Sunday, December 31, 2006

Trinity Blood

Trinity Blood is an anime series currently airing on Saturday nights on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup. In a post-apocalyptic world, vampires have become a real threat. They reside in their own country, but there are larger and more ominous organizations at work, trying to force an epic conflict between the human and vampire worlds.

Father Abel Nightroad is a special agent of the Vatican, one of the seats of power in the re-imagined world. When vampires cause problems, Abel is sent in to take care of them. He is also occasionally involved in more diplomatic missions. He is an easy-going and goofy guy. His dark secret is that he is a "cruznik," a race that feeds on vampires. As the series develops, viewers meet other members of the special forces unit, each with their own special skills, such as sword play. The pope is a child, dominated by two cardinals, his brother and sister. The two cardinals are often at odds with each other though, with the special forces remaining loyal to the Lady Katerina. As the story progressive, seemingly unrelated incidents are recognized as part of a larger conspiracy, and the Vatican must get to the bottom of it.

Trinity Blood is beautifully animated, with lush backgrounds, crisp lines, and pulse-pounding action sequences. The show was dubbed by Funimation, a studio that generally does a quality job with translation and dubbing. I've heard from other fans who watched the series in its original Japanese that they've played a little loose with some literal translations, but it's not anything that destroys the meaning of a particular scene. If you've watched other Funimation properties, you may occasionally be playing a game of "where have I heard that voice before?" It's only a momentary distraction that's common enough in anime dubbing, though.

I really want to like this show, but I'm constantly disappointed in it. I can enjoy a good vampire show as much as the next person, drawn to the dark beauty of these creatures and the drama inherent in the conflict between vampires and humans. However, it just doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from other series.

The worst crime in being indistinguishable from other series comes in the form of the Abel Nightroad character. His happy-go-lucky attitude changing into a skilled fighter is pulled right from the Vash the Stampede playbook. As if an anime about vampires wouldn't already get compared to Hellsing, Abel must call on nanomachines and request percentages of power when he changes in to his cruznik form. This is almost exactly what Alucard must do, even though he's calling on different protocols.

As pretty as the animation is, the directors make far too much use of slow pans and fade-outs. I don't know if they were doing this for artistic effect, but it only serves to add a ponderous feel to the show. Moments of silliness also seem out of place in this polished of an anime series. Perhaps that's more a problem of trying to include some of the more cartoonish conventions of anime with today's slick digital animation.

The show can have great action sequences, especially when it comes time for a vampire showdown, but it can also display odd pacing. For instance, in one "climactic" scene, Lady Katerina and her attendants had to make it to a special Mass before a bell was rung, fearing the tolling of the bell would activate a destructive device. However, much attention was spent on showing them walking slowly towards the cathedral. Even as an upbeat techno track played, the characters continued to walk...and walk...and walk. Not the best way to build up to an impressive scene.

Overall, I'd give Trinity Blood an overwhelmingly apathetic vote. It's not the worst way to spend half an hour, but it's not worth going out of your way to watch. I'm willing to make a point of turning on my television every Saturday at 11:30 p.m. If I had to rent or, even worse, buy the DVDs of the series, then there's no way I would have made it this far into the series. The show started out airing with top ratings in the Saturday night Adult Swim lineup, but it has slowly faded over time. Perhaps other viewers share in my apathetic opinion.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Queen

By Simon Woodhouse

It's a very brave move to tell a fictitious story about someone who's still alive. And doubly brave if that person is very, very high profile. Not only high profile, but also very well loved. It'd be easy for this sort of film to be nothing more than a 'we love you' bio-pic, in which the main character is turned into a virtual saint. Not only would that sort of movie make for very dull entertainment, it'd also be patronizing on the part of the film maker to expect the audience to swallow it. Faced with these sorts of challenges, it's hardly surprising that warts-and-all bio-pics about living people rarely make it onto the screen. If one does, however, and it's good, it leaves a very distinct impression with the audience.

Set around the circumstances in which Princess Diana died in 1997, The Queen tells the story of how the British Royal Family coped (or didn't) with the whole situation. Rather than diving straight into the tragic, the film begins with a brief look at the ridiculousness of royal protocol. Diana died in August, but in May of the same year Britain elected a new Prime Minister - Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). The scene is set with the Queen (Helen Mirren) having her first Queen to Prime Minister chat with Mr Blair. At this point the movie has a light-hearted feel about it, with amusing observations on daily royal life.

As the events surrounding Diana's death unfold, the mood changes. News footage from the day is inter-cut with the film's narrative, and we see the Royal Family reacting to what happened in Paris. This is done in an unbiased way. The film makers present no moral judgment on the behavior of the main characters, but rather just present their version of events and let the audience make up their own minds. There's also no overly sentimental worshiping of Diana.

