California Literary Review

The Fourth Wall

A Film and Television Blog

The Weekly Listicle: Dancing, Dancing, and Additional Dancing!

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August 5th, 2010 at 5:10 pm

This week, our crack correspondent William Bibbiani has been covering Step Up 3D with real gusto. The film opens on the 6th of August, and as the title promises, it will bring the floor-scorching legacy of its predecessors – Step Up (2006) and Step Up 2 The Streets (2008) – right up into your face. If all goes well, and the producers hold to their even-year sequel schedule, the setup will be eerily perfect for Step Up 2012: Dance Floor Apocalypse. Are you listening, Hollywood?

Step Up 3D

Step Up 3D: Just imagine this rushing toward you at the speed of light.

But swing kids and dancing fools are nothing new to the screen. Throughout the history of film and television, characters have been expressing their hopes, desires, and hang-ups through dance. Today we take a look back at some of our favorite toe-tapping moments. Kick off your shoes and cut a rug with William Bibbiani, Julia Rhodes, and me (Dan Fields). Just watch out for your toes.

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All Of This Has Happened Before: Step Up Revisited!

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August 1st, 2010 at 10:41 pm

As a film critic, I am sometimes expected to review films with a history, and whenever possible I try to educate myself on that history beforehand. Last week I reviewed Dinner for Schmucks, based on the French comedy The Dinner Game. I was going to watch the original film before seeing the remake, but ultimately decided against it because watching the same jokes only a week or two apart would probably result in an unfair comparison. This weekend I will be reviewing Step Up 3D, the third in the remarkably popular Step Up franchise. I have a passing familiarity with the second film, but never actually sat down to watch the series in its entirety. This week I will rectify this situation with a look back at the guilty-pleasure franchise that shocked the world by being mildly tolerable.

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The date was August 11, 2006 when Step Up was first unleashed unto the world. Despite critical indifference and a release date in a crowded summer that also contained such hits as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and The Da Vinci Code, this little amalgamation of Dirty Dancing and The Cutting Edge ended up making over $20 million dollars at the box office opening weekend, and ultimately grossed over $114 million worldwide. That’s not bad for a film that seems to contribute nothing new whatsoever to the world at large.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’s Channing Tatum stars as street dancer Tyler Gage, the man with the most implausibly manly name since Arnold Schwarzenegger played “John Matrix” in Commando over 20 years prior. He lives in the slums of Baltimore. Not the actual slums of Baltimore, mind you. Although some of the cast members of “The Wire” show up from time to time, Tyler Gage’s Baltimore is actually a pretty decent neighborhood that only seems to look impoverished because people have to string up their laundry in their backyards. Tyler has two best friends: Mac (Damain Radcliff) and Mac’s little brother “Skinny” (De’Shawn Washington). Skinny spends most of the film trying to impress his two surrogate father figures. They in turn spend most of the film making homophobic remarks about Skinny and teaching him how to steal cars. You spend most of the film waiting for Skinny to get shot so Mac and Tyler can learn a valuable lesson about responsibility. But to Step Up’s credit they at least wait until the very last minute to pop a cap in his annoying little ass.

Movie Still: Step Up

While Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) and Nora Clark (Jenna Dewan) get to “Pop-and-Lock,” his sidekick Skinny (De’Shawn Washington, not pictured) just gets “popped-and-glocked.”
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The Weekly Listicle: Animated/Animatronic Animals Galore!

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July 29th, 2010 at 4:45 pm

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This week’s Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore looks, frankly, cringe-worthy—but you can bet kids will love it. A German shepherd getting his butt stuck in a tube? The kids are there. A mechanical squirrel self-destructing after relaying a message, 007 style? Kiddies are going to love it. A mixture of real and CGI cats and dogs getting into shenanigans, flying through the air with rocket packs, and plotting revenge against humans? Oh, good.

I predict Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore won’t be a blockbuster, but there will be plenty of kids there opening night. Most of us, at a young age, attach to animated and/or animatronic animals, whether they be totally fictional, completely real with a twist, hilariously potty-mouthed, or downright silly.

Join for this week’s Listicle with William Bibbiani, Dan Fields, and me (Julia Rhodes!) as we chronicle the best Animated (or Animatronic) Animals in recent history.

JULIA’S PICKS:

Muk and Luk (voiced by Phil Collins) in Balto (dir. Simon Wells, 1995)

Those crazy critters: Muk and Luk in Balto.

