Monday, November 27, 2006

Now Available: The Night Driver

Well, I assume it's available... I just got a couple of comp copies of The Night Driver – my first graphic novel and first published work in several years – in the mail.

Purely a work-for-hire assignment, I was commissioned by CinemaGraphix last year to adapt a screenplay by John Cork into graphic novel form, and it was illustrated by newcomer Christopher Legasse. Although the story isn't my own, it was a real challenge for me as a writer to take a script intended for film (which has sound and motion) and make it work in comics form (static images and text), especially as it's a suspense story, a decidedly unusual genre for comic books.

Overall, I think the final book turned out pretty well. I hope that it does well for Moonstone and CinemaGraphix, and I want to thank CGX honchos Ed Polgardy and Darin Scott for the opportunity to work on the project. It was a challenge, but I learned a lot.

If you can't find a copy at your locals comics shop, I'm sure the fine folks at Moonstone will be happy to sell you one!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

R.I.P. Dave Cockrum

I probably should illustrate this memorial post with one of Dave Cockrum's X-Men or Legion of Super-Heroes covers, as those are the titles he was best known for – or maybe one of his own creations, like The Futurians. But I know Dave was a huge fan of Blackhawk, and contributed several very strong covers to the title's mid-80's revival... and I like this one a lot. It seems appropriate, somehow.

I always enjoyed Cockrum's artwork. When he was firing on all cylinders, no one could beat his clean, solid draftsmanship and straightforward storytelling. He was also a hell of a graphic designer; even today he's still regarded and recognized as the master of super-hero costume design.

I only met him once, at a convention in New York City, circa 1983. Somewhere in my collection is a copy of Ms. Marvel issue #20 (pictured at left – isn't that beautiful?) that he autographed for me that day, just one of many Cockrum-drawn books residing with honor in my treasured longboxes. I only spent a moment with him that afternoon, but I'm glad I had that opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed his work.

He passed away this morning, after a long battle with diabetes and complications arising from that condition. He was 63.

Mr. Cockrum was best known for his work on Legion of Super-Heroes and Uncanny X-Men, though his route to comic books wasn't as direct as one might imagine. The artist first spent six years in the United States Navy before finding employment at Warren Publishing. He soon became an assistant to inker Murphy Anderson, which soon brought Dave Cockrum into the orbit of Superboy & The Legion of Superheroes. His work on Legion in the seventies, re-designing the costumes and aesthetic of the series, remains a highpoint in the popular superteam's history. Later, teamed with Len Wein and Chris Claremont, the artist redefined the X-Men at Marvel Comics in Uncanny X-Men and Giant Size X-Men.

Another master passes....

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thoughts on Casino Royale

Well, I finally got to see Casino Royale on Wednesday night, with a crowd of obnoxious, young, attention-deficit plagued people who really shouldn't be allowed to go out in public. In an attempt to put some distance between ourselves and them, my wife and I ended up sitting a bit too close to the screen, which made some of the frenetic action of the first act a bit hard to follow.

Overall, while I think Casino Royale '06 may be one of the better entries in the series (albeit a distinctly aytypical one), it does have a few problems. In an admirable effort to maintain fidelity to Ian Fleming's original, somewhat action-deprived novel, the screenwriters were forced to create a whole new plot to lead into the events of the book. This new plot takes up the first third of the movie, and probably 80% of the film's action sequences occur in this portion, making the movie top-heavy with stunts and pyrotechnics.

The second and most of the third acts of the film are fairly faithful to Fleming's plotting, which, unfortunately, lacks a dramatic, cinematic climax. The filmmakers have grafted on a last act gunfight in a collapsing building, but it really doesn't provide the sort of "bang" that audiences have come to expect from the franchise.

As for Daniel Craig – well, I still have no idea how he'll play Bond. The conceit of the film is that we're seeing the man being forged into the suave gentleman spy we've come to know, which means that until the very end of the flick, Craig is playing "proto-Bond." So, it'll be a couple years before we know how Craig actually interprets the role.

My early concerns were not allayed, unfortunately. I still think Craig is too old for the role as written; too mature and weather-beaten to be the raw young recruit the script posits. And having Judi Dench – no matter how damned good she is in the role – reprising the "M" character only confuses the whole "prequel" issue. I know many of the people in our audience were baffled as to what was going on.