Because the tragedy happened during the summer, the Royal Family (as is customary) are holidaying at Balmoral, the Queen's enormous estate in Scotland. But this is where the conflict within the film starts to come into affect. The Queen feels (quite rightly) that Diana's two young sons will cope with the whole situation much better if they're kept out of the public eye, and allowed to come to terms with what's happened surrounded only by their immediate family. But fuelled by a self-righteous tabloid press, the 'British Public' want the royals to return to London and help the 'Nation' grieve.

Depending on your views of the Monarchy, and particularly events surrounding Diana's death, the film will either draw you in or seem rather trivial. However you look at it, the performances by the main players are brilliant. As far as facial expressions and mannerisms are concerned, Helen Mirren's a dead ringer for the Queen. But because the Monarch is such a private person, we'll never know if she got the personality right. She plays the Queen in the way we imagine her to be, so from that point of view she's got it right. Prince Phillip (James Cromwell) is also portrayed very much in the way you'd imagine him to be. This formula is deviated from when it comes to Prince Charles (Alex Jennings). All the familiar mannerisms are there, but he's given a degree of emotional outpouring not afforded to any other members of the cast. But when the royals do show some emotion, it makes for the film's most powerful scenes. Chief amongst these are Prince Charles' reaction when seeing Diana's body in the hospital in Paris, and also the Queen's tearful moment whilst sat alone in the Balmoral countryside.

As the film moves on we're shown how the Queen's life is a constant balancing act between doing what she thinks is right from a traditional point of view, whilst at the same time trying to keep the fickle British Public happy. I would imagine (and hope) that in retrospect, anyone watching the film who criticized the Monarch's behavior at the time will now realize just how selfish they were being.

In the end the Queen does come out of the film as a sympathetic character. Perhaps the only member of the Royal Family who doesn't is Prince Charles. As this is a fictitious piece of work (at least from the point of view of royal life behind closed doors), it's hard to say whether the portrayal of Charles' character is accurate. If it is, then he's a slightly paranoid, non-confrontational ditherer.

Who will this film appeal to? If you're a Diana worshipper, you might not enjoy it. If you're a reader of tabloid newspapers, you'll perhaps see your unreasonable self in it. But if you can put the subject matter aside and just enjoy the performances, it's a cracking piece of work. That Helen Mirren is up for an Oscar comes as no surprise, and hers is an acting accomplishment that certainly deserves a golden statuette. There are moments of cutting wit and genuine emotion, and apart from a couple of overly sentimental scenes (especially where the Queen spots a stag at Balmoral), the film keeps its feet on the ground. It doesn't really matter if you're a fan of the British Monarchy or not, because if you like good acting, a tight script and involving story, you'll enjoy The Queen.

The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)

I'll be the first to admit it: most movie remakes of old television series' fall flat. But, being a huge fan of the sappy old 1970's TV series "The Brady Bunch", I was willing to take the risk when the big screen feature came out over a decade ago.

"The Brady Bunch" movie is hilarious. At least I think so. The movie is set in the mid-1990's, but the Brady's are still living and dressing like it's the 1970's. They wear 70's clothes and "dig" 70's things. They say words like "groovy" and "far out" and are just out and out corny.

The casting for this movie was perfect. Gary Cole and Shelly Long play Mike and Carol Brady. Long has mastered the two-syllable "Mike" that Florence Henderson was known for.

Christine Taylor (now also known as the wife of actor Ben Stiller) looks like she was cloned from the original Marcia Brady, Maureen McCormick. Michael McKean (Lenny from "Laverne and Shirley) does great as the evil next door neighbor, Larry Dittmeyer. And there are several cameos from original Brady Bunch cast members-- Barry Williams, Florence Henderson and Ann B. Davis all make appearances in this movie.

As a fan of the original Brady Bunch, I don't think they could have done any better with this movie. I laugh out loud every time I watch it. When Marcia tries to get Davey Jones to sing at the school dance, he resurrects his old song "Girl", but the band add a 90's grunge feel to the backup.

Jack Noseworthy does great as the bad boy next door Eric Dittmeyer, who lives to torment squirrelly Peter Brady. I love Jack and I was totally excited to see him in this movie!

Many of the "classic" Brady Bunch moments are featured in this movie. It is obvious that the writers of this film were either Brady Bunch fans or did a ton of research on the series. Marcia getting hit in the face with a football, the kids singing on a TV talent show, Bobby acting like a safety monitor and barking codes and regulations at everyone, Jan hating her glasses and being completely jealous of older sister Marcia-- it's all in there!

The basic premise of the movie is this: Next door neighbor Dittmeyer wants the whole block to sell their homes for a huge profit, so a builder can take over the land. The Brady's refuse to sell. When Dittmeyer find out the Brady's owe a huge tax bill, he does what he can to sabotage their paying it. In the end, the Brady kids join together to get the money to pay the tax bill and the Brady house is saved.

But along the way we're treated to tons of 1970's (and 1990's) cliches, as well as a bunch of the memorable characters from the original TV series. Doug Simspon, "the big man on campus" is the boy that Marcia wants to date-- but he's even more of a creep in the 90's! And the old TV group The Monkees even make a quick cameo appearance.

