Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Nostalgic Love Letter to Comics

I have very fond memories of reading the "Sunday Funnies" when I was a kid. Dad would bring the Sunday Pittsburgh Press in from the front porch and immediately strip the comics section and hand it to me. (Back then, the colorful Comics section worked as an eye-grabbing cover for the newspaper. Back then, the Sunday paper was a gigantic one-pound slab of newsprint, too -- but that's a sad rant for another day.)

I would collapse on the living room floor and spread the comics out in front of me. The front page of the section contained Peanuts above the fold, featuring "Good Ol' Charlie Brown," and Prince Valiant starred below the fold. In hindsight, I'm ashamed to say I usually skipped the Prince. I got the jokes of Peanuts immediately, but the lavish detail and strange, balloon-free below-the-art captions of Prince Valiant left me cold. I wish I could go back and look at all those old weekly strips of action and adventure that I missed.

DC Comics is helping me fix that mistake. They've started a 12-week experiment entitled Wednesday Comics, and it's just about the most fun I've had reading comics in a long time. The weekly issue comes packaged in the dimensions of a typical comic book, but it unfolds four times to the size of a newspaper -- 16 huge pages. Printed on newsprint, yet! Each page is a separate adventure featuring a different DC star, continued from week to week, and depending on your taste, you're bound to find something to like.

My favorites were Kamandi, with gorgeous art very reminiscent of the Prince Valiant days; a very solid Superman; a splashy, fun Metamorpho; and a Strange Adventures featuring Adam Strange that brought back the old style and appeal of Flash Gordon in a big way. There were a few minor nitpicks -- the Wonder Woman strip was way too busy and a tad hard to follow, not to mention a bit Disneyfied in its approach; and the Green Lantern strip didn't even bring on the hero until the final panel. But the rest of it was great.

It's a tough sell at $3.99 a week, but this is one comic that I think will lose something in the "graphic novel" trade paperback size. Who cares if it doesn't appreciate in value, and is likely to fade on the newsprint? That's the nostalgic point!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers' Day

It's Fathers' Day, and the tradition around our house is that I can do whatever I want. (The same goes for Mothers' Day and all three family birthdays.) The day started out OK; we skipped church, since the pilot light on our water heater was on the fritz, which meant no hot water for showers. I got the pilot relit, but only long enough for the three of us to clean up with fairly tepid water, so I put in a call for the plumber. Good thing I'm off for the next two months -- that could be how long we have to wait for the plumber.

Anyway, I got some nice things -- a CD of classic '60s tunes for our car trip to Maine next month, the newest John Sandford and Lee Child thrillers (standard Fathers' Day gifts for several years now), and a lifesize Gandalf the White walking staff. (John found it on the internet.) They took me to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, and we were so stuffed that we brought our cheesecake home for dinner. Terri even indulged me with a browsing trip to Barnes & Noble. I considered going to a matinee with John, but the only thing playing that semi-interested me was The Hangover, which I was not about to take John to see, so we decided to crash at home. Which is how I wound up relaxing in front of the computer, enjoying life and reminiscing about my father.

My father wasn't around much after my folks split; my brothers chose to live with him down south, while I chose to stay behind and finish high school in Pennsylvania. But I do remember Dad taking me to movies when I was little. One of my earliest movie memories -- and this predates Jason and the Argonauts -- is of Dad taking me to see Lawrence of Arabia. I didn't last long; all I remember is the motorcycle crash at the beginning, and then I fell asleep. I also remember getting to see The Sword in the Stone, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and even The Birds, which was a pretty traumatic movie for a 5-year-old to see, let me tell you. Dad took me to all of those, and he was quick to give me a dollar on Saturday afternoon whenever I wanted to go catch a matinee with my buddies. He never really objected to any of the movies I asked to see. I was 9 when I saw a double feature matinee of Bonnie and Clyde and Cool Hand Luke with my older cousin, and in hindsight, those were two pretty "adult" movies for a 9-year-old to see without his parents.

The only time I remember my father objecting to one of my movie choices was when he heard I was planning to go see Love Story with my friends from school. He didn't think that was an appropriate movie for 12-year-old boys to see. Of course, that just made us want to see it even more. This was in direct contrast to the time I wanted to see Thunderball when I was 8, and my mother hit the roof. Dad just thought it was an action picture I would like. When my mother reminded him that the last James Bond picture had a naked girl covered in gold paint, Dad just looked at me and said, "Here's a buck. Have a good time."

Dad and I were apart for years, in more ways than one. I know that he always felt bad that he could never help me with my career, like the way he gave advice and guidance to my younger brothers. I was interested in writing and journalism as a career when I went to college, and later, when I turned to teaching, Dad was even more at a loss. (We're talking about a guy whose love letter to my mother in her senior yearbook contained 7 spelling errors, including "kat." I'm serious.)

But we became closer once I was on my own in Baltimore, starting my teaching career (and a family, as well). Whenever Terri and I (and John, when he arrived) would drive to South Carolina for a visit, movies were almost always on the agenda. Dad loved to take the whole family, including all of the grandchildren, out to a movie, where he could play the host, insisting on paying for everyone's ticket and buying all the popcorn and soda. I remember the Christmas of 1997, when John was five. Dad wanted to see Titanic, but there was no way his 5-year-old grandson would sit still for three hours, so Grandma and Terri took John to see Mouse Hunt while "Pop-Pop" and I went to see Titanic. I remember watching that film with my father, the history buff. There was a moment when Dad looked puzzled and whispered to me, "The lights on that boat should have gone out by now," and an instant later, the ship's lights onscreen blinked out. Swear to God.