I also thought the change from baccarat to poker was arbitrary and unnecessary, and actually contributed to the pivotal card game being far too protracted. Yeah, it's an important story point, but in a two-hour-and-forty-minute movie, the card game could have been streamlined and probably should have. As it stands now, I felt it lacked the tension and suspense it should have possessed.

I was pleased to see how much of Fleming's novel was retained, however. It's been a long time since a Bond movie could honestly claim to be based on the book with which it shared a title; the last was probably On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969!

Anyway, it's obviously going to take a few more viewings before I can really figure out how I feel about it, but while I can't say I was disappointed, neither was I blown away by it, either.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Birthday, Boris!

As I prepare to set out for my sister's place for Thanksgiving dinner, I'm already planning my DVD watching upon my return home later this evening. You see, not only is it Thanksgiving for us Yanks, but it is the birthday of legendary limey William Henry Pratt as well, the sinisterly lisping star better known as Boris Karloff.

As befits the day, I'm particularly thankful that both Universal and Columbia saw fit to dip into their respective film vaults and unearth their remaining Karloff treasures on DVD this year. Between the two collector's sets, we now have availaible – for the first time on home video, in many cases – such relatively obscure melodramatic treasures as Night Key, The Man They Could Not Hang, Before I Hang, Tower of London, The Strange Door, The Climax, The Black Castle and The Boogie Man Will Get You!

As for my holiday viewing, I think this evening calls for a showing of The Black Room, which features the distinguished Gentleman of Horror shining in dual roles as twin brothers, ably directed by Sherlock Holmes vet, Roy William Neill.

Happy 119th Birthday, Boris – and a Happy Thanksgiving to the rest of you!

* Look for my thoughts on Casino Royale later tonight or tomorrow. Still processing....

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Space Academy Class Reunion

This just in: Space Academy is coming to DVD in January!

January 16th, in fact, as a four-disc special edition from the fine folks at BCI Eclipse.

Space Academy has long been a personal favorite of mine, even moreso than its more action packed, comic book-styled spin-off,
Jason of Star Command. In fact, I believe that Academy, if remade today, would make a great series for modern teens and young adults. I imagine something that combines contemporary campus soap opera with the interstellar adventure of Star Trek... and lots of hot female cadets in short skirts.

After all, you want to stay somewhat faithful to the source material, and the original series had those short skirts (and brunette Maggie Cooper was particularly fetching in hers), along with some very memorable and impressive special effects footage – effects that, IMO, rivaled the quality and variety of those on
Space: 1999, produced a year earlier on five times the budget. But then, I'm a sucker for "old school" (get it?) special effects – give me honest-to-Harryhausen handcrafted miniature spaceships and live action pyrotechnics over flashy CGI cartoons any day.

Overall, it looks like another exceptional Saturday Morning nostalgia release from BCI, who have really gone the extra mile on these Filmation discs. One personal disappointment: it looks like short-skirted space cadet Maggie Cooper didn't show up for the class reunion, which is a real shame. Man, I had such the crush on her. She had a devastating smile (and nice legs, too).

Anyway, it looks like it's time to toss my bootlegs. Here's an excerpt from the official Press Release:

Space Academy features all 15 episodes from the 1977 series starring Jonathan Harris as the Commander Isaac Gampu who leads the young cadets attending Space Academy in the year 3732. The series also features Pamelyn Ferdin, Ric Carrott, Ty Henderson, Maggie Cooper, Brian Tochi and Eric Greene. Additionally, the special effects team was comprised of some of the technical wizards who created Star Wars that very same year.

The series premiered on CBS in the 1977 season and was later syndicated worldwide. The success of the series led to a spin-off the following season called Jason of Star Command.

Special Features include:
35 minute documentary, "Back to School with Space Academy"
Two commentary tracks featuring executive producer Lou Scheimer, actors Ric Carrott, Brian Tochi, Eric Greene, plus special effects supervisor Chuck Comisky
Photo and art galleries
Scripts and series bible
Easter eggs
Booklet with episode guide
Ink & Paint trailers
Spanish language tracks

Producing the special features, documentaries and most of the extra content is entertainment writer Andy Mangels, a best-selling novelist, and author of Animation on DVD—The Ultimate Guide.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Arrrgghhh!!