And then there's those Brady's. Jan Brady, trying to change her image, goes to the school counselor who's expecting to hear her problem with teen pregnancy or bulimia. Instead, Jan's lamenting over her stupid glasses! And as a side note, the counselor is played by Ru Paul. Peter Brady talks in a cracking voice-- until he sticks up to Eric Dittemyer and then his voice changes to a deep, manly voice. And Cindy, that annoying youngest Brady child, is ultra-annoying in this movie. With her constant lisping and her braided hair, Next door neighbor Dittmeyer tells her to "hop back on the Swiss Miss package where she came from".

Keep your eyes and ears open during the movie because there are tons of visual gags and double-entendre jokes.

I think as far as remakes goes, this is one of the funniest ones out there. While not trying to pretend to be the original series, this movie instead makes fun of it-- but in a kind, gentle way. Because let's face it-- any one who knows the series knows it was syrupy and sappy and not a bit realistic. Still, we're nostalgic for it. "The Brady Bunch" movie takes us back there while still keeping up with modern times. And truthfully, that's the best way to present a movie such as this.

Bambi II (2006)

It's an unwritten rule that Disney's direct-to-DVD movies are best left unwatched. This especially goes for sequels to popular films but the worst are unwanted follow-ups to timeless classics like Cinderella. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Bambi II surpassed expectations.

It's not better than the 1942 masterpiece, it doesn't even come close and it's essentially a children's film. But as an animated film unto itself and a direct-to-DVD fare it is much better than expected with excellent animation. Actually this isn't a true sequel to the original Bambi because this film takes place during the original film. It fills in the gaps from when Bambi's mother was shot by hunters and when he emerges as a young buck in shortly thereafter.

This film opens just after Bambi (voiced by Alexander Gould), a young fawn in a forest, has found out that his mother was killed. He's informed of this sad news by his father, the near-mythical Great Prince of the Forest (in this film voiced by Patrick Stewart), and is taken under his father's tutelage. Whereas in the original film, the Great Prince was an ethereal, mysteriously distant yet strong father figure, this film brings him back down to earth. The result is that the Great Prince is shown to be more flawed. He instructs his son of how a Great Prince must act in front of the other deer and how to survive especially against the threat of Man. He is too easy to admonish Bambi for making mistakes and he is afraid to show his feelings to his son. Chiefly, the Great Prince doubts his ability to raise Bambi and asks Friend Owl to find a surrogate mother to take over Bambi's upbringing. All this adds more dimension to the Great Prince.

As the scene where Bambi learns of his mother's death represents the end of his innocence and childhood, this sequel represents the transition between childhood and adolescence. By the end of the film, Bambi isn't the young strapping buck seen near the end of the original film but he has definitely undergone the changes that will prepare him for the next phase of his life. Interestingly, this film implies that a lot more time passed in the first film between the time of his mother's death and when he next appears as a buck. When his mother died, it was clearly stated that winter was ending, evidenced by the new grass they were finding. By the time when Bambi next appears without his spots and sporting antlers spring is in full bloom. With Bambi II, the Groundhog Day event occurs which would place the film in mid-winter. As to why animals with a vague concept of Man would observe an event observed only by humanity isn't answered and is a flaw. It's implied at the end of Bambi II that summer has arrived and Bambi still hasn't transformed into a buck. So it can be inferred that a year passes by in the first film between those two periods. But this is only a minor quibble.

Viewers are re-introduced to returning characters like Thumper (unfortunately the voice by Brendon Baerg isn't as captivating and joyful as the original actor but is otherwise fine), Flower, Feline and Bambi's nemesis Ronno, the rival buck later in the first film who duels with Bambi for Feline. Fans of those characters will be overjoyed to see them again in animation form. The new characters like Porcupine and the Groundhog aren't as memorable and seem shoehorned into the plot somehow disrupting the timeless feel of the films. Actually the disruption is more apparent when the filmmakers stick in a pop tune during the film that cannot compete with the original's classic tunes like "Time is a Song That Never Ends" and it's too bad. There wasn't any way the newer music could improve on the original and in the end will just date the movie later on. Mercifully the musical sequence is very short and forgotten quickly as the plot advances.

As Bambi and his father learn to adjust to each other, Bambi is still grieving for his mother and the threat of Man is still ever-present. This threat leads to a retread taken from the climax of the original film when Man's surrogates the hunting dogs appear once more. Also the rivalry between Bambi and Ronno is more present in this film although Ronno is far less menacing than in the original film. In that movie, Ronno was a silent threat but in Bambi II is given dialogue and many flaws culminating in giving him an appearance of a spoiled brat who gets in way over his head. It takes away some of the menace of the original Ronno but since this movie takes place before his initial appearance in the original it can be deduced that at some point he developed a harder edge. All the while Bambi learns to move on and enjoy life while learning the finer points of being a deer. The film's emotional crisis is when a replacement for Bambi's mother is found and the aftermath. The Great Prince has bonded with his son and is conflicted over sending Bambi away, while the young deer is confused and upset by this turn of events. But this dilemma will lead to his learning to face danger and his fears as the film nears its end.

