entire audience of a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.

One of the few times Kiefer Sutherland
has ever looked amused.
The Lost Boys is a comedic vampire tale with villains a thousand-times cooler than the heroes, all sporting totally-rockin’ variations of the classic mullet. Even Kiefer Sutherland, never renowned for his flowing locks, made us want to be a creature of the night as long we could look and dress like that. But it wasn’t just the myriad mullets which had us captivated. These guys dressed cool too…boots, spandex, trench coats. Yours-truly was hugely influenced by The Lost Boys, cultivating quite an impressive mullet back in the day as well, along with the aforementioned trench coat.

Unfortunately, I was also one of the last to be aware of how stupid the hairstyle looked once the 80s ended. It wasn’t until one of my smart-ass students suggested I visit RateMyMullet.com that I decided to grow all of my hair out, not just the back. Yeah, I could’ve cut it all off, but I never liked how I looked with short hair, so that wasn’t an option. I’d rather look like an aging hippie than a refugee from the 80s.

Despite how hip it was when released, The Lost Boys has aged worse than similar products of its time (like Top Gun & Flashdance), mostly because of the hair. Think about this…if you were to spot some guy today sporting the same hair as John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever, other than thinking he might be due for an oil change, would you really give him a second glance? And if you spotted a gaggle of guys at the mall dressed just like the vampires in The Lost Boys, only without mullets, wouldn’t you figure they’re simply a bunch of emos on their way to Hot Topic? But throw a mullet on those same dudes and we’d assume they just crawled out of a time-traveling Delorean.

Mullets are so hilariously out of place in this day and age that people still sporting them stand out like your grandpa wearing a Speedo at the beach. We enjoy a chuckle at their expense because it’s a hairstyle so-tied to 80s culture that the chances of it ever returning as a fashion choice are minimal. In some ways, that’s kind of sad, because The Lost Boys is actually a pretty great movie…it’s well-acted, funny, kid-friendly and occasionally scary  Sure, there are other goofy things which date it as well, like the pop music soundtrack, the obligatory music montage and the gloriously-blatant homoeroticism of a well-oiled & shirtless sax player rocking out while the crowd cheers him on (speaking of gay, why the hell does Corey Haim have a poster of a smoldering Rob Lowe on his wall?). But overall, it’s a much-better mallrat vampire movie than the Twilight series…

…if we could only get past those goofy mullets.

September 28, 2013

Disc Review: THIS IS THE END (DVD)

Starring Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson. Directed by Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg. (2013, 106 min).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

I’ve never been much of a Seth Rogan fan. He’s seldom very funny, and as far as his acting skills are concerned, nor matter the character, I’ve always had the impression that Seth Rogan only knows how to be Seth Rogan. Since he also writes much of his own material, maybe it was inevitable he’d finally cast himself as himself. But early in This is the End, when he’s accosted by a reporter who grills him about playing the same character in every film, I knew this was going to be a different kind of comedy.

A large cast of well-knowns play themselves as well, attending a boisterous L.A. party at James Franco‘s house when the biblical apocalypse, as foretold in the Book of Revelations, occurs. The righteous rise to heaven, leaving the wicked (and everyone at the party) to face Hell on Earth. There are tremendous earthquakes, fires raining from the sky and hideous demons eating anyone who happens to be out in the open. Most of the party guests are sucked into Hell, leaving Franco, Rogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson on their own. They seal-up the house and ration their water & food (including Franco’s precious Milky Way bar!), but their constant bickering, idiocy and backstabbing threaten to undo everything.

This doesn’t sound like the makings of good comedy, and the film doesn’t start off too well. The idea of actors playing themselves comes across as a cynical gimmick (even with all the self-depreciating comments about their real careers), but once the mayhem begins, This is the End really takes off, becoming loud-out-loud funny. This is when we realize these guys aren’t actually playing themselves, but caricatures of themselves. They seem to be having a lot of fun poking fun at their own images, while at the same time, their “characters” are important in relation to the story.

The cast react to Geraldo Rivera's seflie.
Since it is co-written by Rogen, This is the End is often vulgar, crude and loaded with scatological humor (and rated R for good reason). That’s all well and good, but there are occasional scenes like this which go on much longer then necessary (probably because a good chunk of the dialogue appears to be improvised). For example, the running gag of McBride’s compulsion to masturbate wherever he pleases starts off shockingly funny, but eventually becomes so over-the-top that it ceases to shock and has us waiting impatiently for the scene to end.

Still, this movie is a lot of fun, and ironically the most likeable Rogan has ever been in a movie (maybe because he co-directs). I also gotta give props to James Franco, arguably the one cast member who could be remotely considered a serious actor…he’s the one who seems to be having the most fun with his Hollywood image.

This is the End is one of those movies which, because of its references to the here-and-now, may not have a very long shelf life (twenty years on, a lot of the gags skewering its characters’ personas will likely be lost on audiences). But right now, it’s one of the more unique comedies of 2013 and a hell of a lot better than anything Rogan’s name has ever previously been attached to.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by directors Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg; Directing Your Friends featurette; This is the Marketing (numerous featurettes).


FKMG RATING:
1/2
(Out of 5)

September 25, 2013

Lucy's Scary Movie Round-Up, Episode 3-D

My daughter and I were busy during the summer on our traditional Frightful Fridays. Here are Lucy's latest reviews of some fearsome flicks we endured during our late-night Hollywood horrorfests.