This weekend, I've been both too busy and too ill to get to the movie theater to see Casino Royale, which makes the first time since 1979 I haven't seen a new Bond film on its opening weekend.

Maybe tomorrow.

On a completely unrelated note, I discovered this weekend that Fox's next Mr. Moto Collection, due out on February 13th (Hon, if you're looking for a Valentine's gift...?), will include not only the four remaining Peter Lorre Moto films – Mr. Moto's Gamble, Mr. Moto in Danger Island, Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation, and Mr. Moto's Last Warning – but the 1965 "Bond-inspired" re-invention, The Return of Mr. Moto, starring Henry Silva as the inscrutable Japanese agent.

Cool! I've always wanted to see that flick, regardless of its poor reputation! What a great "Bonus Feature" from Fox.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Swingin' at RKO

Yesterday I received my TARZAN COLLECTION VOL. 2 DVD set from Deep Discount, containing Johnny Weissmuller's second set of six Tarzan pictures. This half-dozen were produced not by MGM, but by RKO, and were somewhat less lavish than the initial batch from the larger studio. Also, Maureen O' Sullivan was still under contract at Metro, so the two Johnnys (Weissmuller and Sheffield a/k/a "Boy") had to go on without their beloved Jane. For a couple movies, anyway.

Well, I've already watched four of the flicks, and while I may have caught bits and pieces of these over the years on television, I can honestly say I'd never actually seen any of them all the way through before. Overall, I've found them to be extremely entertaining, well-produced, and somewhat less repetitive than the earlier MGM series (five of which feature pretty much the same plot). Like any other character-centric series, be it James Bond, Sherlock Holmes or Freddy Krueger, there are certain elements that have to be in every installment – a formula to follow – otherwise the audience feels cheated. For my money, the RKO screenwriters were more imaginative in wringing new twists out of the recipe than their counterparts at Metro.

Sure, Weissmuller's getting older and no longer the lithe, well-sculpted figure of Tarzan and His Mate, but he still cuts a formidible figure of an Ape Man – at least in these first four flicks.

The first of the RKO series, Tarzan Triumphs (1943), begins with Tarzan off picking up a letter from Jane (who's visiting family in England) at a distant trading post. Meanwhile, Boy nearly falls to his death while doing some unauthorized exploring. Boy is rescued by the lovely Zandra, a native of a lost civilization hidden in a valley (and this won't be the last of these – not by a long shot). Zandra is played by the gorgeous Frances Gifford, who had previously headlined Republic's serial, Jungle Girl. She's great in this, and I wish RKO had cast her as Jane. Anyway, soon a Nazi combat unit shows up and occupies Zandra's peaceful city, and she runs to Tarzan for help. But Tarzan's an "isolationist," and it takes experiencing some Nazi cruelty first hand to finally motivate the Ape Man to take action: "Now Tarzan make war!"

So, the propaganda level's a bit high. But it's a satisfying adventure, nonetheless.

Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943) has Tarzan and Boy crossing an unnamed desert in search of a medicinal plant that only grows in a distant jungle. Enroute, they become entangled in the local politics of a small desert kingdom, befriend a pretty American stage magician (!) and bedevil a foreign agent/racketeer. When they finally get to the jungle where the rare plants grow, it turns out to be chock-full of dinosaurs (played by optically-enlarged lizards), man-eating plants, and giant spiders!

It's a little slow in the middle, but once they get to the "lost world" jungle, it picks up nicely!

Tarzan And The Amazons (1945) has Jane re-joining her jungle family – only now she's a blonde with an American accent (pretty but bland Brenda Joyce). When a group of explorers want Tarzan to lead them to a lost city of women (hidden in a mountain valley – see? I told you!), he refuses, having sworn to protect the secret of the city's location. Unfortunately, Boy hasn't sworn any oath and knows the way, so he leads the safari to the Amazon paradise, where they're all promptly captured and sentenced to a life of hard labor in the gold mines! You know, by now, you'd think people would realize that when Tarzan says "no," there's usually a good reason!

Finally, I watched Tarzan And The Leopard Woman (1946). Weissmuller obviously worked to tone up for this one, and he looks great. The plot here is pretty basic, but cool. A cult of leopard men and their priestess (Acquanetta) are trying to prevent civilization from encroaching on their territory by attacking caravans and making it look like animal attacks. Of course, Tarzan isn't fooled for a minute. Good fun with a great ending.

