Category Archives: Thoughts on Hollywood and Stuff

New “Ghostbusters” underwhelms with unfunny humor and dull spirits

ghostbusters2016Prior to seeing Paul Feig’s new film, I read an article from the daughter of Harold Ramis. I enjoyed with delight seeing Violet share moments with her father and how much she appreciated the cult phenomenon he created. There were two parts in that piece that got my attention. One where she goes on to say how disappointing it was to see her dad’s likeness not used for “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon. To which Harold replied, “It’s fine. …The cartoon is its own thing.The same way you used to ask if the fans knew I wasn’t really Egon? Well, I’m not. It’s a character. There was a different Superman when I was a kid. Things change. ”

The second part that got my attention was near the end when she mentions the backlash of the new Ghostbusters movie with the principal characters gender swapped. At first she was mad, until the negativity came in. In a response, Violet pleaded to stop using the death of her father as a reason to hate the movie. To which I agree. Because a creator is gone and unable to make his vision, doesn’t give reason to use it as a purpose to hate another’s interpretation. Consider this a public service that just because someone decides to make their version, doesn’t mean it must be shunned. Call this contradicting considering my thoughts of the movie to come later, but if you don’t want to see or bother with this movie, then don’t. But when you criticize and claim you saw something before you have seen it, doesn’t give it the satisfaction it deserves. And while I admit this is not a good movie, its not one to really hate over. Because right now, right across from the laptop I am typing at are two copies of the first movie. One on Blu-ray and the other on DVD. They are on my shelf unharmed and untouched. And even if this new movie tries to erase the continuity of the original, it still exists in the minds of those who love it. Now that I am off my soapbox, let’s break into this.

Even as I type this, I feel really bad for saying that I didn’t find myself enjoying Paul Feig’s take. And personally, there’s a lot of factors to blame here. I could point my finger at Sony for how they tried to make another franchise after losing Spider-Man to Marvel Studios. Its quite clear in the advertising and marketing that they want this to be a big thing. But the problem is that the original 1984 film wasn’t destined to be a huge cultural hit. There was no planned franchise at the time. It was like lightening in a bottle. Once it comes it, it makes a strike on the big screen that can’t be duplicated. They sure tried here, but it falls pale in comparison. Even on its own, I can’t help but pick apart certain plot points and things that really bugged me which I talk about later in.

Another problem I could say is the casting, but even that’s not it. These are all really funny and talented people. I’ve seen Melissa McCarthy in movies like The Heat and she can be really funny. Even thought I wasn’t a fan of Bridesmaids, I admit she was the funniest thing in that movie from her twisted attitude and loud personality. But even here, I felt like she was struggling a bit considering the PG-13 tone this movie is mean to have and the relationships with the characters. The only break out was Kate McKinnon who had this mad scientist personality which was delightful to watch. Kate felt way more animated and seemed like she having way more fun. When Kristen Wigg and Melissa are together, there is more banter than playing off each other. Almost like arguing and that’s in part to what the characters do to each other early on. Nothing said to me, “oh, these two are close friends and I can see them getting along.” The performances were sort of dull and not very interesting. To which I personally blame more the script as opposed to the effort going into it.

The big take away is that the cast and crew really wanted to make a good movie, but it feels like they knew nothing worked because how weak the story was. Basically, it does feel like a rehash of the first movie with similar beats. There are differences here and there to keep it far apart from the original, but nothing stands out. For example, in the first movie, the original crew captures their first ghost and immediately they find the business they created booming greatly. Instead here, once they capture their first ghost, our heroines  get an immediate scolding for no reason. We want to root for these underdogs and see them succeed. That’s what made the first film work, because you felt success was on their side. In this new film, reality intervenes and prevents you from enjoying their success. Now they are being told to keep this supernatural stuff under warps and avoid public panic, when clearly its not even sending a panic. That never made any sense to me.

Another thing that bothered me was the constant use of negative male stereotypes. When watching this new take, I barley remember a point when I recall a male character that actually did some good justice for the girls. In a way, I felt more sorry for them to be surrounded by a cavalcade of jerks, morons and (without giving too much away) delirious fanboys. A prime example is Chris Hemsworth who joins in as their secretary and all he does is just act dumb to them. He doesn’t provide any help and just goes about like a buffoon.  It kept aggravating me because I felt like some better use could have been made out of this character and it didn’t. It was a one note joke that went on for way too long.

Without giving too much away, the villain is certainly the most weakest part of the movie. Neil Casey plays this creepy janitor that plans to bring an end to the world and they try to make it fit into this whole message about bullying. But it doesn’t feel blended in right. I feel its due to how there is no justification for the Ghostbusters crew and how unfairly they get treated. All Neil’s character does is go about and try to motivate the plot, but his moments are so little they could have been cut and replaced with something different. The motivation is not big enough to care for as he mucks his way to the big finale which tries way too hard to please.

The finale in particular tries to be overblown with much effects and spooks, but it goes on for too long. Its like they throw one thing after another just to please viewers of old and new with new monsters and appearances by old faces. However, there is no build up to this big climax. Ghosts come out and start to tear up New York like a giant cookie. Even the choice in ghost designs are uninteresting. In the original, they had these abstract and deformed designs that looked other worldly. In the new version, they feel like floating pedestrians crossed with rejected designs from The Haunted Mansion ride.

This new movie really tries to win fans of the old with Easter eggs and even cameos from characters who were in the original film. But it tries way too hard. Its trapped between trying to do something new for a different generation and appease fans of the old. And a good example are these cameos by the stars from the first film. Some I did find a little cute like Annie Potts and maybe Ernie Hudson. But others suffer either from feeling forced or going against what their original characters represented. One in particular plays this scientists that tries to debunk the girls, but the person who plays him doesn’t fit it. It completely goes against what the original role intended from the first film for someone who believes in paranormal activity.

I’m certain this movie might have it fans and I know really well, this will be an easy movie to hate on. But at the end of day, all these cast and crew members wanted to do was make a good movie. However, a troubled script can’t save the day. I feel really bad for not liking this because I wanted to give this new incarnation a chance. I wanted to walk out of the theater and admit I was wrong about the whole affair. Sadly, that is not that day. Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” is so flawed that I found myself being emotionally taken out of the movie a lot. I wanted to accept what was on screen, but nothing clicked. The jokes were unfunny, the effects were not memorable and the overall experience was just dull and boring. I literally sat there in my seat trying to find a good joke throughout the whole affair. In the end, I only laughed three times. So far, this has been a dull crop of summer blockbusters and I keep hoping something will come along to break the dullness. To which I am sad to say “Ghostbusters” didn’t answer the call very well here.

 

P. S. If you are curious about Violet Ramis’ article, click the link below. I really recommend it. It helped me out.

http://splitsider.com/2016/07/on-my-dad-harold-ramis-and-passing-the-ghostbusters-torch-to-a-new-generation-of-fans/

“Grease Live” is the word

635859444948456391-GREASELIVE-F7Coming from someone who never saw the movie “Grease” in full or even seen the Broadway show, it was interesting to see how little expectations could change during a performance. What turned me away from this 1960s throwback was the other 1960s throwbacks I was exposed to at the time. “Hairspray” was a unique commentary on the racial tensions of the time while Coppola’s adaptation of “The Outsiders” was a powerful coming of age story. Whenever I heard something on” Grease,” I would kind of shrug it off. It also didn’t help I only saw parts of the film as a kid and didn’t get into it. “Little Shop of Horrors” was more of my forte for its fun premise, well-written characters and catchy songs.

So when Paramount Television and the Fox Network teamed up to produce a live telecast of the Broadway show, my reaction was fairly obvious. After coming off of NBC’s streak of live musical telecasts (“Sound of Music,””Peter Pan” and recently “The Wiz”), part of me felt like it was a bit of a cash-in but mostly disinterested. Don’t get wrong, I didn’t think it couldn’t do a live musical. I just didn’t get hyped over it. So doth to my surprise when I found myself humming “Beauty School Dropout” and appreciating the presentation midway. By the time it was over, I was surprised at how enjoyable it was and how pale the NBC performances were in comparison.

Now before everyone leaps on, I will state this review is based on the performance only sans compare/contrast to the 1978 film or the Broadway version. I’m only going by what I saw here and not riding on my nostalgia seeing I wasn’t a fan of both. The story is basic, corny but a little fun at times. It centers on a group of high school seniors that are going through the typical situations one would experience. Peer pressure, gang tussles, social conflicts and even at one point pregnancy. There really isn’t much substance but it can be interesting these try and manage these situations. Sure they’re generic but have tend to have a heart and soul.

Aaron Tveit is a blast as Danny Zuko, the greaser with a heart of gold that has the usual thoughts of car mechanics and babes on the mind. But Aaron’s innocence when his character calls to be emotion and talk about his true state of mind really show during the “Sandy” number. Julianne Hough is sweet as Sandy, the heartthrob with a shy mind. Like Aaron’s take on Danny, Julianne’s Sandy shows similar trends as a teen who is good but not with the times. It makes her transition from nice girl to open-minded rewarding seeing how “safe” her character takes things.

The rest of the cast is remarkably good too. The teachers can get a funny line once in a while and the comic relief is your typical comic relief. Though I’m certain praise will be left for Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo. The sassy leader of a clique who is all about risk taking and less about thinking through. This is a great contrast to the Sandy character who is all about being cautious while Rizzo just acts before thinking through. It should be noted that coming off of the success of “High School Musical,” it’s nice to see a Disney veteran broaden her horizons. Granted, Hudgens has proven this before with “Spring Breakers” so a role that calls for one to be rebellious and regretful surprisingly fits. You can tell she’s having fun with this role while also delivering the soul of the character.

The songs I’m sure everyone knows by now for those who are fans of “Grease.” The beach rock tones of “Greased Lightening,” the angelic feel of “Beauty School Dropout,” the ballad-like “Sandy” and the list goes on. A song is performed well when the singer can emote and carry a tune. Honestly, I don’t remember a single moment when I felt taken out of one’s singing. Though, maybe Boyz II Men’s rendition of “Beauty School Dropout” seeing the slow delivery kills some the punches in the lyrics. “Your The One That I Want” is energetic as “Summer Nights” is giddy in its delivery. But again, for my taste, I don’t recall a moment when I didn’t enjoy a song. But I didn’t have this feeling to hum each one aside from a select few. I just think they are fine tunes that are performed with plenty of energy.