Balto is a mostly animated family film that fell under the radar mainly because it’s not as good as the Disney fare of that time (which included The Lion King in 1994). Balto was the last feature produced by Amblimation, Stephen Spielberg’s pre-Dreamworks animation studio (and Dreamworks still isn’t making movies quite as good as Disney or Pixar, to tell the truth). Balto is the true story of an Alaskan half-wolf that led his sled team on a 600-mile journey across the rugged, snowy terrain of Alaska to retrieve diphtheria vaccines for the children of Nome. Balto’s tale inspired the legendary Iditarod dog race (the subject of that other nineties classic, Iron Will).

Like other dynamic animated comic relief duos, Muk and Luk spend a lot of time making these faces (Balto).

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for epic journeys. Also for cute, talking critters. Muk and Luk the polar bears are two of Balto’s companions, and they are adorable. One (I don’t remember which) speaks, while the other makes silly little chirping and grunting noises. They are polar bears…who can’t swim. When they overcome this handicap to rescue Balto, it’s enough to make one tear up. When they start smacking each other and being adorable again, it’s enough to make one chuckle. The movie may not be the best, but these characters are enough to make me watch it every so often. As an added bonus, they’re voiced by Phil Collins, Disney’s soundtrack go-to man and lead singer of Genesis.

Did I mention they’re nearly obnoxiously cute? Okay, ‘nuff said.

Filbert (Mr. Lawrence) in “Rocko’s Modern Life” (created by Joe Murray, 1993-1996)

Filbert was the perfect, annoying, short-tempered, and anxious foil for Rocko in “Rocko’s Modern Life.”

Let’s take a moment to examine how completely bizarre and gross some of the late-80s and early-90s kids’ TV shows were. We had “The Ren and Stimpy Show,” “Ahhh! Real Monsters!,” “Doug,” “Rugrats,” and later on, “Catdog” and “The Angry Beavers.” None of these made much sense, and most were totally strange. Aside from “Ren and Stimpy,” though, “Rocko’s Modern Life” was perhaps the weirdest show on TV. It was also one of the smartest.

Rocko the Australian wallaby moved from his home country to the U.S.A., where he resided in O Town, also home of wacky cow Heffer, obnoxious boss Mr. Bighead, and pitifully miserable and nerdy turtle Filbert. Filbert had a lot of great moments over the show’s tenure, but he’s best known for retreating into his shell, rocking back and forth on the ground, and muttering, “I’m nauseous, I’m nauseous, I’m nauseous.” I confess, it sometimes still comes out of my mouth unbidden when I’m feeling particularly carsick. Oh, “Rocko’s Modern Life,” where is your modern equivalent?

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Filbert: Always with the bad luck (“Rocko’s Modern Life”).

Ducky (Judith Barsi) in The Land Before Time (dir. Don Bluth, 1988)

Who can resist this face? (Ducky in The Land Before Time).

Before there were eight kajillion sequels to The Land Before Time, there was the original. In the film (which to this day can still make me cry), tiny brachiosaur Littlefoot searches for The Green Valley during one of prehistory’s many extinctions. After a massive earthquake separates him from his grandparents and kills his mother, Littlefoot unites with a group of other baby dinosaurs, including triceratops Sara, stegosaurus Spike, pterodactyl Petrie, and Saurolophus Ducky. As the group journeys across barren terrain, they become fast friends, finally discovering that fabled Green Valley. (What? I told you I’m a sucker for epic journeys.)

The Land Before Time is a fantastic example of Don Bluth’s animation style: deep color saturation, gorgeous movement, prominent shadows, and scares galore have fascinated children since the movie released. On a personal note, my deaf cat is really enthralled by this movie—whenever it’s on, he sits and stares raptly at the TV for the whole 80 minutes.

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I mean, come on, any character who is this abominably cute in its first moments on earth deserves our unadulterated love.

Each dinosaur has his or her own personality, of course, and Ducky is the completely agreeable, though silly, one. She’s a tiny, bumpy-headed creature who’s always cheering the others on, screeching with delight, and saying, “Yep, yep, yep!” Which, once again, I repeat on occasion without thinking about it. Spike’s adorable dimwittedness, Littlefoot’s perfection, and Petrie’s terror of flying may float others’ boats, but Ducky is the one for me.