I've got two more to go – Tarzan And The Huntress and Tarzan And The Mermaids. I suspect these will be the weakest of the batch, but I'm looking forward to them anyway. Hopefully this set will sell well and Warners will release the five Lex Barker Tarzan films soon!

Monday, November 13, 2006

T-Minus 4

Yep. Getting anxious.

The Hardest Working 'Bot in Show Biz!

In my "Forbidden Memories" post below, I waxed nostalgic about the classic science fiction movie Forbidden Planet, and its real star, Robby the Robot (pictured above with his lovely co-star from that film, Anne Francis).

The distinctive automaton was designed by the talented Robert Kinoshita, and built in mid-1955 by the MGM prop department at a reported cost of $125,000.00. Several "clones" have subsequently been built over the years by both fans and professionals, including, I believe, Fred Barton (who today sells authorized, full-sized replicas), Robert Short and Bill Malone.

Robby is frequently confused in the minds of the public with his younger "brother," the Robot from the TV series Lost In Space. Of course, Robot does have a similar design – which is probably not coincidental, since the Jupiter 2's cybernetic crewmember was also designed by Kinoshita.

Over the years, Robby – or his various clones – have made numerous guest appearances in both feature film and television shows, sometimes sporting an altered head or color scheme. Not long ago in this very blog, I was wondering if anyone had compiled a definitive list of Robby's "acting credits." I searched around a bit online, but was unable to find one that seemed complete.

Here’s a partial list, though, compiled from several sources, including Wikipedia, the IMdB and my own memory. Additions and corrections are welcome!

The Perry Como Show (1957)
The Invisible Boy
(1957)
The Thin Man
(TV series), "The Robot Client" (1958)
The Gale Storm Show, "The Robot from Inner Space" (1958)
The Dobie Gillis Show (196-)
Hazel
(1962)
The Red Skelton Show
(196-)
The Twilight Zone, "Uncle Simon" & "The Brain Center At Whipple's" (1963 & 1964)
The Man from U.N.C.L.E., "The Bridge of Lions Affair" (1966)
Lost In Space, "War of the Robots" & "The Condemned of Space" (1966 & 1967)
The Addams Family, "Lurch's Little Helper" (1966)
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, "Danger Island" (1970)
Columbo, "Mind Over Mayhem" (1974)
Ark II, "The Robot" (1976)
Holmes and Yo-Yo (1976)
Hollywood Boulevard
(1976)
Space Academy
(1978)
TV commercial for Starlog magazine (1978)
Wonder Woman, "Spaced Out" (1979)
Mork & Mindy, "Dr. Morkenstein" (1979)
Project U.F.O., "Sighting 4010: The Waterford Incident" (1978)
Pink Lady & Jeff
(1980)
The Love Boat

Gremlins
(1984)
The Phantom Empire (1986)
Cherry 2000 (1987)
Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
Clueless
(TV series)
Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
Stacked, "Gavin's Pipe Dream" (2005)
TV commercial for AT&T (2006)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jack Palance, R.I.P.

Another tough guy bites the dust. Jack Palance, the craggy-faced, husky-voiced character actor who appeared in over a hundred motion pictures and television shows, such as Panic In The Streets, The Professionals, Shane, I Died A Thousand Times, Torture Garden, Batman, City Slickers, and The Big Knife – as well as such exploitation "classics" as Gor, Alone in the Dark, Angels' Revenge, The Shape of Things To Come and Cyborg 2 – has passed away at age 87.

Jack always made something out of even the worst-written roles, bringing his vast charisma and strength of personality to every screen appearance – especially when he played heavies. Sure, sometimes he'd overact shamelessly, but more often, he underplayed masterfully, conveying a cold, reptilian menace that could chill the blood.

He was brilliant in the Dan Curtis television version of Dr. Jeckyll and Mister Hyde in 1968 and pretty damned effective as the undead Count in Curtis' '73 production of Dracula. (Gene Colan always said that he patterned Marvel Comics' Dracula on Palance, and once you know that, it's easy to see the resemblance). With his rough-hewn features and distinctive delivery, he was the perfect Western black hat, but I remember him fondly shaking his fists in defiance of inevitable defeat at the hands of comic strip heroes like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Hawk the Slayer.

