Monthly Archives: August 2014

Rental Corner: “Black Hole” sucks on a lot of levels

The crew of the Palomino are not too welcome just as the audience are

The crew of the Palomino are not too welcome just as the audience are

Being a science fiction lover, I found myself disappointed with Disney’s “The Black Hole.” While not a huge flop (or even a big hit on its Christmas 1979 release), it has gone underrated and I can see why. The movie has grown a cult fan base and I can understand why. One the surface, this is really impressive looking movie with huge spaceship models with an extensive use of sets and matte painting special effects. Its a shame because I wish the story was about as interesting and engaging as the robots that fly around on wires.

A crew of pilots aboard the Palomino craft discover the space vortex and among it a lonesome craft stranded in space with it. It may sound like such a small scene but what I described in the past sentence takes roughly 17 minutes of screen time. I would be fine if it was half of that but a good portion of the opening is spent floating about with boring and pointless science talk that can easily go over so many heads. Worst of all within those 17 minutes, I could barley remember anything about the crew members. A lot of time is spent floating about and avoiding the black hole in a slow pace that the only thing I can recall is that Anthony Perkins is on-board and their cute little robot assistant named V.I.N.C.E.N.T. is voiced by an non-credited Roddy McDowell. Sad really when the main focus of your first act is just floating around and less on establishing.

Once we finally get into the other spacecraft, the Cygnus, things change up a bit but the pacing of “Black Hole” becomes more prodded and slow than it ever does. The leader of the Cygnus is a mix between Captain Nemo and Dr. Moreau. He has been on stranded on the Cygnus for a long time to study the black hole and in the process goes mad to the point where his mutinous crew is lobotomized to a robotic state. He plans to drive straight into the black hole and offers the crew to join him as they try to escape the ship in the process. Oh, I’m sorry. The whole converting the crew into human droids was meant to be a big twist. Well, considering it was in the trailers and the paper-thin delivery of the story it doesn’t feel like that big of a twist when we get to it.

“The Black Hole” is clearly two stories in one as it tries to be theological like 2001 questioning the aspect of technology while trying to be action-packed like Star Wars. The idea and concepts are there but nothing is fully utilized. I’m positive the scientific stuff on the black hole is inaccurate and I could forgive it seeing it is just a science fiction/fantasy. But what I can’t forgive is how this movie is being presented and executed. The science talk is about as boring as a college lecture and the action scenes feel thrown in than add on any form of tension. Its a very uneven picture to the point you just don’t care about anything. One character gets disemboweled (in a very non-graphic way) and I feel like I should feel something but I don’t. We spend time with the Palomino crew before they board on but nothing feels like we connect with them. Its just the cliche archetype  with the band of people that have personality by traits like the all-knowing professor and the hot shot kid that wants to be another Han Solo. These are personalities but they just feel generic and done before.

Even the captain of the Cygnus who is also the villain is uninteresting. Again, he has a fascination with the black hole like Captain Nemo’s fascination with the sea but then you have that Moreau twist where he converts the crew into machines. The ideas are there but there is no motivation behind it. In argument, this could make for a scary and tragic character but I feel more depth should have been added. Why is he fascinated by the black hole? What does he expect upon entering it? Unless I missed something during the endless conversations, it doesn’t matter to me in the end.

 

A near saving grace of the movie.

A near saving grace of the movie.

The only good thing I can remember that is remotely enjoyable is Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens as two floating robots. Its an unlikely paring that is interesting but even they can’t save much of the movie. They already are channeling RD-D2 even though they speak and don’t resort to sounds. But even considering the round design and utilities they have, it starts to become questionable. Regardless, the special effects and puppet work on these two are interesting considering how pre-dated CGI was back then. Sure you see some strings here and there but you have to admire the effort put into its effect work.

But even then I shouldn’t praise it too much for that aspect. The robot designs and sets look iconic but at the helm is a done to death story with great ideas that are tossed into the mix and nothing really comes together.  I know I shouldn’t compare this movie too much to Star Wars but a lot of studios at the time where jumping on with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Moonraker. The difference is that those movies knew what they wanted to be. Star Trek was more 2001 while Moonraker was action-orientated like Star Wars. The Black Hole tries to be two in one but it doesn’t work.

Even when we do go into the black hole in the finale there is nothing unique or spectacular about it. Our heroes go in, have a trippy 2001 moment and come out scratch free. And considering the lack of effort in story and characters, it doesn’t matter talking about the way it concludes seeing how it quickly ends after about 80 minutes of boredom. And to see it wrap up a plot element so fast, perhaps its the only positive thing aside from the robots and special effects I can highlight it for. But even then what you don’t want a movie to do is make you glad is that it ended and you can move on with your life. A movie should get you engaged into its world and give you the feeling that you wish it went on longer to enjoy it. The Black Hole on the other hand, I was more happy when the end credits appeared than when it first started. And that is a feeling I never want to experience again.

Rental Corner: Soft spot for “Pete’s Dragon”

Yes..I have a huge soft spot for this one...I can't help it!

Yes..I have a huge soft spot for this one…I can’t help it!

Growing up as a kid, I’m sure we all had our share of Disney films we so dearly hold onto. For some, its “Mary Poppins” and her morals. For others, its riding with Captain Nemo and fighting a giant squid. And then there are those who are more lighter and go for the goofy, campy and silly like “Babes in Toyland.” For me, “Pete’s Dragon” falls into the middle of this. It has some morals about prejudice and belief but doesn’t feel mature enough for adults while being very silly for a kid’s film. I guess I’m too late to admit I found myself watching this movie more than most of what I had in my video collection. As a kid, I kept coming back to it for its silly nature and I had a thing for dragons back then. This was about pre-“Dark Crystal” when I was watching a lot of upbeat kid movies with the exception of some Don Bluth here and there. The case goes is that whatever was in my VHS library was what I would watch or if I bumped into anything on TV. “Mary Poppins” wasn’t in my shelf and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”  wouldn’t be discovered until I was 7 or 8. But now that I’m older and my opinion is changing on some past childhood favorites, I never had the courage to visit this one again for fear of finding not as great as I hoped. But to my surprise, I feel a good portion of it holds up but yet has flaws.

Our story opens when young Pete is on the run for an abusive family named the Gogans who newly adopted him. It also doesn’t help the Gogans fall into the pit of hillbilly stereotypes with southern accents and slang that make you wonder if they were leftovers from the Country Bear Jamboree. But as luck may have it, Pete is best friends with a dragon named Elliot (voice by Charlie Callas but animated by Don Bluth…yes, that Don Bluth!!!) who helps him escape to a fishing town named Passamaquoddy where the welcome is promising but finds that trying to keep a giant mythical creature is not easy as it appears. Elliot has the ability to turn invisible but his presence doesn’t go unnoticed by innocently destroying property damage and causing a mess.

With the two against one little boy, Pete finds comfort in a lighthouse keeper named Nora (Helen Reddy) who takes after the orphan like a mother. What works best about the scenes they share is how open minded she acts towards the talk of Pete’s dragon and her tough but kind-hearted attitude. She is given a backstory about her husband being lost at sea that is a little too syrupy but leads into one of the best numbers of the film (“Candle on the Water”) that is executed with such beautiful subtle that you wish more of the movie was like this.

As opposed to being mature like “Mary Poppins,” “Pete’s Dragon” seems to obtain a lot of charm and goofiness. A good example is Nora’s father, Lampie (played by the late Mickey Rooney) who would rather live up to the name “town drunk” than mange the lighting of the lighthouse. Once in a while, Lampie’s comic relief works when he’s playing off of Elliot and trying to prove to people the dragon is real. But other than that, Mickey’s performance misses a lot of heart for scenes when he’s telling Nora to be realistic about her situation. The only thing memorable about this character is the comedy and sadly lacks in heart. Which is a shame knowing how Mickey Rooney can easily balance between the two. He’s still fun to watch but I wish there was more “George Banks” in him.