With this elements in play, it makes for a decent performance. So what makes this stand out from all the others? The answer is in the technical work. When NBC performed their telecasts, they were always enclosed on a set and surrounded by effects crew and cameras. “Grease Live,” on the other hand, pushes things a step up. Instead of one sound stage, there are multiple ones making it interesting yet easy to transition from one place to the next. There’s always an audience around to cheer on or applaud at the end of each song. Sometimes, they will even allow them as extras into a scene which is very clever.

This is very evident early on during Jessie J’s performance of the opening song. A normal telecast would either cut the song out or just do something within the set. Here, they go all out. They have her move constantly from dressing room to the next, the camera is always following her and even they take the performance outside DURING THE RAIN! Yeah, during the live telecast, there was weather concerns about a rain storm. But as they say, the show must go on and use it to their advantage.

In fact, most of the time, I feel like I’m not watching a live show but a feature film sometimes. In a Broadway play, actors would have to emote and look to the audience in order to understand their emotion. Seeing this is a TV production, we get a better advantage at seeing close-ups and these multiple camera set-ups which give a better look at the environment. Its a very clever, and from the looks of it, possibly complex presentation that obviously doesn’t look easy.

My only nitpicks are questioning how the audience during the filming was able to move from one place to the next (unless they were positioned in one spot which feels kind of a bummer) and that with the complex camera work, it does make me wonder why this wasn’t a feature film for television. When they would show a close up of someone’s face or a split screen, I would feel that emotion and be cheated into thinking I was watching a theatrical feature by the amount of staging and blocking.

So overall, “Grease Live” was a nice surprise. I found myself amazed at how all out the production was to deliver a musical spectacle. Future live telecasts should probably take a cue from this one. While I can’t say it was 100% seeing some audio issues and the climactic drag race being one of the most embarrassing (reduced to shaking cameras and actors sitting in toy vehicles suited more for soapbox racing), it was an enjoyable performance none the less. You can tell your having fun when the actors and audience jive with it. All I have left to say is that I’m certainly looking forward toward Fox’s telecast of Rocky Horror with more hope than ever.

 

A Look Back at the “Crypt”: Season 2

513uNPyJahL._SY300_If season one was a test, then Season Two of “Tales from the Crypt” sealed the deal with what to expect. The original six episodes made up for a near perfect season with well-directed and well-adapted tales based from the original EC Comics. Now, it was time to expand that and here is where this batch of episodes come in. Clocking in at 18 episodes, it might as well be considered the best season out of all of them. The rank of good episodes are much higher here and the amount of celebrities they obtained go through the roof.

tales-from-the-crypt-season-2-crypt-keeper-tales-from-the-crypt-comic-bookHighlights include an episode directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger who actually does a great job, some well-written gems by horror cult faves Fred Dekker and Tom Holland, some great Crypt Keeper moments and all within a very recurring theme-ish season. I’ll talk about that last part later but it seems they really tested how far they can balance the camp with the horror. This is evident in the opening and closing Crypt Keeper segments which veer towards dark comedy and less creepy. Midway, John Kassir’s voice on the character became more higher pitched resulting in a more enjoyable yet obviously comical performance. While cracking one-liners, this decaying host never loses a laugh but there is something missing about the dark menace from the first season.

Anyway, we got 18 episodes this season and it probably doesn’t get any better. The only nitpick I do have is how much it begins to repeat itself a little by the end. Most of the episodes surround on themes of broken marriages, villains getting their comeuppance, zombies and conjoint Siamese twins. Then again, a lot of the original comics used these elements so it was very common. I’m not saying this makes season two bad but it does get slightly fatigued. Here’s the break down:

2x01-Dead-Right-tales-from-the-crypt-11982338-720-540Dead Right – Demi Moore plays a gold-digger who meets up with a fortune teller who says she will inherit a large sum of money from the next man who loves her. This “Mr. Right” happens to be a grease ball with a gluttonous appetite as she reluctantly marries him. Jeffrey Tambor plays the disgusting man and the make-up job is surprisingly good.  You feel somewhat sympathetic despite his grotesque nature. He just wants to live a normal life even if it is unhealthy. Demi’s performance is good too as she eagerly wonders how her prediction will come true. But as we all know, there’s a fine print to everything as the fortune teller is never wrong.

tumblr_mgjsdvKVKc1qefwfno1_500The Switch – William Hickey is an elderly bachelor who wants to woo a young woman (Kelly Preston) but the problem is that she gets really picky. So he sees a mad doctor who plans to help him switch body parts with a younger man who is willing to go through the operation for money. Its a simple idea that has an ethical yet strong moral about beauty and looks. As the senior goes from switching an old chest to arms and eventually legs, it all builds to a great pay off that is well deserved. Surprisingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger directed this one and even gets a cameo in the opening segment. He does a really good job behind the camera and shows he is enjoyable as an actor and professional as a filmmaker. It makes me wonder why he never considered jumping behind the camera again…

450px-Tales_cutting_cards_(2)Cutting Cards – This is a favorite among fans with a simple premise that builds and builds. Two gamblers (Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe) go against each other but are bent on seeing the other lose. What starts as a dice game escalates to Russian Roulette and eventually a poker game where they get to lob another’s fingers off. This episode works well with the gamblers because of how devoted they are to winning and seeing the other fail. They push the limits to every single ability in a delightfully dark yet funny episode.

Episode 10 Pic 2Til Death – A wealthy land owner (D. W. Moffett) tries to woo a rich woman. He consults a voodoo priestess who gives him a potion with a deadly warning. The potion works but when he uses too many drops, the man finds himself in a dilemma worse than death. The only problem I have is how can this guy trust a witch doctor when he’s trying to capitalize on her land. There’s a hinting romance they previously had and it sort of pays off in the end. On the other hand, you you think this guy would know better when consulting with his enemies. The real highlight is the last eight minutes which make up for the episode’s faults and the use of red and blues in the cinematography giving its classic comic book tone.

grossThree’s a Crowd – Here’s a gem that nobody talks about that much. A couple is down on their luck as their marriage hits a rocky turn. They get invited to a vacation in a cabin by their former best man but the husband (Gavan O’Herlihy) suspects his wife is having an affair. Its a simple premise but the intense atmopshere and the ending really make this one memorable. As the spouse starts to loose his mind, we wonder just what his wife is hiding despite his crazed nature. Again, this episode is worth checking out just for the twist at the end. I won’t ruin it but it really hits you hard. In fact, its probably the darkest twist in the entire series to date.

tales-from-the-crypt-the-thing-from-the-graveThe Thing from the Grave – Here’s another simple premise story that surprisingly works. Kyle Secor is a photographer that falls in love with a supermodel (Teri Hatcher) who has problems with her overprotected boyfriend. Once the boyfriend catches on, he murders the photographer and tries to punish his cheating lover. Without giving away the ending,  he soon learns that even love can survive after death. This episode was written and directed by Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad) and is a slight departure from his normal cult horror work. He really taps into the campy nature of the comic while delivering an eerie yet light episode of undying love. Its well shot, tightly edited and truly delivers.

2x07-The-Sacrifice-tales-from-the-crypt-12074430-720-540The Sacrifice – Sometimes a simple premise can’t be strong enough or not well executed. This is an example of that. An insurance agent plans to kill off an obnoxious client and make off with the cash with his wife. However, it gets difficult when someone shows up with evidence of the murder as the two come close to cracking on whether to fess up or keep their mouth shut. This is a pretty forgettable one with a decent twist but it doesn’t feel that interesting. I wish I could put my finger on why but the only thing I can suggest is that not every simple-minded story will be translatable to the small screen.

tftcforcryin05-e1409703852577For Cryin’ Out Loud – Here’s another classic that gets often overlooked. Lee Arenberg plays a rock promoter that plans to make off with the ticket money. But things get complex when a small voice in his ear thinks otherwise of his evil deeds. The biggest highlight that saves this episode is Sam Kinison lending his screaming voice as the unseen conscious. While I’m not a big fan of Kinison’s work, I will admit his signature screaming personality works here as he forces the con man to tell the truth. This is signified further in one of my favorite moments near the end when the man constantly slams his head into a speaker while his conscious yells “Confess!” Also, keep an eye out for Iggy Pop’s cameo.

2x09-Four-Sided-Triangle-tales-from-the-crypt-12113925-720-540Four-Sided Triangle – A young farmhand (Patricia Arquette) deals with the abuse of her employers who are a middle aged couple. When the husband attempts to take advantage of her, she suffers a head injury and somehow she thinks the scarecrow is alive. More than that, she thinks the scarecrow is her lover. Its a weird one that is executed in an ok manner. There’s nothing really surprising or “must-see.” But at least its a decent watch. I guess the reveal of the scarecrow is interesting but the rest of the episode just feels standard to me.

dummy2The Ventriloquist’s Dummy – Now here is an all-time classic. Directed by Richard Donner but written by Frank Darabont (director of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption), a young ventriloquist (played by the hilarious Bobcat Goldthwait) seeks out his childhood hero (Don Rickles) to improve his craft. Unfortunately, his idol has  a dark secret. This is a minor spoiler but it must be addressed. Its revealed that the dummy the man’s hero used was really his tiny Siamese twin brother who is connected to the right hand. The whole episode along with the dialogue feels like one big stand-up act knowing when to bring in the comedy during the darkest moments. It doesn’t take itself seriously and plays it up for laughs. The design of the brother is good too looking like it came from make-up by Rob Bottin (The Howling, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Legend). Its another highlight that knows when to deliver with fun performances and cheesy yet enjoyable effects.