Most mainstream obits will focus on his Oscar win for his supporting role in 1991's City Slickers, and the one-armed push-ups he displayed for the appreciative and awestruck Academy Awards audience. But to me, the definitive proof of the man's talent and unique charisma lies in the fact that for four years, he made Ripley's Believe It or Not – one of the lamest shows of the 80s – actually watchable.

"Believe it.... or not."

Rest in Peace, Jack.

New Spider-Man 3 Trailer

Holy crap! Sam Raimi does it again! I admit, I had some concerns over the choice to adapt the symbiote black Spidey costume/Venom storyline in the third film, especially since Raimi had been doing such a good job of capturing the "classic era" Spider-Man... but...

Check this out!

Forbidden Memories...

When I was about thirteen, I was sound asleep on a weeknight when my mom came in and gently shook me awake. She told me there was a movie coming on – "Planet something, with Robby the Robot?" – and asked me if I wanted to get up to watch it.

Now, I'd already been reading Starlog magazine for a couple years, so I knew that she had to be referring to Forbidden Planet – one of those old movies that the magazine frequently referenced between articles on Star Wars, Star Trek and Space: 1999, and one that I desperately desired to see. Of course, back in those pre-home video days, you couldn't just watch a movie whenever you wanted, you had to wait for it to come on television.

In this case, it was airing on the CBS Late Movie... on a school night.

Absolutely amazed that my mom would make such an a offer, considering the lateness of the hour and my scholastic responsibilities of the next day, I nonetheless quickly sprang from my bed and headed for my parent's room, where I sat silently on the edge of their bed while they slept, watching in rapt attention as the wonders of Altair 4 (in the constellation of Aquilae, some 17 light years from Earth) unfolded before my eyes.

There was Robby, of course, and the sinister Doctor Morbius. There was his daughter, the lovely Altaira (as portrayed by Anne Francis) and square-jawed Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen). But most astounding of all, there were the spectacular Krell laboratories, buried deep in the heart of an alien world with green skies, and the terrifying, unseen "Id Creature!"

When that invisible menace from Morbius' twisted subconscious attacked the heroes' space cruiser (a flying saucer!) and was illuminated by the ray blasts of their defensive cannons, I trembled with excitement – it was thrilling!

I'm pretty sure I had a rough time at school the next day, shuffling around like a teenage zombie, but the memory of that first viewing is still pretty vivid in my mind. It's also the only time I remember my folks indulging my love of sci-fi and fantasy in quite that way, and while I'm sure they've long forgotten the event, I never will.

Next week, Warner Home Video is re-releasing Forbidden Planet on DVD in both a 2-disc special edition and in an "Ultimate Collector's Edition." I can't afford either version right now, but when I can, it'll definitely be that collector's set that I spring for. Check it out!

Aside from a newly re-mastered transfer of the film itself, the set includes:
  • Additional scenes
  • Lost footage
  • Excerpts from the MGM Parade TV series
  • Two follow-up vehicles starring Robby the Robot: 1958 MGM feature film The Invisible Boy and The Thin Man TV Series Episode "Robot Client"
  • Three documentaries
  • Science-fiction movie trailer gallery
  • Vintage memorabilia
  • Robby the Robot replica!
  • Collectible packaging
  • Mail-in offer for a reproduction of an Original Forbidden Planet theatrical poster
To today's audiences, Forbidden Planet may seem slow or cheesy, but to me, it will always have a special place in my movie-loving heart. Beyond the nostalgia factor, it's a smart, styish, science fiction classic on an unprecedented epic scale, both thoughtful and suspenseful. The look of the film is pure 50's pulp, and the "electronic tonalities" that comprise the film's background score are still eerily chilling today.

Plus, it has Robby the Robot. And there has never been a cooler automaton.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cousin of Godzilla

Here's a weird one. As far as I can tell, this is a commercial for a Thai gasoline company starring Godzilla's nerdy, "horny" cousin...

... gotta love the braces.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Godzilla PSA

Haven't posted a Godzilla video in a couple weeks, so here's the Big G starring in a heartwarming public service announcement with the Pillsbury Doughboy. I mean, Minya.

Mail Order DVD Anticipation...