The saving grace of the movie comes 40 minutes in with the arrival of a scheming medical showman named Dr. Terminus and his sidekick Hoagy. The medicines he gave to Passamaquady leave such a negative impact to the point they want to throw him out but are easily conned after seeing what his new elixirs can do. Its long till he finds out about Pete’s dragon and the many uses his parts provide for such medical cures to point he sees dollar signs. Jim Dale’s performance as the villainous medicine man is such a delight that it makes this element the only thing worth seeing. His character design looks and feels like the classic archetype with the twirled mustache, cape and top hat but Jim has so much fun with the role that we can’t help but soak in his ecstatic performance. His lackey played by Red Buttons also shares some hilarious screen time when the two play off of each other which is close to the classic vaudeville sketches of Abbot and Costello.

While “Pete’s Dragon” is bright and cheery to look at, there is a lot of edginess that is missing here. Unlike the Banks family in “Mary Poppins” and the Nazis in “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” the tone of this movie is more akin to cotton candy. Its light, fun but you wish there was some kind of boldness to it. The final act tosses in elements like a big storm and the citizens planning to capture Ellior but it all feels laid back and doesn’t make much an impact. Even the townspeople are so easily lead over the simplest of things that if you told them the answer to life, the universe and everything was “42,” I’m sure they would believe it in a heartbeat.  And if Dr. Terminus fooled them all the first time, how is it they are able to be sucked into his cons for the second even considering the hinted track record he has? I guess you could argue its making a satirical point about how people can be easily fooled like sheep but even people in the early 1900’s wouldn’t be that dumbfounded. Even the place is run by Mr. Magoo himself! Jim Backus plays the mayor of the town and plays it so stupid that its funny seeing how straight he is all of the pratfalls he takes but is too easy of a comic foil.

If that wasn’t enough, the finale is so easily rushed that it nearly doesn’t much of an impact. The people see Elliot is not that bad after one little good deed and suddenly they are all praising him. Even a character that is a somewhat central plot element gives an explanation of  his disappearance that is so exposition, we barley buy it. And of course, those Gogans who seem to mug and act villainous so much that it borderlines between creepy and too awkward. The first number they share in the opening has them searching for poor Pete while some of them discuss the awful things they want to do to him. For a song executed in such a cheery way, its questionable morbid. Not to mention how much they keep plotting how much they plan for Pete to be their farming tool for life. Nothing is fun about these characters outside of their attempts at being devious. In short, these characters really annoy me and I’m glad we don’t see much of them.

But for all its problems, there is a lot of good elements. I enjoy the interactions between Pete and Elliot that remind me of when I would interact with imaginary friends. The two understand each other and the obstacles in the way to the point we almost feel like Elliot is a part of Pete’s imagination. In fact, the idea of a kid having a dragon for a friend is a great idea and it doesn’t feel wasted here. Even Elliot is something to admire with his soft and roundish design while his talk in gibberish is cute. I’m actually glad they didn’t have a normal voice and just let Elliot say nonsense. It would seem like giving him a voice would have been the typical route but thankfully they don’t do that. Even the special effects are still great to watch when Elliot goes invisible and causes mayhem with picket fences moving on there own and footprints appearing in wet cement. For 1977, the technical work still looks great and you have to admit they were really thinking through on how to make an invisible dragon really feel like he was there. So props to that.

As said, some of the characters are fun to watch and the songs are honestly well-written. While they are not Sherman Brothers success, there are a good handful of songs I’m sure I’ll still be humming long after. Dr. Terminus’ “Every Little Piece” is sung in a such a giddy vaudevillian way that its not too hard to enjoy it while “There’s Room for Everyone” and “It’s Not Easy” carries a nice little beat to it that feels nice and soft. Other numbers like “I Saw a Dragon” and “The Happiest Home In These Hills” suffer for taking a simple thing and blowing it out of proportion when it could have been a simple scene or just a small song. But I’m sure everyone will agree the Oscar-nominated “Candle on the Water” is sure to steal some hearts. The haunting melody and elegant lyrics are a beautiful match that I can’t give enough praise for it. Helen Reddy was a very big name at the time for her singing and her performance of this soft yet bittersweet tune.

In today’s age, “Pete’s Dragon” has a very split audience. There are those who appreciate it for what is and those who wish it was something more. While I do wish this had more edge, I think it holds up or at least in the places where it does. I’m not going to act like this is a perfect masterpiece because I am aware of its problems. Its just an overly upbeat Disney flick that might turn people off for its cheery nature and overblown tone. My argument is that this the cheesy and cheery is actually just right for this movie. There’s a Disney movie musical called The Happiest Millionaire that has the same corny feel but is really overbloated in its near 3 hour length. You heard me right! Another Disney movie has the same about of cheesiness and overblown stuff and is at a near running time of 3 hours. Perhaps, the existence of “Pete’s Dragon” is not all bad when you think it that way.

As for my opinion, I still have a soft spot for this movie and I’m sure I will keep revisiting it in the future. Its just a little optimistic flick that is sitting on my shelf in case of a rainy day or when I feel depressed. We all have that one movie we loved in our childhood know it has a lot of flaws but can’t bring ourselves to come out and say, “hands down, movie bad.” And for this one, that is exactly how I feel. Sure it has problems but I’m not too ruined by it. “Pete’s Dragon” is still one of favorite movies to this day. I understand where viewers are coming fron in its flaws but for me, its just an overly cheery and laid back Disney flick that I can’t help but still enjoy.

Remembering the Madness and Heartfelt: A Tribute to Robin Williams

A legend to many...he will never be forgot for his great energy and powerful performances. Good-bye Robin...you were one of a kind

A legend to many…he will never be forgot for his great energy and powerful performances. Good-bye Robin…you were one of a kind

He was more than just a comedian to many. Robin could harness a ball of energy so huge that you could feel like the whole room would explode with not just his presence but with laughter. Robin Williams was unexpected, funny, engaging but also heartwarming when he needed to be. With the untimely passing, I admit that I’m in the batch of those who will dearly miss such a comic legend. Rather than concentrate on how and why he is gone, I would to instead ask how did he become such a big name and why does Robin Williams mean so much to us.

Well, for those who saw him in his early years, they do remember his antics as the insane alien Mork from Ork in the 1970’s CBS sitcom Mork and Mindy. This was Robin at his finest acting like a little kid but in a grown man’s body. Mork was sent down to Earth because his happy spirit didn’t sit well with the other Orkians and thus is plopped on Earth to study how different it is and to keep him far away from his alien home world. Robin’s work on Mork and Mindy is truly an important place to begin. His character Mork, again, was like a grown up kid learning things for the first time. He can’t control his emotions, he’s innocent and doesn’t know who or what a true friend is but at times tries to be mature. It truly showcased the out of control and zany comedy that Robin would later place in his future roles. A notable moment is his taking soda for the first time and going on a sugar hype so huge it goes beyond the typical running around and bouncing off the walls that a kid would do.

It wouldn’t be long till he landed his first starting role in Popeye as the title character. While I have mixed thoughts about this odd musical, you can tell Robin was at his best trying to emulate the rough and tough attitude the muscle bound sailor contained. Sure, he it was hard to understand the dialogue he spoke (then again, Popeye did mutter a lot in the cartoons) but Robin carried through. He later went on to mention how much hell it was but when you see the movie, you can tell he really tried hard to bring such a difficult character to life. He muttered, sang and danced his way through. Even if the movie wasn’t a big hit, it didn’t mean the end for his film career.