105575Judy, Your Not Yourself Today – An elderly cosmetic saleswomen (Frances Bay) visits the home of a wife (Carol Kane) who likes to live life at a safe distance. The saleswomen turns out to be a witch that switches bodies with her thanks to a magic necklace as the husband (Brian Kerwin) tries to intervene and get his wife back. But just when you think the story couldn’t go further, it goes in a very interesting direction that is predicable but handled well. Not a bad episode and there are some clever angles it takes. I just wish the first half was stronger as a final 15 minutes leading to a tragic but decent end.

fitting2Fitting Punishment – For those with weak stomachs, don’t watch this episode. I say this because the plot revolves around a funeral home director (Moses Gunn) who cuts corners so bad that its really revolting to watch. From cheap ways to process a dead corpse to even using regular tap water instead of embalming fluid, the entire tone is very unsettling and might disturb easy. He soon becomes the legal guardian of his teenage nephew and makes an apprentice out of him. It doesn’t help that this guy is so deep into his cheapness that he abuses his nephew due to the mean spirited nature of his mind. And that’s just scraping the surface. Even the Crypt Keeper gets really disgusted by his actions so much that he has to address it without a gag. Again if you get easily disturbed, this one I say you can skip. The only near saving grace is the “just deserts” punishment this guy gets but that’s really about it.

tftckorman01Korman’s Kalamity – I admit, the premise to this one is interesting but the execution gets way too silly and over the top. An artist working for Tales from the Crypt comics (at least give some credit for the meta nature seeing the show was based from EC Comics) has a hard time doing some cover art. But it changes when his nagging wife won’t stop complaining about their failed love life which somehow causes what ever he draws to come to life. First off, why keep something a twist when we already know what it is? They try to cover it up with another explanation to what makes the inspiration work but it feels tagged on. Also, the concept alone is way too self-aware and meta. Its not bad but it feels really weird when your show already is meant to be light and fun. Here, it gets way too goofy. And as fun as the concept sounds, its full of plot holes. When Korman makes the monsters and after they do their violent way, where do they go? After their big moment, they just disappear and never get heard from again. I guess they really wanted to make an all-out comedic episode but it gets way too silly. And thank goodness the last five episodes save the season…

Enoch_and_MiranaLower Berth – In a special “Tales from the Crib,” a traveling freakshow inquires a 4,000 year-old mummy to their act which draws in a huge crowd. This new element also catches the eye of a two-faced sideshow who falls in love with the Ancient queen. When I first saw this back in college, it was my all-time favorite. But upon re-watching it, there isn’t much charm. Fred Dekker returns to write this episode and as always, he knows when to channel the fun horror. He knows its a ridiculous premise but manages to make it enjoyable from the execution in the dialogue. It almost feels like I’m looking at an old-fashioned penny dreadful and it doesn’t take itself seriously. Another fun episode with a really surprisingly twist. If only the effects on the two-faced man where better and some of the story didn’t feel too Elephant Man.

tftcmutewitness13Mute Witness to Murder – Here’s another one that’s worth checking out. A wife sees a murder across from her home and goes into deep shock. Her lose of speaking has her husband call upon a doctor who just happens to be the killer she saw. In hopes she will be quiet forever, the mad man has her sanctioned in his asylum while her husband tries to figure out why she went quiet. A simple idea done right. There’s so much riding on this episode from the wife fighting to speak again to the husband trying to put the pieces together. But the most interesting character is the doctor himself who really channels Hannibal Lector and taps into people’s minds. He’s probably one of the best and most dangerous antagonists in Tales from the Crypt history. The way he gets defeated is a little lame on paper but it works well to its advantage. Its an on-the-edge thriller that is worth seeing.

televisionterrorTelevision Terror – Here’s another weak on as a tabloid new host (Morton Downey, Jr.) does a live telecast inside a house haunted by the ghost of a woman who axed off seven husbands. At first its all for the ratings, but then things get serious when strange occurrences happen that make our emcee freak and ratings soar. This episode almost works in a pre-Blair Witch way but after so much slow build up, things get worn out. And when it finally starts to get good, it goes the cliched route instead of being creative and interesting as an army of ghouls go after our phony star and tagged on is a strange twist where an executive has a personal vendetta. Only one word describes this one; a mess.

downloadMy Brother’s Keeper – Two Siamese twins (Timothy Stack and Jonathan Stark) have a hard time trying to get along due to one small problem. Their are joint to the hip and find themselves stuck together. Where ever one twin goes, the other has to follow. But as it turns out, there is a possible operation that could finally set them apart but the good twin doesn’t want to be apart from his brother. So here are the problems. First, they never address if an organ is being shared so how can a simply operation like that be so risky? Also, why would the good twin want to have his bad brother around when he keeps making the goodie’s life a miserable wreck? Those are the only things problematic but everything else is solid. In fact, the feuding between the two is the really entertaining thing about this episode. Its an epic sibling rivalry that must be seen to be believed.

secret2The Secret – Opening with a humorous segment with the Crypt Keeper lamenting the absence of a twist in Oliver Twist (“And I had such Great Expectations,” he jokingly says), we get an orphan who gets taken in by a new set of parents who are rich and treat him with the best. However, they harbor a dark secret. And if can’t see what the twist is, then you might enjoy the direction this one goes into. Its a decent finale that doesn’t end on a lame note with plenty of decent scenes with the kid interacting with his folks and even the butler (Larry Drake) is a good character too. Its a watchable entry that is sure to entertain.

The DVD: A step up from the Season One DVD but still falls short. I give props for more effort but with a lack of the usual bonuses (audio commentary), the only reason to get the DVD is for the episodes and a few goodies here and there. Not to say you are left empty handed, but you wish more care was placed in. All the menus (with the exception of the special features) are hosted by the Crypt Keeper which is a nice treat. Its a shame they used a cheap puppet instead of dusting off the old one. I guess the previous set was meant to be a continuation as they hint a “bo-tox injection.” On the other hand, its nice to hear John Kassir cracking ghoulish jokes and puns as you make a selection.

1130735426Included are two featurettes which are good but both have their pros and cons. The “Shockumentry” gives a behind the scenes look at season two and a little retrospective on the show as well. Its nice to see interviews with Joel Silver talking about the impact of the show and we even get a nice interview from John Kassier talking about how he earned the role. Drawback? The Crypt Keeper hosts it and tries to give a meta retrospect to it. It would be nice to get a decent “straight-forward” look at the making of the show without a jokey gimmick. But I can’t say I was disappointed. This 14 minute piece is still fun to check out.

Tales_from_the_Crypt_Radio_ShowThe other featurette is a look at the short-lived radio drama for the Sci-Fi Channel’s Seeing Ear Theater which aired in 2000 for only eight episodes. Even stranger is how this DVD came out five years after its cancellation and has an entire behind the scenes video dedicated to it. On the other hand, its nice to see Tim Curry recording his performance and how the special effect guys do the live recording. But its a weird promo piece for something that is not being broadcast anymore. I also managed to listen to one of the episodes myself and honestly, I think the idea is there but the stories just didn’t retain the campy spirit. I guess they were going for horror more and it shows with disturbing themes like child abuse.

Speaking of disturbing, I am still wrapping my head around how the opening intros are cut from every episode. It makes no sense. Instead of using them as an opening to the menu, now they are completely gone. Unless this was a mastering error, this mystery really bothers me leaving all the episodes feeling incomplete.

But does it diminish the enjoyment of Season Two? No, there are some really good episodes here. It gets a little redundant mid-way and weak but manages to save itself by the tail end (literally.) With repeating themes of conjoint siblings and zombies, this season should have been called the “Ghoul and Siamese Season.” Even the weakest episodes had at least something to offer even when it didn’t work. Overall, I’d say this is up there with season one but perhaps a bit more lighter. If you were put off by the darker shade of the first season, I’m positive you will have a lot of fun with this one.

BEST: Tough call but I’m going to say it’s between Mute Witness to Murder and Three’s a Crowd for taking simple ideas and really making something great out of them. Also, Cutting Cards and The Ventriloquist’s Dummy are a lot of fun to watch.

WORST: While The Sacrifice and Television Terror had weak/messy execution, Korman’s Kalamity wins this one for a silly yet workable idea that just gets dumb as the minutes toll.

A Look Back at the “Crypt”: Season 1

t59929ycw5tThere is no other horror anthology I can think of that is self-aware while brooding as The Twilight Zone. Ok, so “Tales from the Crypt” wasn’t meant to be sophisticated but it was pure fun. Based off the EC Comics, each story dealt with some scandal or even dipped into the supernatural. Running themes included but not limited to broken marriages, living corpses, cheating thieves, villains getting their due and even Siamese twins. These sound silly when reading them but these tales aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Much like Grimm fairy tales, the stories are done in an over-exaggerated manner but it adds to the dark comedy and has morals that are simple while not beating over the head. So what makes this show still hold a ghoulish place in our hearts?

For starters, we can’t thank HBO enough for airing this series. One can only imagine what the restriction of network censorship could do as every drop of blood and sex is displayed but with flair. Instead of rolling in gore, the violent effects are pushed in a more comedic route and only feel dramatically executed when need to be. On top of that, its rare to have five big names in Hollywood (Richard Donner, Robert Zemeckis, David Giler, Walter Hill and Joel Silver) produce a series like this. They know the show is not about the horror but just the fun of intense cliches. One such example comes during And All Through the House when the main character is locked in a closet while a deranged psychopath tries to break in the house. It gets more funny when the lunatic is dressed in a Santa outfit and the protagonist’s young daughter sees this man and tries to help him. You just relish the tight editing and comic book nature of this scene from dialogue to the way its being shot.

Tales From the Crypt-2Of course what is an anthology series without a host? Dug up from the original EC comics is the fiendish emcee himself, the Crypt Keeper brought to life by an amazing anamatronic puppet and iconic shriek pitch voice by John Kassir. Its funny seeing the original comics didn’t have the Crypt Keeper as the center host as other figures joined in to host terrifying tales like the Vault Keeper and the Old Witch. An element that would later be used in a season for an ABC Saturday Morning cartoon spin-off that played opposite to the mature nature of HBO’s infamous series. Like the comics, Crypt cracks bad puns but never to the point it gets irritating (at least not till later seasons.) Its funny as on the pages, he was more human compared to the corpse he appears on the show. It still bookends the series with comedic jabs that help the viewer not take the terror too seriously.