Falkor (Alan Oppenheimer) in The NeverEnding Story (dir. Wolfgang Petersen, 1984)

Okay, so Falkor is also slightly terrifying. That’s part of what makes him awesome. (The NeverEnding Story).

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Out of the Ashes: John Carpenter back in the game?

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July 26th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

John Carpenter

John Carpenter: trapped in his own mind?

For many, last weekend was a chance to wish their summer-stricken friends a Happy Christmas in July. However, some of us were celebrating Halloween instead, with a measure of cautious optimism. As of July 24, we are two months away from the release date set for John Carpenter’s new film The Ward, his first theatrical feature since 2001’s disastrous Ghosts of Mars. The story, apparently set in a haunted mental hospital, promises claustrophobic terror aplenty. Let’s hope the director can keep it together the way he used to.

Carpenter is well known for a long list of bizarre and hair-raising films, many of which he wrote, directed, edited and scored all by himself. Since the beginning of the 1990s, however, his work has suffered a sharp decline in popularity. Even fans who treasure his earlier works like Halloween, The Thing, and Assault on Precinct 13, have found very little praise in their hearts for latter-day misfires like Village of the Damned and In the Mouth of Madness. In addition, Carpenter has become notorious for producing and otherwise endorsing lame remakes of his work.

The big question is this: have we witnessed full burnout, or merely an extended slump? Is it worth getting excited after so many successive letdowns? Whether your cup of tea is Carpenter or Spielberg or Cronenberg or Scorsese, how to tell when the quality of a filmmaker’s catalog dips for good? At some point it becomes a matter of personal loyalty, although of these directors and many more, Carpenter has the worst track record. Let’s see what history tells us.

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The Weekly Listicle: San Diego Comic Con Edition!

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July 20th, 2010 at 11:34 pm

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Comic Con time. What started as an unceremonious gathering of likeminded geeks in 1970 has since grown into such a media frenzy that there’s hardly any room left for the comic books. That’s no exaggeration, either. I’m a bitter man, folks. I remember a day back when videogame controllers had no analog sticks, the internet was a high tech contraption only public libraries could afford and comic book conventions were for hardcore geeks, not publicists. But whether you have nothing but love for San Diego Comic Con or heartfelt reservations about its meteoric rise to corporate relevance, there’s one safe bet: You’re probably not going this year, because it sold out forever ago.

San Diego Comic Con International

Hope you got your tickets last year. “Sold Out” indeed.

So for all of you geeks who couldn’t attend the convention because the Twilight fans couldn’t resist the urge to pack Hall H again (bad news kids, there’s nothing there this year… well, nothing of consequence anyway, maybe you should have waited before you bought those expensive tickets, hmm?), Julia Rhodes, Dan Fields and I (William Bibbiani, who actually is covering the event for Geekscape, mwa-ha-ha!) present The Weekly Listicle a couple of days early. Think of it as our Preview Night.

Please enjoy our tribute to some of the very best movies made by Geeks, for Geeks, and about Geeks… in no particular order folks. Comic Con is about bringing people together. The “Con” doesn’t stand for contest.

WILLIAM’S PICKS:

The Last Starfighter (dir. Nick Castle, 1984)

Movie Still: The Last Starfighter

I know it’s a sword with wings, but I always thought that insignia looked like an old guy with a mustache. Then again, I always thought the “D” in the Disney logo was a treble clef, so screw it. Anyway, you should watch The Last Starfighter.

Although there were many great movies for geeks before it, Nick Castle’s The Last Starfighter may qualify as the first great “Geek Movie.” In this sci-fi classic, Halloween II’s Lance Guest stars as Alex Rogan, a hopeless dreamer living in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere whose one skill – if you can call it that – is a hard-won talent for a videogame called “Starfighter.” One night, after totally pwning the hell out of the arcade cabinet, Alex is approached by Centauri (The Music Man’s Robert Preston, playing off of that lovable con man role here), an alien who reveals that “Starfighter” was in fact a training module for an interstellar squadron of fighter pilots trying to save the galaxy from the evil tyrant Xur (Norman Snow of “As The World Turns”).

Movie Still: The Last Starfighter

Grig (Dan O’Herlihy) was cool and all, but if I were The Last Starfighter I’d kinda want to ride shotgun with Cthulhu over there.