It wouldn’t be till after a small selection of films that Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poet Society would launch him into a household name. This time, he balanced the amount of drama and comedy needed to bring such difficult roles to life. Most notable  is the role of Professor Adrian Cronauer in Dead Poet Society who is rebellious but for a reason. To teach kids to go out and beyond the standard curriculum of teaching English and being free with what they do. Not limit themselves to what is handed in front of them but learn to be more passionate of their work and control of this own life. This is probably one of the more notable roles in Robin’s career.

As the 1990’s pressed on, he became somewhere between a bankable star and still a name many could recognize. Even for small roles like a mime instructor in Shakes the Clown or the King of the Moon in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, he still manged to bring his madcap comedy to the big screen treating small parts as notable highlights. Moviegoers and fans will probably remember him better as the Genie in Aladdin which brought notice of his mad style further as his high improve skills and zany wit gave such lift to a hand drawn creation that anyone could take and make it something basic. Robin owns this role with the same style he provided before with the usual juvenile approach to Mork but far more out of control with the physical aspect of moving his voice around from comedic delivery and balancing the heart of the character who wishes to be unleashed from his lamp to experience freedom.

If I was to recommend some movies to check out to explore his talent, I would label these as the essentials of his work. While Aladdin being one, Hook brought on his ability to be dramatic for a family film. Taking on the task of being a child acting mature, Williams was able to bring the flare and whim of Peter Pan while also a side of the character we never saw. What would it be like if the boy who never grew up decided to? Sure its a predicable romp seeing Peter as a father whose a workaholic, but when you take into considering the change he has later, Peter has to learn to keep his innocent so his kids can experience the fun of being a kid. Robin is able to make that transition believable because we know the right points and times he can have fun with his comedic timing. It adds to the childish aspect of Peter in the second half as he starts to understand who he is and how to keep it rather be focusing on his career and being the stereotypical model of a cold-nosed adult bent on work and nothing more.

The Fisher King is another great choice seeing Robin acting as a crazy homeless New Yorker that had a good life but taken away by tragedy. His manic energy is fuel for when his character Henry is obsessed with a quest for a mythical artifact but warm up to him when we see how fragile and shy he is. But the bigger film that I believe left a bigger impact and is the jewel of his work is Mrs. Doubtfire. Seeing him play a father struggling to meet his kids and that father’s fake identity being a British nanny showcases how Robin is able to channel between two different characters. I’m sure a lot of people (even as we speak) are thinking of revisiting this one more and I wouldn’t be surprised. Robin Williams had a lot to work with here being a father that is trying to reconnect with his kids and acting as a false character that is trying to restore order and be the figure they need to keep control in the house after a divorce.

Even when you look pass the later films he did that where either hit or miss, Robin knew how to perform and add to a character avoiding him from being a one-dimensional being. He exploded and breathed so much life to the point you could believe the “loonyness” he gave or the innocent yet weak side of the character. He was never shy of knowing when to stop his manic power and knew when to control it and be calm. He is a wonderful human being and to see him gone is an unfortunate time. But I wish for readers out there to not think of the passing. But think of the fun you had with him. Regardless of a movie he did being good or bad, he still brought that manic energy that defined him from other standard comedians. He was one of a kind and his legacy of laughs will live on in all of us. Till then, this is Morg signing off…nanu, nanu Robin…nanu, nanu…

“Turtles” lacks fun and missing much cowabunga

tmnt-all

Bulky, green…and creepy on the screen

I saw the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie at its first matinee screening today. The theater was full of families and kids with most in the back than there were in the front. Some kids even came dressed as the Turtles which was far more amusing than what I would later see. For once, I never questioned what kids would be thinking when they see a movie like this. I’ve had families come in during “Wreck It Ralph” and “Frozen” with the typical reaction. They would gaze at the screen and marvel at the environment in front of them. But for this movie, I wondered how much this would really impact them. Not just fans of the old but for ages 4 to 8 who would be seeing this for the first time.

The story, that is if you call it a story, is a retelling of the origin while meandering weightlessly among plot elements. First is April O ‘Neil who is searching for the next big scoop and will do anything to convince her boss (Whoopi Goldberg) that her tracking of the Foot Clan is more interesting than spring workouts. Its not long till we see these mysterious vigilantes who turn out to be turtles she knew as a kid that were under experimentation. The results are 6-foot tall, walking, talking, teenage influenced amphibians that act like they know more about the Ghetto side of New York and less about the ways of Ninjitsu. Their motion capture designs are creepy and by far frightening to the point where I feel kids might have nightmares instead of adoring these creatures. These hulking bound turtles feel too beefy and talk like they are from the South part of Jersey Shore. I understand they are mutated but there is nothing remarkably astounding or good about the creature design. Its way too creepy for kids and even might unsettle some adults. Even the Turtles as a whole feel greatly hollow as all they do is argue a lot and just plain fight. There was more personality in the past versions then there is here.

And then, there is Splinter who looks more like a naked mole rat and less of a common rodent with Fu Manchu beard and mustache. We don’t see much of him to even give two cents about his fatherly connection to the Turtles. He is just there because it wouldn’t be “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” without Splinter. Same goes for Shredder who has an OK set up as a human but for the remainder of the movie is confined to a robotic suit with assorted knives at the ready. I’ve seen a Swiss army knife pack more punch than this one. It felt way too close to the Silver Samurai from last year’s The Wolverine and his menace I’m sure will stir up some nightmare fuel or make some adults question if they are watching a Transformers clone. It shouldn’t surprise them seeing it is produced by Micheal Bay and financed by his studio, Platinum Dunes.

The real villain of the movie is an evil scientist played by William Fichtner who plans to use the blood of the Turtles to create a deadly toxin to poison the air of New York City. I don’t remember the motive behind this and if there was one, I’m sure it was uninspired much like this film. A few years ago, we got Curt Conners in The Amazing Spider-Man planning to mutate New Yorkers into lizard like beings. Its sad when a similar idea makes more sense in a different film. But even The Amazing Spider-Man showed risk as the people started to alter where else in Turtles the whole thing works as a ticking time bomb. And once they defuse it, there really is no reason to keep the movie going on.

I questioned the generic writing of this movie as April is placed as this Lois Lane kind of reporter trying to get a big scoop but there were times when I felt she was just plain dumb. She tries to get proof of a story at the wrong time like being held hostage or during an avalanche where she could possibly die. Bust most confusing is one scene where she tries to prove her boss of the Turtles and shows video of her as a kid feeding the specimens pizza. Later she runs into her cameraman (Will Arnett) and shows instead an image she took on her phone of the Turtles bouncing off the rooftops. Logically, I would have shown the picture as opposed to the cutesy video. And as much as they make a straight character out of her, she still comes off as feeling useless and dumb aside from the climax but even then I lost interest.

This new Turtles movie is directed by Jonathan Liebesman who has collaborated with Micheal Bay before and his directing style adds a lot of confusing to the table. The movie is being released by Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies because of its idea of teenage turtles running about and fighting crime is suitable for kids. But a good bulk of the movie feels filmed and executed like a horror movie to the point it feels like one.Odd enough seeing Liebesman did Wraith of the Titans and the awful “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.” The color pallet and cinematography is really gritty and dark resorting to heavy dark colors as opposed to brightening up with comic book-like color pallet. There’s a lot of shaky camera in scenes that are not needed and even the sound mixing feels uncomfortable with sounds of scraping knives and hinted implements that gives a more uncomfortable vibe than imaged.

One of many images that I'm sure will turn its family audience away. Ironically, there was a movie with a talking raccoon playing next door to this one.

One of many images that I’m sure will turn its family audience away. Ironically, there was a movie with a talking raccoon playing next door to this one.