Simply put, Bambi II is a basic coming-of-age story which will be enjoyed by Disney fans with its better-than-average animation and plot. - - J. L. Soto

A Look at Holiday Cartoon Specials

Now that the holidays are nearing the end so too does the glut of Holiday-themed T.V. specials and movies. It is a mixed blessing depending on how a viewer feels about these specials; some are way beyond ready for the cable and network channels to move on past these shows and get on with the normal schedule, others feel differently.

Looking at these shows on the whole it's easy to find true classic gems as well as sinful stinkers. Fortunately the stinkers have a way of disappearing after a few seasons and being forgotten. This of course leaves viewers with only the classics to choose from and judging from what's aired this month, the choices are many. On the whole, the best shows are the animated ones, especially those produced by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass. Many of their productions are genuine classics that are enjoyed year after year by new and old fans. Here's a brief look at some of the more memorable shows by them and others.

A Charlie Brown Christmas: This was the first time the Peanuts characters created by Charles M. Schultz appeared in a television special (produced by Bill Melendez) and it was an impressive debut. In it the themes of commercialization and the true meaning of Christmas are explored as Charlie Brown in his typical melancholy way copes with Christmas and being ostracized. It's so easy to sympathize with him and the droopy Christmas tree he buys and viewers are just as easily moved by the final moments when the characters sing "Hark the Heralds Angels Sing."

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Many consider this cartoon from MGM and Chuck Jones and based on Dr. Seuss' (Ted Geisel) book to be the best holiday-themed special. The songs are simply a delight and a hoot to hear. Viewers can't help but laugh at the lyrics of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Boris Karloff is perfectly cast as the voice of the Grinch, who hates Christmas and does everything in his power to stop it from coming to the town of Whoville. His redemption is one of the best scenes in the special and reflects the true meaning of the holiday season.

Frosty the Snowman: The best part of this cartoon (that doesn't use stop-motion) by Rankin and Bass is Jimmy Durante's narration. Viewers could tell that the late actor is having a great time relating Frosty's tale. It's a fun story about how Frosty comes to life and the efforts by his new friend Karen to get him up North Pole before he melts. Fast moving and uncomplicated the dark undertones of the tale are offset by the story's happy ending.

The Little Drummer Boy: Based on the Christmas song of the same name, the cartoon by Rankin and Bass is a rare religious-based one and showcases Aaron, a poor shepherd boy who hates humanity for its cruelty. His only loved ones a pet lamb, donkey and camel. Eventually he finds himself in the presence of the Baby Jesus and undergoes a change of heart. Greer Garson's narration is inspiring and adds gravitas to this moving story.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol: The oft-told Dickens classic is given a Broadway spin and starring the poor-sighted Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus) in this UPA production. The musical numbers are reminiscent of Broadway musicals that give the story some needed oomph. Though liberties are taken with Dickens tale in that elements and characters are dropped for time, it doesn't detract from the presentation.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Considered the best of Rankin and Bass' specials, its status as a holiday classic seems to grow each year, even inspiring themed merchandise and set the standard for stop-motion animated T.V. specials. Based on Johnny Marks' famous song, the show presents Rudolph's story and how his so-called physical detriment winds up being an asset. It is part of the show's central message that there is nothing wrong with being different. This message is probably better shown with the sympathetic Misfit Toys. Many of the characters introduced have since become cult favorites like Yukon Cornelius and the Bumble a.k.a. the Abominable Snow Monster of the North. Also, Burl Ives' songs are a joy to hear and classics unto their own.

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town: A personal favorite largely due to the wonderfully catchy soundtrack that still holds up after all these years. Narrated by the late Fred Astaire, this special utilizes Rankin and Bass' stop-motion animated puppets that made them famous. It tells the origin of Santa Claus (Mickey Rooney), largely known as Kris Kringle in the show, and how many of the Christmas traditions came to be and actually does a good job of tying in many of these traditions to his origin story. The best musical number is the toe-tapping "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" which is a delight to watch over and over again. The Santa Claus puppet used in this special will appear in several of Rankin and Bass' specials.

The Story of the First Christmas Snow: Narrated and sung by Angela Lansbury, this is a nice little story by Rankin and Bass without any fantasy characters or talking animals. It chronicles the story of Lucas a poor shepherd boy who is blinded by lightning and taken into an abbey to recover by kind nuns. This selfless boy only wishes for what is best for his flock of sheep and dog, to show gratitude to one particular nun and and to experience snow for the first time. It's one of the few religious-themed animated shows and is very touching.