PRINCE OF DARKNESS
“That was weird.”

MAMA
“It made me cry. It was rated PG-13 because of ultimate sadness.”

SHARKNADO
“Awesome!!!!”

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
“Cool!”

WORLD WAR Z
“It was really, really, really, really (x9) extreme!”

THE LOST BOYS
“It made me feel awkward.”

PITCH BLACK
“So cool I don’t know what to say.”

DREAMCATCHER
“I couldn’t even sit through it, it was so boring.”

September 20, 2013

An Interview with Robert Downey Jr. & Don Cheadle for IRON MAN 3

Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 3 pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy's hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall, alongside Jon Favreau and Ben Kingsley, Marvel’s Iron Man 3 is directed by Shane Black from a screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black. The movie is based on Marvel’s iconic superhero, Iron Man, who first appeared on the pages of Tales Of Suspense (#39) in 1963 and had his solo comic book debut with The Invincible Iron Man (#1) in May of 1968.

With the 3D Super Set and Blu-ray Combo Pack of Iron Man 3 about to be released, we chat to Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle – who play Iron Man/Tony Stark and James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes in the movie – to discover more about the epic superhero project…

How does Iron Man 3 compare to the first two movies in the superhero franchise?
Don Cheadle: I think Iron Man 3 really pays off on the promise that the first two movies had, and we get to see all of these characters in a much deeper way. We certainly get to see the relationship between Pepper Potts and Tony Stark in a much deeper way. Plus, there are very real things that are happening inside this huge CGI world, which helps to really ground the movie. [The movie’s screenwriters] Shane [Black] and Drew [Pearce] have injected humor, too. These things make the whole experience not just about walking in and watching a bunch of pretend things fly around – but there are real-world things happening. It’s a lot of fun.

We see a lot more of James Rhodes in his superhero suit in Iron Man 3, as well as more examples of his military training. Which scenes did you prefer to work on: the action scenes in the suit or the action scenes without the suit?
Don Cheadle: I prefer being out of the suit. The suit is great and it's great to be able to achieve all the things that we want to achieve with the CGI and the motion capture – but I had the most fun running around with Robert [Downey Jr.] and us just physically going after it.

War Machine becomes Iron Patriot in Iron Man 3. Which of the two suits do you prefer, Don?
Don Cheadle: Well, the Iron Patriot is about three kilos heavier, so I prefer War Machine. But, you know, this iteration of the film really is something that Robert and I talked about after the second movie. He came to me and said, “Now, let’s try and really kick this relationship off, and really try to see who these guys are.” That’s why a lot of fun for me in this movie involved being able to do a lot of action outside of the suit, and getting to work with the stunt team and doing a lot of the cable work. That was just a big thrill for me. It was like I was a big kid being able to play with the best toys.

When it comes to wearing the superhero suits in Iron Man 3, Gwyneth Paltrow has called the guys wimps because they complain a lot about them…
Robert Downey Jr.: I admit we’re wimps. In Iron Man 2, Don’s suit was so hard to even pick up to put on him!

How heavy was it exactly?
Don Cheadle: In the second movie, I’d see Robert putting on just the top of his suit but I’d be putting on the whole suit. He said to me, “Yeah, I told them between [Iron Man] One and Two that they really had to make some changes and make the suit a lot more lightweight.” And I was like, “But wait… Mine weights 7,000 pounds! What are you talking about lightweight?”

Gwyneth Paltrow sounds like a rock star for tackling the heavy suit with such ease in Iron Man 3
Robert Downey Jr.: Gwyneth came in and she was having a ball. Her kids were there and she was in rocking shape, so it was all nice and easy. I think she wore the suit once or twice only. Listen, it’s a cumulative issue.

What’s it like to work alongside Gwyneth Paltrow in an action franchise like this?
Robert Downey Jr.: I’ve tried to be some sort of guiding light [on the set of the Iron Man movies]. Every bit as often, I would go to set and Gwyneth would be like, “Oh my God, what are we doing? What is this scene again? Shouldn't Pepper...” And she always points true north. Jon Favreau [the director of the first two Iron Man movies] said from the first time we cast her, that she's the heart of the movie – and he’s right.

What went through your mind when you heard that Sir Ben Kingsley was going to join the cast as The Mandarin?
Don Cheadle: We felt like he really classed up the joint, so we were glad to have him there. It was a lot of fun.

How would you describe the relationship between James Rhodes and Tony Stark in Iron Man 3?
Don Cheadle: I feel like you see the relationship has strengthened in this movie, and it pays off on the promise that was made at the end of Iron Man 2 in the Japanese garden where these guys really started busting each other's chops. They are friends, but they still really help balance one another.

How would you describe your working relationship with each other?
Robert Downey Jr.: This time, I’d be working with Don and he’d say to me, “You know that thing where you say something funny and I say something and then you answer it and we do that?” I go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He says, “Could we not do that for once?” And I was like, “Oh yeah. Yeah, great idea.” So there was a lot of give and take.

How would you describe your working relationship with Robert, Don?
Don Cheadle: Do you want me to tell you what he paid me to say or say what I feel? No, it was great to come back this time around. [Iron Man 3 director and co-screenplay writer] Shane Black almost coined and really put a stamp on buddy/action movies – and I was clearly in the pocket with Robert. It was great to see the whole movie put together in the end because we were all on such different tracks. I didn’t know what Gwyneth was doing for half of the movie, so it was great to see it all put together and say, “Oh, that’s what you guys were doing over there.” 