Then there was the time -- the last time my Dad came to Baltimore, as it turned out -- when Dad and John and I went to see a matinee of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I was eager to get his opinion on the film, and was a little disappointed when Dad said he wasn't crazy for it. His words: "Too much of that Gollum guy." Of course, I loved the movie, which I kept to myself.

My final trip to the movies with Dad was our summer 2006 visit the year before he died. Dad, my brother Jimmy, and I went to see Superman Returns while the ladies went to see The Devil Wears Prada. (John was at Scout Camp.) I remember Dad saying there was "no damn way (he) was going to see a Meryl Streep fashion movie." Dad fell asleep three times. I saw the Prada movie on Netflix a year ago, and I remember thinking that Dad called that one wrong.

Dad died in October of 2007, and we knew that my stepmother Karyn would want family around her for the holiday, so we all went down to visit that Christmas. Once again, the family (a grandmother, three sons, three spouses, and four grandchildren) gathered together and went to see a movie: National Treasure: Book of Secrets. I remember not liking the movie very much; most of us thought it was just a retread of the first movie. But, thinking back on it now, maybe Dad's absence had something to do with it, too.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Favorite Summer Movie

Over at AintitCool.Com, they're running a blog thread about various writers' favorite summer movies. I'm not talking about this summer's best movies. I'm talking about the one movie in your life that comes to mind when you think "summer." For many people it has been Jaws, for others, it has been one of the Star Wars movies. Jaws is indeed a great "summer movie," and it would be my second choice. But my no. 1 choice for my most cherished summer movie experience harkens back to 1978, and National Lampoon's Animal House.

I chose Animal House because I saw it twice in the late summer of 1978, and the second viewing was even better than the first, which is pretty rare. Initially, I saw it with my cousin in mid-August, not long before I went back to Penn State for my junior year. (My cousin was the guy with whom I had seen the first Star Wars only the year before.) I remember we laughed -- a lot. The theater was not far from St. Vincent College, which the Pittsburgh Steelers used as a training camp site (and still do), and I'm pretty sure the last couple rows of the theater were filled with Steelers players laughing their heads off along with the rest of us.

But the second viewing is what cinched my choice for me. Less than two weeks later, I was back on campus, and about 15 to 20 of us, male and female alike, banded together after lunch one afternoon during orientation week and walked downtown to the local two-screener to catch a matinee of Animal House. The place was jammed with raucous, screaming college students. I can't remember the last time, before or since, when a theater crowd elevated my enjoyment of a film to such heights. It really felt like a shared experience; we were a community, claiming this movie for ourselves. Hell, the movie was about college students! WE WERE COLLEGE STUDENTS!!! Well, most of us weren't as depraved and disgusting in our behavior as John Belushi, but we tried. That year, we tried a lot. (Belushi -- now there's a comic actor I really miss.)

The matinee that afternoon touched off what turned out to be my favorite year of the four I spent at Penn State. There was the dance marathon (where my partner and I placed second), our Sugar Bowl bout with Alabama, my interview with the singers following a Hall and Oates concert, and my first steps into my journalism major. It was a memorable year, and it began with my all-time favorite summer movie experience.

What's yours?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May Movie Madness: Coming Up for Air

It's happening again, only worse. Three years ago, the stars were aligned in May 2006 to offer up a movie-a-week -- literally, a new movie every week that I was just dying to see. I planned it out months in advance, letting Terri know about my plans so she would be prepared with the customary eye rolls, shoulder shrugs, and what-can-I-do?-my-husband's-an-idiot looks. One after the other, I scoped MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III, POSEIDON, THE DA VINCI CODE, and X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. In hindsight, of course, not the best of months. Now here comes May 2009, looking to blast May 2006 out of the Ward Record Books, and -- surprise, surprise! -- my wife is coming along for part of the ride.

Here's the rundown, only partially filled at this time: WOLVERINE, STAR TREK, ANGELS & DEMONS, TERMINATOR: SALVATION, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN, UP, and DRAG ME TO HELL. Actually, my wife doesn't know about that last one yet, but by the time May 29th rolls around, she'll be too exhausted to care.

The verdict? WOLVERINE -- disappointing. STAR TREK -- An outstanding reboot to the franchise. ANGELS & DEMONS -- surprisingly entertaining. The rest of them -- well, I hope the best is yet to come. Although they'll have to go far to give STAR TREK a run for its money. For a change, I'm not pontificating. (Sorry to disappoint you, Chaz.) I'll wait for the May picnic meeting.

Then I'll pontificate. (Just watch 'em head for the door. Heh, heh.)