Where to begin but of course the first season. Like many series, Tales from the Crypt had a rough start with some hiccups. But with six episodes, the season overall holds up with some strong starters. In fact, the tone is far more darker compared to later episodes. The Crypt Keeper tells jokes with a menacing snear leaving viewers with an uncomfortable chuckle. This is a far different take from the more cartoony personality that would later grow out of the years. But even macabre acts ranging from self-electrocution to welding weapons for a joke would be carried through the years.

As said, this is the shortest season and arguable the best one. There is rarely a bad episode despite some feeling slightly flat. I have no idea what was the motive in picking these stories to adapt but choosing storylines from outside the Tales from the Crypt comics was a wise idea. It brings more EC in the mix as grimm tales from the Vault of Horror to Shock SuspenStories are used to a great advantage. This presents an open opportunity for variety and it doesn’t skip a heartbeat. Here is a brief break down of each one:

EnCRYPTed-03-coffinDig That Cat…He’s Real Gone – Obviously the pilot from its rough Crypt Keeper segment, a carnival performer played by Joe Pantoliano gets buried alive in part of a daredevil act. While laying in the ground feet below, he recounts how he went from a homeless man to a carny success as a doctor performs an experiment with a cat giving him nine lives. As a result, he wastes his extra lives on stunts that clearly kill him but thankfully revive him. The way the story is told from first perspective narrative is a clever choice giving an almost noir feel to the episode. Director Richard Donner is tight on the editing and uses it to an artistic degree labeling the chaotic nature of the sideshow life and filmed with many wide angles to give an otherworldly feel. The matter of its filming almost like our character is in a strange deception of Hell and enjoys every minute of it. The moral is a good one too. Warning us to appreciate every minute of out lives and not waste a single life over it. Its subtle with a very eerie ending that wraps it nicely together.

tales-from-the-crypt-season-1-2-and-all-through-the-houseAnd All Through the House – Robert Zemeckis directs this simple tale about a wife who murders her husband for insurance money but is trapped by a deranged psychopath dressed in a Santa outfit. It doesn’t get anymore simple than that. What works is the ethical situation the wife is placed in and how intense it gets. She wants to call the cops because of the killer but made the dumb decision to leave the body of her spouse out in the snow. And as much as she wants to hide the evidence, the unfortunate lady has to fend for not only her life but even her young daughter from the manic killer. Its rare I enjoy a horror story set at Christmas but seeing its more set during the holiday then set a horror story ON the holiday, it doesn’t disturb me as much. Its a well-paced entry that almost comes close to being the best of the series.

tftc1The Man Who Was Death – William Sadler plays an executioner that shows us a world he believes the best justice is better served with electricity to the brain of a criminal. Unfortunately, the death penalty gets abolished leaving him laid off. As a result, he goes around killing innocent criminals by his own bigoted hands. The strongest element is the way the story is told. Again, its all a first perspective narrative but you really find a delight with Sadler’s personality. His depiction of how sick and twisted the world is in his view is enjoyable enough. It digs into the psychology of what goes into the mind of killer for the justice peace.

hqdefaultOnly Sin Deep – Lea Thompson plays a self centered prostitute who pawns her own beauty just to meet up with a rich, handsome bachelor. Yes, you heard me right. The catch is that the pawnbroker believes in the magic of voodoo as the gold digger pays the price in a way so tragic that I can’t spoil it. This is another solid episode that underlines how neglect one is of there life. Here we have a woman who had it all and looses it. Thompson is also great as the young girl who literally lives life in the fast line and suffers for it.

1x05-Lover-Come-Hack-to-Me-tales-from-the-crypt-7750475-720-480Lover Come Hack to Me – This is one that some fan give a tough rap on and I can see why. A newly wed couple come across an abandoned home and spend the night there. It sounds like something out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show but its hinted that the wife’s past it not all that’s cracked up to be. Despite some nice direction by Tom Holland with decent chemistry between Amande Plummer and Stephen Shellen, the story is very much the biggest problem. Its played out too safe and predictable. While I do admire the look of the aged mansion they spend the night in, this is a case where the supernatural is diluted and played to be more down to earth. That’s fine seeing some later episodes do that well but here it doesn’t with a slow paced tale. Not bad but probably skippable.

Collection-Completed-3Collection Completed – M. Emmet Walsh is an uptight elder who gets retired and forced to relax the rest of his life. It also doesn’t help that his wife (Audra Lindley)is hording all sorts of animals from basic pets to even fish. Well, this crazy obsession of hers drives him so mad that he decides to use her pets for a hobby of his own. I won’t spoil too much but if you really love animals, you might have a hard time watching the last ten minutes. For me, I really didn’t care much for this one. We are giving a set of unlikable characters and some imagery near the end that really pushes the limits. While its not too gory, the idea alone of the man’s hobby will really leave viewers uncomfortable. I guess the idea is that the older you are, the crazier your brain gets. However, this doesn’t pay off well as the episode ends on an image so laughable its too silly for its own good. Some fans might dig this one but I just think its too over the top and mean for my taste.

The DVD – Something I should address for collectors that this DVD alone is worth getting for the episodes but there comes with some nitpicks. For some reason, the opening introduction of the series starts before the main menu and its the only time this great element is present. Every episode jumps into it without the opening which is a shame seeing an iconic and beautiful into is oddly cut. I have no idea why they made this choice but at least the special features make up for this.

You get an introduction from the Crypt Keeper but strangely kept under warps (literally.) John Kassir lends a voice and at least the humor is the same. There’s a short epilogue to this where you see his new face (kind of) but its placed on as an Easter Egg for some reason.

For a well-renowned show, you think it would get such great care and treatment. It does in a sense but the small offerings leave you wishing for more. Spread over two discs, you get all the episodes on one while the remaining bonus features are on the second disc. Bit disappointing to evenly spread such minor material over a two DVD set but at least the bulk of the material makes up for it.

The main reason to own this DVD is the one hour documentary “Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television.” This covers a lot of ground on the creation of EC Comics, its creator Wiliam Gaines, the controversy at the time and the legacy it still holds. Its a very engaging documentary that packs a lot of behind the scenes information and history that never leaves a dull moment. Even interviews with children writter R. L. Stein and famed director John Carpenter chine in with how much of an impact that comes made. Fans of the comic and tv show will want to give this one a watch.

There’s also a short featurette on the history of season one told by the Crypt Keeper but its mainly stock footage from the host segments dubbed over. Its meant for fun rather than a serious look into the show. Its a shame because a whole lot more is left to be desired like audio commentaries. But the bulk of what we get is enough to pick this one up.

Overall, this is a much different tone compared to what would later come in the seasons to come and is worth checking out. The episodes alone are well-written enough to at least give a good watch. While it was a start, the darkness would carry over into later episodes and seasons trying to manage the scares and the laughs. While its not perfect, Season One comes really close.

 

BEST – Dig That Cat…He’s Real Gone for its unique direction and solid script writing.

WORST – Collection Completed for unlikable characters and pushing the creep factor too much

“Gone” in the Vaults: Should a beloved classic be banned?

The greatest movie of all time....and it offends?

The greatest movie of all time….and it offends?

During my shift at a retail store, I was asked to scope through our selection of movies and music CDs . The reason for this action was to find any film or album cover that had a Confederate flag on it. There were plenty of American flags and one didn’t think to question a Rage Against the Machines album with the iconic burning monk cover. But never would one question the idea to ban a full length feature from the shelf.

Recently, a critic of the New York Post, among a few others, stated beloved classic Gone with the Wind should be banned for its depiction of racism on not just slavery but also the Confederate war. The evidence is pushed further with the memorable shot of the dying soldiers laying out on a field. The camera pans back to show the casualties of the war as the Confederate flag waves into view. Again, a “few critics” have called the ban of a movie because of its aged material. Perhaps I should throw in my two cents because when one looks at art, you get two sides of the story.

Many can observe the Salvador Dali painting The Persistence of Memory and view it as either the death of time, due to the melting clocks, or a commentary about how surreal dreams can be. In the case of Gone with the Wind, some critics are calling out against its “racist” content, but I believe they’re not looking at the full picture here. In fact, the questionable critics is currently a small minority when compared to how many viewers love this movie. I even know a few friends of mine that really praise the greatness of this film. So if a small controversy is being drummed up, where do I stand with it?

I watched this move not too long ago just to see what the fuss was.  At first, I was adamant about the length, but when examining the character of Scarlet and the toils she goes through, it made for an interesting experience. We have someone who is searching for her own “American Dream,” which includes settling down with the right man and trying to have family. But through selfish actions and seeing the world for what it is, proves that achieving her own dream is not easy to come by. If that’s the case, why are critics making a big deal about it now?

Well, the focus deals more with what events take place during the story. The whole movie (and the novel its based from) are set during the Civil War while showing the toils of the South. As expected, there is going to be that Southern accent and appearances of the Confederate flag to reflect the time period. It even goes as far to use the historical burning of Georgia as a crucial plot point. So really the real question here is not what material is being used to offend, but how accurate can the material be to the point of offense.

Viewers will draw a line between what appeals to them and what can easily be chalked off as a trigger button. And no other element is so easy to offend than stereotypical portrayal. Watching this movie from another point of view, one can be uncomfortable by the broken dialect of the African American characters or even the Hollywood treatment of the war. Even if Gone shows the brutal effects, there is that toned down feel considering how movie-making was different back then. Gone with the Wind came out in the late 1930s, so clearly some production values (lack of extreme gore, for example) won’t stand the test of time. But if we can let The Wizard of Oz slide by its dated style and near silly elements (seriously, look at Glinda’s crown again! It has pink fuzzy stars), then what is so different from this film?

Again, the only thing being focused on as offense is the time period Gone is set within as opposed to the movie as a whole. Personally, what bugs me is when someone bans a film just for one basic element that isn’t even the whole tone of the picture. Again, I do argue the movie is more about coming of age than it is about the Civil War. The setting is used as a backdrop to make the environment of its characters more interesting because they have something to work off of. Had it been set in modern day 1939, the movie would have been a product of its time as opposed to its treatment within that time.