Exactly how often did you see the rest of the cast?
Don Cheadle: I saw Sir Ben Kingsley twice on set, which is why it would be great for me to have another bite of the apple [in another Marvel movie] and to be able to mix with these guys a little bit more. But all in all, we had a ball. And Robert is a prince, as everyone knows.


**IRON MAN 3 IS RELEASED ON BLU-RAY, BLU-RAY 3D AND DVD BY WALT DISNEY STUDIOS HOME ENTERTAINMENT ON SEPTEMBER 24**

September 19, 2013

UNITED 93 and the Cruelty of Time (Part 2)

Starring Khalid Abdalla, Christian Clemenson, Cheyenne Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Sarmedal-Samarrai, David Alan Basche. Directed by Paul Greengrass. (2006, 111min).

Like most folks, I remember exactly what I was doing when the Twin Towers went down…

I was getting ready for work, fresh-out of the shower with coffee in-hand when I flicked on the TV to get a look at the weather for the day. I’m a middle school teacher, and the building where I work is an ancient ruin without air conditioning. Since my room in particular is subjected to the sun’s wrath all day (tar roof, windows facing south), the morning forecast determines whether I throw on a jacket and tie, or go with shorts & a T-shirt.

But the usual morning forecast wasn’t forthcoming on September 11, 2001, no matter which channel I switched to, because one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center was burning. The caption at the bottom of the screen said a commercial airliner struck the building. It looked like something out of a disaster movie, only with better special effects. Though my wife’s job allowed her to hit the snooze bar several more times, I had to wake her up for this.

Francie got up and came into the living room. Being that the Twin Towers were an iconic symbol of the Big Apple, this was a big deal and truly tragic. We sat in awe in the living room several minutes, briefly stunned by this horrible accident, before time forced us to resume our morning routine.

Most of us have seen cataclysmic disasters unfold on TV…the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, Hurricanes Sandy & Katrina, the tsunami in southern Asia. Tragedies-all, but we were able to at-least wrap our brains around them because nature likes to throw us the occasional catastrophic curveball.

I was on my way to work when another plane hit the second tower (news which interrupted every radio station). In that split second, our lives changed, just like it did for those who remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK. Without being told, we knew this wasn’t a simple disaster…it was an attack, a game-changer when we were rudely-awakened to how vulnerable we really are.

Shortly after I arrived at work, the first tower collapsed. The day became more horrific when the second tower fell, along with news that a plane also struck the Pentagon, and yet-another jet crashed in Pennsylvania on-route to the U.S. Capitol (a detail we learned later). But for most of the day, all attention was on the Twin Towers because it was caught live on TV and shown over…and over…and over…on every channel, including MTV & ESPN. Short of shutting off the TV, we couldn’t escape it.

Sporting events were postponed, and all flights were grounded during the most surreal week of my adult life. You know some heavy shit just went down when the NFL cancels games, and we’re all so used to sky traffic that we don’t even notice it until it’s completely gone. The tragedy dominated the media, with most of the focus on New York (we learned relatively little about the other two crashes, particularly Flight 93, the one which didn't reach its target).

Emotions running through every adult American that day can’t possibly be conveyed in mere words, because we had never experienced anything like this. We were fucking frazzled and didn't know how to act. At school, the day after the attack, I overheard one of my more ignorant students comment how cool it was seeing people leap to their deaths from the top floors of the World Trade Center rather than burn alive. I berated him like no other student before or since, kicking him out of class, blurting out a few expletives and calling his parents to inform them of their kid’s heartless remark. Looking back, I regret the way I handled it. I was simply overcome with such reactionary emotion that I briefly forgot he was just an immature kid incapable of understanding the enormity of what happened.

Stories of ultimate heroism emerged in ensuing weeks…the firefighters & cops in New York, civilians giving their lives to save others. Hell, even George “Chucklenuts” Bush managed to come across as heroic with his promise of swift retaliation.

Then there were the passengers of Flight 93...

Think about it...these folks already heard about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, so they knew they were going to die. With nothing to lose, they fought back against their hijackers. The plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like on that plane…knowing you’re going to die, but committing the ultimate act of heroism anyway. That fatal realization is something I simply can’t wrap my head around. I’d like to think I’d have been one of those heroes, but I’d more-likely have remained paralyzed in my seat in piss-soaked pants.

Fortunately or unfortunately, United 93 shows us exactly what it was like being on that plane. It depicts events in real-time, from take-off until the tragic end. There are no main characters and much of the dialogue was originally improvised. And because we know the ultimate outcome, we’re uncomfortable from the get-go, a feeling which only grows worse. Though the film never falls into sloppy sentimentality (like Oliver Stone’s overwrought World Trade Center), the last 15 minutes are the most devastating and heart-breaking of any movie I ever sat through…and we don’t even learn most of the characters' names.

I dunno, maybe it’s me. Maybe it affected me so much because United 93 is a historical account of the worst day in American history that occurred only five years earlier. After all, the movie itself isn’t exactly a work of art (only a few steps-removed from found-footage), and one criticism of the film was that it was too soon to relive such a tragedy. For some people, it will always be too soon. To this day, my wife refuses to watch or read anything, no matter are artfully or tastefully presented, having to do with 9/11. While I understand and respect that, what concerns me is time tends to erode our memories more effectively than water cutting through the Grand Canyon.