P.S. And what about Terri, might you ask? Well, she liked ANGELS & DEMONS a lot more than DA VINCI CODE, as I did. And she's the main reason NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is on the calendar -- she laughed a lot at the first one. Plus, she wants to see UP as much as I do. Three date movies in less than a month -- it's like 1989 all over again, but with higher ticket prices.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Watchmen on DVD

Hey John,

How come everything else comes out on DVD in 30 seconds and a movie like Watchmen, which didn't burn up the box office is set for a July release???? I am really jonesing for that one.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

So Much For the Superhero Winning Streak

2008 was a great year for comic geeks at the movies, with the success of Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and to a lesser extent, The Incredible Hulk and Wanted. But 2009, unfortunately, has not gotten off to the same flying start. Watchmen turned out to be overrated and somewhat pretentious, and now, here comes Wolverine, the Canuck with Claws, stepping away from X-Men "group mode" to fly solo. It's bits and pieces of a fun movie that don't add up to a whole heck of a lot.

Wolverine is, arguably, the most popular character in the Marvel Comics stable, so it was only natural that the powers that be would send him out on his own, sooner or later. (It helps when you give Hugh Jackman, the man with the claws, a producer's credit. Not to mention letting him film the thing in his own Australian backyard. What, did Canada decide to raise its taxes?) But the movie was such a mess, I found myself nitpicking from the get-go.

Let's start with the background detail, which takes up the first 15 minutes. I've gotten along perfectly well without Wolverine's backstory for over 30 years, thank you very much. I really didn't need to know that his real name is -- or was -- James Howlett, and as a child, he suffered the trauma of unwittingly killing his ...oh, please. If you can't fill in that blank on your own, you've already failed Screenwriting Cliches 101.

I think I knew from the comics (It's hard to say, since I haven't read Wolverine or X-Men regularly since about '95) that Wolverine has always had some sort of blood feud going with the psychotic Sabretooth. That little tidbit is given ample screen time here, with Wolverine and Sabretooth as half-brothers bouncing from one war to the next across the decades. I guess the "healing factor" that makes Wolverine a mutant also works as its own immortality drug. (Well, at the very least, it must slow the mortal part down a lot.) Wolverine/James Howlett/Logan/Who the hell knows? is recruited by Col. William Stryker for a special ops detail made up of other secretive mutants, and Sabretooth comes with him, mainly for the chance to kill lotsa folks legally. Stryker, played by the older Brian Cox in X2, is played here with equally bureaucratic smarm by Danny Huston, who I liked as the head vampire in 30 Days of Night. Knowing that Stryker has to live so he can cause all sorts of mischief in X2 kind of takes away the suspense, but that's the way it is with prequels, folks.

I have to note that I liked Liev Schreiber's portrayal of Sabretooth. Even though he looks nothing like the comic book character, Schreiber is a hell of an actor, and he chews into his role (literally) with feral glee. The movie wakes up every time he comes onscreen, which is often enough to warrant a Netflix rental down the road, I guess.

But one good performance is not enough to save this movie. There's all sorts of things going on here that really make no sense. For instance, why would Stryker spend a kazillion dollars to turn Wolverine into an adamantium-laced force of nature, then attempt to kill him when he doesn't want to play ball? Can bureaucrats be that petty? (Dumb question.) Soon after Wolverine goes on the run, he meets up with Ma and Pa Kent (or wait -- was that Uncle Ben and Aunt May?), a pair of walking homespun cliches with targets on their backs whose sole reason for being in the film is to give Wolverine another excuse for opening a mega-can of whoopass on the bad guys. (As if Jackman needed another reason, being stuck in this movie and all.)

I was waiting for something special, and kept getting stiffed. Even the CGI was lame this time around. The claws looked painted into the frame, and as for that final smackdown -- wouldja believe Wolverine, Sabretooth, and Deadpool duking it out atop the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor? No damn way that's going to look real.

I think the saddest part was waiting until after the end credits for what has now become the signature of all Marvel Comics movies: the "special surprise" extra scene. Even that was boring. I read somewhere that they actually have a couple of different "special surprise" scenes playing at the end of different prints of the film, and if you want to see them all, you have to see the film multiple times. Fat chance of that. I'll wait for the inevitable special edition Blu-Ray. Maybe.

Give Liev Schreiber 4 stars out of 10, tack on an extra 2 stars for a cool helicopter fight scene, and you've got something that's worth a rental on a rainy day. Me, I'm already counting the hours until the Star Trek premiere.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Harper's Island

I caught the premiere episode of the new CBS mystery thriller Harper's Island earlier tonight, and I was hoping someone else on the blog had seen it, too. It's a surprisingly effective take on the old And Then There Were None plot device -- if Agatha Christie had been inclined to dabble in Italian giallo, that is.

A couple of dozen invited guests are boated out to an island resort off the coast of Washington state to attend a wedding. There are the usual soap opera touches -- the from-poverty groom "isn't good enough to marry" the rich bride, the groom's childhood friend must revisit the scene of a family tragedy, ex-boyfriends show up, yadda yadda yadda. It's all set-up for what CBS is really trying to sell: a creepy, violent, 13-week serial killer show.

Because it seems that the guests are going to die, one by one. (CBS even adds a crawl inviting people to log on and vote to predict next week's victim.) The premiere episode actually offered two shocking deaths for the price of one, bookending the show. The first one (Say, have you seen Cousin Ben?) is surprisingly gruesome for network TV, and you immediately find yourself wondering just how far CBS, the home of the geezer demographic, is willing to go.

