Monday, June 19, 2006

NACHO LIBRE


I was not a fan of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. After hearing about how funny it was from pretty much everyone I talked to I was extremely disappointed in it. It had some funny moments, some quirkiness to it, but that was about it. And now from the same dudes that made ND a hit, comes NACHO LIBRE.

Here's a quick summary. Jack Black plays Nacho, a monk/cook who has had a life long dream of being a wrestler. His dream becomes a reality and he wrestles, rather poorly. However, even losers get paid and he uses his winnings to buy food for the orphans. He also falls for a really hot nun and tries his best to impress her. And of course, he tries to win her heart and be a real champion in the final bout.

Frankly, there isn't much to this film. In fact, if you've seen the trailer you probably know the whole story. The film was been getting really nailed by reviewers and critics, although so did NAPOLEON. I thought NACHO was the funniest thing I've seen since THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, which is the best comedy of the last decade or so (in my opinion). I guess it helps if you're a Jack Black fan. I don't know if I'm a fan, but I do enjoy his work and think he usually saves pretty bad movies. I don't think NACHO would work without Black.

Black is the only non-Mexican in the whole cast. And most of the cast has never been in an American production until NACHO. I laughed at so much of the film, but wondered if I should be feel bad for doing so. I can't really tell if the film is making fun of Latinos or not. If it is, then it's all in good fun of course. There is nothing malicious about the comedy at all. In fact, this is a pretty good family film.

There are some cheap laughs here and there. There might be a few too many fart jokes, but the kids seem to like them. I never knew wrestlers wore their masks around town. And I'll never be able to look at "the wilderness" or corn on the cob in the same way again.

NACHO LIBRE is a pretty stupid movie, but its summer and mindless entertainment is what the summer is all about. Of all the summer films I've seen so far, this is my favorite and the only one I would even think about spending money on again.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

24 Season 5 Finale

Last night Jack Bauer saved the day, again. 24 is probably the most entertaining show on television and one of the best written. Sure the plots aren't exactly possible, but who cares? The core of the stories are very modern and thought provoking, especially in this day and age. This season saw many beloved main characters killed off. There is no other series that has the guts to kill off its cast like 24. There are times when the audience isn't even sure if Bauer will live, because no one is save in the world of 24. The season ends with many loose ends, not that that's a complaint. I have a feeling seasons 5 and 6 will be tied together more than any other seasons have been. There are rumors that season 6 might be tied into the film version of 24, which is set for release in 2008. The finale also got loosely tied into the end of season 4.

This wasn't the first time the show ended with a cliff hanger either, although rare. At the end of season 2 we saw Mindy give a handshake of death to President Palmer. He turned out to be ok, but producers and writers decided that cliff hangers of that sort weren't for 24. With the layout of the show the way it is, the audience literally much watch every episode, in order, or be lost. They want to reward their audience for doing so, not leave them hanging off a cliff. That being said, loose ends are many in the world of 24. This season it was the mysterious men working with the President, called the Bluetooth Group online. Mindy was working Max, a mystery man on a yacht who appeared in seasons 1 and 2, but never after and never was explained at all. Such is life in the dark world of 24.

Season 4 was the best since the first, and season 5 was its equal. Season 6 will be a giant undertaking, but there is already enough to work with that I'm excited about it already. It'll be a long wait though, 24 won't return until January 2007.

And in closing, it seems that the writers of 24 are taking a page from the playbook of LOST. Here is a frame capture from last night. Chloe is given a picture of her and Edgar that was among his things.

"Jack is dead" written backwards. It also seems to say "phone" and another word that I can't make out. Is this a clue? I hope not, 24 doesn't need to resort to LOST's games.

It'll be a long wait until January.

Monday, May 22, 2006

THE DA VINCI CODE


And so the summer movie season starts. I have not read book that Ron Howard's DA VINCI CODE is based on and perhaps that helped my viewing. As with any film adaptation of a novel there are always complains from those who hold the book near and dear to their hearts. THE DA VINCI CODE feels like a film based from a book. At times the pacing seems ackward and drawn out. Yet, at the same time the film seems almost too short. It is hard to find that nice middle ground without having a film that's three hours long.