The Year Without A Santa Claus: Probably the best things about this special are the musical numbers by the Miser Brothers (Snow Miser and Heat Miser) who appear halfway into the story. In this one, Santa Claus (again voiced by Mickey Rooney) is burned out by the cynicism of Christmas and considers not delivering his toys while Mrs. Claus and two elves try to change his mind. This Rankin and Bass cartoon is a bit episodic and meanders a bit but is otherwise well animated and it does make Santa Claus more rounded out as a character by plaguing him with self doubt. It was remade into a live-action movie starring John Goodman that aired a couple of weeks ago on NBC.

There are other notable gems that while not up there with the classics are worth checking out if one wants to try something new. Some of them are quite good and could be considered classics in the future.

Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey: This Rankin and Bass special is quite harsh and has many similarities to Rudolph and Dumbo. Misfit character is treated cruelly by others (more so in this cartoon) but winds up saving the day, in this case, Nestor winds up being the donkey that is part of the Nativity Story. Children may be upset by some sequences in this special like the death of Nestor's mother. It also has cameos by Rudolph and Santa Claus.

Opus and Bill: A Wish For Wings That Work: Starring Opus the Penguin and Bill the Cat from Bloom County, the animation in this special is very good when compared to standard television animation, and that is probably due to Steven Spielberg being the executive producer. The story here is that Opus wants to be able to fly and the outcome of this story is very uplifting, literally.

Rudolph's Shiny New Year: Interesting sequel to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is about Rudolph enlisted by Father Time (Red Skelton) to find the missing Baby New Year (another misfit with big ears who is needed to ring in the New Year). The best parts are the visits to the Archipelago of Yesteryear which are a group of islands stuck in time with a wild mix of characters. It isn't as inspiring as past Rankin and Bass efforts but is worth a viewing.

Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July: One of the last of Rankin and Bass' animated works; it's generally dismissed by many fans. But it's actually quite good. With a running time of ninety minutes, it's one of the longer specials and tries to tie in the origin of Rudolph, Santa Claus and Frosty. Unfortunately this leads to a lot of exposition which leads to the special taking a while to get to the plot; an evil winter wizard plots to seize power through complicated machinations involving the title characters. It's fun to spot cameos by other characters like Jack Frost and Big Ben from Rudolph's Shiny New Year as well as Clarice and the Kringle Elves as well as subtle references to the other specials. - - J. L. Soto

What Happened to Grey's Anatomy? A Quick Fix During the Hiatus

Okay, is it just my imagination or has "Grey's Anatomy' fallen off the face of the earth? Yes, it's been on for the past month, but only in repeats. In fact, a quick check of my TV Guide channel shows that a new episode is not due to turn up until mid- January.

I have to wonder, do networks set out to purposely sabotage a good television series? Back in the good old days, new episodes of TV series' were shown from September until May. Then you had the summer rerun season. Nowadays, we're lucky to get 3 weeks in a row without a repeat—and this is in the Fall! I wonder, are the stars of these shows on vacation all this time or are they cranking out new episodes during this hiatus? It sure seems like the TV season has gotten much shorter over the past decade or so. And in this age where TV stars can make up to a million bucks a week (think the cast of "Friends") shouldn't these stars have to work for their money?

It's been so long since I last saw a new episode of "Grey's Anatomy" that I forget where the storylines ended. I'll need a refresher course before the new episode next month.

But I do love the show. Which is why, during this long lull, I took it upon myself to re-watch a taped episode from last Christmas that I still have on my DVR (that's how much I love this episode). I was experiencing "Grey's" withdrawal so I had to do something! Titled "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer", it's a great episode that actually got my sister hooked on the show.

It starts out with Burke and Cristina. He's talking about decorating a Christmas tree and she reminds him she's Jewish. Duh! Then we get to the hospital, where Meredith and Derek are both acting like they've lost the loves of their lives (oh yeah, they have) during the holiday season.

The medical cases, usually my least favorite part of the show revolve around a non-believing (in Santa Claus and in God) little boy in need of a heart transplant, a mother (with an obnoxious family) who has bleeding ulcers, and a family man( with an adorable family) who conked his head after falling off the roof while stringing "Christmukkah" lights.

Then there's the storyline about Alex Karev, the doc that everybody loves to hate. Karev has to cram to study to retake his medical boards. The test is the next day and he's sure to fail, so the interns take turns helping him study.

Cristina and Burke come to blows when she mocks him in the O.R., equating his spirituality with a belief in Santa Claus. Justin, the little boy with the heart transplant, just wants to die because he knows another little kid had to die in order for him to get his new heart.

Izzie, initially furious when she catches the other interns helping Alex study, decides to help him in the spirit of Christmas. But it's hard to tell if she's being a patient or being herself when she bursts into tears (remember, Alex cheated on her and broke her heart a few episodes earlier).

Throughout the entire episode, Addison is trying to get hubby Derek to help her with Christmas shopping. They make tentative plans to shop and have dinner, but he has to break the plans when the head injury guy needs a second surgery.