Take “Newsies,” for example. A Disney musical that is set during a newspaper boy strike in Olde New York. Say someone would get offended because of the stereotypical New York accents or that Mr. Pulitzer is being portrayed as the bad guy. Would the movie be considered dated by when it was created or judged by the material used at the time? It really depends on how you look at it. Some can watch it and observe the 1990s tropes that were popular then like Alan Menken’s songs or casting choices. On the other hand, one can view the treatment of the event adapted and feel negative towards the treatment as a family musical instead of a straight-forward historical biopic. It really depends on the sensitivity of the viewer and his/her cinematic taste.

So should we really turn the other cheek to a great American classic? Well, that’s up for you to decide. I won’t force the opinion, but I will say openly I can see why viewers can be offended by this movie.  However, when you boil down to it, all we are really banning is a movie that clearly so many love because of its morals as opposed to its historical presentation.  If you think its offensive and doing bad, I won’t hold it against you as long as there is a valid reason. But for a huge ban, that might be pushing it too far. We are talking about a movie that got its first Academy Award for an African American actress and has stood the test of time. For if we focus on only the offensive material, we are missing out on the bigger picture. So I ask of you, please have an open mind.

A Walk In the “Park”: A Look Back at the “Jurassic Park” Franchise – Part II

MV5BMTYxNjY1NjE2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzE0MDc4._V1_SX640_SY720_So now we come to the sequels. First off, The Lost World: Jurassic Park was actually based on a sequel Michael Crichton wrote but bears some heavy differences. I remember seeing this movie and hyped for it after seeing the teaser in a theater. I loved the T. Rex and the park so I had high hopes. One night, it was paired at the local Tri Town Drive-In Theater (which sadly doesn’t exist anymore) along with Warriors of Virtue. Say what you will about both, the fact that I saw movies outdoors from my parent’s car is good enough nostalgia.

I was lucky to stay awake for both films. I remember being ok with Warriors but really excited for Lost World. And when the second film finally started, I was hooked from the opening scene after than came eye candy. However, once we drove away as the end credits rolled, I just kept thinking to myself about the dinosaurs in the movie rather than if I enjoyed it or not.

It wasn’t till years later when I was 11 or 12 that I would finally get the first two movies on DVD, as it coincided with the third film. I always made this tradition to watch Lost World on Memorial Day and Jurassic Park on its release day in June as a way to commence summer vacation. I kept doing this until the idea of getting up early in the morning to pop in a movie got old and tiring. But I still remember watching Lost World and admiring the scope while appreciating the action scenes. However, something kept me from saying it was better than the first movie and I didn’t know why.

When I was in high school, I finally got around to reading the original Michael Crichton novels both movies were based on and surprised at the huge differences. While I have nothing against Crichton and will admit he is a unique writer, the only drawback was how the science elements were described like a biology textbook. It seems like in my view he didn’t want too much suspension of disbelief and kept adding explanation after explanation to patch up plot holes.

After examining both, I admitted to appreciating the film adaption of Jurassic Park over its novel for various reasons. The biggest being how Hammond’s character is made out to be a greedy jerk and not the kind man that just wants to create something unique and grand. The Lost World, on the other hand, I found more interesting in its novel than I did with its film. There were certain ideas and aspects I find more unique than what as attempted in the movie and wished it was closer to the source.

With the advent of the Internet, I would later discover just how much hate this sequel gets dumped on. Left and right, there would be a mixed opinion or someone slashing into it. It wasn’t like riding on the bus and talking about it while giving a sigh that the same person appreciates what you like. This was all over the world. So, I decided to re-watch the blockbuster I still had a heart for and see how well it held up. I can confirm that its nowhere near as good as the first but I still can’t find the fire to say its a bad movie like everyone else. However, what I can admit is that after watching it again, my feelings towards Lost World is leaning towards between average and mediocre.

Z3The whole story revolves around another island where Hammond (Richard Attenborough returning for a cameo) bred the dinosaurs free from human interference. Dubbed “Site B,” he hopes to show the good value of preserving the island compared to his greedy nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) who wants to exploit the site for his company’s profit. It’s here we get a bizarre environmental message that doesn’t feel fleshed out. At first, the idea of observing the dinosaurs on the island seems like a good solution but it gets thrown out the window when Ludlow’s group steps foot on the island to capture the prehistoric beasts for a zoo in San Diego.

It already sounds like a promising idea but then we get characters that just feel uninteresting or feel out of place. Jeff Goldblum returns as Ian Malcom and they do something I find weird with his character. Instead of the awkward theorist, they try to make the character some form of action hero and it doesn’t work. I think Jeff is better when he is doing characters with big egos like in David Chronerberg’s The Fly or just basic comedy. Here, he has to sprout one liners and perform these stunts we would see better suited in a Die Hard entry. I can understand the difficulty of jumping through a building or performing in a chase scene, but it feels like Goldblum is having a hard time trying to be the next Bruce Willis than do his own thing. Once in a while, there is a funny line while other times it feels phoned in.

The rest of the characters I could barley remember. Vince Vaughn is in there somewhere, Pete Postlethwaite is very entertaining as a hunter with a character arch that doesn’t pay off as much and everyone else I barley can recall that much. Its a shame because I like the idea and even the novel spent a great deal going over the technical aspects and flaws of Site B. Here, its just a standard jungle adventure film.

JPTLWRexRoarSanDiegoThe positives that hold me back from being mad is the technical work and the action scenes. When watching the scene with the T. Rex couple attacking the van, I flashed back to when I first saw it at the drive-in and thinking how menacing it was seeing two rexes for the price of one. It’s a well shot movie seeing Steven Spielberg returned to the director’s chair but there are moments when he feels uncertain about the direction of the story. One good example is the ending. Originally from what I heard, a Pterodactyl attack at a helicopter was to occur but instead changed to have a T. Rex running down the streets of San Diego. Even today, I will admit its still an epic ending but it feels off with the jungle feel of the movie.

The dinosaurs are back but there isn’t much awe to them. They act like monsters running about and feel more of a danger than a wonder. Every time I think of this movie, I feel it focuses on the predators more than the herbivores. Most of the movie is shot at night and there are these green jungle color palettes throughout the movie that rob the original’s light blockbuster affair. There are times it feels like a 1990s remake of the famed silent film The Lost World where explorers visit a new island, see dinosaurs and bring one back for civilization but runs amok. I feel Spielberg was trying to create an action film along the lines of that but still trying to keep the darker material of the novel. It was a noble attempt but I can’t say its the worst. Bottom line, its a guilty pleasure.

Jurassic_Park_III_PosterJurassic Park III is the one I don’t have too much to say one because I never saw it in theaters. So my nostalgic view is from when I got the DVD as a Christmas gift. Keep in mind, 2001 was not a good year for blockbusters and it shows from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. But, it was our first DVD player and it was nice to have a few new movies about for our first foray into digital home video.

As for JP III itself, there’s aspects of it that just don’t work for me. I’m glad they got Sam Neil back to repirse his role as Alan Grant but his excuse to return to the island doesn’t work. He’s tricked into helping a divorced couple find their lost son who apparently found himself on the island after a parasailing incident. William H. Macy and Tea Loni play the separated parents and their chemistry didn’t gel for me. They just argue most of the time and show little romance between the two. I understand they are supposed to be divorced but you could at least do something interesting with it.

It also doesn’t help they are stuck on Site B which frustrates Alan seeing he’s never been there. Even more, they load more dinosaurs along with a Spinosaurus to replace the T. Rex (literally) and raptor with feathers on his head. Compared to the previous movies, nothing really stood out to me. It was the same old thing as these creatures get treated like something out of a B movie and less like animals acting on instinct.
While it has a shorter running time, Jurassic Park III just doesn’t have a reason to exist and its obvious throughout the whole movie. But I can’t say its a complete lost. Once in a while, there can be a cool scene like with the Pteranodon cage but others just build without pay off like the first Spinosarus chase. It tries to be heavy and big but comes off as stale and anti-climatic by the end. I remember thinking how much they couldn’t end this series with an entry like this coming off as lazy than passable.

JP-WhenDinosaursRuledAs I write this, the new Jurassic World is already out and I’m sure people have a lot to say about it. If some say it will save the franchise or be another dumb entry, I’m still hyped to take another venture into the park. At the moment, I would like to give out my thoughts on what I expect from this entry considering how dear this franchise is to me. I hope we get dinosaurs that are awesome but awe-inspiring at the same time. Characters that are fun and have a great amount of development packed into them. And of course, chaos. Pure crazy chaos. If it doesn’t live up to my expectations, I’ll still appreciate the experience. Because that’s what going to the movies is all about. Being with a great audience and sharing what you remember the most. I think that is what I take away from this franchise the most. As skippable as the sequels are (with the exception of Lost World being ok in my books), I will never forget my first venture to the park and how grand of a roller coast ride it was remembering a simple time in my childhood when dinosaurs really ruled the world…

A Walk In the “Park”: A Look Back at Jurassic Park (and its sequels) – Part I

1.-Jurassic-Park-OriginalSummer of 1993 was a big year for cinema history. It was a turning point for moviegoers when film could push further boundaries with the available technology and transport them to new worlds. From into an action movie or deep into an alternate universe, audiences were given a great opportunity no matter how good or bad these movies got. And then Jurassic Park happened and changed everything.

Now you can have a smart blockbuster and still cram as many action scenes as you wish. The ability to blend practical effects with digital work seamlessly. While smart and unique characters along with a solid story is a constant issue, we still get a rare gem once in a while like last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and my personal favorite Guardians of the Galaxy. But when you really think back, a lot is owed to Jurassic Park for pushing that momentum. Sure, a lot of summer movies before the dino-flick where big hits, but when you really think about it, this Steven Spielberg classic perfected it.

To understand how much this franchise means to me, let me take you back to a time when I was young and into dinosaurs. Everyone at that time was just insane for these prehistoric creatures and we didn’t know why. Some say it was the leftover B-movies of the 1980s, many could point to Don Bluth’s Land Before Time as sparking interest while others say it was the ABC sitcom Dinosaurs. Regardless, I remember being curious about these extinct monsters and wondering how they would have lived back then.

My only view to this was in children’s movies like Land Before Time and We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story. There were cartoony with the exception of Land Before Time skewing for drama. But most of what I saw had walking and talking dinosaurs as opposed to the beastly beings I was eager to see. It wasn’t until I was 5 years old that I finally would see the popular dinosaur blockbuster and my mind was blown.