Evidently pretty damn far, if the second death is any indication. It's shocking on two levels -- the way it is filmed, and the identity of the victim. The viewer is immediately reminded of the death of Janet Leigh in Psycho, and I was left with the feeling that all bets are off. I'll be back to see it next week, and if the storyline improves, I might just last until this thing wraps in July. Which is more than I can say for most of the cast, apparently.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Last Gasp (?) of the Senator

You know how people are supposed to go through all these stages of grief with the death process? Denial, anger, etc, etc. to a final acceptance? It's hard to say where the Senator Theater sits in this process, but if last night is any indication, denial is in full swing.

A couple of us -- Charlie Wittig, Dava Sentz, Gary Svehla, Gus Russo, and me -- went to the late showing of Horror of Dracula at the Senator last night, which no-longer-quite-the-owner Tom Kiefaber described as a donation from a private collector. There were many visible scratches in the print, but the color was bright and it was the Senator! This was only the second time I had ever seen a Hammer Dracula on the big screen, and if this turned out to be my final movie at this historic movie house, then Horror of Dracula certainly made just as fitting a send-off as The Godfather, which I saw last fall.

There were dozens and dozens of posters piled against the walls of the lobby, mostly selling for $20 a pop. There were also many promo t-shirts for sale -- Betts, you'll find some Star Wars shirts there -- but the hottest seller seemed to be piles and piles of the actual black aluminum marquee letters, which were going for $10 each. I was tempted to buy a couple of those, but wound up walking out with a very nice re-issue poster of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Kiefaber mentioned that there were a lot of "flea market folks" waiting at the door when the theater opened that afternoon, but what those folks didn't realize was that the best stuff wasn't coming out first, because they were putting out the most recent things, which would be on the top of the pile in their storage rooms. Kiefaber figures the oldest posters, etc. would be toward the bottom of the pile. Sure enough, when we exited the theater, the marquee letters had been re-stocked and there were fresh (well, fresher) t-shirts on the tables.

He also said they planned to show a few more movies in the next few weeks, with possibly another late feature. Senator fans (or just simply fans of movies) should take note.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Hunt for Gollum

I just found out about this and thought I'd share:

An explanation of the movie, taken from the website:

The script is adapted from elements of the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. The story follows the Heir of Isildur; the "greatest huntsman and traveller in Middle Earth" as he sets out to find the creature Gollum. The creature must be found to discover the truth about the Ring, and to protect the future Ringbearer.

It's independently funded and fan made, so they are not looking to make any money. They include this disclaimer-
The Hunt For Gollum is an unofficial non-profit film being made for private use, and is not intended for sales of any sort. No money is being made from this film, and no one was paid to make it. It is in no way sponsored or approved by Tolkien Enterprises, the Tolkien Estate, Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema or any affiliates. This work is produced solely for the personal, uncompensated enjoyment of ourselves and other Tolkien fans. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

That's called covering their asses. : )

It will be released online for free on May 3, 2009.

The thing is, the trailer actually looks good. They must have some sort of decent budget, because the orcs (in the little we see of them in the trailer) look really good. Fan-made stuff can, er, vary in quality, but this really looks like it falls on the high end of the scale. I have seen some fan shorts that make you wince, and some that make you go "YAH!!" this is one of the latter.

After watching the trailer, I am kinda looking forward to it now. It may be a good canidate for an after the meeting viewing.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Heroes and Villains

Entertainment Weekly, in its far-less-than-infinite wisdom, has come out with another of their polls designed to tick people off (like me) and get them writing (also like me). This one's on the Top 20 Heroes and Villains of All Time, combining movie and television characters within the same list. Some of their choices are spot-on, others just plain flat-out insane. Here are their lists. See how many you agree with.

Top 20 Heroes:

1. James Bond
2. Indiana Jones
3. Superman
4. Harry Potter
5. Ellen Ripley (the Alien movies)
6. John McClane (Die Hard)
7. Han Solo
8. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
9. Robin Hood
10. Spider-man
11. Mad Max
12. James T. Kirk
13. Foxy Brown
14. Will Kane (High Noon)
15. Harry Calahan
16. Jack Bauer (24)
17. Nancy Drew
18. Batman
19. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)
20. Sydney Bristow (Alias)

Top 20 Villains:

1. The Wicked Witch of the West
2. Darth Vader
3. Hannibal Lecter
4. The Joker
5. Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange)
6. Mr. Burns (The Simpsons)
7. Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct)
8. Voldemort (Harry Potter and..well, everything)
9. Dracula
10. Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
11. J.R. Ewing
12. Norman Bates (Psycho)
13. Frank Booth (Blue Velvet)
14. Annie Wilkes (Misery)
15. Snow White's Evil Queen
16. Hans Gruber (Die Hard)
17. Michael Myers (Halloween)
18. Gordon Gekko (Wall Street)
19. Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction)
20. Jack Torrance (The Shining)

On the one hand, it was nice to see older characters like Robin Hood, Atticus Finch, and the Wicked Witch represented. But on the other hand... Gordon Gekko? Mr. Burns?? Nancy Drew??!!?? Are you @#$%ing kidding me? I'll add a post later with my own choices, after I give it some thought. Hmmmmm.....

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Last House on the Left

Yes, I went to see The Last House on the Left. Why not? I'm the guy who sees all these movies. I might have missed stuff like The Reader and Milk, but by God, I've seen My Bloody Valentine 3D and Friday the 13th. And now I've seen this remake of the Wes Craven cult film (something in my brain just prohibits me from calling it a "classic") about revenge.