I got paid for some freelance work recently, so over the last few days, both Brandi and I have ordered some DVDs online, discs that we're very eager to get our grubby hands on.

Brandi ordered the second and final wave of Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers RKO musicals from Amazon. She's a huge fan of musicals – and Astaire in specific – and can't wait to get these discs for our collection. To be fair, I enjoy these films, too. Sure, I like to make fun of them just to annoy Brandi, ("Hon? Where's the music coming from? Hon? How come they all know the words? Hon? Why doesn't he just tell her he's not who she thinks he is?") but I can't deny the talent and charisma of the stars. Ginger Rogers was a strikingly beautiful woman and delightfully charming comedienne, and that skinny guy in the top hat and tails wasn't bad, either.

Me, well, as usual, my tastes are bit more eclectic. Here's what I ordered from Deep Discount DVD:

The Tarzan Collection, Vol. 2 – This one features Johnny Weismuller's six RKO Tarzan films: Tarzan Triumphs, Tarzan's Desert Mystery, Tarzan and the Amazons, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, Tarzan and the Huntress and Tarzan and the Mermaids. I don't think I've seen any of these – at least, not since I was a kid – but in recent years I've become a big fan of backlot jungle "epics," so I'm sure I'm going to enjoy them.

Flight to Mars – A 1951 interplanetary adventure from Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures! In 2-strip Cinecolor, no less! I've never actually seen this, but what can I say? I've been in a 50's sci-fi mood lately, and after recently re-watching Rocketship X-M, Project Moonbase, IT: The Terror From Beyond Space and Destination Moon, I wanted something "new."

The Phantom Planet – A 1961 low-budget sc-fi take on Gulliver's Travels, infamous for its skewering by Mike and the 'Bots on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Never seen this before, either, believe it or not.

Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen – the 1981 spoof of the Charlie Chan series. While I've been collecting the Charlie Chan series on DVD, I'm interested in this particular movie mostly because of the bizarre cast: Peter Ustinov (as Chan!), Richard Hatch (as his grandson!), Angie Dickenson, Michelle Pfiefer, Brian Kieth, and Roddy McDowell! Sure, it will probably suck, but I've wanted to see it for a long time, and hey, the disc was cheap!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mission: Impossible 3

Speaking of cinematic spies, I finally caught up with M:I:III (or, as Stephen Colbert calls it, "Mehhh") on DVD.

Now, I really liked the first entry in the Mission: Impossible film series, and thought that it was a surprisingly smart and relatively adult adventure film, well-directed by Brian DePalma. I still feel that way, especially as it's one of the few Tom Cruise films that actually enables me to overcome my inherent aversion to Mister Teeth and actually have a good time with it. I wish that Peter Graves had agreed to play Jim Phelps in it, though.

I was really looking forward to #2, especially when John Woo was attached to direct (I'd been a Woo fan since The Killer first hit VHS), but unfortunately, I found Mission: Impossible 2 disappointing. The clever, twisty plot of the first film was replaced with a simple chase after a generic McGuffin, and padded out with a lot of flashing teeth and slo-mo action scenes. It's nicely shot, but really, I can never remember anything about the story after it's done.

So, when M:I:III hit theaters early this Summer, I was conflicted. Early reviews were generally positive, but the box office wasn't very strong and Mr. Lookatme Cruise was just plain annoying in promoting the film. And, while I enjoy Lost, I'd never seen Alias, and had no real expectations for first-time feature director J.J. Abrams. So, money being tight, I passed on seeing it in the theaters.

But I picked up the DVD last week, and I was pleasantly surprised with the film. A good story, great stunts, strong villian and a surprisingly likeable Cruise added up to a pretty nifty spy movie with a tiny bit more emotional punch than either of the previous entries. Sure, there's a lot of chasing around after a silly McGuffin in this one, too, but Abrams and the screenwriters know it, and are canny enough not to dwell too much on the ambiguous "Rabbit's Foot," treating it much as Hitchcock intended when he invented the term, focusing on on the characters and their actions in obtaining it, instead. I also liked the return – if somewhat halfheartedly – to the "team" concept of the TV show. Sure, it's still all about Cruise's Ethan Hunt in these movies, but at least in this one (unlike #2), there's a bit of lip service paid to the original Bruce Geller IMF team concept.

And, frankly, team member Maggie Q is particularly pleasant eye candy.