At last, I could finally view these long gone creatures in their primal view and marvel at them. True, it was no kid’s film but I knew at the time it was only a movie considering what I watched for a while. It was a huge change of pace and I always wondered how they were able to use animals that don’t walk the Earth. Well, as I got older and began to appreciate movies, I was amazed to see the technical craft they put into making the film. Keep in mind, CGI was new at the time and the never ending possibilities were growing. In my teen years, I began to appreciate the effort more than the movie and just how the blend between an anamatronic T.Rex and a digital one were edited so seamlessly.

Well, 20 years after seeing this movie for the first time and after a revisit, I can proudly say this is my “Star Wars.” Of course, the space epic holds a place in my heart as much as everyone, but Jurassic Park is to me a movie that really grows with you. As a kid, you wonder at the magic and question how it was done. As a teen, you start to see behind the curtain and appreciate the craft. As an adult, you marvel at not just how well done the special effects hold up but also the characters and story.

Helicopter-Ride-to-Jurassic-ParkI think my favorite character has to be John Hammond played by Richard Attenborough, the elderly tycoon who put together the idea of creating a theme park island full of dinosaurs. Many could argue he is a Scottish Walt Disney that is chasing the dream and even point to Frankenstein as a person who wishes to bring something back to life. Today, I actually see him more as a sane Dr. Moreau. Really think about! A man who crafts these creatures on an island for all to see, he has a set hosts that question the morals of what he is doing and still believes in the idea even his guests think otherwise.

The biggest difference here is that Hammond is not trying to break new ground or is even greedy. My favorite scene I always point to for evidence is when he talks to one of the paleontologists about his feelings for the park and how he once had a fake flea circus in the past. He goes on to explain how his flea circus was mechanical and fooled the kid’s into thinking it was real. It shows a sympathetic side but even a tragic one. No matter how much he wants to give back with something believable, he doesn’t realize the damage in front of his eyes. From extinct creatures in a new world to even placing people in harm’s way, he chases a dream that keeps getting hampered by reality.

Jurassic-Park_Kitchen2Two paleontologists, Alan Grant and Ellen Sattler  (Sam Neil and Laura Dern) act as our focus of reality. Like the viewer, we delight in seeing these creatures in awe as much as they convince us the power of seeing a brachiosauraus in front of our eyes. But when we learn how the dinosaurs are crafted thanks to cloning and using frog DNA for missing spots, we start to question John Hammond’s morals along with the disadvantages of dinosaurs in a zoo. And surprisingly, we see all these elements play out from not knowing what type of plants are safe to even understanding the animistic instinct of a T. rex. Even before things get out of control, we already see that things are from a sick Triceratops and worker casualties trying to get the Velociraptors in containment.

The rest of the characters hold up as well with some exceptions. Jeff Goldblum plays a mathematician named Ian Malcolm whose theories range between interesting to questionable when going on about chaos theories. The only thing that makes him entertaining enough is Jeff’s awkward performance as he proposes on theory after another and either laugh how ridiculous they are or at the skeptical nature of the character.

Then, we have Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex and Tim. Yes, I am aware they were in the Michael Chrichton novel this is based from, but both characters are ok. I don’t have a huge qualm with child acting as long as it’s done right. These two have quirks that get used later on from a dinosaur expert and a computer whizz. Though at times, I feel like they are there to attract the kid audience but it still works. Some viewers might be bothered to see two youngsters in danger but they make up for it by having them be smart and not dumb cliches like in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Honestly, there is so much to talk about this movie that even this blog post can’t do much justice. The dinosaur effects are incredible and still hold up to this day along with key set pieces. The T. Rex attack is classic but my personal favorite has to be when the Velociraptors chase the heroes around the main building. It starts off intense and just builds and builds as we change from one room to another as our leads try to outsmart these clever predators. Bottom line, this movie really knows how to put you on the edge of your seat and engaged at the screen.

jurassicpark_BIGJurassic Park meant a lot to me as a kid and still does as an adult but in a different light. Back then, it was the first movie I can think of that realistically portrayed dinosaurs in their own habitat. No cheesy monster movies and no cartoons. I didn’t care much for the story and plot but found myself enjoying everything around it. A smart decision was having the T. Rex attack and Dennis’ encounter with the Dilaphosaurus play without background musical score. It really adds to the awe factor as we don’t know if we should take this is a mesmerizing moment or quiver with fear on the sofa.

As an adult, it’s almost like returning to your favorite amusement park and reminiscing about the rides you went on while discovering something new. There’s really no reason to keep explaining why I hold this movie so dear to me and is one of my top favorites. We get likable characters, amazing monsters and a unique premise that is cheesy but plausible on the big screen. I loved it as a kid and will cherish more as I grow older. But little did I know…there was more to come…

TO BE CONTINUED!

Rental Corner: “Superman II” Vs. “Superman II…The Richard Donner Cut”

The Adventure Continued...and so did a long battle for a sequel!

The Adventure Continued…and so did a long battle for a sequel!

Director Richard Donner gave us a superhero movie unlike any other. Or that would be the case if he was given free reign with “Superman II.” I will always argue to this day that what Donner could have done might have given us a sequel that no only matched the power of the original but quite possibly be better. However, Alexander and Ilya Salkind never let him finish his movie for the following reasons. During the production of the first movie, Donner ran into some problems with financing and film schedule while supposedly criticizing the producers in interviews around the time of the first movie’s release. On top of that, Marlon Brandon was promised a percentage of the box-office profits making for one expensive cameo if he was ever to be in the follow-up that was meant to be released in 1979.

As a result, the Salkinds got a new director, made heavy rewrites to what was already planned out and sought to make a sequel that was the combination of two worlds. This didn’t sit well with the cast and crew with some even refusing to return for the sequel under protest of Donner’s sacking. Most notable was Gene Hackman despite having all his scenes shot and yet cut down in the final version. It also didn’t help that the new director Richard Lester had to reshoot 51% of the film in order to gain credit for working on the movie. Well, “Superman II” came out in the summer of 1981 and was a box office hit but gained a noted amount of controversy over the dramatic production stories. It wouldn’t be till 2006, Richard Donner would complete his original cut (sort of) after learning all the original negatives for the first and second movie that HE FILMED was a London film vault. Thus, “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” was released to much praise and mixed reception among fans while showing a possible “what could have been” while fans having a hard time trying to place it in its own continuity. So the question begs, what is the better version?

Reeve and Kidder return as their famed roles and explore more romance than in the first film

Reeve and Kidder return as their famed roles and explore more romance than in the first film

Instead of going gun-ho and doing a compare and contrast, I felt it would be unfair to those who have not seen both versions. Seeing both movies share the same story despite difference in tone, I feel its only just to talk about the story first before going into what works and what doesn’t in a “spoiler-free” manner. Christopher Reeve returns as Superman along with his alter-ego Clark Kent but things get out of hand when his heartthrob Lois Lane figures out that Clark is Superman. As a result, he decides to spend a day off focusing on his romance with the Daily Planet reporter while even consider the temptation of being human giving up his superhero duties.

That all changes when surviving Kryptonian General Zod (Terence Stamp) escapes from a prison known as the Phantom Zone along with two of his accomplices and it doesn’t help they just so happen to be freed near Earth. As they start to take over the American nation (and the world…maybe), Superman now has a choice between being a savior to the world or being human forever despite a planet in the toil and torment of a cruel and militant supervillian.

Terence Stamp as his famous role as the ruthless General Zod along with his accomplices played by Sarah Douglas and Jack O'Halloran

Terence Stamp as his famous role as the ruthless General Zod along with his accomplices played by Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran

After seeing “Superman II” a few times (along with its 2006 re-cut), already its slowly becoming one of my favorite sequels and for good reason. It asks would what it be like if our favorite superhero decided to take the day off. Would the world be in peril if he left his hometown alone? Would he be stuck between eternal paradise? And what are the consequences of a superhero gone mortal? To my surprise, every single one of those questions get answered while also digging into Superman’s psyche. Lois Lane maybe a huge responsibility to him but so is the world and it gets tough in the final act (without giving too much away) when both realize how hard it would be to manage a life together would turn out. This is main heart of both cuts and carries through no matter what changers or alterations they have between the two.

The performances are great and possibly better than the first. Christopher Reeve knows Superman has a big task between choosing a life with Lois or be a hero to the world. Instead of being muscle bound, he goes into the weakness of Superman as we seen him attempt a normal life and it shows what happens when such a grand hero goes weak in a modern world. Now reality is in and no longer at superhuman strength. Reeve really brings out the tragedy in the character when he has to make two sacrifices in one blow; the choice of being human while giving up a normal life continuing his normal responsibility. As always, Reeve and Margot Kidder are great together as Clark and Lois Lane but even the sequel develops more of the romance between them when Lois finds out that Clark is the famed caped wonder she dreams of. Now, all is changed and it looks right out of a fairy tale come true.

When watching the theatrical cut, any scene Gene Hackman is in where its not an obvious body double is Richard Donner's footage...just saying

When watching the theatrical cut, any scene Gene Hackman is in where its not an obvious body double is Richard Donner’s footage…just saying

Gene Hackman also returns as the favorite fast-talking criminal mastermind Lex Luthor as he plans to make a pact with the evil Kryptonians in order to not only destroy Superman but even gain some more land property (“Australia,” he claims proudly with a cigar in his mouth.) Like the first movie, he soaks up and chews every bit of scenery with such delight as he coaxes into Zod about his knowledge for Superman while trying to keep himself alive at every step.

The villainous Kryptonians are also a huge highlight for “Superman II” and prove to be a huge challenge knowing the power they posses matches Superman to a degree. They can fly, shoot heat beams from their eyes and even as much strength as the hero himself. This is a huge problem knowing their powers match when they tear up Metropolis in a memorable and intense climax as a bus full of patrons are tossed around and many neon signs get blown to smithereens in the brawl. Those who accuse of “Man of Steel” for having Superman not save ALL of the people might want to take good note of this movie as even Reeve’s Superman knows he can’t save everyone in Metropolis as debris falls to the streets below yet he tries.