I'm not even sure it's a horror film. I guess it's closer to some of those torture porn films that have been the rage for several years now, but seem to have been petering out (except for the annual Saw Halloween gasp). I can't remember ever watching the original Last House all the way through, but I understand from folks who've been there that it's a hard one to take. Quick premise (although, if you're reading this blog, chances are excellent you already know): two teenage girls out for a fun drive are waylaid by a pack of scuzzy psychos, who proceed to rape, abuse, and kill them. The psychos are forced to hole up in a house owned by the parents of one of the girls, which even Wes Craven himself admits is one of the all-time greatest ironies in movie history. When the parents realize who they've got as guests, all hell really breaks loose.

That's the original premise. I'm going to go ahead and break my cardinal spoiler rule by telling you right here that the new movie makes one huge change to the "rape, abuse, and kill" part, a character choice that plays out in the second half of the movie. Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter play the parents, and their acting chops are several cuts above what this type of film usually employs (or deserves). I actually enjoyed their performances, as well as the performance of Sara Paxton, who plays their daughter.

This movie is really big on foreshadowing. For example, the fact that Paxton's character is a champion swimmer? Hell, you just know that'll come into play later on. Then there's the moment where Dad can't seem to fix the microwave. I won't even go there.

I'm going to give this film a 6.5 out of 10. The extra half-star is just so it'll be ranked slightly ahead of Watchmen, a movie I wanted to enjoy a lot more than I did. I guess I wasn't expecting as much out of Last House, and I wound up liking it just a bit more. How's that for irony?

Quick question: Is it possible for a microwave oven to function properly with the door open? Just curious...

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Well, I had planned on attending the Watchmen Movie Event, when that morning Dad asks me to help him put together a bookcase. I had visions of my 78 year old father, who has many strengths but building things is NOT one of them, putting this together. So that's how I spent my morning. I still haven't seen it yet.

Monday, March 9, 2009


I'm starting this blog in defiance of those anonymous folks (anonymous according to Hendo, anyway) who'd rather not talk about TV shows like 24 at club meetings because they're not genre material, or something along those lines. Hah! HAH, I say! It is to laugh, I tell you!

Because...24 has rediscovered its mojo, kids. If tonight's episode is any indication, the show has returned to the heady heights of Season 5, also known as the Year of the Ratbag President, otherwise known as the Year of You Won't Know What's Coming Next. SPOILER ALERT... 24 lost a major player tonight, and it sent the show spinning off into a frantic new direction. I think Jon Voight is going to turn out to be a megavillain on the scale of Gregory Itzin's President Logan. I can't wait to see the next episode, and I haven't been able to say that for a couple of years. (Of course, that's partially due to the Writers' Strike.)

Now I have to figure out how I'm going to watch the season finale, because I'm pretty sure it's lined up for the same night (May 18) that I'll be in DC at the Springsteen concert. I guess if anything will make me miss Jack Bauer's Season 7 finale, it'll be the Boss.


Who watches the watchmen cakes?

And of course, some ice cream to go with them.

Shoot 'em Up

A friend of mine told me the story of her and her husband watching this movie and it intrigued me enough to want to see it.

Straight out of IMDB -

Shoot 'Em Up is a 2007 action/thriller/black comedy film written and directed by Michael Davis and produced by Susan Montford, Don Murphy and Rick Benattar. It was released in September 2007.

The film follows "Mr. Smith" (Clive Owen), a drifter who appears to have an extensive military background and a fondness for carrots who wants nothing more than to be left alone.

Smith finds himself embroiled in a complex political conspiracy once he aids a pregnant woman who is going into labour while being chased by a hitman. After the woman is killed, he takes the baby and goes on the run with a lactating prostitute named Donna (Monica Bellucci).

The unlikely family is trailed by the intelligent and ruthless Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and his army of thugs. A plethora of elaborate gunfights ensue, between which Smith pieces together the real story. More gunfights and car chases and more gunfire and incredible situations, escapes, rescues and more gunfights.

*edited slightly so not to give too much away

It was incredible to say the least and amazing to say the most. I would love to learn the number of gunshots fired/bullets used. I would imagine that for at least 70 of the 86 minute movie there were guns being fired.

Oh, lots of blood, lots of wild escapes, sliding across floors as they are shooting, leaping across building, crashing thru windows, surviving 50 hoods coming to get you and almost none of them surviving. Yes, there is action, some black comedy, even some mystery as things unfold. I was even reminded of Raising Arizona for a minute or two in the way things proceeded.
I suggest, if you haven't seen it already, go, go watch it soon. But be prepared.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


John and I went to see WATCHMEN at the AMC White Marsh IMAX this afternoon, and I was disappointed that more club members didn't decide to check out the 12:30 show. Mr. Diggin was in attendance (hey, Tom!) and we talked a bit about the movie afterward. I'll let Tom share his views at the March club meeting. As for me, I was a little underwhelmed.

It certainly wasn't the technical wizardry that turned me off. The movie looks great; director Zach Snyder and his crew of FX wizards have captured exactly how the most celebrated graphic novel of all time should look on the screen. Which, I think, is the big problem.