I deliberately picked up the bare-bones DVD (I may collect the series, but there's only so much behind-the-scenes Cruise I'm willing to subject myself to) – the widescreen transfer is crisp and beautiful to behold, and the soundtrack is suitably explosive.

For what it's worth, I liked it. If you haven't checked it out, you might want to give it a try.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rebooting Bond

Well, it's almost here.

I guess it's appropriate that Casino Royale has a plot centered around high stakes gaming, since taking a franchise that's been around since 1962 and, to all intents and purposes, starting it over, has got to be a huge gamble. Add into the mix that you have a new lead actor stepping into one of the most iconic roles in film history, one who's all but unknown to the U.S. market (a vital part of the overall box office tally), who is replacing an extremely popular star, and who hasn't been particularly well-received by a fair number of vocal fans and journalists, and the producers have got to be sweating... at least a bit.

But, as a huge Bond fan since I was a kid (I've seen every 007 flick in the theater on the opening weekend – usually the first night – since 1979's Moonraker), I've got to say I'm looking forward to the new Royale.

I'm not quite as hyped up about it as I was when Goldeneye was about to be released – in that case, there hadn't been a Bond film in seven years, and I was really jonesing for some spectacular stunts, sexy femme fatales, sleek sports cars, cool gadgets and vodka martinis (shaken, of course – not stirred) – but with Casino Royale's debut just two weeks away, I am starting to feel that familiar tingle of anticipation that, for me, anyway, has always preceeded the premiere of a new 007 adventure.

Yeah, I still think Daniel Craig's a little old to be playing a neophyte 00 agent, I wish that Judi Dench wasn't playing M again (nothing against her, but it certainly confuses the timeline), and I'm annoyed that they've made so many seemingly arbitrary and unnecessary changes to the backstory (Texas Hold'em instead of baccarat? Ex-SAS instead of Royal Navy?)... but I'm still eagerly looking forward to seeing the movie. The trailers look good, and I am interested in seeing how Craig handles the role. I've liked all the previous Bond actors to different degrees, and I'm curious to see where Craig falls in my esteem.

Well, I guess, in two weeks, I'll find out.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Animated Movies that Don't Suck

I love animation.

There's something magical about it. Done right, it's storytelling without limitations. You can draw (or render on a computer) anything you can imagine. You don't have to worry about sets, special effects, costumes or even what your actors look like.

Which is why I'm so disgusted with this current wave of CGI animated films. Now, honestly, I can't claim to have seen many of them, but I don't think I have to. They're all the same. You can tell from the trailers and commercials.

And while I'll usually rail against people who criticize stuff they haven't seen, this time I feel relatively justified in committing the same sin. Others have subjected themselves to those so-called animated movies so I don't have to.

Now, there have been a few bright spots in the past year or so, but they pretty much were ignored by the mainstream audiences. Fortunately, thanks to DVD, they're still out there and still have a chance to find appreciative viewers.

This past weekend the wife and I finally caught up with some films we'd missed, including Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle. What a brilliant piece of filmmaking and storytelling... but then, what else do you expect from Miyazaki? This is the man responsible for Spirited Away, after all. The movie completely subverts Western narrative conventions and defies expectations at every turn. Too bad more people won't see it.

And you want to see a computer-animated feature that doesn't suck? Check out Hoodwinked. Made for less than half of the average CG-toon's budget, the animation isn't as smooth or polished as what you'll see in Over the Hedge or Cars, but the story – a twisted take on Little Red Riding Hood – is clever and full of surprises, with some damned funny bits and great characters. Ignore the reviews that obsess on the flaws in the animation. The movie has a great story, witty script, and some genuine genius behind it.

If I was John Lasseter, I'd be doing a little head-hunting and bring some of those Hoodwinked guys over to Pixar.

Check 'em out.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

TV on DVD

Since moving to Maine almost two years ago, my wife and I haven't had cable TV. With an antenna, we can manage pretty good reception of the local ABC, PBS and CBS affiliates, and since the only TV show we're interested in watching that's on any of those stations is Lost, we rarely ever watch current TV.