Each year when September 11 rolls around, I ask my students why this date is significant. During the years immediately following 2001, all hands shot-up because they remembered that day themselves. But as the years clicked away, fewer hands would raise. Today, 2001 is the year most of my students were actually born. Sure, most had heard about 9/11, and some could tell me why this day is historically important. But most weren’t aware over 3000 Americans died that morning, and almost none of them knew anything about the doomed heroes of Flight 93. If I had it my way, I'd show this film every year in every class, even though I don't teach History. When my more egocentric middle-schoolers feel tempted to bitch about how unfairly life is treating them, they can look at these folks, who did not get to choose their fates.

United 93 is arguably the most harrowing depiction of American sacrifice ever presented in a movie (the fact it wasn’t even nominated for a Best Picture Oscar is a blight on the Academy). But there’s now a new generation too young to remember it first-hand. Even if I was allowed to show it to students each year, United 93 will never have the same emotional impact on them as those who so-vividly remember that day.

September 14, 2013

Disc Review: DA VINCI’S DEMONS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Blu-Ray)

Starring Tom Riley, Laura Haddock, Blake Ritson, Elliot Cowan, Laura Pulver, Gregg Chillin, Hera Hilmar, James Faulkner, David Schofield. Various directors (2013, 466 min)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Anyone expecting a history lesson should look elsewhere. Da Vinci’s Demons is not a biographical account of the artist’s life, and about as historically accurate as a Xena episode. It is, however, cut from the same cloth as Starz’ Spartacus (and airs on the same channel), meaning the focus is on fantasy, action, violence, full frontal nudity and sex…lots of sex. Regarding the latter-two details, I came to a few conclusions while watching the eight episodes of the first season:

  • Villains have no problem walking around with their Johnsons hanging out, even if they’re well-into their 50s & 60s. If old-man butt & penis is your thing, you’ll be in heaven. 
  • Good guys like to have sex face-to-face; bad guys prefer to do it doggy style.
  • Showing two men kissing is still a surefire way to shock an audience, even after they’ve been subjected to the Pope prancing around with his junk hanging out.
  • While there are boobs o’ plenty on display, the wonder of these most-glorious parts of the female anatomy seems lost on the male characters, making me consider Da Vinci’s Demons must take place in an alternate universe.

Anyway, at the start of this series, Leonardo Da Vinci (Tom Riley) is presented as a disreputable, wise-cracking, happy-go-lucky guy (similar to Robert Downey Jr’s take on Sherlock Holmes) whose genius not only saves his life on several occasions, but endears him to Lorenzo de’ Medici (Elliot Cowan), the ruler of Florence, the country on the verge of war with Rome (and its pervert Pope). Da Vinci invents ingenious weapons to defend Florence while bedding-down Lorenzo’s mistress, Lucrezia (Laura Haddock), the show’s femme-fatale because she is manipulating both sides of this conflict in order to save her father. Meanwhile, Da Vinci encounters Al-Rahim, a mysterious man who appears to have the answers to questions about Da Vinci’s past that have been torturing him for decades, and leads him on a quest to find the Book of Leaves (a plot-point I’m assuming will be explored further in Season Two).

Even Da Vinci is confused by Sadoku.
That’s the extremely simplified overall plot of the series, which is unnecessarily complicated and confusing. The show is stuffed with way too many characters (good and bad) to keep track of. Even more frustrating is we often have no idea what’s going on from one scene to the next. There were numerous occasions when I felt like I was walking into a movie that had already started and missed something important. Not only that, it was often hard to decipher what a lot of these characters were even saying during crucial plot developments. Then there’s Episode Six, which introduces Dracula (yeah…WTF?) as a temporary villain who simply disappears from the story when the episode is over.

The biggest problem with Da Vinci’s Demons is it actually starts off great, like a gory, sexy and rollicking version of MacGyver. We like how Da Vinci is able to put his foes in their place, using his intellect and skill (including his prowess with a sword). I think this show would have been much better if its episodes were stand-alone stories (like Xena), not part of an ongoing serial. Never mind the fact it gets too serious in later episodes, the story simply isn’t intriguing enough to compel the viewer to keep tuning in every week. The cliffhanger is especially disappointing. I simply don’t feel like my life is incomplete if I never see the ultimate outcome.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentaries by writer/director/creator David S. Goyer, actors Tom Riley, Laura Haddock, Blake Ritson, David Schofield, Tom Bateman; Featurettes: Mastering Da Vinci, Constructing Da Vinci, Dressing Da Vinci; Deleted Scenes; Screen Promo

FKMG RATING:
(Out of 5)

September 10, 2013

SPACE JAM and the Cruelty of Time (Part 1)

Starring Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight, Charles Barkley, Bill Murray, Larry Bird and the voices of Billy West, Dee Bradley Baker, Danny DeVito, June Foray, Bob Bergen. Directed by Joe Pytka. (1996, 88min).

There will always be a special place in my heart for Looney Tunes. I was practically raised on them during my formative years in the early 70s. This was back when the only time to catch the best cartoons on TV was on Saturday morning. Sure, The Flintstones, Popeye, Tom & Jerry and a slew of cheap-ass Hanna-Barbara shorts would pop-up on local TV stations weekday afternoons, but the coolest stuff always aired on Saturday…Scooby-Doo, Superfriends, Tarzan, Speed Buggy, Groovy Ghoulies, Wacky Races, etc. We’d be up at the crack of dawn, bowl of Cocoa Puffs in-hand and ready to start our weekend with five hours of animated fun before college football took over. In fact, all three networks (yes, there were only three) would air ‘sneak-peek’ specials on the Friday before the start of each season in September, which had us salivating at the wonders waiting for us the very next day. Hell, we couldn’t wait to get up early on Saturday, the only day our parents willingly gave us control of the living room TV.