At the end of the episode Derek wistfully tells Meredith to have a Merry Christmas and they sadly part outside of the hospital, going their separate ways. Derek meets his wife at Joe's Bar, where she asks him what's wrong. It's then that he drops the bombshell: he doesn't want to leave his wife, but Christmas is a time to be with the people you love. And Meredith wasn't a fling-- he was in love with her. The look on Addison's face is priceless.

The show ends with Izzie lying on the floor looking up at the Christmas tree lights. Meredith joins her. Sixpence None the Richer's version of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" is playing, and when George walks in and asks the girls what they are doing, Izzie says dreamily, "Lights--"

If you need a "Grey's" fix during the new episode hiatus you can watch "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" on the Grey's Anatomy Season 2 DVD.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)

The Story: On the 23rd and final day of its feeding frenzy, a vengeful father prepares to destroy the demonic Creeper that abducted his son as it terrorizes a stranded busload of teenagers.

While it certainly got people talking, horror fans were divided in their reactions when controversial director Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers first attacked theaters back in the summer of 2001. Whether or not you will enjoy this simple-minded sequel will primarily depend on how much you like The Creeper itself as it eschews the aura of mystery and dread prevalent in the first two-thirds of the original in favor of a straight forward monster-on-the-rampage approach.

In an atmospheric opening sequence, a scarecrow dismounts its post and abducts the young son of grizzled farmer, Jack Taggert (Ray Wise). After a harrowing chase through a cornfield, Taggert and his eldest son can only stare in horrified disbelief as the abductor amazingly takes flight, disappearing from sight with his boy. Cut to a busload of corn-fed basketball jocks and their cheerleader girlfriends on the way home from winning a big game. When one of the tires blow, the bus driver and coaches discover what can only be described as a custom made throwing star stuck in the rubber. As night begins to fall, the adults decide to try and "limp" back to school after failing to contact help using the bus radio. After losing another tire, it becomes apparent that something is terribly wrong as the adults are snatched up one by one, leaving the obnoxious kids to fend for themselves. With the bus under siege by a winged, regenerating horror, it's up to the vengeful farmer to stop the merciless onslaught of The Creeper (Jonathan Breck).

As with a lot of horror films, one can spend all day picking out the many flaws in Jeepers Creepers 2 (JC2), diminishing much of the fun in this undemanding monster mash, or you can check your brain at the door and try to enjoy it for what it is: a shallow, crowd-pleasing creature feature. With the exception of the impressive opening scene, the overwhelming sense of impending doom and mounting terror that drew me into the original is all but gone, relying instead on physical action to move things along. That's unfortunate, because that fear of the unknown is what made the original such a memorable, if not completely agreeable, experience.

The biggest problem plaguing JC2 is Salva's bewildering decision to center what little story there is on a large group of unlikable teens instead of Taggert's personal vendetta. Having an older sister, I could easily identify with the siblings in the original; whereas in the sequel, I had a hard time investing in any one of the many uncooperative, hot-headed numbskulls. As the team comes to realize the amount of danger they're in, they react with an understandable degree of confusion and fear; however, it's only a matter of time before they begin doing the most amazingly stupid things imaginable as exhibited by one girl who actually sticks her head through the same hole some jock just died under. You'll also be amazed by an extremely powerful cheerleader's deadly prowess with a javelin and the short amount of time in which a simple farmer can build an ingenious contraption to hunt the creature.

Since almost everyone who's going to see this already knows The Creeper's deal, one cheerleader's sudden psychic visions are useless as a plot device. However, if you're in the mood for a movie about a flesh-eating gargoyle terrorizing a bunch of disposable idiots, and I usually am, then this might be your thing as it's all about The Creeper in full-on demon mode. Another disappointing aspect is Salva's failure to expand on The Creeper's mythology. Although more than a few folks were turned off by the original's monstrous final third, I was sold on it. Seemingly drawing from every urban legend imaginable (thunderbirds, moth/birdmen, highway stalkers, organ thieves - I could go on), The Creeper was the ultimate incarnation of every fireside tale that ever scared you. Here, he's reduced to yet another unstoppable, malevolent force, stripped of the traits that made his character an instant horror icon: that intimidating truck, the briefly seen medieval arsenal, and his penchant for whistling a favorite tune. At least he appears to be enjoying himself as he scares the kids witless, taunting and glaring at them through the windows as he sniffs out his favorite parts.

Initially, I was fairly satisfied with the action-oriented approach when I saw it on opening night with a packed house of cheering lunatics, but after a second viewing with a more subdued crowd, I found my enthusiasm waning. While I haven't made this sound all that appealing, some well-staged attack sequences, an improved Creeper design, a few good laughs, and couple of nice gore-gags keep JC2 from being an utter waste of time. Judging from the excited responses at both showings I attended, for good or ill, we haven't heard the last of The Creeper.

Jeepers Creepers (2001)

The Story: A brother and sister are hounded by a mysterious creature on a lonely highway.