Its overall a really satisfying sequel but here is where the two cuts differ from each other. The theatrical cut goes for a more light tone than the first film while keeping a good bulk of the Donner footage intact. The goofier scenes clash with the intense moments as you almost wish there was a darker sequel along the lines of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Notable highlights include a man on roller skates being flown back by Zod’s super breath, Non (the hulking and strong of the three) getting a “Groot” style personality that is cartoonish and over the top, a bizarre cat and mouse fight at the Fortress of Solitude between Superman and the Kryptonians and that’s just to name a few. When the Richard Lester material was interwoven, there were moments when it did work like a small speech at the end from Lois about how Superman belongs to the world more than her but then you had moments that felt like generic action taken from a 1960s episode of Batman. Its clear the Salkinds wanted a safer vehicle to market and that’s really what it is.

In 2006, The Richard Donner Cut was released to the public to much acclaim...and much controversy from the fans in terms of continuity.

In 2006, The Richard Donner Cut was released to the public to much acclaim…and much controversy from the fans in terms of continuity.

The Richard Donner cut, on the other hand, uses a lot of the footage that Donner originally shot but only used the theatrical cut in places when “gaps” were needed. Again, only 75% of Donner’s film was shot and thus some material was needed to fill in open holes with the narrative. Thankfully, most of the goofy moments are cut but some elements still remain like in the Metropolis fight. But thanks to a little sound re-mixing and tight editing, the brawl is more slick and intense with certain gags removed with different shots or trimmed completely. One scene where Lois tricks Clark into revealing his true identity was never filmed but luckily there existed a screen test of Reeve and Kidder acting the scene out. Some film purists might be distracted by how Reeve wasn’t as muscular at the time and how much Margot Kidder’s hair differs, but I wasn’t distracted too much by it. The staging alone as well as the editing was enough to forgive it. It was also a nice addition to see two actors show a spark of chemistry even before they were hired for their roles!

But the biggest highlight that should go unnoticed is all of Marlon Brando’s footage as Jor-El that was filmed for the sequel is not only restored but really changes the narrative of the story. In the theatrical cut, Jor-El was replaced with Susannah York playing the hollogram of Superman’s mother. While its nice to see the same actress from the first movie reprise such a small role, the focus of the first film was on Superman and his father. This looses a lot of momentum in the theatrical cut as Jor-El’s cryptic prophecy “the son becomes the father and the father becomes the son” never fully pays off. Without spoiling too much, this line now feels complete here and Brando’s performance couldn’t be stronger. To think over 25 years and we would never see such incredible footage surface. This gives the alternate ending to “Little Shop of Horrors” a good run for its money.

One of the many "lost scenes" restored in the Richard Donner Cut where Superman consults his father (Marlon Brando) about the aspect of being human. A huge highlight that changes the entire tone of the storyline. Also, its cute to see Margot Kidder in a Superman shirt

One of the many “lost scenes” restored in the Richard Donner Cut where Superman consults his father (Marlon Brando) about the aspect of being human. A huge highlight that changes the entire tone of the storyline. Also, its cute to see Margot Kidder in a Superman shirt

“Superman II” is hands down a grand entry. The story alone makes it good enough to recommend as character arcs that were left open in the last film are explored and a greater threat is at play that not only challenges Superman physically but even mentally. Would it be worth it to have a normal life among the people or can he be both Clark and Superman to the end? Arguably, I’d say this is better than the first movie for being darker and more action-packed than the first film.

But it goes back to the original question, which is the better cut and here is my main problem. The theatrical version has a clash between light and dark as one can tell when the camp factor lies and where the serious material the Donner footage lies. But going in not knowing the troubled back story behind the sequel, they probably wouldn’t spot these “inconsistencies in tone” on first watch. But the more I watch, I keep asking myself why can’t it cut back on the camp and cheapness considering the amount of effort the first film had. The Richard Donner Cut is an improvement but it acts as more of a “what if.” As much as I enjoy the new additions and kept appreciating all the changes, its not really an official cut because Donner never completed what was intended as a whole. However, I will be honest and say had Donner complete his original vision, I’m sure we would have had one hell of a sequel and I do admire it for those reasons. But are not completely bad and have their own strengths and weaknesses while still manage to be entertaining. I can’t think of moment when I saw something that was really awful or made me turn off. I’d say watch both and judge for yourself.

Easter Alternatives: Better home video choices for the Easter holiday

On the shelves, come Universal's "Happy Faces" line of DVDs...I do question some of the choices...greatly

On the shelves, come Universal’s “Happy Faces” line of DVDs…I do question some of the choices…greatly

As I was looking through the usual rack of DVDs, what did my eye catch but another home video cash cow that is on par with DVD reissues. Universal Studios has released a selection of family films dubbed the “Happy Faces” version. No doubt a means to break in on the Easter holiday. Some of the choices I can see being fine with like The Little Rascals and Beethoven (not seen in the pic above) but then you have some that deserve questioning. Why Barney’s Great Adventure for its pandering to the younger demographic making it a headache to the older generation? Why Casper and Coaraline when both are more suited for a Halloween release? And of all the titles in the batch, who would be so cruel to let The Cat in the Hat be given this treatment?

Is this how low we have gotten for home video entertainment around the Easter holiday? Well this serves as not only a list of recommendations but also a letter to the studios out there in Hollywood trying to think of a way to “get in” on the holiday. From reissuing classics or making a film for the season, there are better movies to view around a time when kids hunt for Easter eggs while older folks respect the religious origins. So for those who are looking to entertain their children and those looking for something to watch in celebration of the bright and colorful season, look no further. And I can guarantee you, these are far better substitutes than something dull and uninspired as Hop.

1202379979_1Here Comes Peter Cottontail – This 1971 Rankin Bass classic deals with the Easter Bunny mythos in a more clever way than the 90 minute CGI-hybrid romp. Casey Kasem of Scooby Doo fame voices Peter as he picked to be the next Easter Bunny but soon all that changes when he’s challenged by a nasty rabbit named Irontail to an egg delivering contest. As you might guess, Peter looses but then a strange man helps him travel back in time to make amends for his actions. Not strange enough? How about having Irontail sabotage the machine so he can go to any holiday but Easter leaving Peter in a quest to find a suitable holiday for his eggs?

The main problem is that for a Rankin Bass special, its the weirdest one when you read it on paper. But what matters is the execution. Despite being dated and a tad psychedelic in spots, there are a lot of elements that do hold up. The message of perseverance and trying to deal with your failures is not easy to come across for a kid audience but somehow it holds everything together. On top of that, hearing the voice of Shaggy from Peter Cottontail gives some nostalgic vibes for older audiences but I feel it will be seen more for the voice performance of Vincent Price as Irontail. Anything Vincent is in will always shine no matter how bad or weird it will be. I remember watching this fondly as a kid and looking back on it, its probably my favorite Rankin Bass special next to The Stingiest Man in Town. But if this stop-motion affair isn’t your cup of tea, then look to the next choice…

Parting-the-Red-Sea-e1323927556524The Ten Commandments (1956) – Its funny how Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic has held up over the years. Ever since 1973, this grand telling of the Moses story has become a huge staple for ABC and rarely has been retired from the airwaves. Some might consider this corny by today’s standards but the performance of Charlton Heston and its visual look make up for it. This was made in a time before digital effects were known so elements like tons of slaves pulling a block of stone look more effective than it would today.

Even strange is how there was never an attempt to cut down its massive near 4 hour running time for a general release. This is up there with Gone with the Wind and Ben-Hur as movies that don’t need a massive trimming to make it better. Older viewers will enjoy it for the sheer nostalgia and its subtle performances (despite some melodrama from time to time) and I feel younger viewers will be amazed by the scope and scale it brings. They will marvel at the building of Egypt while gaze in wonder when the Red Sea is parted.

600full-the-prince-of-egypt-screenshotThe Prince of Egypt – If you feel kids can’t handle a long epic, there’s also this alternative which is effective too. To think an animated musical of a Biblical tale can bring the same depth as the 1956 film while still be compelling and dynamic in new ways. Val Kilmer dons the voice of Moses as he goes for a more human approach in comparison to Heston’s theatrical take but I’m sure Ralph Fiennes shouldn’t go ignored as the brother Ramesses II. Ralph’s chilling performance matches such lush animation as we see not a cold being but someone who wants to keep a connection with his adopted sibling while still follow in his father’s footsteps.

Simon Wells directed this flick and its probably the only movie aside from Balto I can easily recommend for a family audience.  There’s a decent balance between dark and light that almost challenges the films of Don Bluth in perfecting a good movie for kids without going too dark or too light. The only drawback is that the comedic moments can feel really tacky and obviously set for the younger crowd but the more dramatic second half makes up for it. And you can’t complain when your movie is being scored by Hans Zimmer with delightful tunes by Stephen Schwartz.

LTC-DisciplesThe Last Temptation of Christ – This is easily a hard movie to recommend because it depends on the kind of person you are towards religion. Are you one that believes in the faith or accepts some ideas? Can you be open to different interpretations or is there a fine line between artistic expression and blasphemy? Well, Martin Scorsese really pushed the limits and brought us a movie that was not only breathtaking but really questioned the faith.

William Dafoe takes the role of Jesus but in a more humanitarian view as opposed to a benevolent take we all know. Instead, it makes us wonder what it would be like if he had a thought process like our own. Even more ambitious is the final moments where we see what it would be like he was human. Would he regret not having the ability to sacrifice his life for others or appreciate life? These elements really caused a stir and its probably why Hollywood tries to please the masses with religious films that play it safe as opposed to really question the what if factor. If you have an open mind and understand its just fiction and nothing more, you’ll be safe and enjoy a movie that artistically powerful as is its script. Everyone else……Ten Commandments?

critters-2-the-main-course-featuredCritters 2: The Main Course – While I do prefer the first movie, its obvious from the start its not meant to be taken seriously. I remember watching this on first viewing and while I didn’t hate it, still feel it doesn’t hold a candle to the first one. But looking back on its zany and out of control tone, I will say it did expand on a lot and didn’t fail to deliver. There’s higher risks as the little alien porcupines munch about the town in many ways that are clever and too good not to spoil. Its obviously going for a “tongue in cheek” approach but sadly lacks the horror angle from the first movie. A lot of the Critters were obscure in the night time where else in the sequel, they look like daylight Muppets that keep munching and munching. They had distinctive personalities in the first film while the sequel has them multiply into havoc raking monsters.