It’s a simple geek premise that you’ll see revisited on this Listicle many times: the fantasies that inspire normal geeks like those in the target audience are revealed to be real, and the protagonist’s seemingly pointless obsession with these supposedly fictional worlds make them uniquely capable of becoming a great hero as a result. But The Last Starfighter is more than mere wish-fulfillment: It’s an unusually well-made science fiction story, with a great cast, a classic score, stunning (for the time) special effects and a surprisingly strong screenplay. Alex meets his destiny as a Gunstar pilot not with “Gee Whiz” enthusiasm but with understandable reluctance, making his ultimate journey all the more believable. And the stakes are very high by today’s standards. Death is a very real presence in the film, even though some of main characters believe that “Death is a primitive concept” and “prefer to think that (the dead) are fighting evil in another dimension.”

And hey, further geek cred? Directed Nick Castle was the first man to play Michael Myers, way back in John Carpenter’s Halloween. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

Monster Squad (dir. Fred Dekker, 1987)

Movie Still: Monster Squad

Great job everybody! We’ve found The Frankenstein Monster. Now let’s get out of this musty swamp or we’ll all be ‘coffin.’ (Fred Dekker’s Monster Squad.)

Fred Dekker’s Monster Squad remains the ultimate monster team-up movie, and follows Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon as they menace a small American town in search of an amulet that will open the gates of hell. Naturally, the only people adequately prepared to fight these monsters are the only ones who still think monsters are real, a group of kids who spend most of their time in a treehouse debating monster mythology. They are The Monster Squad, and under the watchful eye of director Fred Dekker (the equally wonderful Night of the Creeps) and co-writer Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) they easily surpass their more famous contemporaries The Goonies as the coolest gang of evil-fighting adolescents in 1980’s cinema. Read more…

You Can Quote Us: SyFy’s Sharktopus Trailer!

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July 17th, 2010 at 7:39 pm

This weekend marks the most anticipated release of the year. No, not Inception! We’re talking about the official trailer for Sharktopus, a film about an unusually smart Sharktopus that is “Destined to be the greatest film of this or any year.” – William Bibbiani, The California Literary Review.

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At least, that’s what the Sharktopus trailer would say if it had any quotes from illustrious film critics. And really, that’s all this otherwise perfect trailer needs. It already has surfing music, Eric Roberts, and Sharktopuses (on land, no less… what will they think of next?), so we here at The California Literary Review, in an effort to not just critique films but actually improve them, have decided to provide some glowing recommendations of Sharktopus – sight unseen, mind you – that the SyFy Channel can put on the trailers, posters and DVD and Blu-Ray covers, completely free of charge.

Now get that deep, scratchy trailer guy’s voice clearly in your head and enjoy Julia Rhodes and William Bibbiani’s completely biased opinions of a movie we’ve never even watched!

Movie Still: Sharktopus

“Half shark, half octopus, all bloody ridiculous!” – Julia Rhodes, The California Literary Review

“Eight arms to hold you… and three rows of teeth to kiss you!” – Dan Fields, The California Literary Review

“At last, a Sharktopus movie that takes the original source material seriously!” – William Bibbiani, The California Literary Review

“Bouncy bikini babes in beach bedlam! Sharktopus will get your motor revving!” – Julia Rhodes, The California Literary Review

“Tentacular!” - Dan Fields, The California Literary Review

“Not since Dinoshark has one film so thoroughly examined man’s inhumanity to man via sharkmonster.” – William Bibbiani, The California Literary Review Read more…

The State of Celebrity and Meltdowns: Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson

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July 15th, 2010 at 11:04 pm

The sign on the hill.

Is Hollywood truly the den of iniquity we mortals perceive it to be?

Ah, the good old days: Lohan (second from right) in Mean Girls.

Based upon the travails of fallen/trainwreck starlet Lindsay Lohan and racist/insane person Mel Gibson (as well as so many others), perhaps it is. Some stars manage to make it decades in the biz and come out relatively unscathed—or at least it seems that way. Jodie Foster, Natalie Portman, and Leonardo DiCaprio seem to have made it through. Drew Barrymore (who struggled with very young drug addiction and rehab) , Christian Bale (whose insane rant on the set of Terminator: Salvation made for one of the catchiest remixes to happen in the last ten years), Christina Ricci (who spoke openly about her eating disorder) , and Winona Ryder (who randomly shoplifted from Saks Fifth Avenue) , went through well-publicized rough patches, but either through great PR or sheer tenacity, made it back to the top.