Ron Howard is not a brillant filmmaker by any means, but he isn't an idiot either. THE DA VINCI CODE is fairly well made. The use of night and darkness really add to the story, although there are those who have said the film is too dark! I'm not so sure about that. Howard doesn't wow us with too much in terms of flashy filmmaking. There are some very well put together scenes and the film, for the most part, is effective. Screenwriter Avika Goldman is probably the worst writer to ever win an Oscar, however when you're adapting one of the most well known books of the decade it's pretty hard to mess it up.

The performances have also been attacked by the press. Tom Hanks is pretty much Tom Hanks here. He doesn't really make a memorable character, but whose to say that he really needs to. The performance is subtle. Audrey Tautou does a nice job in a role that could see her get more American roles. Jean Reno does a fine job as a dirty French policeman. Ian McKellan and Paul Bettany also provide strong supporting roles with a few memorable scenes.

I won't go into plot details here. Most of the people who will see this film have read the book, and therefore already know the plot. Those who haven't read the book will get more out of it with the less they know going into it. Much had been made about the use of historical figures in a fictional film. I can understand, to a point, the concerns as there were times where I found myself saying, "huh, I wonder if that really happened." Dealing with religious figures opens yet another can of worms, as there are those who would claim the figures are more fictional then historical to begin with.

THE DA VINCI CODE is not a great film. It's not a terrible film either. It's an entertaining film that doesn't bore over its two hour thirty minute running time. I think this is a great way to kick off the summer season when everything is flashy mindless entertainment. Maybe now I'll even read the book.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

STAR WARS on DVD...for real this time!

Back in the 90s when George Lucas presented us with the Special Editions of the STAR WARS films, he said they were the final versions. Finally, the films were presented in the form he had always wanted but could never do. Even though his new version altered the memories of millions of fans, Lucas had his way. Last year the Special Editions were released on DVD and Lucas again said that the original trilogy (or OT in geek-speak) would never be released again. He even went as far to say that the original negatives were altered for the Special Editions, therefore making a new remastered (or even re-printing) of the OT impossible. Well, he kind of lied with that as you don't really need the original camera negatives to make a remastered print. There are plenty of STAR WARS film articles out there that could be used to source a DVD release. Nonetheless, Lucas made his point clear.

So many fans, like myself, went onto ebay to find versions of the OT on VHS, as that was the last placed they were released. Others spent even more money getting the old laserdiscs of the OT. Some even bought LD players just so they could watch SW as they remembered it. From the widescreen LD were sourced many DVDs that were along long before the official DVD of the Special Editions were released. These were the only way one could watch the OT in widescreen. Fan begged and begged for the OT on DVD, yet Lucas said no.

Lucas really missed the boat with the Special Editions. There isn't a filmmaker alive who is completely happy with their work. Some directors, David Cronenberg comes to mind, refuse to watch any of their films because all they see is what they did wrong. That is part of the art of filmmaking. Lucas is now somewhat famous for changing his films around, along with Steven Spielberg. E.T. was altered for its DVD release. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was altered for its release. But none were changed as much as the DVD release of the STAR WARS films. Yes, Lucas has the money to do whatever he wants with his films, thanks to high tech computers. But in doing so he changed the way people saw the films. They loved the films for what they were, not for what they could've been. Lucas even altered his first film, THX-1138 for its DVD release. In almost every case like this, the "new" additions are a distraction and only make the film worse.

Lucas created a black market for the OT. Still, he stood by his word that they versions that were released would be it. Until now. Lucasfilms announced that in September there will be 2 disc editions of the OT released on DVD. They stated that they will not be as cleaned up as the Special Edition set, in a stupid attempt to make them seem less worthy. They also took a page out of Disney's book as the DVDs will only be on sale until December 31st, 2006. After that, they'll be gone forever. Which is, in my opinion, just a way to make even more money by creating a supply and demand issue.

Lucas is a money whore. There were nearly ten VHS releases of the STAR WARS films. There have already been two DVD releases, not including the DVDs and probably soon-to-be-released set of the prequels. And now a DVD of the OT. Why? Because Lucas saw there was money to be made. You have to wonder if this was his plan the whole time. Is Lucas smart enough to declare he would never release the OT therefore starving fans only to release them after the "only DVD version" of the films had already been released? Or is Lucas too stupid to see that by not releasing the OT he created a massive demand and then saw bootlegger and ebay jerks making money off DVDRs source from the LD releases? It's hard to say.