I'm a huge fan of the original Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comic; my son got me the ultimate hardcover edition for my birthday, and while I have been savoring it, he pretty much swallowed it whole, sort of a preparation for seeing the film. He loved the book, and liked the movie, but he agreed with my feelings. Snyder has basically recreated the novel; he's copied it, scene for scene, line for line, and in many cases, almost shot for shot. That kind of approach doesn't leave much room for inspiration. It really stifles the film, IMHO.

I think Snyder just plain lacks the vision. You can't say he was afraid of offending the author, because super-curmudgeon Alan Moore, who also created From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, had already blasted the filmmakers for daring to make the film. (He basically considers his works unfilmable.)

I can't help comparing Snyder to Peter Jackson. Jackson did something very similar -- he dared to adapt a genre legend, one that many folks felt was impossible -- but he breathed new life into a classic, insinuating his own imagination into The Lord of the Rings, extending scenes and deepening characters. By contrast, there's absolutely nothing in WATCHMEN that wasn't first done (better) in the graphic novel.

With one very important exception. I have to admit that Jackie Earle Haley did a fantastic job as Rorschach, the psychotic in the trenchcoat and inkblot mask. You could tell that was a real actor working under that mask -- something I hadn't seen since Hugo Weaving in V FOR VENDETTA (by coincidence, another Moore work.) Haley really buried himself in the role, and when he ripped his mask off to face Dr. Manhattan at the end, you could see the anguish of a scarred lifetime running across his face. It was an Oscar-caliber performance in an otherwise forgettable cast.

I'm really interested to hear what the rest of you thought of the film, and believe me, if you loved it, say so -- I loved the graphic novel, too. I guess I was just expecting a little more than a simple retread on the screen. I'd give WATCHMEN 6 out of 10 stars.

2 Reasons to Check Out has been around for quite a while, and as movie geek sites go, it has almost as much staying power (and a bit more variety) than However, there's something that Joblo does very well that AintitCool can't even touch, and that's its love of video clips. The site has several sidebar movie clip vaults, including "Hottie of the Day" (There ya go, Hendo my boy) and "Awful Good" (hilarious clips from bad movies), but my two favorites are "Kill of the Day" and "Money Shots."

"Kill of the Day" is exactly what it sounds like: a grisly (and often humorous) death scene from a well-known film. They're up to about 168 or so; the most recent "Kill" was the climax of "Fellowship of the Ring," in which Boromir is shafted thrice by an Uruk-hai and avenged by Aragorn with a pretty sweet beheading. Then there's "Money Shots," which is simply a classic scene from a classic modern-day film. They're up to 107. The very first one was Quint's telling of the Indianapolis story from the original "Jaws," and recent "Money Shots" have included the appearance of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from "Ghostbusters," the long bank robbery/shoot-out from "Heat," Robert DeNiro's bat-wielding talk about "baseball" from "The Untouchables," and Christopher Walken"s presentation of the watch from "Pulp Fiction." "Money Shots" is simply unbelievable; every time I click on, the scene is one of my favorites. It's like these guys at Joblo live inside my movie geek mind. You can start clicking backward through the clips and before you know it, three hours have gone by. Trust me; I've been there. If you want to gorge on the great scenes, make sure you've got a cable modem and a fast broadband download and check out Joblo.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What's in Your Netflix Queue?

I was curious to see what everyone else was watching on Netflix these days -- those of us who subscribe, that is. It's fun to compare movie tastes, and often surprising to find out how varied those tastes truly are. If you're sitting there wondering, "How the hell do I know what I watch on Netflix?" -- it's easy to backtrack. Just log on to their website and click your rental history. Here's what I've been watching. There are more than a few surprises, I'm sure. If you're a Blockbuster groupie instead of a Netflixer, well---that's OK, too.

HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (The classic with Claude Rains)
DEAD RECKONING (Humphrey Bogart)
COUNT DRACULA (Christopher Lee and Herbert Lom -- not that good)
M (The Fritz Lang classic, with Peter Lorre in an amazing performance)
JOHN ADAMS (HBO Miniseries)
THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (Hammer non-horror)
THE TERROR OF THE TONGS (Hammer non-horror, part 2)
COMANCHE MOON (Miniseries)
3:10 TO YUMA (1957)
NIGHT GALLERY: SEASON 1 (This show does not hold up well.)
And that's a wrap…