Our story opens with Darry (Justin Long) driving his sister Trish (Gina Philips) home for her collegiate Spring Break. They have a game going in which they call license numbers, and Darry is trailing. They drive upon a slow going motor home and pass it. As they discuss the game rules further, the motor home turns off behind them.

Still in discussion, the siblings fail to notice a large, rusty beast of a truck gaining on them. Before they know it, the truck is right on their fender, it's horn roaring like some jurassic monster. After a few scary minutes, the truck finally passes them by and disappears down the road at a high rate of speed.

Before too long, they drive past a dilapidated house where Darry sees the strange truck. As Darry and Trish watch on, they see a tall, dark figure in a floppy hat and trench coat dump what appears to be a body wapped in a sheet into an above ground sewage pipe. They decide to hightail it down the road, but find themselves pursued once again by the monstrous truck, which this time runs them off the road where they stall out in a small field, while the truck continues on down the road.

Darry thinks the two should go back and see if it was actually a body that was dumped into the sewer pipe, while Trish insists they move on to the nearest phone and call the police. Darry ponders that if it was a person, they might still be alive. Trish still won't budge. Finally, Darry asks what if it were her back there in that pipe, and Trish reluctantly agrees.
They go back to the house and Darry works himself into the sewage pipe. Once down there, he finds that there are hundreds of bodies in the cave at the end of the pipe, and it mortifies him to speechlessness. Finally, Trish gets her way and they drive off into the next town.

They make it to a diner and as they get out of the car, the ominous truck once again drives by. The siblings rush into the diner where Darry answers a ringing pay phone and is warned of terrible danger if he hears the song, "Jeepers Creepers," and something about a creature catching Darry's scent. Freaked out, Darry hangs up the phone and finally the police are called.

Soon the police arrive and take Darry's story. One of the waitresses from the diner suddenly runs in and says there was a strange man going through Darry and Trish's car. When they go outside, Darry's clothes, which were in the backseat, are scattered everywhere and the waitress says the strange man was smelling them.
The cops escort Trish and Darry back onto the highway and follow along. As Trish and Darry are suddenly shocked at the sound of "Jeepers Creepers" playing on the radio, the patrol car behind them is attacked by the driver of the creepy truck (Jonathan Breck). He takes out the cops, and now the kids are on their own...

Filmed in Florida, Jeepers Creepers is a pretty decent monster movie. It has characters you care about, though they do occasionally perpetrate the typical "dumb horror film character" blunders such as not running off right away when the monster attacks. But director Salva, who also wrote the screenplay, does something very smart; he takes his time introducing us to the siblings and getting us to care for them before putting them in a deadly situation. The fact that you don't want to see them die is what keeps you hooked, even when the story slips into its less plausible parts. Plus, the monster doesn't even physically show up onscreen until near the half-hour mark, which adds to the spookiness.

The monster himself is well done, if not entirely convincing, but that's okay. Sure, it's a man in a suit, but this is explained in the story as the demon attempting to look human. How does the demon do this? By eating the human parts he needs to pass as more human. If he needs a leg, he eats a leg, eating a heart gives him a heart, etc.
Another thing I liked is that Salva cast a pair of unknowns for the sibling leads. Both do exceptionally good jobs, and the fact that they're not instantly recognizable makes them seem more realistic. Kudos to Salva for not following the now typical style of casting hot young actors already recognizable from some sappy teen drama.

But what I probably like most about this movie is that the monster does what monsters are supposed to do; hack people up and eat 'em. There's no romanticizing it like they do with vampire movies, no "Jekyll and Hyde"-style Dionysian aspect of inner evil, and no "man playing god" Frankenstein nonsense. It's simply a monster. No explanation needed.

But there are flaws, to be sure. The lady who calls Darry on the pay phone diner and warns him eventually shows up, but she kind of gets in the way once she does. It was only logical that she make an appearance after being such major plot point, but she doesn't really have any importance when she arrives. Also, the climax takes place in a crowded police station. Does the monster treat itself and "pig" out on the police? Nope. He only gets rid of a couple of them and at one point you think he’s finished the others off-screen, but sure enough they all reappear, this time in SWAT gear.

But the unforeseen ending packs a nice jolt, although it doesn't fully make up the sillier aspects of rest of the film. I'm not going to ruin it for you, but it is very effective.

Overall, Jeepers Creepers is an effective monster-romp which is unfortunately hindered by a few implausible sequences. But, it's still a good flick for those looking for some well done monster chills. Worth a rental.

Hannibal (2001)

The Story: Dr. Hannibal Lecter returns to the United States after a comfortable ten-year vacation, only to find himself running from an "old pal" at the FBI and quite a handsome former patient.

It's refreshing to hear and see Barney (Frankie Faison) as this film begins. Barney stood guard outside of Lecter's cell for years and is now in the business of selling Lecter "collectables" to Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), a former patient and the only surviving victim of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). We see Verger's horrific face early on in the film and learn that Lecter was a large part of its deformity. While high on amyls, Lecter asked Verger to peel his face off with a piece of broken mirror and feed it to his dogs. Verger followed through and Lecter even gave him a hand.