I went in with an open mind brushing off the negative reviews thinking it wasn’t going to be that bad but unfortunately,its no “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” case here. This reboot clearly doesn’t know what it wants to be with a concept that could work as a family summer blockbuster but yet its harsh environment and mean tone will probably turn parents away for an alternative (Guardians of the Galaxy? How to Train Your Dragon 2?… anyone?). And then there is the other crowd who will either accept it for what it is or just compare it so close to the previous incarnations to the point it will feel like nothing but a hollow shell at an attempt to introduce something to the new generation and fails in execution.

Nothing about this movie is pure fun or feels like fun. And even through parents complained about the level of violence in the 1990 film, that is far tame compared to the movies we get today. The fight scenes and dramatic tension are so intense that I feel it will way too much for little kids roughly infant age to maybe 8 or 9. There were at least six instances where my showing had crying kids and that is something to expect but not a single kid in the audience felt like they were really into it. Some quietly gabbed on while others sat there and didn’t know what to make of it. Thus, I urge parents that if you reading this that this incarnation of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is not for you. Its boring, dull and has some unintentional moments of fright that might give kids nightmares. Even more questionable is the turtle Michelangelo who keeps hitting on April as a means to try and romance her. You heard me right! A lab turtle she treated as a pet is now trying to played Romeo on her. If that doesn’t spell out how creepy and unsettling this movie is, by all means wait for it to become a rental and you’ll see what I mean. Overall, if your looking for a fun summer blockbuster that is full of action and vibrant color, this entry is not what you are looking for. Flush it down the sewer and hopefully it will mutate into a better movie.

Highs and Lows of the TMNT Trilogy

Cowabunga!

Cowabunga!

In preparation for the Michael Bay produced/Johnathan Leibesman directed/Nickelodeon Movies financed (wow, lot of cooks in the kitchen here) reboot, I felt it was fair to revisit the three live-action movies that defined the 1990’s and its “Turtle Power” phenomenon. Sure there was the comic book series by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as well as the 1987 animated TV series that grew from it. But for any kid growing up in that era, they had to have seen the live-action films or at least one or two of them. Transitioning an absurd idea like mutant turtles with the personality of teenagers that practice the art of ninjitsu and eat pizza is a really ridiculous idea. But that’s really the fun of it. These turtles have personality, they are fun to be with and the enjoyment comes from the comedy and action that hold it together. Unlike Howard the Duck where it was trying to take a complex comic book property and simplify it for mainstream audiences (yeah, I don’t think certain things like Doctor Bong would be “transition-able” without explanation), the Turtles had concepts and elements that  people could understand and connect with. Not to say the Marvel waterfowl can’t have its audience, but there is always a certain way to transition these crazy ideas. There has to be a certain niche for it.

A good start is the 1990 film which everyone says is the best of the batch and arguably one of the best comic book adaptations. In fact, I honestly agree. Looking at the first issue recently, I was surprised to see how dark and gritty it was in contrast to the light-hearted and campy animated series. But the film really sticks it the dark tone with the guidance of music video director Steve Barron (who did Micheal Jackson’s “Bille Jean, ” a-Ha’s “Take on Me,” and many others) who knows how to transition between the goofy comedy of the animated series and the comics. Its filmed with a such a dark but yet realistic cinematography that you actually almost feel like this is real New York. Compared to Tim Burton’s Batman where Gotham was like a 1940’s crime wave city that was tall and brooding, Barron manages to fuse the harsh city look of New York and make it look realistic  while not going too over the top and comic-booky.

The turtles themselves are a delight to watch with Leonardo and Raphael clashing heads about what is right for the team while Leonardo and Michelangelo provide plenty of comic relief to balance out the yin and yang in the group. They very much feel like siblings when to comes to their relationship in the group. They fight like brothers, they act among each other like brothers and know how to work together. This is what makes the four really believable when it comes to successfully developing personality in the group. Yeah, they are the standard color-coded brains, bad boy, fun guy and leader group but it was a standard of the 1980’s and 1990’s for kids but at least its done right and developed well. You feel bad when Raphael threatens to leave the group and laugh away at how upbeat and goofy Michelangelo is.

Then there is the sensei and adoptive father of the batch in the form of an humanoid rat named Splinter (surprisingly performed and voiced  by Muppeteer vetren Kevin Clash of Elmo-fame…yes! Elmo performed Splinter. Mind freaked yet?) who discovered the small batch of baby turtles in a vat of ooze and upon mutating with them, decides to teach them the ways of the ninja. And like a father, he really acts like a respected figure to the four. Sure they go the route with his limits on “kiddie-fair” when the Turtles act like kids but the amphibious quad look up to him because of how wise and kind he acts. He doesn’t lash out at them when they make a mistake or berates them. Even when Raphael is loosing control of his anger, Splinter reacts by have a simple talk down and discussing what is the honorable way as opposed to ignoring it. And that’s a very realistic move. One could argue he is the Mr. Miyagi of the group but he is all around a well developed character.

Jim_Henson_and_Ninja_Turtles_1990I should probably break here and talk about the puppetry work by the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. This was one of the last projects Jim approved before his unfortunate passing and honestly, he couldn’t have picked a better property to test out his new effects on. This was a turning point for special effects even though this was tested before with other projects by Jim Henson like The Dark Crystal, The Storyteller, Fraggle Rock and that’s just to a name a few. But here, the suit performers have a bigger task to handle because they not only have to work on the puppetry but also the stunts. Let me tell you, I’ve seen countless behind the scenes documentaries on this kind of puppetry and suit performance. It can be hell to do. But thanks to the suit performances and the operators controlling the heads, it comes beautifully together. You forget your watching special effects and actually believe you are seeing mutant turtles fighting the Foot clan and interacting with each other. And that was the magic of Jim Henson’s craft. You knew it was a puppet but get so invested in how lifelike it acts that you really get lost in the illusion. And being the big Muppet-head that I am, this element makes the film all the more enjoyable knowing the effect work of your characters are in good care.

Assisting the turtles is April O’Neil, a news anchor that is looking for scoop on the mysterious Foot Clan, and a street vigilante named Casey Jones complete with a hockey mask and some sports equipment. April at times feels like the damsel in distress but she likes to have fun with the Turtles and will do all she can to help them out. Even when she looses her job, the least she can do is look after Splinter’s adopted amphibians because of how much danger they are in as much as her. Casey Jones stands out as the tough guy. Sure, he acts like the Harrison Ford hard shell but from the street but there are times when he knows to be mature and straight up vigilante. A key moment is near the end when he convinces new members of the Foot Clan what family really means and it actually works. Sure its brief but it diminishes Casey as a rebel. He knows there are times when he can be immature and adult at the right times.

The villain is heavy laden armor baddie known as the Shredder who plans to create a group known as the Foot Clan to extinguish the existence of Splinter and his turtles. This sounds silly at first until you learn that its really a revenge ploy as Shredder was enemies with Splinter’s owner before the rat got mutated. I can’t give too much away but it makes sense to why someone like Shredder would go after Splinter. And this is where I really start to appreciate the 1990 film more. It has the idea of an absurd kid’s film but inside is a martial arts movie along the lines of Akira Kurosawa for kids. Shredder is an angry entry that will stop at nothing to see evil prevails while Splinter’s teachings show how evil can often lead to its own downfall. Even the movie has its own archetypes of a martial arts movie with themes of revenege, coming of age and understanding who we are.

At times, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can be a little “cartoony” at times but they are very brief moments like a taxi cab driver seeing a turtle in a trench coat and shrugging it off or the pop culture humor of Michelangelo. But they are very brief and don’t detract from the mature tone of the film. I know some parents back then had concerns about the level of violence in the movie but I think its fairly tame compared to today’s films. Even considering Steven Barron is in the directing chair, the action scenes feel very stylized and well-choreographed. Overall, this is truly a good entry.

They came back and sillier than ever...?

They came back and sillier than ever…?