Sure, I'd love to get Sci-Fi Channel so I could stay on top of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who... but there really isn't all much else on these days that interests us enough to pay the extortionate cable fees. Since most everything we're interested in eventually makes its way to DVD, we've learned to be patient and avoid spoilers... which, admittedly, is pretty tough to do when you spend as much time online as we do – but we manage. The digital format also allows us to own complete runs of vintage TV series and enables us to enjoy them without blaring commercials, annoying network promos and... well, commercials. It's also nice to be able to pop in a couple of Have Gun Will Travel or Rat Patrol episodes at four a.m. to unwind after I've finished my night's labors and before turning in.

Partially because of my reviewing gig, and partially through some cunning bargain hunting, we've accumulated quite a collection of television programming on disc. Our tastes are eclectic, to be sure, but you'll notice there's a definite leaning toward sci-fi and fantasy:

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
– The Complete Series
The Adventures of Superman – Seasons 1 & 2
Alien Nation – The Complete Series
Angel – Seasons 1-5
Ark II – The Complete Series
Babylon 5 – Seasons 1-5
Babylon 5 – The Movie Collection
– Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers – TV Movie
Batman: The Animated Series – Seasons 1-4
Battlestar Galactica – The Complete Series
Battlestar Galactica – Seasons 1, 2.0, 2.5
Blackstar – The Complete Series
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – The Complete Series
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Seasons 1-7
Clerks: The Animated Series – The Complete Series
Conan – The Complete Series
Coupling – Seasons 1-4
Crusade – The Complete Series
Dark Shadows – The Complete Revival Series
Defenders of the Earth – Vol. 1
Dracula the Series – Vols. 1 & 2
Dune – The Miniseries
Dungeons & Dragons – The Complete Series
Earth 2 – The Complete Series
Fawlty Towers – The Complete Series
Farscape (Starburst Editions) – Seasons 1-4
Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars – The Miniseries
The Flash – The Complete Series
Freaks And Geeks – The Complete Series
Firefly – The Complete Series
Futurama – Seasons 1-4
Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda – Seasons 1-5
The Greatest American Hero – The Complete Series
Groovie Goolies – The Complete Series
Have Gun Will Travel – Season 1
Hercules The Legendary Journeys – Seasons 1-6
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy – The Miniseries
The Incredible Hulk – Season 1
– The Return of the Incredible Hulk– TV Movie
– The Trial of the Incredible Hulk– TV Movie
– The Death of the Incredible Hulk– TV Movie
The Invisible Man – Seasons 1 & 2
Jack of All Trades – The Complete Series
Jonny Quest – Season 1
Kolchak The Night Stalker – The Complete Series
The Land of the Lost – Seasons 1- 3
Lois & Clark – Seasons 1 & 2
Lost – Seasons 1 & 2
Lost In Space – Season 1
Magnum P.I. – Seasons 3-5
The Magnificent Seven – Season 1
Malcolm in the Middle – Season 1
The Martian Chronicles – The Miniseries
Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer Private Eye – The Complete Series
The Monkees – Season 1
The Muppet Show – Season 1
My So-Called Life – The Complete Series
The New Adventures of Flash Gordon – The Complete Series
The New Avengers – Season 1
Night Court – Season 1
The Outer Limits – Season 1
Peter Gunn – Season 1
Planet of the Apes – The Complete Series
The Prisoner – The Complete Series
The Rat Patrol – Season 1
Remington Steele – Seasons 1-5
The Rockford Files – Seasons 1 & 2
She Spies – Season 1
Shogun – The Miniseries
Simon & Simon – Season 1
The Simpsons – Season 1
Sledge Hammer – Seasons 1 & 2
Soap – Seasons 1 & 2
Space: 1999 – Seasons 1 & 2
Space Academy – The Complete Series
Spin City – Best Of, Vols. 1 & 2
Storm of the Century – The Miniseries
Superboy – Season 1
Superman: The Animated Series – Seasons 1 - 3
The Tick – The Complete Series
Twin Peaks – Season 1
UFO – The Complete Series
Ultraman – Season 1, Vol. 1
V – The Miniseries
V: The Final Battle – The Miniseries
V – The Complete Series
The Venture Bros. – Season 1
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – Season 1, Vol. 2
Wanted Dead or Alive – Season 1
Wild Wild West – Season 1
Wonder Woman – Seasons 1- 3
Xena, Warrior Princess – Seasons 1-6
The Young Ones – The Complete Series

I'm sure I'm forgeting something....