Lohan in court last week (from here.

Lohan, whose first starring role at age 11 was in the Disney remake of The Parent Trap, has had a long, horrible history of drug abuse; her relationship with DJ Samantha Ronson was front-page news for ages; her family prefers to publicize their issues on Twitter rather than settle them in a normal fashion. The girl is seriously not okay. Everyone in the world seems to realize this…except the Lohans. Lindsay was recently sentenced to 90 days in jail due to an incident a few years ago whose details I can’t even remember. She checked into a rehab center owned by her new celeb lawyer Robert Shapiro in a last-minute effort to avoid jail time (while certain idiots publicly wonder whether she’ll be a target for lesbian gangs in jail if indeed she goes to the big house) . Etc, etc. Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Sidekicks and Why the World Needs Them

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July 15th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Last week we celebrated Despicable Me by building a rogues gallery of our favorite supervillains. Now, in honor of Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, we examine that special little creature, the Sidekick. They may be good, they may be bad, but without them nearby, many of our greatest characters would simply be incomplete. Read along with me (Dan Fields), Julia Rhodes, and William Bibbiani as we sort through henchmen, minions, cohorts, comrades and lackeys of note. All you aspiring heroes and villains should know what to look for in a candidate.

DAN’S PICKS:

Max (Peter Falk) in The Great Race (1965, dir. Blake Edwards)

Peter Falk and Jack Lemmon as Max and Professor Fate

Yes, that is a giant crossbow!

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon followed up the wild antics of Some Like It Hot with this madcap epic about warring daredevils in a race around the world. Jack Lemmon is in rare form here, hamming it up as the quintessential black-clad bad guy Professor Fate, whose sole ambition is to outdo and destroy the fame of his dashing rival, the Great Leslie (Curtis).

Right at the professor’s side is his manservant Max (Falk), who handles the dirty work while the professor struts about ranting and cackling. He may be a double-crossing rat, but Max remains a picture of loyalty to his scheming boss. Falk’s comic timing elevates the second banana role into a two-hour, two-man vaudeville extravaganza. He matches the Professor swindle for swindle, pie for pie, blunder for destructive blunder. Together he and the Professor devise tricks and contraptions to cheat, cross and sabotage their way across the finish line.

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No matter how harebrained and dangerous their plans get, from giant crossbows to leaky submarines to car-mounted cannonades, Max is always there to push the button!

Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) in the Star Wars Trilogy

Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford as Chewbacca and Han Solo

“I am CHEWBACCA! I am a WOOKIEE!”

He’s a giant shaggy beast. He roars. He wears bandoliers. He can fly spaceships and rip people limb from limb. What outlaw wouldn’t want Chewbacca for a co-pilot? In this case the fortunate captain to is Han Solo, and boy do these two get into some trouble.

Unlike a lot of hulking brutes, Chewbacca has plenty of brains to back up his brawn. It allows Han to live a little more on the edge, relying on instinct and his quick trigger finger, confident that no matter how badly he breaks his ship, Chewie will be able to fix it. He also hasn’t got a dangerous temper, which would make someone of his size a liability. In the game of life we only get a few good friends, so if you can manage it, make friends with a Wookiee. And always let him win.

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Perspective and Retrospective: Paging Nicolas Cage

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July 13th, 2010 at 12:00 am

In the tradition of Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney has liberally re-imagined one of its own beloved franchises for a big-budget live-action adventure. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice blasts onto the big screen this week. The trailer promises lightning, dragons, and all manner of flying debris. Nicolas Cage tops the bill as the Sorcerer, who, true to the actor’s signature style, promises to be in-your-face and just a little bit out there. Cage’s antics will no doubt play a large part in whether the movie flies or not. But hey, we’re always up for a roll of the dice.

Raising Arizona – Behold the American family man.

A great thing happened in 1987, when the Coen brothers nabbed quirky character actor Cage for their film Raising Arizona, an exercise in lunacy that represented a career highlight for filmmakers and cast alike, including Holly Hunter and John Goodman. Cage plays H. I. McDunnough, a good-natured stickup artist who gets tangled up in a kidnapping, a prison break, and a bank robbery – all in the name of settling down to raise a family. If you haven’t had the pleasure, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of the movie today.