In terms of the sequels, however, this were things went really downhill. I should stress a lot of fans of the time thought the live-action film was based on the cartoon they watched. This is true but the 1990 film blurred that line between the dark nature of the comic book and the fun of the animated series that it could go both ways. The next film “Secret of the Oooze” on the other hand goes straight up for the goofy tone of the animated series. And I mean it really embellishes itself with the over the top and campy nature. Again, parents had concerns about the mature tone of the first film and thus things were heavily toned down for the sequel. Gone was the gritty look of New York, gone were the Turtles using their weapons and even gone was Casey Jones.

Instead, the Turtles used toys and silly tactics to play out their fights, New York looked and was filmed like a cute vacation greeting card and instead we got a pizza delivery kid that had cool moves but felt like he was picked up from a Karate Kid movie. No disrespect to the character of Keno and his actor but he really feels like he’s either having a hard time trying to break the fact he’s in a Turtles movie or just isn’t that good of an actor. Its a shame because I can really see this character working but most of the time his personality is close to Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He’s always excited and upbeat but doesn’t feel serious or intimidating when needed to be. On the upside, his stunt work is great considering he did double as Donatello in the previous movie but I don’t think his acting was that strong for me.

And even the Turtles got a slight downgrade as they when from brothers trying to work together to the personality of a surfer gang that you find at the beach. They constantly crack jokes, shove one pop culture reference after another and it gets nearly to the point of feeling dead irritating. From time to time, there was a funny line or a decent joke but they mostly got annoying as one pop culture reference came out after another from their mouth. Even Splinter feels different here. No longer is he a fatherly figure but has the Turtles feel like a comedic foil in terms of a relationship. He keeps acting like a grumpy neighbor telling them to smarten up and has them doing back-flips as punishment. Kevin Clash returns to preform and voice but feels limited to what the script wants him to do and doesn’t come off as wise and graceful as the first film.

Shredder returns with a new plan to defeat the turtles by means of mutating a wolf and snapping turtle named Tokka and Rahza with the same vile of ooze that affected the turtles. Its explained here that the ooze came from a scientific lab run by Professor Jordan Perry (David Warner) who plans to dispose of the toxic chemicals and see to a clean up is made. And surprisingly, this is what nearly saves this movie from being a lackluster sequel. The way the mutants Tokka and Rahzar interact is like two big babies enjoying every ounce of chaos and destruction. They are designed in a goofy way but can be fun to watch when they two call their master “Mama” when they first appear and how much dedication they take to tossing the Turtles about. And its always nice to see a movie take a veteran actor of  science fiction and fantasy to the point you can tell they are having fun. David Warner doesn’t fall into the trap of being an evil scientist and you can appreciate just how humane he is to his work. He doesn’t like bathing his toxin to animals but still respects them as creatures.

All in all, this is a really silly but entertainingly dumb movie. What saves it from being a bad sequel is the campy execution. A good example is a scene near the end when the Turtles are having a fight but find themselves bursting into a club where Vanilla Ice is performing causing him to make an impromptu rap about the turtles. Its dumb on paper but you can tell everyone is having fun with it (even David Warner gets in on the crowd’s excitement at one point.) While it clearly hasn’t aged well, it still has its moments of entertainment but more guilty pleasure.

Sadly, all good things must come to a crummy end...

Sadly, all good things must come to a crummy end…

Unfortunately, the third movie is the complete opposite.  Despite having the character of Casey Jones back, it’s not enough to save the movie or even just how straight stupid it is. The concept along does have promise but where they take it is just dull and flat. April O’Neil gets a time traveling device from a junk shop (never explained. probably a car boot sale) and the gang switches places with Japanese warriors with the exception of Splinter staying behind. So now they have to go back in time to save April but then they run into a British explorer and his crew that look like Pirates of the Caribbean stock who plan to culturize Japan with modern day weaponry with canons and guns. Or possibly take them over? Its something never fully explained well.

The main problem with the third movie is how these two styles often clash. You have what could be a historical period piece with the modernization of Japan switching from swords to guns. But then you have the way-too kid friendly Turtles cracking one pun after another and each gets worse and worse. If the second one was a tad irradiating, at least they had dialogue that mattered. Here, its all puns and pop culture references and it looses its flavor fast.

Even worse is the puppetry. The studio who supplied the suits and Splinter puppet was the All Effects Company who did great work like Short Circuit’s Johnny 5 and the Energizer Bunny. The mouths are poorly lip-synched and ever badly moving. Its like two flapjacks opening and closing. That’s how bad it is. Not to mention you can see where the mechanical head and neck attach. Never saw that in the other two movies. Even Splinter is a disgrace. He’s only seen from the waist up and operated from the waist up. All the puppetry gets more faulty when you see the mechanisms jerk a lot but Splinter is clearly the worst because of little the hands move and he’s not given a lot of dramatic movement. Clearly, he was cheaply built.

And that’s what describes this one. Its cheaply built. There’s no effort in the plot, no effort in the effects and even the humor is dull and annoying. Even when they try to make an emotional scene, its very brief and doesn’t make much an impact. There’s a subplot with Raphael saving a kid from a burning house and makes friends with the kid but that doesn’t go anywhere. In fact, to create more confusion, they mess with the continuity seeing it is a time traveling movie but it feels wasted. There’s a bit where we see Casey Jones’ ancestor and Splinter’s in the same room which is inconveniently  weird. But then they push it with the kid that Raphael befriends is referred to as Yoshi. Now, here is where I should jump back to the first film. Splinter’s owner is named Hamato Yoshi and is where Splinter learned his ninjitsu training. This kid’s name is Yoshi so we can only guess that he’s either just called Yoshi or is Hamato Yoshi’s ancestor! And worse, I feel like I’m the only one whose picked up on this!!!! Oh Internet, is there anything you can’t do.

Regardless, its sad to see the series ended on such a sour note. The first movie is easily the best of the batch while the other two suffer from being too silly or too campy. “Secret of the Ooze” at least makes up for it with something creative and entertaining. Sure it can feel cheap at times but when everyone is having a good time and having fun on the set, you can feel it. The final one is just skippable. It doesn’t offer anything new or even anything remotely investing. Its just hampered by a weak script with a good concept but feels like its cashing in on the Bill and Ted/Back to the Future craze. I’d say check out the first two and you might get your money’s worth. But if you want a good, solid entry? Then the first movie is more for you.

Rental Corner: “The Missing Pieces,” or Signs of a Lost Good Movie

Prior to its Blu Ray release, The Missing Pieces had its unique premier

Prior to its Blu Ray release, The Missing Pieces had its unique premier

“Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” has been known for two things in the Twin Peaks fanbase. First being a prequel to the TV series in revealing the moments up till Laura Palmer’s death. The other thing is the never-ending mound of deleted scenes that exist. Now, it is common for a movie to have certain moments removed up during post production wither it be an entire sequence or a conversation that needs to be trimmed down for pacing purposes. Less is more. But in the case of “Fire Walk With Me,” more apparently was needed.

The recent Blu-Ray box set, dubbed “The Entire Mystery,” has both the original TV series that started the cult craze and its prequel movie to accompany it. But the biggest highlight of all is a supplemental section of the deleted footage from the movie dubbed “The Missing Pieces.” Now normally a typical movie could have anywhere up to 10 or even 20 minutes of removed scenes. “Missing Pieces” on the other hand contains roughly 90 minutes of deleted/extended scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut and could have improved David Lynch’s strange big screen adaptation in many ways.

Fans will be pleased to hear that many discarded moments will be seen in their glory as they refer to it as the “Holy Grail” of Twin Peaks fandom. Indeed, a lot of the footage does brush upon certain aspects like the spirits of the Black Lodge and many subplots that could have been better fleshed out or developed better. Among the batch is more of Bobby and Laura as we see a relationship on the rocks. One notable highlight is Laura visiting his boyfriend Bobby for something less intimate than he thinks. Its made quite clear that she only wanted him for the drug trafficking he’s been doing. I do admit when these two are on-screen, you can feel a tragic sense greater than Romeo and Juliet. That is if you knew the show well-enough that is.