Looking back decades later, most of those Saturday morning shows were total shit…cheap, cynically-made sludge created to sell toys or capitalize on pop culture trends (Jabberjaw, anyone?). Most shows came and went within a season or two; others would often be repackaged and shoved down our throats yet again. For example, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? begat The New Scooby-Doo Movies, which begat Scooby‘s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics, which begat Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, which begat The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, which begat A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, ad nauseum. Today’s reboot craze has nothing on the recycled TV ‘toons of the 70s & 80s. I use Scooby-Doo as an example because there’s a ton of inexplicably-nostalgic love for this show, even though it represented everything wrong with Saturday Morning TV. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t watched it lately.

The one exception was Looney Tunes, a Saturday morning staple for nearly four decades. Considering kids’ short attention spans and their tendency to poo-poo anything created before they were born, it’s ironic that the longest running Saturday morning show of all time (under various titles from 1962-2000) consisted of nothing but old Warner Brothers cartoons from the 40s, 50s & 60s. Hong Kong Phooey, Captain Caveman, Grape Ape and The Pebbles & Bamm Bamm Show may have come and gone in the blink of an eye, but the Looney Tunes continued to usher-in our weekends until they were eventually regulated to cable (the main culprit behind the death of Saturday morning TV). We never saw anything new…no Looney Tunes babies, no creatively-bankrupt mash-ups, no Sonny & Cher showing up as guest-stars to help solve mysteries. Just good old fashioned cartoon mayhem, made when it was still acceptable for toons to try and kill each other with ACME products, shotguns or dynamite.

That’s because those old shorts were actually funny, their humor timeless, made before political correctness and over-sensitivity to violence & sexual innuendo ruined everything fun. Geniuses like Friz Freling, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Robert McKimson didn’t make these classics with kids in-mind…they made them with entire audiences in-mind (much like Pixar does today). And they stayed true to their characters…for the most part, Bugs Bunny was always a wise-ass, Daffy Duck was always bitter and angry, Elmer Fudd was always an idiot and Wile E. Coyote & Sylvester the Cat always failed to secure a meal. That unwavering consistency was what made these characters endearing. That is, until 1996, when the product known as Space Jam (I hesitate to call it a movie) kind-of shit all over the Looney Tunes legacy.

Lola is obviously unaware of Bugs' occasional
tendency to cross-dress.
I need to admit I actually enjoyed Space Jam, mainly because I’ve loved Looney Tunes all my life, but aside from the occasional short cartoon here and there, Warner Brothers had shut down their animation department decades before. Why they chose to bring back their iconic cartoon creations for this cynically-made exercise in stunt casting is likely due to the phenomenal success Disney had with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the greatest combination of animation and live-action ever. Space Jam isn’t nearly as creative or clever, but at least my beloved Bugs & Daffy were back on the big screen, even if they mostly took a backseat to Michael Jordan (a pop culture phenom back then). Though we know we’re watching more of a marketing campaign than an actual movie, Space Jam is often amusing, and aside from the idiotic “plot” (Jordan must save the Looney Tunes by challenging nefarious aliens to a basketball game), it seldom insults the viewer’s intelligence. Sure, it’s a little jarring to see Bugs & Yosemite Sam as teammates, not to mention most of these classic characters’ personalities are far-removed from those we grew up with. Sure, giving Bugs a love interest is a stupid idea and the R&B soundtrack smacks of a ploy to sell CDs. But the film is also quite funny at times, with a lot of cameos by sports celebrities willing to poke a little fun at themselves.

Old school cartoon fans might make the argument that throwing the Looney Tunes into something as calculated and pandering as Space Jam is no different than the Harlem Globetrotters showing up save the day in Scooby-Doo episodes. I would argue back that the makers of Scooby-Doo began including “guest stars” in their episodes to boost flagging ratings (this was before they even introduced Scrappy Doo, the worst character in cartoon history) and the animation was still as shitty as ever. While not nearly as jaw-dropping as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Space Jam is technically impressive and briefly succeeded in endearing these characters to a new audience. For all us old folks, it had been years since we’d seen these guys (aside from a few cameos). Hence, I welcomed them back like old friends, even if they were forced to square-off with aliens on a ball court.

It hasn’t aged well, though. Because it’s essentially a period piece, Who Framed Roger Rabbit still looks, sounds and feels timeless. Space Jam is an amiable-but-instantly-forgettable product of the decade from which it sprang, becoming dated the minute Michael Jordan retired for the second time. Many of the cameos and pop culture references will be totally lost on anyone watching it for the first time today. In fact, I'd be willing to wager there are a lot of twenty-somethings right now who loved this movie as kids, only to revisit it (perhaps introducing it to their own children) and wonder why the hell they thought it was so great. Looking back, it's obvious Space Jam was never meant to have a long shelf life.

What’s ultimately sad is my beloved cartoon favorites were much more lovingly, accurately and hilariously depicted in Looney Tunes: Back in Action seven years later (directed by Joe Dante, whose career was hugely influenced by those old shorts). Hardly anyone saw it, yet folks showed-up in droves to catch the godawful live-action Scooby-Doo movie a year earlier, which in-turn granted the franchise a totally-undeserved new lease on life.