With that said, it does expand on a few things like the alien bounty hunters and uses their changing abilities to clever moments like one looking like a Playboy centerfold to another moment when one of the hunters becomes so broken he literally erases his human identity thus forming into his normal form. Critters 2 was never meant to be a good movie and it obviously shows. Its a mindless affair that lets your leave your brain at the door and enjoy the crazy on the screen. And if your wonder what it has to do with Easter, I’ll leave it like this. You won’t think of Easter egg hunts the same way again after this one. Until I do a proper revisit and go in-depth, I still say its worth watching at least for “that” kind of crowd.

hero_EB20040618REVIEWS406180301ARMonty Python’s The Life of Brain – It can’t be Easter without this movie! While Holy Grail is my favorite of the Python gang’s filmography, I do admire the ambition and wit behind this one. Instead of poking fun at a religious figure, they more or less ask what would happen if someone else wound up in the same situation but wasn’t benevolent like Jesus. Mistaken as the Messiah when he’s just a regular person. Well, somehow the Python’s succeeded with this one. Just when you think a gut busting moment is done, you get another one right around the corner. The jokes and sketches they incorporate into the narrative are all hit making at fun at not just the topical theme of religion but even going as far to really bash Roman lifestyle. Its funny how this movie was considered blasphemous upon its release but during a reissue when The Passion of the Christ came about, viewers started to get the message better that it wasn’t about mocking Jesus but more on the New Testament era itself. I can’t recommend this comedy enough but if you offended…well…

“Matrix Trilogy” innovative yet underwhelming

Ummm...this was said to be a great sci fi movie right?

Ummm…this was said to be a great sci fi movie right?

Chances are “The Matrix” is one of those franchise that feels to be this generation’s Star Wars with its “original story” and “unique commentary” about the saturation of technology. Its gotten so popular that it spawned two sequels and has remained a crown jewel in science fiction. As a teenager, I never really saw The Matrix or even thought of it as anything of interest. I do recall seeing bits and pieces  on a television airing and thinking little of it. Now that I’m older and trying to catch up with the times, I can finally say how lackluster this truly was. Perhaps that came out as harsh. The correct term is underwhelming.

The whole idea is that we are living in a dystopian future where humans are being used as an energy source for machines. Instead of just using us at batteries, they create a dream-like reality for us to thrive in so we don’t notice. However, a group of rebellions lead by a cryptic man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) try to survive the octopus-like mechanical beings called the sentinels.  There only hope is a computer hacker named Tom Anderson (Keanu Reeves) who goes by the name “Neo” and sure enough wakes up to see the world around him and show how much can change.

And that’s very much the whole move in a nutshell. One minute we’re given a philosophical talk and the next a big action scene takes place. For a movie set in a post-apocalyptic, its very unoriginal. Machines against man is a concept that has been done to death more than once ranging from episodes of The Twilight Zone to The Terminator movies. In fact, we are not presented enough space to soak in the atmosphere. Most of the time, everything is set on this ship scouting through the pipes and we only see glimpses of this desolate wasteland but not enough to soak it in. We get shots of the sentinels “harvesting” crops of human life in these pods but it feels like forced shock value. These are good concepts but there isn’t enough for us to understand this ragged and trashy future.

Ok, what about our cast? Surprisingly, I found everyone to be way too monotone. With a place full of danger, you think they would be aware of their surroundings but instead speak in a way that makes me wonder if they took too much valium. And nowhere near is that more present than Reeves who acts cold and doesn’t show much interest in this vast world he is waking up to. Even Hugo Weaving as an Agent that is part of the Matrix program seems uninteresting as he barley shows any emotion. All he does is act menacing in a deadpan way that almost feels comical. They try to force in some development about him wanting to escape the Matrix but it just comes off as tagged on even when it already near the end.

The only reason I feel this movie was a hit is in part of the action scenes and its look. This was the film everyone was talking about with its “bullet time” action that more perfected compared to previous films that attempted it. And with a bizarre green tint that plagues the scene,  it looks flat and too lifeless. I get what the Wachowskis are trying to do by making an alternate reality look cold and mechanical but it just comes off as stale looking with too many greens and blacks. And in terms of the action, there’s really not much that stands out in my mind. All I remember is a helicopter bouncing off a building and again, the bullet time scenes. There is not really much to talk about here.

In fact, why was this labeled as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made? Sure it has some ideas but they are not fully fleshed out. I just feel these were elements done better before. Still, I guess if it wasn’t for this entry, there wouldn’t be this big demand for dark and gritty anime stylized movies and shows. But I felt cheated and disappointed in the long run as I expected this grand epic and instead it just felt dull and boring. With too much philosophy at play, The Matrix think its trying to be innovative and different when really its just a bore to sit through. I remember attempting to sit down and watch it finding myself midway feeling really tired of the exposition and over the top stunts. I’m sure viewers thinking differently of my words and I don’t blame them.

Still too monotone but getting better...

Still too monotone but getting better…

The sequels, however, are a different story. “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” appear to be the ones that fans really say is where everything goes downhill. Leaving much to be desired and much left unanswered while a lot is giving an unbalanced edge that doesn’t match the preachy tone of the first film and its dream vs. reality along with its “chosen one” storyline. And I’m going to be dead honest, I went in thinking I was going to hate these two films. I was disappointed with the first film so there was no way my interest would carry through these two. But much to my surprise I found these two entries were in fact ok. Just ok.

“The Matrix Reloaded” is the one fans seem to be dead split on. And I agree, it does go all over the place at times but I feel it expands on the world of Zion and The Matrix a little better. With a great invasion on the rise, Neo has to find a way to save its people but find some problems on the rise. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is back and has the ability to clone himself multiple times while his gang tries to find the truth behind this strange reality and who exactly created it. I’m going to start off by saying there is a lot of philosophical talk that takes up a lot of running time. From candy to choices to even one about the pleasures of cake. They really go wordy with this one and it feels about overkill as the first film.

The only reason I feel its a tad improvement is really the eye candy. The action scenes in the first film felt too standard where else here, the stakes are raised through the roof. We get Neo fighting off tons of Agent Smith clones thanks to advanced CGI technology (which at times can look a bit video gamey) and most memorable a chase sequence on a highway causing much havoc and for me nearly saves the film. Its a shame seeing when they try to have characters talk, it feels like filler that could have been cut or worded different to be more interesting. There’s this whole scene where Neo has to get some information from this girl and in order to do it, he has to kiss her like his lover and it feels like a good 10 minutes. Again, some of elements they talk about is really baffling. As said, there’s this scene where they meet a restaurant patron in the Matrix who goes on at one point about the pleasures of eating a slice of cake. But the viewer today can see it as more of flatulence joke considering the way its executed. Its hard to explain the scene in words but apparently, he symbolizes the will of choice to a person eating cake and then it cuts to a CGI animation show its results. The way its done looks more like passing gas than it does a sense of pleasure which is just mind boggling for a movie that wants to be taken seriously.

So close to being a mastepiece and yet so far to say it was a good one...

So close to being a mastepiece and yet so far to say it was a good one…

And then we have “The Matrix Revolutions.” Many where disappointed but after seeing what this franchise was, I can’t say I was too surprised. I went in with low expectations expecting to hate it. There are some elements here and there which make it at least worth a once watch but I can’t say its a good movie much all the rest of them. It continues off where Morpheus and crew are trying to prevent a massive invasion of the sentinels breaking into their base but there’s some troubles ahead. Neo is stuck in a weird part of the Matrix that could be an allegory for limbo, Agent Smith infects someone who is able to escape the Matrix and make some trouble and speaking of which, tons of Angent Smiths slowly start to take over the Matrix.

There is clearly too much going on with the focus all over the map and not well constructed. Even worse is how little attention is paid to Neo throughout this movie. There’s this build up in “Reloaded” to him being a greater asset but its only explored in the final 30 minutes of the movie. In fact, stranger is the set up of this movie as we get much talk and little action while the final hour is set on the huge battle between man and machine. In a way, it makes me wonder how it would have been if both movies were re-edited together seeing “Reloaded” concludes on a cliffhanger. Which brings me to another problem. Both movies are not stand-alone films. Unlike sagas like Star Wars or Back to the Future where each entry feels like a stand-alone in some way, The Matrix sequels are too woven together like a mini-series. No wonder as they were released the same year.

In order to understand “Revolutions,” you had to have seen “Reloaded.” Even then, most of the things they were building up for this “explosive finale” doesn’t give you everything. The question of how Neo uses “some” of his power outside the Matrix is left unanswered as much a strange twist where they try to make the machines the misunderstood good guys but its very tagged on. Again, not much can be said on the action. In all three movies, I can’t think of a time when a certain actor stood out to me like they were really selling this franchise. Its like the others. Cold, dull and monotone to an uninteresting drag.

Again, entertainment value is made up for in that last hour. There’s this big battle that feels strange seeing man are using machines to fight against machines but its not too bad. The bigger highlight for me is the final fight between Neo and Agent Smith. That is what won me more. This is what these movies should have done. Combining poetic imagery with martial arts as the two duke it during a thunderstorm of binary code. At least there is “some” artistic license while doing something visually impressive. But is it enough to save the franchise? No.

Like I said, The Matrix films really tried to be groundbreaking and new were in hindsight, they really aren’t. When it tries to be wise and talk about like a Christopher Nolan character study, that is where it bugs me. Its feels like its trying to be smart and clever when its not. Its making its own themes more obvious as if it was asking to be analyzed on the spot. The only thing that holds up for me is the action scenes, at least in the sequels. Its obvious this was meant to be seen on a big screen or in an IMAX theater and perhaps that is where its more deserving. But at the end of the day, when you need engaging characters, a universe that is unique to look at and a story that is at least good, this is not what I think of in looking for those qualities. There’s a fanbase for this and I won’t act like they don’t exist but to for me, this is one franchise I can personally do without. I’m glad I saw it just to get an opinion but if I wanted stylized atmosphere and over the top mayhem, I’ll just watch anime.