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The Weekly Listicle: Supervillains of Evil Evilness

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July 8th, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Despicable Me‘s Gru (Steve Carell).

This week’s Despicable Me features two supervillains battling it out in what looks to be a pretty fun and silly movie. In honor of the newest animated movie of 2010, this week’s Listicle is all about supervillains, the good, the bad, and ugly. Supervillains come in all shapes, sizes, and forms, and all seem to bear some pretty serious grudges. Some are funny, some are sad, some are downright terrifying. Join me (Julia Rhodes!) and William Bibbiani, and welcome new Fourth Wall blogger Dan Fields, as we journey into the depths of supervillainy (muahahaha) in this Weekly Listicle.

JULIA’S PICKS:

Syndrome (Jason Lee) in The Incredibles (dir. Brad Bird, 2004)

The Incredibles’s Syndrome: evil and goofy.

Pixar’s The Incredibles is the tale of a family of superheroes, which include super-strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), stretchy Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and their children Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack, each of whom have their own powers to contend with. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl were fixtures in the days of yore, when superheroes saved the world on a daily basis. In his heyday Mr. Incredible had a fanboy named Buddy, who idolized him and wanted to help save the world—but of course, Mr. Incredible’s job is too dangerous for a kid. After the world at large demonizes the superhero phenomenon, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are forced out of the spotlight, and the family has to live in hiding, unable to reveal their powers to civilians.

Part of Syndrome’s evil, evil scheme.

The sweet kid named Buddy grows up to be Syndrome (voiced by Jason Lee), the film’s supervillain, who draws the Incredibles out of hiding. Like any good supervillain, Syndrome revolts against an uncaring world and the Supers who shunned his lack of superpowers. He builds the Omnidroid 9000, a huge robot that’s meant to destroy the world…but Syndrome will, of course, step in and play hero before his creation succeeds.

Syndrome, as voiced by Lee, is alternately hilarious, pathetic, and silly. And if there’s one thing you should learn from The Incredibles, it’s that real heroes don’t wear capes.

Magneto (Ian McKellan) in The X-Men trilogy (dir. Bryan Singer and Brett Ratner, 2000, 2003, 2006)

Magneto, aka Max Eisenhardt (Ian McKellan) in the X-Men movies.

Mind you, Magneto has been around far, far longer in the Marvel universe than he has in film. However, as acted by the fantastic Sir Ian McKellan, Magneto became one of my favorite villains in recent superhero movies (and the last decade has been chock full of those). Like most of our supervillains, Magneto wasn’t born evil—rather, he retaliates against the evil, imagined and real, perpetrated against him. Read more…

Whole Lotta Lovecraft: del Toro on deck?

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July 7th, 2010 at 6:00 am

Official press confirms that after several (more) years of development hell, MGM and Universal’s The Hobbit has lost another prize director. Guillermo del Toro has bowed out rather than compromise the forward momentum of future projects.

Guillermo del Toro

G del T: The man who makes your nightmares pretty.

Chief among the director’s prospects is a long-rumored shot at the work of H. P. Lovecraft. An adaptation of At The Mountains Of Madness is in the works, with del Toro slated to direct from his own script.

Read more…

Catching Up With 2010: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

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July 6th, 2010 at 12:16 am

For many years now Chris Columbus and I have had an understanding: He can suck as much as he likes and in return I can tell people just how much he totally sucks. Although I am forced to begrudgingly admit that his Harry Potter movies laid the foundation for other, better directors to shine later on, they were nevertheless bloated messes, and his disastrous adaptation of Rent made my list of the Worst Films of the Decade. So it was with some trepidation that in my quest to catch up with the films of 2010 I watched his latest children’s fantasy adaptation Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. But I’m glad I did, because for the first time in almost 20 years I am reminded of why he’s such a prominent director in the first place.

Movie Still: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Step-ball-change and stab! Stab! Pivot, pivot… Jazz hands, Percy…! Jazz hands!