We also get to see more of the Palmer family but not as sublime in the final cut. One scene that I’m sure everyone will be talking about is Leland Palmer teaching his wife and daughter some Norwegian which references a key element in the pilot. Scenes like these show that not everything is gloom and doom in the family while giving us a bittersweet feeling in contrast to later when Laura becomes suspicious and fearful of her father. Its a nice and humorous moment that could have balanced the dark nature.

Another crucial addition is David Bowie’s appearance as the strange agent Phillip Jeffrie whose brief moment in the final cut is expanded upon just a little bit. We get to have more time and devotion to his appearance as opposed to the theatrical cut where his moment is jarringly edited with the inhabitants of the Black Lodge mugging at the screen. Unfortunately, we may get to see more of Phillip and elaborate on his talks of “Judy” (a character that we never see in the show or the movie) but some things are never explained like his odd power to teleport from one place to the next. “The Missing Pieces” does show where he came from but never elaborates on the strange phenomenon.

Certain elements are made more clearer like the ring Teresa kept which could have played a bigger role in future continuations and the motive behind Tersa’s death in the beginning. But much like most of these scenes, we get new information but at the same time raises more questions. I’m glad to see more of the Black Lodge and its bizarre inhabitants but it only leaves me wondering exactly what kind of people they truly are and the reason for their existence. But moments like Kyle McLaughlin’s Agent Cooper talking to/practicing to talk to Diane really has me raising eyebrows. In the series, he would often recap events into a tape recorder supposedly for a secretary named Diane. We never do see this “Diane” (not even the deleted scenes hint who this is) and this only questions further if she is real or not. My argument for the series is that “Diane” is the tape recorder but then this bit completely obliterates that theory.

Also in the mix are a series of characters from the show that intended to make an appearance.  Among the notable include footage of the late Jack Nance as wood mill lumberjack Pete Martell arguing with a customer over a two by four board. It doesn’t add much to the plot or enhance anything but something about it feels humorously engaging. Others include some extra bits in the Sherif’s office that never made it into the final cut and more of Ed and Norma’s romance fling is expanded upon considering where it leads in the series. Bits like this could have allowed more time in the town of Twin Peaks and even see about the place. Wither it would have detracted from the main storyline is their own to question.

However, not every additional moment is good. As said above, the “two by four” argument really has no value or place and there’s little moments here and there that just don’t work. There’s a physical fight scenes that goes on for quite a while but something about it doesn’t work. There’s a purpose for it but the way its staged with the handheld camera and the awkward pans around the two duking it out really kills the excitement over the clumsy execution. I’m sure fans will be pleased to see this “long talked about” sequence but I unfortunately found it as too poorly shot. But does it deserve to be seen? Well, yes.  Most cut footage has a right to be examined and looked at to understand why it got cut or why one thinks it could have helped the movie.

But the biggest moment I’m sure fans will be talking about is the “extended” ending we get. Included is a five minute sequence that elaborates more on the final moments of the season two finale and while it does answer a lot, it sets things up for a sequel that never came to. Again, I’m glad to have seen this but it only makes matters more frustrating when you hope for an answer and instead just adds more cliffhanging frustration to the point you feel the story is unfinished.

Its best to see “The Missing Pieces” as a supplement as opposed to the “deleted movie versions” of the Anchorman films considering the string of “lost vignettes” that are included. While edited in a continuity form to help understand how it would have played out, I do think this could have benefited earlier on with that footage added in for a two-night TV airing. Now that would have been something back in the day. As it stands, “Missing Pieces” is more of an interesting afterthought much like its feature film revealing the biggest mysteries that were left behind from the show. The only negative is that while it does enhance and expand on a few things, not everything is going to be adjusted. We don’t know if one character escaped from the Black Lodge (possibly stuck there for life) and we don’t know much about how the supernatural elements work here. Perhaps to best quote David Lynch himself, “There is no end to the mystery.”

 

 

Rental Corner: “Fire Walk With Me” is bizare yet powerful

More Laura and more strangeness that made the show...strange

More Laura and more strangeness that made the show…strange

In hindsight, perhaps I should have addressed the major flaw in the season final to “Twin Peaks.” It opens the door to a new world that is constantly hinted at but yet in execution it feels satisfying and yet disappointing. Satisfying that we get to see a new realm to the town but also disappointing in the direction they take it in. There was meant to be another season but the show was canned so quick that no one could anything about it. It left on a hook so gut wrenching that viewers wanted to know what the heck happened. And this is where “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” comes in. It answered a lot of questions while at the same time keeping the vague and mystery which held the show together. But at the core of it all, what you are really watching is a David Lynch movie and many were robbed by that fact. There’s even a well-known story that it premiered out of competition at Cannes to a series of boos and jeering. Its also infamous for being the movie that made Quentin Tarantino stop interest in seeing another film by Lynch. Like movies, it has gotten a cult following over time and was giving quite a treatment when released with its TV series on Blu-Ray in “The Complete Mystery.” So is it really an underrated gem that bad or is it skippable?

I guess the first thing I must stress is that while “Fire Walk With Me” does drop hints about Agent Cooper’s fate, it acts more of a prequel than a follow-up. This is where I think fans got really split over it. With the finale opening so many opportunities, the last thing they would expect is showing the events leading up to the pilot episode. In my opinion, I think its a clever move on Lynch’s part because it does more with the character of Laura Palmer. The show was about the town and its people that are associated with Larua and now its time to see what kind of person she was.

Sheryl Lee from the series returns as the troubled teen as a living Laura as opposed to the corpse we would normally see on the show. Her character as a whole is a really mixed bag. Laura goes through all the things a troubled teen would do like hanging out with the wrong crowd and doing drugs. But on the other hand, its done at an extreme. She goes even further to hang with bar attendants to the point they want to do some hard clubbing if you catch my drift. One of the most strongest scenes that defies her character is hanging out at a sleazy underground brothel but stops when she sees her friend Donna get in on the sin and tries to coax her out of it. Sure Laura is a really trouble girl but she has morals too and know when a line is drawn.

The only criticism I have is that we never see her progression into this mode. It feels like we chimed in right at the midpoint. You could argue its because of her arm length relations with her parents (most notably her father) but it feels like she’s been like this way before then considering the drug stash from Bobby she gets. On the other hand, it shows the breaking down really well. She acts like a normal girl or ties to be when all there is just fragments of an empty soul. Its the main meat of the movie and this is what really saves it from feeling like a twisted weird science experiment.

For those we never watched the TV series might not pick up on all the references it makes and even find themselves confused half the time. Obviously this movie is meant for fans of the show dying to know more about the town but even I fear they might nitpick over the fact that not every favorite character makes a big appearance. Some of the cast members from the TV show do make a return but sadly not everybody. Show creators David Lynch and Mark Frost became very strained during the second season. And when Mark Frost when off to direct his own film, he couldn’t help out Lynch due to the busy involvement on his movie. As a result, most of the cast members were not attainable because of the direction the second season went or were just too busy. Even Kyle MacLachlan almost didn’t reprise his role as Agent Cooper for fear of being typecast and again the decline in quality on the second season of Twin Peaks. As a result, a lot of major characters that made the show great are reduced to cameos or barley even make an appearance. Even the Log Lady gets only one line dialogue and that’s it. I even fear newcomers who feel really attached to Agent Cooper might be disheartened to find out that his scenes are reduced to a cameo like role. Again, this is because MacLachlan requested this and it works out either for the best or the worse. So its kind of a trade off. You either want more Laura Palmer or get frustrated over the little scenes Cooper gets.