The Best of 2008

10. DOOMSDAY I saw Neil Marshall's third directorial effort early in the year, and I remember thinking it was a really messy batch of homages to other films, like THE ROAD WARRIOR and EXCALIBUR. But when I watched it again on DVD, I was struck by how closely it mirrored the time-honored traditions of the grindhouse cinema: violence, gore, beautiful women, and stuff that blows up real good. Marshall filmed it all at a breakneck pace, or as fast as you can film it without resorting to jerky-cam. Thank God. DOOMSDAY was the best grindhouse movie since -- well, GRINDHOUSE.
9. THE INCREDIBLE HULK A great year for comic book films begins with this re-invention of the Big Green. (I still refuse to call it a sequel.) Edward Norton, Tim Roth, William Hurt, and even Liv Tyler imbue the flick with some excellent acting chops, but there's plenty of well-orchestrated action to go around, and the set pieces are first-rate. I had a lot of fun with this movie -- it was the film that Ang Lee's movie should have been, but wasn't.
8. ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO This was my introduction to the world of director Kevin Smith. I was warned ahead of time that Smith's movies are notorious for their heavy use of profanity, and that turned out to be true -- this movie made SCARFACE sound like TOY STORY. But at its heart was a very sweet romantic comedy about a couple of old friends and housemates who discover true love by getting into amateur porn (as a means to pay the rent. No, really.) Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks make a winning couple, and their chemistry is undeniable. Bottom line -- there was only one other movie this year that made me laugh harder. (More on that in a bit.)
7. APPALOOSA Just when I think that the western genre truly is dead, along comes a guy like Ed Harris to prove me wrong. Harris and Viggo Mortensen are perfectly cast as two old friends who make a living going from town to town as enforcers, kind of "marshals for hire." Their arrival in the town of Appaloosa is met with relief; the chicken-hearted town fathers hire Ed and Viggo to give bossman Jeremy Irons the boot (or the bullet). Renee Zellweger arrives to throw a garter belt into the festivities and screw everything up. But I liked the movie anyway. Harris, as a director, knows exactly how to film a western. The film is gorgeous and consistently interesting.
6. IRON MAN During the first half of the year, it seemed that comic geeks were waiting anxiously for a certain bat-themed movie to have its premiere, so when Jon Favreau's glorious adaptation of the Marvel comic character Iron Man arrived in early May to steal some of the bat's comic geek thunder, it was something of a shock. In hindsight, we really should have seen it coming. Robert Downey Jr.'s career was on life support, but no more: I couldn't imagine anyone else playing Tony Stark with such conviction. He was that good. Favreau treated the source material with respect, but not to the point of slavishness; the story was updated for a new millennium, and it all worked. I can't wait to see what Downey and Favreau do with the sequel.
5. DOUBT Regretfully, I had missed the original stage version of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play when it was in residence at the Hippodrome last year. (I'm even more regretful now, knowing that Cherry Jones, the Tony-winning actress who brought her part to Baltimore, will be all over the new season of 24 as the first female president.) But I was drawn to the film by the cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and rising star Amy Adams. Watching Streep and Hoffman go toe-to-toe was to watch a master acting class in session. Streep plays the principal of a New York catholic school circa 1964, and Hoffman plays the parish's much-loved priest. Adams is worried that Hoffman might be a pedophile, but she has no proof -- just suspicions and some very flimsy circumstantial evidence. When she brings her fears to Streep, the stage is set for a confrontation like no other onscreen this year. It is to writer/director Shanley's credit that the ambiguity of the play has been kept intact; I couldn't imagine another film this year bringing on more arguments after watching it.
4. TROPIC THUNDER This was the funniest film of the year, no contest. It was also a comeback of sorts for Tom Cruise, a scathing satire of the movie biz, and a balls-out attack on the prima donna attitudes so common in Hollywood. I laughed a lot -- at Ben Stiller's thick-headed action hero, at Jack Black's usual comic anarchy, at Robert Downey's take on "playing black," and especially at Cruise's profane producer, pulling the strings of Stiller's Vietnam film-within-a-film from afar. The cast is packed with funny guys: Nick Nolte as the technical advisor who doesn't know as much as people think he does, Steve Grogan as the put-upon director (who exits the movie quickly and hilariously), and Danny McBride as the tech whiz who knows how to blow stuff up. This is a movie you have to watch from the very beginning to the very end -- nuff said.
3. U2 3D/SHINE A LIGHT Here's where I'm cheating a little, squeezing 11 films into a ten-film list, but I couldn't separate these two high-energy concert films. I saw the U2 film at the Maryland Science Center last winter, in IMAX and a new process called Real3D; I was immersed in the sights and sounds of a U2 concert, and at times I felt like I was truly in the middle of it. SHINE A LIGHT was Martin Scorsese's powerful documentary of the Rolling Stones' final concerts of their 2006 tour, filmed at New York's Beacon Theater. The U2 film sticks strictly to the concert and lets the IMAX and 3D effects provide the "wow." Scorsese intercuts his concert footage with some archival interviews of the Stones when they were much younger and a little more innocent. Both films breathe new life into a genre previously thought to be deader than the western.
2. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON I respect David Fincher as a director, although I still have a hard time trying to figure out FIGHT CLUB. His earlier films, especially SE7EN and ZODIAC, showed how skillful he is at illuminating obsessions onscreen. But nothing he had done before prepared me for the wonders of BENJAMIN BUTTON. The movie's epic feel is something alien (no pun intended, Undead) to Fincher's work, but he grounds his epic in a simple romance that spans decades. I think people will compare this film needlessly to FORREST GUMP, since both films were written by Eric Roth, and they both contain some striking similarities in tone and character. But Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are perfect in the lead roles, Pitt in the title role of a man who is born old, getting younger as the years pass, and Blanchett matching him as his star-crossed love. There is important CGI work here that showcases Pitt as he regresses in age, but it's not really overly showy -- it works. I enjoyed every minute of BENJAMIN BUTTON. It's the best film David Fincher has ever made.
1. THE DARK KNIGHT I thought long and hard last night about this film's place on the list in relation to BENJAMIN BUTTON. Twice before, I had felt certain that a particular film would take my no. 1 slot, only to be dethroned on the very last day of the year (MUNICH dethroned SIN CITY, and SWEENEY TODD did likewise to GRINDHOUSE.) Not this time, folks. THE DARK KNIGHT was the movie of the year for me, a peerless spectacle of action, acting, storyline, cinematography, music, and atmosphere. By now, everyone knows about the late Heath Ledger's bravura performance as the Joker, but let's not forget Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart -- the list goes on. It's not just the greatest comic book movie ever made -- it's simply the best overall film I've seen since THE LORD OF THE RINGS. It's due to be re-released in late January, around Oscar nominating season, and into IMAX theaters, to boot. I can't wait to see it again.