And will I buy into it? You bet I will. I have the OT on DVD, sourced from avi files ripped from the LD release. The quality isn't so hot, but its the OT that I grew up loving. And while I hate the idea of giving Lucas even more of my money, I will do so because I love the films for the mindless entertainment that they are. The better question is what do I do with my Special Edition DVD set now? I could hardly watch the butchered versions of these films and now see no use for the set once the OT DVDs are released. It will be very interesting to see if ebay and trade outlets are flooded with the set come the fall.

Some may refuse to buy them, seeing now use. For others, this is what they have been waiting for. No one treats their fans worse that Lucas and his crew and it's a shame. I think the sets will sell very well. And starting next year the sets and DVDr bootlegs of it, will start selling for a lot of money on ebay, just like the Disney DVDs. And then I expect, just like Disney, that Lucas will re-release them again in a few years stating such high demand. And once again we will bite. Why? Because we love the films, we love them they way they were.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Joy of Torrents

Since I got my DSL connection I've been addicted to downloading by way of bit torrents. For those that don't know bit torrents are a kind of peer-to-peer network, by which the source files are downloaded and uploaded at the same time. This has become a popular way to download everything and anything.

I started using bit torrents to download television shows. I'm too poor/cheap to get cable and we don't get that many channels. So I download shows, mostly for my girlfriend, and since most are ripped from HD broadcasts the quality is pretty great. And of course I use torrents to download screeners here and there, just don't tell the feds!

However, my recent obsession is downloading hard to find films that have never been released on DVD. In the past when I wanted to see something that was out of print I would have to spend $20 or so bucks for a poor quality bootleg. With a bootleg its a crap shoot. Sometimes they aren't too bad and sometimes they are barely watchable. Most of these torrents, much like the bootlegs, are sourced from old VHS copies so the quality isn't perfect, but for most of these films that really isn't a problem.

I discovered these gems when I decided to look for LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, a 70s horror film that I've always heard good things about. Sure enough, I found a torrent within a few minutes of searching. So not only did I find the film and not have to pay a massive amount for a bootleg of the same quality. But I also uploaded the film so others could see the film without having to pay bootleggers.

There are those who say this is no different from bootlegging. While I can understand their point I have to disagree. Most of these are nearly impossible to find anywhere. I have always thought downloading a bootleg is a lot better than buying one. In buying one directly adds to the bootleg industry. Granted, if one downloads a film currently in theaters then yes, they are taking money away from the film industry. However, that is another subject all together, as no one has made money off of these films for years.

Since searching for these VHSrips I have discovered a number of great finds. THE WIZARD, the Fred Savage/Nintendo film from the late 80s. LOOKER, a film I wrote about a few weeks ago. The early 80s Israeli post-apocalyptic film SHE. NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, one of those great 80s cheese-ball horror films. And STARCRASH, a Roger Corman produced STAR WARS rip off starring none other than David Hasselhoff

None of these are great films. As a matter of fact it might be hard calling some of the good films. But still, each of these had something that I took away from it after I watched. That is always a good factor in a movie. These VHSrips don't last too long, so it's good to check often and see what's out there. You never know when you might find something special.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

THE PASSENGER finally on DVD


THE PASSENGER is finally on DVD. The 1975 masterpiece by Michelangelo Antonioni stars Jack Nicholson in one of his best performances. After BLOWUP was such a success, Antonioni turned to American audiences with ZABRISKIE POINT. POINT was a major miss, a film most likely misunderstood by its audience. Hollywood would give Antonioni one more chance to make his American mark. Thus was THE PASSENGER.

I won't go into plot detail. Most film fans know what the film is about. I would rather talk a little about the DVD itself, mainly the commentary by Nicholson himself. Nicholson actually owns the rights to THE PASSENGER. He bought them years ago and is in part why the film has been so hard to find. Nicholson wanted a release that would equal the quality of the film. Last year, the film got a small theatrical release and this DVD followed.