Another notable difference between the show and Fire Walk With Me is just how darker it gets. The movie suffers at times from being too surreal with its strange cuts between TV signal lines and close-ups of mouths and weird things. Its adds to the uncomfortable tone but sometimes it can feel like its desperate to be artsy in some way. The most notable are the Red Room and Black Lodge scenes which feel more alien to me than before. In the series, I always thought it was some form of limbo where else the movie states is another realm of evil. Its an aspect that is briefly touched upon in the last episode but here gets greatly expanded on. Without giving too much away, non-fans of the show might not only be confused with the narrative structure but also the disturbing topic of incest. I can’t really talk about it without discussing a huge spoiler from the show but I think it was handled well to an extent. Its uncomfortable but it doesn’t go as far to show graphic details. So I’ll give credit for sticking to the old saying less is more but I can’t say the entire movie is 100 percent perfect.

Fire Walk With Me could have been a really good movie if it was played straight but then again, its your typical David Lynch film. However, it is arguably the darkest one from his filmography. I’ve seen Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man along some of his other works and they feel tame in comparison. The way this movie is shot feels gritty and intense but you never loose much interest. Although, it does drag in the first 30 minutes but that’s main because its setting up an important plot element that comes to play later. I thought at first it was going in a direction to rehash the formula of the show but it picks up after that. On the surface, its strange and out of this world and I’m sure it will turn people off or leave them with something meaningful. There’s a lot of great visuals here but some times they can in the way of the story really easily like during David Bowie’s cameo as a missing agent. I can’t say its a terrible movie as it followed through with the idea of a TV adaption by going out of the comfort zone of the show but maybe it goes out of its box a bit too much. I almost feel like this could have benefited better as a mini-series to allow more screen time for other characters to appear. But as it stands, its not a bad film and I do appreciate the direction it goes in. Sometimes it can get too weird but then again we are talking about a series that has a backwards talking little man and a supernatural giant that gives cryptic hints. So I can’t complain. And before you even bring up “The Missing Pieces,” well…where do I begin…

Rental Corner: The mystery to “Twin Peaks'” sucess

The infamous Red Room scene from Twin Peaks. One of many strange yet fascinating highlights in the series.

The infamous Red Room scene from Twin Peaks. One of many strange yet fascinating highlights in the series.

David Lynch has always been an interesting director. His films are well-noted for creating weird and unsettling versions of our own reality be it 1880’s London in The Elephant Man or the nice suburban town with a gritty secret in Blue Velvet. But never did I think his twisted and surreal nature would transition well to television with a cult TV show him and his collaborator Mark Frost worked on called “Twin Peaks.” The series lasted for only 30 episodes and over a span of two seasons. But regardless of how short-lived it became, the series has made a lasting impact among viewers and fans who enjoy its strange and other worldly tone. And I’m surprised to say I’m part of the crowd that loves a good mystery and its a shame this ended too early as I would have loved to see just how far it could go.

I will try to keep everything under a spoiler free minimum but I can’t guarantee much seeing some elements need to be explained. Most notably the huge change in tone during its second season. But even during the first seven episodes, a bizarre supernatural tone was already hinted at with the concept of dreams and ideal police methods. So I will try to keep certain things under wraps but I can’t say everything will be kept a mystery from you.

The show takes off big during the first 20 minutes of its pilot as the body of a young teenager named Laura Palmer is discovered and suddenly, the whole town is shaken up over the death of one girl that curiously meant so much to many people. This is the strongest moment of the pilot as it not only establishes characters like Laura’s parents and a few friends that knew her, but I was surprised to see how David Lynch was able to capture the emotion and feeling when a small community gets tragic news like this. Moments like where the principal of her school announcing her death to the faculty and Laura’s parents, Leland and Sarah, reacting to the unfortunate news is executed so well you can feel the amount of trauma and shock as one person at a time is saddened to hear this news.

Its not long till someone has to be brought in to figure out who killed her as FBI agent Dale Cooper (Lynch film vetren Kyle MacLachlan) arrives to investigate the case. In his first scene alone, we immediately start to like him. The hip 1960’s attitude he carries, his big but yet lovable ego, the fact that he shows concern for another’s care and safety, the fact he documents actions into a tape recorder for someone named “Diane,” his open mind to the possible directions of suspects and clues, that slick back hair and so forth. Easily, he is the glue that holds the show together. As he moves from one clue to the next, Cooper gets so invested in trying to solve the crime that we too feel his excitement. Whenever he discovers a weapon or even a piece of paper linked to the killer, you can’t help but share the same amount of feeling he has knowing Cooper is one step closer.

Aside from Cooper, Twin Peaks carries a heavy amount of amazing characters that it would be difficult to go down the line and talk about each one. Of course, each character has a quirk they live by but the unique thing is how it all gets changed during the show’s run. A good example is Ben Horne who owns a hotel suite where Laura worked at. Ben’s story-line is very unique considering the multitude of changes his characters goes through in the course of the show. He goes from acting like a conglomerate that is close to Micheal Esiner but then gets set-up and has a Howard Hughes-style break down and then tries to act nicer and take part in doing things like saving the environment even if it all blows up in his face. You start to appreciate the comeuppance he gets but then you start to see a humane side in him. In a way, his story arch has an Ebeneezer Scrooge vibe with the difference being you get see the negative reactions of his “good deeds.”

Other inhabitants of this laid back but strange place include a cast of high school teenagers that almost feel like characters from American Graffiti if developed by soap opera writers. On paper, it sounds like the average melodrama one find in things like All My Children or General Hospital but yet the beauty of it all is how well-developed these people are and you can almost relate to these kids. Audrey is the snoop/activist, James is the biker with a heart of gold, Bobby is the man you love to hate with his crazy schemes blowing up in his face and so forth. In a way, they feel like left-overs from a 1960’s melodrama but in some way it feels like a satire of the typical cliches. Yes, the show goes that route with the love triangle and even they pull a “who’s the father to my baby” plot line. But what makes these enjoyable is how much you enjoy and care for these characters. Your curious to see what direction their choice will go into wither it be predictable or surprising.

And that’s the key word here; surprising. During the show’s run, we get a slow revelation that the nice little town is not as charming as we think. Most notable are wide range of plots that go from the attempted destruction of the saw mill to a psychiatrist trying to get over his obsession with the late Laura Palmer seeing she was a recurring client. You don’t know what direction the show will go into and every cliffhanger keeps you wanting to progress on. I can’t think of a time when I saw an episode and wished it would end. You get so invested in this odd world and its people, that you want to know more about them and less of Laura’s killer.

In fact, the original intention of the series was to leave out who killed Laura and just let it slide into the background. It would have been an interesting idea had the ABC executives request the reveal during the second season. I can’t say I was disappointed when they made the revelation but I will admit, its a very shocking and disturbing reveal that will leave you breathless. After solving that case, once can imagine how hard it was to live up to the Laura Palmer story line. They tried in the second season but I feel mixed about it. For a good three to four episodes, we get nothing but filler that feels like desperation to hold the viewer’s attention. There are some nice concepts like an older women getting amnesia and thinking she’s a high school cheerleader. But then there’s stuff like Cooper getting docked down for multiple violations, a secretary that is trying to figure whose the father to her unborn child, an elderly man that accuses his late brother’s wife for killing him during making love (which caused a heart attack seeing the two were in this senior years) but they just go nowhere.

The only thing that does work is an old nemesis of Cooper’s that appears halfway in season two that is like if Sherlock Holmes’ Moriarty but plays his plans like a chess game. Its clever and well-developed but at this point, I feel the damage has been done. It was hard to try and follow up what made the first season so good and it shows. I can’t say the second season is skippable seeing I did enjoy some plot lines and ideas while doing some clever character changes. Even a lot of the town becomes more curious when you start to dig into its supernatural roots. But I can’t say its a satisfying season seeing it does have its flaws. Like I said, some storylines feel like they are going in a certain direction but they will either end in a weak way, get entirely abandoned or just go nowhere like I said. But even when Twin Peaks was showing its lumps, it still held together.