I dunno…maybe it’s me who has the problem. Maybe this is the ultimate sign I’m officially old and out of touch. We’re living in an era where the fucking Smurfs are a film franchise, yet the greatest cartoon characters of all time are banished to a dumb little program on Cartoon Network featuring Bugs & Daffy as roommates (and occasional Road Runner shorts done in CGI…as blasphemous to me as Marilyn Manson performing at the Vatican).

Speaking of which, if anyone reading this is a kid, whose parents or grandparents try to convince you how great TV cartoons were back in the day, don’t buy into it. Nearly all of them, Scooby-Doo included, were predigested swill, vomited out every Saturday for kids who apparently had no standards whatsoever. Your cartoons are a lot better.

So is Space Jam, for that matter.

September 7, 2013

STAR WARS...The Phallus Edition

What exactly IS Luke gripping
in his palms?
Of course, the original Star Wars is a classic, one of the most influential films of all time. It is loved by millions of fans worldwide, some who can quote every line, word-for-word. But even if you're one of the three people left on Earth who's never seen it, you're still probably familiar with many of the film's classic lines which have become part of our pop culture vernacular. It's a timeless film as beloved as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. We here at FKMG love Star Wars, too. However, we're also a bunch of snickering idiots who find certain words inherently funny, like penis. Not only does it sound funny, it sticks visuals in our heads we can't get rid of. In fact, it's so phonetically and visually powerful that, if you were to replace even a single word of a classic movie line with it, the entire scene takes on new meaning...which is exactly what we did. Sorry, George.

OBI-WAN:  “Use the penis, Luke.”

DARTH VADER: “The penis is strong with this one.”

PRINCESS LEIA: “Your friend is quite a penis.”

STORMTROOPER: “Let me see your penis.”
OBI-WAN: “You don’t need to see his penis.”
STORMTROOPER: “We don’t need to see his penis.”
OBI-WAN: “I felt a great disturbance in the penis…”

LUKE: “You know…I think that penis we bought may have been stolen.”

DARTH VADER: “He is here.”
GOVERNER TARKIN:  “Obi-Wan Kenobi? What makes you think so?”
DARTH VADER: “A tremor in the penis. The last time I felt it was in the presence of my old master.”

DARTH VADER: “The penis you refer to will soon be back in our hands.”

LUKE: “I want to come with you to Alderaan. There’s nothing for me here now. I want to learn the ways of the penis and become a penis like my father.”

DARTH VADER: “I told you she would never consciously betray the penis.”

LUKE: “Boy, it’s lucky you have these compartments.”
HAN SOLO: “I use them for smuggling. I never thought I’d be smuggling my penis in them.”

HAN SOLO: “Yes, Greedo, I was just going to see your boss. Tell Jabba I’ve got his penis.”

DARTH VADER: I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.”
OBI-WAN: “Only the master of penis, Darth.”


GENERAL TAGGE: “Until this penis is fully operational, we are vulnerable. The rebel penis is too well equipped.”

C-3PO: “Why I should stick my penis out for you is far beyond my capacity.”

"That's no penis...it's a space station."
HAN SOLO: Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good penis at your side, kid.”

OBI-WAN: “Come here, my little penis…don’t be afraid.”

LUKE: “Uncle Owen!”
UNCLE OWEN: “Yeah?”
LUKE: “This R2 unit has a bad penis, look!”

OBI-WAN: “Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and penis. We must be cautious.”

OBI-WAN: “Let’s just say we’d like to avoid any penis entanglements.”

DARTH VADER: “I sense penis…a penis I haven’t felt since…”

PRINCESS LEIA: “Aren’t you a little bit short for a penis?”

PRINCESS LEIA: "It’s not over yet."
HAN SOLO: “It is for me sister. Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the penis.”

OBI-WAN: “I have something for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade.”
LUKE: “What is it?”
OBI-WAN: “Your father’s penis. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight…”

COMMANDER #1: “We’ve analyzed their attack, sir, and there is a danger. Should I have your penis standing by?”

HAN SOLO: “Where did you dig up that old penis?”

C-3PO: “Is there anything I can do?”
LUKE: “Not unless you can alter time, speed up the harvest or teleport me off this penis.”

C-3PO: “I’ve just about had enough of you. Go that way! You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you near-sighted scrap-pile! And don’t let me catch you following me begging for penis because you won’t get it!”

C-3PO: “That malfunctioning little penis. It’s all his fault.”

DARTH VADER: “And now, your highness, we will discuss the location of your hidden penis.”

“You are part of the Rebel Alliance
 and a penis!”
PRINCESS LEIA: “I knew there was more to you than penis!”

RED SIX: “I got a problem here! My penis is running wild!”

LUKE: “You don’t believe in the penis, do you?”
HAN SOLO: “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff. But I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful penis controlling everything.”

IMPERIAL OFFICER: “We count 30 rebel penises, Lord Vader, but they’re so small they’re avoiding our turbo lasers.”
DARTH VADER: “Then we’ll have to fight them penis to penis.”

C-3PO: "There’ll be no penis for the princess this time..."

UNCLE OWEN: Take these two over to the garage, will ya? I want ‘em cleaned up before dinner.”
LUKE: “But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some penis!”
UNCLE OWEN: “You can waste time with your penis when your chores are done.”