In the commentary its easy to tell that Nicholson loves the film. Half the time Nicholson slowly gives a play-by-play of the film. He explains the slightest details and what they may or may not mean. These insights could have come from a film scholar of the highest degree. Nicholson knows his stuff and it's a joy to listen.

The rest of the commentary is Nicholson telling stories of the production and Antonioni. He says its hard for him to separate the film from the making of the film, a thought that could only be attached to an Antonioni film. These stories are wonderful, especially since Antonioni has been ill for years and probably doesn't have much time left.

Perhaps later I will do a deeper post about the film. For now I'll just enjoy it. The long wait was well worth it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

LOOKER (1981)


I was at a local video store the other day, looking for cheesy 80s horror and sci-fi films. There is something about these films that take me back to my youth (more on that in another article). I found a few terribly excellent 80s horror movies and one promising looking sci fi piece called, LOOKER.

LOOKER was written and directed by Michael Crichton, which was the main reason I picked it up. I have always been a fan of WESTWORLD, the "test run" for JURASSIC PARK, made in the 70s. I've seen COMA, but such a long time ago that I really don't remember too much about it. Crichton, while a well known writer, isn't know for his filmmaking. And LOOKER was something I had never heard of.

The plot is simple, kind of. We have a plastic surgeon played by Albert Finney who recently has had four beautiful models come to him for very precise work. One by one each is killed off and Finney is a suspect by the police. Naturally, Finney becomes worried about the last girl who hasn't been killed and takes it upon himself to protect her. Along the way he find out the model, played by Susan Dey, is working for a company called Digital Matrix. DM is a research center controlled by James Coburn. DM has done studies to find out that when people watch commercials they are more interested in the models presenting the products then the products themselves. They create digital actors, modeled after the models, and their super computers create "perfect" commercials with some sort of hidden messages within them.

I say the plot is kind of simple, because while the story is easy to follow there is no explanation as for why things are happening. Coburn and his crew killed three girls, and tried to kill many more. Why? Well, the project was pretty top secret. Were they up to no go? It's hard to say. There are a few scenes and brief comments made about a presidential candiate and he's even included in the "perfect-super" commercials. However, there is never a clear connection made between the candiate or anyone at DM. Why are the police in on the plot? They clean up after Coburns' men make a few messes, but how many of them are in the know? And why does Coburn try to set up Finney? He never gets arrested even though the police are on Coburn's side. And later on the film Coburn says he doesn't want Finney bothered. Then why set him up within the first five minutes?

And then there are the looker ray guns, which are the weapon of choice of the DM thugs. These special guns shoot a bright flash of light and stun whomever is shot. Sometimes, the guns seem to freeze time. Sometimes, they act like a stun gun. And its implied that there's a connection between them and the technology used for the commericals, but again is never explained.

According to the IMDB, the television edit adds nearly 15 minutes of plot, includes scenes where Finney and Dey try to figure out why DM is doing what they're doing. It also says a major issue with critics upon its released was the lack of explanation. Unforunately, the film is rarely shown on tv anymore. It's never been released on DVD and has been out of print on VHS for over ten years.

With all of its flaws there are still some interesting things going on here. While its never clear, Coburn and DM have interesting views on television viewing and its effect on the American public. It's a nice stepping stone for Cronenberg's VIDEODROME, which would come along a few years later. One might even be able to make some connections with THE TRUMAN SHOW as well.

And then there's the issue of using digital actors. I had a film professor who talked about how one day films would all be done with computers, including the actors. Everything would be on file and the director would just type what actions he wants and what the characters would say. We're not exactly there yet, but we are close. We have Gene Kelly dancing with vacuums. We had Humphrey Bogart in an episode of Tales from the Crypt. Oliver Reed was digitally put into GLADIATOR. The use is becoming more and more common.

I guess LOOKER was worth the rental. While I have more questions about it the more I think about it, it was still enjoyable. There is an element of these 70s sci fi pieces that always gets to me. I almost prefer their view on "futuristic technology" more than the real thing. But still, LOOKER has nothing on WESTWORLD. And look out, because once again there is talk of a WESTWORLD remake. Something tells me it just won't be the same.