Let me put it this way: When Columbus directed Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets, he demonstrated such reverence for the source material that it was like he made an enormous and highly-detailed sand castle, and when he was done he just gathered everyone around to gloat. “Look at my sand castle! Isn’t it beautiful? Do you see? No, don’t touch… You’ll just screw it all up.” But Percy Jackson doesn’t feel like that at all. Percy Jackson & The Olympians feels like Chris Columbus built another beautifully impressive sandcastle, gathered everyone ‘round, then reared up his hands in a claw-like motion, cackled maniacally and then stomped all over his creation like a giddy Godzilla. With its straightforward heist film mentality this movie has no time to take itself too seriously. It’s too busy killing Hydras and screwing hookers in Vegas. This movie wasn’t directed by Bicentennial Man Chris Columbus. This was made by the Adventures in Babysitting guy, and I think we’d all forgotten how much we missed this director of movies for rebellious little boys. Home Alone anyone?

Movie Still: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

America’s obsession with the iPhone claims yet another victim. Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Sparkle-Free Vampire Movies!

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July 1st, 2010 at 10:46 pm

And so this weekend gives us Eclipse, the latest film in the Twilight series, in which non-threatening vampires and non-threatening werewolves threaten to entertain us but, probably, never will. In all seriousness, Twilight has a loyal throng of ravenous fans who eat this stuff up, but critics haven’t really jumped on the bandwagon. Maybe it’s the half-hearted plotting, the sleepy performances or bizarre hidden subtexts that bother us. Then again, maybe it’s just the fact that there are so many better vampire movies to be found. With that said, The Weekly Listicle presents this list of Sparkle-Free Vampire Classics as selected by Julia Rhodes and myself (William Bibbiani!).

Movie Still: Twilight: Eclipse

Yeah, because vampires do $#!@ like this all the time.

What classics made our list? What obscure wonders will make their way onto your Netflix queue? Find out now!

WILLIAM’S PICKS

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (dir. Brian Clemens, 1974)

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Towards the end of the great Hammer Horror cycle the Powers That Be started to get a little creative, with increasingly “hip” productions like Dracula A.D. 1972 and my personal favorite Hammer Film, the underseen and completely badass action adventure called Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. The swashbuckling vampire yarn is the sole directorial effort of prolific screenwriter Brian Clemens, who brought us such genre gems as The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde.

German actor Horst Janson plays Kronos, a former Naval officer in a Jack Harkness-esque blue coat who carries a samurai sword and meditates when he isn’t doing drugs and sleeping with busty babes like future Bond Girl Caroline Munro. But most importantly he hunts vampires, and in this film (the first of an intended series, plans for which were scuttled due to poor box office returns) he travels to Eastern Europe to locate and kill a vampire which doesn’t suck blood from its victims, but instead devours their youth, leaving behind not corpses but withered old shells of the teenaged villagers’ former selves. He is accompanied by a lively hunchback named Professor Hieronymous Grost (John Cater), an expert in the supernatural.

Movie Still: Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter

Caroline Munro, a woman whose neck desperately demands to be nibbled on.

Much of Captain Kronos feels experimental, from the decidedly “Hippy Friendly” protagonist, to its at the time very unique take on the vampire myth. Every vampire movie has to establish its own rules about vampirism: What kills them, what powers they have, and so on. In Captain Kronos, Clemens posits that there are many different kinds of vampires in the world, each with their own set of rules that must be learned through trial and error. There’s a fantastic scene in which one of Kronos’s friends realizes that he’s been turned into a vampire, and Kronos and Grost take the opportunity to try out the countless ways of killing him in order to find out which one works for this breed of vampire. The scientific take on the vampire myth was uncommon at the time, and with all the overt sexuality, humor and incredible action sequences it’s hard to imagine why Kronos wasn’t a bigger success. The last swordfight is between Janson and William Hobbs, who also choreographed the action for this film and such other classics as Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers movies, and it’s a doozy.

Rockula (dir. Luca Bercovici, 1990)

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There’s a distinct temptation to watch Rockula ironically. It’s certainly ludicrous enough to warrant a few raised eyebrows. Comedy heartthrob Dean Cameron (Summer School, Ski School) stars as Ralph, a vampire who’s been alive – or at least undead – for hundreds of years and yet somehow remains a virgin. Twilight fans will be happy to learn that the reason is because he’s in love, but every time his dream girl is reincarnated she gets murdered by a pirate wearing a rhinestone peg leg, using a hambone as the murder weapon. Twilight fans might be less enthused by that part. This time Mona (Tawny Fere) has been reincarnated as an 80’s rock star, and Ralph starts his own vampire-themed rock band – called “Rockula,” obviously – to grab her attention. All of his lyrics are about being a vampire. Some of them even rhyme with Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient William Safire.