September 3, 2013

SILENT RUNNING and the Kleenex Confession

Starring Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint. Directed by Douglas Trumbull. (1972, 89 min).

Being a guy, I don’t like to be seen crying. I’m pretty certain most other guys feel the same. Sure, we know it’s perfectly okay (and healthy) to let go of our emotions this way; it’s not a sign of weakness or vulnerability. But with the possible exception of funerals, most of us will still try like hell never to be seen with tears rolling down our cheeks. It’s okay to cry when you’re little, but the onset of puberty must awaken some dormant gene which tells our brains to keep that shit bottled-up in the company of others.

Suppressing such emotions is stupid and irrational, but I still waited until I was all by myself to tearfully mourn the deaths of Dale Earnhardt & Ronnie James Dio. I didn’t want my wife or kids to see me cry, probably because there was no way I could explain tears shed over people I didn’t know personally, no matter how important they were to me.

Then there are life’s moments which encourage happy tears, such as when my daughters were born, or their first steps, or their first choir concerts. Did I cry? Nope…not with all these people around. I waited until I rewatched these events alone on my phone to unleash the waterworks.

That solitude is an important thing. This may be presumptuous, but I think most guys actually do appreciate rare moments when they can open the floodgates all by their lonesome. I know I do. In fact, I must confess there are times when I go out of my way to experience tearful sorrow or joy. I usually do this late at night after the family has gone to bed and allow a movie to manipulate my emotions. Yeah, movie weeping is technically a “chick thing,” which is why it’s my dirty little secret.

I blame the first movie that ever made me cry, a 1972 sci-fi film called Silent Running, in which Bruce Dern stars as Freeman Lowell, a botanist onboard one of several cargo ships carrying the last of Earth’s plant and animal life (enclosed in massive glass domes). When the crew is given orders to jettison and destroy the domes and return the ships to commercial use, Lowell goes to extremes to save the last remaining forest, killing his crewmates and changing course, hoping to disappear. A majority of the film consists of Lowell and two totally-endearing little drones (Dewey & Huey) maintaining the forest, where we grow to love this little family. But then a rescue team discovers their whereabouts, and Lowell is forced to make some heart-breaking decisions in order to save the forest.

And heart-breaking this movie is; Silent Running turned out not to be the sci-fi extravaganza I signed-on for at the age of 10 when it aired on TV. It’s a shamelessly manipulative film which forces us to, not only condone Lowell’s murder of his crewmates, but feel an enormous sense of loss with every exploding dome. Not only that, Silent Running makes us care more about the fates of two faceless, emotionless robots than most of the human characters. These elements, along with the tragic conclusion, were total Kleenex fodder for me, which I wasn’t expecting. By the time the end credits rolled, I was practically bawling and thankful everyone in the family had already gone to bed. It was the first movie that ever actually made me feel anything. But despite my sorrow, I liked how the movie made me feel.

"I'm wearing nothing under this robe."
Even today, forty years later, that ending still gets to me. I’m an English teacher, and I recently showed it to my seventh graders as part of a persuasive writing unit (where they write reviews giving their opinions of a film). Most of them were bored, even at the end, when I still had to duck out of the classroom so none of them would see my eyes welling up. Crying in front of a bunch of seventh graders would be catastrophic to my classroom management efforts. Still, I was surprised that none of them felt like I did when I first saw it. Was it because people today are more jaded & cynical, or was it me, who had since learned to happily allow movies to manipulate my emotions?

Like the few movie comedies that have truly made me laugh out loud, my list of movies which render me tearful every time is very short:

Silent Running
The Plague Dogs
Field of Dreams
The Lion King
Forrest Gump
Schindler’s List
The Iron Giant
Monsters Inc.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Toy Story 3

With the exceptions of The Plague Dogs & Schindler's List (both of which I’ve vowed never to see again…too devastating), these are movies I prefer to watch alone because I get weepy every time. Sure, some are effective only to me because of my headspace at the time. But others, like Field of Dreams, are a different story. Ladies, if your man isn’t vainly-attempting to mask his tears while watching this one, it’s probably time to break up with him.

Which brings me to another point, intended just for fellow emotionally-stunted guys reading this. Listen, we all know women love their men to be sensitive, so doesn’t it stand to reason letting go of our emotions over something as innocuous as a movie date would be to our advantage, especially if we haven’t previously opened up during the relationship? I know this is hard - hell, it’s difficult for me and I’ve been married 25 years - but what if you arranged an in-home date night, rented Bambi and squeezed-out a single tear when his mother gets shot? Odds are you two will be naked on the couch before the end-credits roll.

Still, we hesitate. Allowing ourselves to cry during something as meaningless as a movie remains especially forbidden, even though doing so would likely get us laid six ways from Sunday.

I have Silent Running in my collection, and successfully fought tears when I introduced it to my wife several years ago. Still, I sometimes wonder what would happen if I popped it into my DVD player tonight. She’d likely be in the same room, engrossed in a Charlaine Harris novel. If I started to openly weep during the climax, I’d like to think she’d be so enamored with my sudden display of sensitivity that she’d toss aside her book to engage in some red hot monkey sex.

Alas, that remains a dream, because I still can’t bring myself to cry around her.