A good example is the final episode where we start to really question just what kind of town is this. Is it one that exists in reality or is there something more to it? I wish I could go in-depth but I fear it would ruin it. The final 20 minutes leads to a nail-biting climax as Cooper questions a form of reality he enters that I personally think is one of the best I’ve seen, even for a strange series likes this. And I’m sure many will be left asking for more by the end and wishing there was a third season. And that was the genius of Twin Peaks. It kept you coming back for more even when it ended on either a climatic note or an intense turning point. Its the series that left you wanting to know more about these people and they place they are in rather than the conflict they are attached to and I believe that is where David Lynch and Mark Frost’s show was at its high point. It knew at the right time when to give answers and when to leave us hanging. Though I’m sure many will be bothered by how the show ends…but that is why a movie exists….yet that is another story for another time.

“Guardians” saves summer!

On August 1, 1986, Universal Pictures released Howard the Duck, one of the first Marvel Comic adaptations  to ever hit the big screen. In my opinion, its a campy, goofy B-movie that has flaws but doesn’t take itself seriously with the idea of an anthropomorphic alien duck stuck on Earth. Unfortunately, audiences were split over to take this movie seriously or not at all while critics were far harsh with the film.  Why do I bring this movie up you ask? Again, this was released on AUGUST 1ST and was the first Marvel Comic “comedy” of its time. For a good bulk of the 1990s, we mostly got DC Comic adaptations while Marvel stayed in the shadows till Blade and X-Men showed how comic adaptations can be fun but realistic at the same time with thought provoking messages of finding acceptance and good amounts of action.

"We are the Guardians of the freakin' Galaxy"

“We are the Guardians of the freakin’ Galaxy”

Skip to August 1, 2014 to the debut of Guardians of the Galaxy and it happens to the second attempt Marvel takes a crazy idea like Howard the Duck and make it work. When you think about it, Marvel has given us a long line of films that are dark yet have this uplifting vibe to them from Iron Man to Captain America. While comic book in tone, these movies were serious with its material while taking basic concepts and making them fun and engaging. Guardians is so absurd, so out of this world and strange on paper that it feels like it might turn one off. Yet, everything about it works well. Surprisingly, this is by far the most uplifting, funniest and by far the best one of the batch.

Chirs Pratt plays Star Lord (or Peter Quinn if you want his real name), who was a  human abducted as a kid by aliens and now grows into a bandit of the galaxy that has a bounty so big, it makes Bobba Fett look shallow in comparison. Chris’s take on the character is close to the heroic whim of the Rocketeer meets the space hero serials of the 1950’s but if he was a playboy and a lovable jerk. What keeps Star Lord from being unlikable is his child-like quality with roaming about the universe while still having a smug attitude. He even has a Walkman from the 1980’s and it still works interestingly. But yet, he is just the basic every man trying to make a quick buck with a strange relic that he doesn’t even know if its dangerous or mostly harmless. If he walked into the Cantina bar from Star Wars, I’m sure him and Han Solo would hit it off big.

Also in the ragtag group is Bradley Cooper’s stealing the show as a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket. He may have a mouth that matches the personality of Joe Pesci but carries weapons so huge that complement his furious attitude more than his size. This critter is less about wisecracks and more about blowing stuff up and keeping his personal needs in play. This is a really funny character and I’m sure there will be a growing fan base out there quoting his cynical but humorous quips as well as wishing there was a spin-off made. It also helps that he is more smart when it comes to fabricating things from weapons to even hijacking security systems. In short, Rocket is one creature you don’t want to mess with.

Aiding the fierce Rocket is Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a giant tree like humanoid that grow to any size and even grown back a limb. The humor from this character shines a lot from his visual actions and the fact his vocabulary is only limited to saying “I am Groot” which acts as a form of language that only Rocket can understand. While technically the Zoidberg of the group, Groot gets a lot of memorable moments being a giant that can be destructive but also innocent and kind at the same time.

Dave Batista shines as Drax the Destroyer who looks and talks like a major brute but yet takes things way too literally for granite. Dave manages to make the character his and even go as far to take his own wrestling moves into the action scenes. Again, the quirk that shines the most from Drax is how his species don’t understand metaphors well and even have a poor understanding of knowing when to joke around or even know how to describe sympathetic feelings. His personality matches Strax the Sontaron from Doctor Who so well that it makes me wonder what a barfight between the two would be like.

Lastly is Zoe Saldana donning the green skinned Gamora who is one sleek assassin that questions the amount of brains in the leader of the group and everyone else. With a bad attitude and sometimes one step ahead, she can have a heart too when it comes to trying to being righteous and is not cold hearten as you think. She can be fun to watch when the sleek killer plays off of Star Lord’s devilish personality but even she knows when to show she has a heart.

The reason these guys are all together is because they are after an object Star Lord obtains early on that again could either destroy the universe or maybe be a cheap antique. One or another is after each other because of prejudice or one has a higher bounty quality and it honestly works. The first half of Guardians feels a bit slow but what holds it together is the way these people work off each other. They are schemers and pull heists but yet somehow you can see them working together for something like trying to save the world while other characters feel this is the last thing they would expect from them. I’m saying little about the villains as well as the other characters as it would ruin a lot of expectations. I admit, I was confused as to who the real antagonist was but when they got to reveal the true nature of the orb, it all made sense to who was in it to make a profit and who wanted to harness it to rule the universe. By midpoint, everything clicks and we know our good guys from our bad guys.

For me, I never read the comics themselves or see any cartoons with their appearance in them. But this movie is really a solid introduction. Again, it drags in the first half but I feel its because viewers have no idea who or what this universe is like. So that is understandable and by midway, we begin to relax and enjoy the bickering between Drax and Rocket while knowing how this alien universe works. I must highly complement director James Gunn’s decision to use practical sets, effects and make up while knowing when to use CGI for characters like Groot or Rocket. This gives the environment of Guardians a more realistic feel and not video gamey like Avatar or the new Star Trek films where CGI sets are the norm. Its a breath of fresh air to see a movie use more practical work for things like blue skinned aliens and even studios sets to look like a desert planet. I had a great time looking at these places and even feel robbed wishing these existed despite some feeling desolate and in ruins.

But even looking pass the special effects and story, what holds this move together are the Guardians themselves. These are average joe’s from their own worlds who you don’t expect to see form a team but yet they all have something in common. As Star Lord puts it, “I see losers…folks who have lost stuff. Our homes, our families.” And is with this, they have a reason to save the galaxy from this huge threat. They have had a hard time and this is their chance to at least do good for someone even if they had the worst of it. Even during the climax, I noticed none of them backed down when it came to a point they knew an action they would do would have little chance of survival.  They put their own life on the line just to save a world full of people and I find that is a rare trait in today’s film characters who would go far to take risks like this.

And unlike films that have multiple endings, when you think its going to end and it doesn’t, you are glad to see it keeps going. Not once did I feel Guardians dragged on for too long or even wish it to end sooner. It knew when to expand and conclude at the right spots. Its a very uplifting and humorous movie that I do hope many get the chance to see. It has something for everyone from great special effects to really great writing. August is normally the dead spot for summer blockbusters but I feel its appropriate for Guardians to end this dead and desolate summer season with a bang so big you feel satisfied. And…remember what I said about Howard being the first Marvel comedy. Want to really know why I bring it up? Stick around after the end credits of Guardians and you’ll see why. Because I do feel some things can come full circle. Regardless, Guardians is the best fun I’ve had at the summer blockbusters season and I’m sure to pre-order my ticket for its squeal way in advanced.