Yeah, I love this film. Read more…

Catching Up With 2010: When in Rome

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June 30th, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Movie Still: When in Rome

Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel in one of the rare scenes from When in Rome that actually takes place in Rome.

In 1999, Sarah Michelle Gellar starred in a little romantic comedy called Simply Irresistible. In it she played a struggling chef whose dead mother sends her a magic crab that causes her emotions to infect anyone who eats her cooking. This eventually leads her to fall in love with a multi-millionaire paper airplane enthusiast. In 2010, Kristen Bell – another actress coming off of an iconic television role and seeking to make headway into features – starred in the comparatively implausible When in Rome, a ridiculous romantic comedy about how a magical fountain (in Rome, believe it or not) drives a career-driven loner into the arms of her dream guy. I didn’t get a chance to review When in Rome when it was released earlier this year, and am rectifying that situation now.

When in Rome is not a good movie, but then any film about a workaholic who finds love after stealing coins from a fountain in Rome, only to curry the obsessive favor of the four men (Will Arnett, Dax Shepard, Jon Heder and Danny DeVito) whose coins she pilfered clearly has limited ambitions. What director Mark Steven Johnson (best known for directing Daredevil and Ghost Rider… badly) has in mind is a silly little romantic comedy in the classic Roman Holiday mold, which is why the funniest part about the movie is how little screen time is actually spent in Rome. (Where do you think the word “romantic” comes from, Mark?) Romantic locations are a perfect fit for love stories of any sub-genre, so why bother going all the way to Rome just to set up a plot point and then hightail it back to New York where – by sheer mindblowing coincidence – every guy who magically falls in love with our protagonist just so happens to live? If When in Rome actually covered the time our heroine spends in Rome it would be about 12 minutes long. And if you analyze the title further – it’s short for “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” – then it makes even less sense.

Movie Still: When in Rome

Contrived and wacky? When in Rome is a film of many contradictions, none of them interesting. Read more…

The Weekly Listicle: Hilarity FAIL.

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June 24th, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Rock, Spade, James, Schneider, and Sandler: A veritable explosion of funny. Or not?

For every Superbad, Juno, and The Hangover, there are fifty comedies that boast former “SNL” cast members, well-known talent, and sometimes even good writers. Hilarity seems imminent! Often enough, though, these movies are horribly offensive, disgustingly crude, sadistic, or just plain unfunny. This week’s release Grown Ups features almost every comedian who’s ever had a cult following of 12-year-old boys. Kevin James, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider play former childhood friends who reunite after the death of their basketball coach. James’s wife is still breastfeeding their son at four years old. Schneider is happily married to a woman twice his age (“ewww, gross,” say the same idiots who coined the awful term “cougar”). All five men get into the baby pool and pee together, leaving behind trails of blue chemicals. The trailers look nearly unbearably unfunny—though based upon audience reactions in theaters, the movie might open well.

For this week’s Listicle, William Bibbiani and I (Julia Rhodes!) write about movies that seemed to be surefire hilarity—and ended up being epic fails.

JULIA’S PICKS:


Meet the Parents (dir. Jay Roach, 2000)

Meet the Parents is the epitome of the “humiliation” style of humor that only masochists enjoy. Though half the world seems to find Meet the Parents and its sequel, Meet the Fockers, hilarious and uproarious and all those other terms critics use for “super-funny!”, I can’t get behind it.

Sitting through Meet the Parents is like torture (de Niro and Stiller).

Gaylord ‘Greg’ Focker (Ben Stiller), a male nurse, falls in love with a great girl in Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo). The problems start when Greg has to meet (and of course woo) Pam’s parents, Jack (Robert de Niro) and Dina (Blythe Danner). Meet the Parents is an exercise in idiocy. It’s not funny when Greg kills the family cat; it’s not funny when he knocks over an urn containing grandmother’s ashes; it’s certainly not funny when he continues to blunder and fail through the entire trip, and the whole 100 minutes of film. I’m sure Meet the Parents is hilarity central for high school bullies who revel in pantsing the geeks and humiliating the smart kids. With de Niro, Stiller, Danner, and Owen Wilson aboard, the movie looked to everyone involved like surefire hilarity…but for some of us, cringing our way through it feels like torture.

The Nutty Professor (dir. Tom Shadyac, 1996)

Fat people are hilarious, right? Yeah? No. The Nutty Professor

Read more…

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