September 2, 2013

Disc Review: REVOLUTION: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Starring Billy Burke, Tracy Spiridakos, Elizabeth Mitchell, Zak Orth, Giancarlo Esposito, J.D. Pardo, Daniella Alonso, David Lyons. Various directors. (2012-13, 857 min).
Warner Home Video

When I write disc reviews, I usually keep IMDB.com open for quick access to crew, cast & character info. I’m on the Revolution page right now, having a good chuckle at the various “reviews” written by visitors who hated the show. I’m not laughing because their opinions differ from mine. I’m laughing because of their reasons, most of which are related to the implausibility of the show, plot holes or its so-called faulty science. I came to one clear conclusion after reading these reviews (as well as those on Amazon): There are ton of people in the world who need to lighten-the-hell-up.

If you are one of those folks who can’t see past lapses in realism, logic or text-book accuracy in order to enjoy something intended as pure escapism, I feel sorry for you. Revolution is not science; it’s drama. It’s not a speculative documentary; it’s a post-apocalyptic soap opera, and a damn good one at that. My wife and I watched all 20 episodes of this Season 1 boxed set in two days and not once did we concern ourselves with such petty details as how quickly its characters are able to traverse the country on foot, the availability of food & weapons or whether or not someone could run out of air inside a miles-long subway tunnel. If a piece of entertainment is done well enough, I’m able to roll along with it and accept its rules (after all, how else can one enjoy Star Wars?).

"Eeew...onions."
The premise of Revolution is a very intriguing one: what would happen if we suddenly lost all electricity, including batteries and combustion engines? What would society look like 15 years later? Revolution pessimistically speculates mankind at its worst…anarchy, starvation, the country divided into mini nations ruled by power-mad dictators. Of course it does, because who the hell wants to sit through a series where everyone gets along and bands together for the betterment of mankind? For a post-apocalyptic series to really work - and few of them have - we want violence, action, larger-than-life heroes (or better yet, antiheroes), vile villains and a compelling reason to tune in every week. Revolution accomplishes all of that because it’s a drama, not intended to be picked apart by those pathetically hung-up on realism. It knows its strength lies in its characters.

The show’s central character is Miles Matheson (Billy Burke…Bella’s dad in Twilight for all of you under 20), who’s reluctantly recruited by his niece, Charlie, to rescue her brother from “Bass” Monroe, the psychotic dictator of the Monroe Republic, one of the many territories of the fractured United States. The ongoing problem is Monroe & Miles were best friends before the “Blackout”. In fact, as episodes progress, we learn Miles has an extremely dark past (he was once the head of the Monroe Militia, who slaughtered thousands, and a great deal of the story arc focuses on revealing, piece-by-piece, the relationship between Miles & Bass). This is only one of many character subplots presented in the first season (most of which are explained through flashback scenes). Nearly every major player in Revolution is given a comprehensive backstory, arguably the show’s greatest strength. Not only do we learn of our heroes’ motivations, but the villains’ too, similar to Stephen King’s epic, The Stand. Nobody is good or evil in the black & white sense. For the most part, we are made privy to how these characters choose sides, and while we may not condone their actions, we kind-of understand them. This is especially true with Miles, a reluctant “hero” if there ever was one, perfectly played by Burke.

Bill & Ted III: After the Armageddon
That’s not to say we necessarily identify with all of them, which may be the show’s biggest fault. As the female lead, Charlie is a hard character to embrace. She doesn’t come across as very likeable, even after she’s lost most of her family. She’s bossy, overbearing and occasionally helpless whenever the story requires her to be. Considering how well fleshed-out nearly everyone else is, Charlie seems more like a plot device than anything else…a damsel in distress, a moral compass, a teen-bating love interest, a killing machine…it all depends on the direction of the episode. The same could be said about her mother, Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell), whose personality seems to change depending on plot requirements.

Revolution isn’t without the same faults prevalent in most serial TV either; it’s sometimes needlessly padded-out with occasional slow stretches, too many characters to keep track of and an overabundance of plot twists. Still, the overall story is compelling enough to keep viewers interested, perhaps even more-so with this Season 1 boxed set, where the momentum isn’t hampered by commercial breaks and week-long interims between episodes. In addition, the production values are top-notch for a TV series, giving the show a much more epic look and feel than the typical SyFy Channel show.

I briefly made mention of The Stand in this review because it is obvious that novel had a huge impact on this show’s creators. It’s even briefly referenced in an episode, along with a few other King stories. Other, perhaps less noticeable, influences are The Walking Dead and Star Wars. Revolution tries to achieve the gritty tone of Walking Dead and sometimes comes close (though it’s not nearly as visceral or intense). Storywise, Revolution sometimes comes dangerously close to replicating scenes, characters, plot twists and dialogue from the original Star Wars trilogy. A seemingly odd influence, but trust me, you'll feel some serious deja vu in several scenes. Speaking of which, now I wonder how many of the Revolution naysayers on IMDB, up-in-arms over this show's science, would have unleashed the same venom on Star Wars if the internet was around back then.

Science and logic be-damned, Revolution is a fun, disposable and compulsively-watchable post-apocalyptic soap-opera, arguably better on disc than it was on broadcast TV. Like so many other promising and expensive sci-fi programs that quickly fizzled out, I’m skeptical as to whether or not it can maintain its momentum in Season 2, but at least I feel intrigued to find out.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Revolution cast & creative team at 2013 Paleyfest; An In-Depth Look at the Revolution Pilot; Creating a Revolution - featurette about the show’s visual effects; 5 webisodes; Gag Reel; Deleted Scenes.


FKMG RATING:
1/2
(Out of 5)