I can't let this year's top ten list pass without acknowledging the second best time I had at the movies in 2008 -- the night I introduced No. 1 Son to the pleasures of THE GODFATHER. We were lucky enough to see a newly-struck remastered print at the Senator, and it was one of the highlights of the year for me. For my son, too. Being a stickler for the rules, though, I decided to leave it off my list. I'm such a wuss.

HONORABLE MENTION There were a number of films that I really liked last year, but they just missed making the top ten. Special "Eleventh Place" awards go out to THE RUINS, KUNG FU PANDA, WANTED, HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY, STEP BROTHERS, ROLE MODELS, and MARLEY AND ME.

THE BIG DISAPPOINTMENTS There were a few movies that I enjoyed on first look, but after thinking about it, it became clear what I enjoyed was the reputation -- the fun of seeing one of my past favorites brought back to the screen. In every case, I left feeling let down. The following films really left me feeling nostalgic for the old days: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, GET SMART, THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, SAW V, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, and especially THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

THE "ALLIE" But those films mentioned in the previous paragraph still had craft. (Yes, even SAW V.) There was one film I saw last year that not only disappointed me for expecting so much more, it also was just plain bad. As in sloppy bad. Sloppy acting, sloppy story, sloppy editing, just plain dumb. I'm speaking, of course, of RIGHTEOUS KILL, the long-anticipated reunion of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. What an unmitigated piece of crapola. It's two hours of my life I wish I could have back.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why bother?

I'm a Sherlock Holmes fan, and have watched a variety of movies based on the Great Detective. Some are well done, and some are "WTH?". Oftimes I find ones where I wonder, "Why bother making it a Sherlock Holmes movie? It discards most of the source material, and you could name the detective Ormond Sacker and it would not matter one whit". I recently caught a SH movie called "Case of Evil". Ugh. Holmes is a womanizer(!), Moriarity is a drug dealer (cocaine) and Watson is the police medical examiner. It's like, the names are the same, but the story is totally unrelated to anything Holmesian.

Which leads me to ask, "Why bother?".

Monday, March 2, 2009

Rondo awards

A good friend Marty Gear sent this site to me. It is a Rondo Award time he said. I had no idea what that meant but as I looked over the ballot, I realized it is a ballot ripe for other ICSers.

I would like to suggest that for Category 18 - Best Horror Host of 2008 - you vote for my friends Gravely MacCabre and Grizelda. Friend Marty is part of their troupe so any votes are appreciated.

The ballot is one that I haven't heard of before, but would not be surprised to learn that many ICSers do know about it. Choose the best of Horror, Science fiction in all the formats - film, tv, magazine, books, conventions, even the best collectible figure. My vote is for "The Birds Barbie" seen to the right here. There is alot to view and choose from.
The list is worth looking at even if you don't vote, just for the choices and information that is there. However, if you want to vote, it is easy. Just copy the ballot, paste it into an email and make your selections. I made my selections by cutting out everything else in that catagory that I didn't want to vote for. It made it easier for me to keep track.

Nice and Loose

The blog site is pretty cool. No topics, no formats, just post your thoughts. All freeform.

Thanks for making it look good Bets.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Road trip, fanboy style!

Post # 2 Movie review from Betsy ------

Fanboys a movie for Star Wars fans. No Trekkies allowed!

I went to see Fanboys this afternoon and I give it a big thumbs up. As a Star Wars fan I was trepidious about viewing this movie. It had taken them longer then originally thought to get it out to on the screen.

The plot is fairly simple and touches most of us fans of any ICS genre movie.Fans so focused on the movie and characters that all else is pale. Fans must make a journey, cross many mountains and overcome difficulties to reach the end of the rainbow - Skywalker Ranch.

The movie had lots of little 'in' jokes that Star Wars fans got, many that non fans would get and even some that Star Trek fans might get. There was good comedy, some romance, just a small touch of drama and it all tied together well.

Without giving too much away, it's 1998 and the fanboys five are waiting for the newest Star Wars movie - coming out in just 6 months. It is revealed that one of their group is dying of cancer and as such they decide to storm the castle. Skywalker Ranch that is.

The producers filmed it, then the studio decided that the five minutes of quiet 'cancer' time when people weren't laughing, would be too much so they cut that out of the plot. Many of the actors and a lot of the fans said 'no.' A ruckus was raised because this changed the whole plot from being a noble cause of guys on a mission into just a bunch of guys causing mayhem. The studio finally decided to reinstate the plot line and it works.

Fun movie, but seriously, if you don't speak Wookie, wait to see it on netflix.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Board meeting

We are now at the Board meeting for the ICS and are talking about using a Blog to talk about club business.