We cut to Special Agent Clarice Starling (Jullianne Moore), who achieved celebrity fame for her involvement with the Lecter case ten years ago. We get to see her in action as she and her colleagues take down an HIV-positive drug queen who uses a baby and her disease as protection. An intense shoot-out quickly unfolds and Starling is forced to make a decision. Does she let this drug queen kill her or does she risk shooting an innocent child to save her own life? Starling chooses her life, a choice for which she could pay with her job and her reputation. She is later suspended from her position at the FBI for her unorthodox involvement in the Lecter case. Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) at the Justice Department orchestrates much of Starling's dismissal in a twist surprisingly involving Verger.

Meanwhile, Lecter is living as the sophisticated Dr. Fell somewhere in Florence. Inspector Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) knows who Dr. Fell really is and attempts to capture him for the large reward that is being offered for his arrest. Pazzi's methods soon place him face to face with Lecter, who is "giving very serious thought to eating his wife." Lecter kills Pazzi in quite a symbolic fashion and then returns to the United States, ready to come out of "hibernation." Krendler and Starling find themselves guests at the same formal dinner, hosted by none other than the good doctor himself. Will they survive the main course? Do yourself a favor and find out.

Director Ridley Scott gives us some of the most beautiful and disgusting scenes I've ever had the privilege of watching. The prominent opera in the film was composed specifically for this film and its melody will haunt you days later. On the flipside, we see wild boars devour human beings and we watch a man's bowels fall out of his body as he is hanged. Fans of gore, start your engines!

I have to admit, I was very skeptical that Julianne Moore could pull off the role of Starling as brilliantly as Foster did in The Silence of the Lambs. I had no need to be skeptical as Moore not only pulls it off, but pulls it off well. Her emotions are off the charts and her relationship with Lecter reflects the history that Foster originally created. Hopkins, now a little balder and pudgier, comes through in reprising his role. As a fan of The Silence of the Lambs, I was very pleased to see Lecter out of his cell and back in the action in which we were not able to see him previously. Liotta plays the misogynistic bureaucrat and does so very convincingly. The scene in which he loses his head, so to speak, is particularly memorable.

The tongue-in-cheek jokes are just enough and never too much. You can't help but smile a little when Lecter recalls having "enjoyed many excellent meals" in the states. Extremely creepy are the scenes with Oldman, whose portrayal of the severely deformed and now deranged Verger is magnificent. We sympathize with the cruel ways in which his character seeks revenge on Lecter every time we are forced to look at his hideous face and hear his slurred speech. So, what's wrong with Hannibal? While I would have enjoyed seeing more attention given to Verger's strange little assistant, Cordell (Zeljko Ivanek), I can't say much in the way of negative about Hannibal as a film.

Although the first part of the film moves a little slow as we are forced to see and hear flashbacks from The Silence of the Lambs, I can appreciate the reasoning behind such flashbacks. We must remember the relationship between Starling and Lecter in order to appreciate a reprisal of such history in the later scenes. True, it's not The Silence of the Lambs, but it's a brilliant follow-up with excellent direction, terrific sound, and superior acting.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Story: The FBI scrambles to capture a psychotic serial killer before he can kill his latest abductee.

FBI Agent-In-Training Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is pulled from her morning run by the head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn). In his office, he drills her on an at-large serial killer the papers have been calling Buffalo Bill. After explaining that thus far the FBI has been unable to get a slant on Buffalo Bill's psychological profile, Crawford offers her the opportunity for advancement she so craves by assigning her to interview an imprisoned, formerly renowned psychologist - who also just so happens to be a demented cannibal - in an attempt to get his view on this latest murderer.

Starling is sent to the imprisoned lunatic's asylum and after fending off advances from the asylum's CEO, a weasel named Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald), Starling is lead into the bowels of the institution to find her subject, Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) waiting patiently for her. Though highly intelligent and having been grilled on how to handle Lecter, Starling clumsily drops the ball and agitates Lecter, who utilizes his keen, razor-sharp insight to dissect her. Feeling embarrassed and violated, Starling goes to leave when the patient in the cell next to Lecter's tosses a wad of semen at her face. Before she can rush out, Lecter calls her back, apologizing fervently for his fellow inmate's brashness, and as a consolation gives her a lead to put her on Buffalo Bill's trail.

Under Crawford's guidance, Starling takes to the case like a bloodhound following up clues and leads, while also periodically returning for more psychological insight on Buffalo Bill from Lecter. Having been imprisoned for nearly a decade, Lecter takes a liking to Starling and develops an almost mentor-like relationship with her. As the hunt for Buffalo Bill continues, deals are made and broken, secrets are learned and ultimately Starling's hunt for ol' Bill will lead her into a life or death confrontation with the psychopathic madman himself - in the pitch black, and without back-up.

Silence of the Lambs, the last major hit from Orion Pictures before their bankruptcy, is a highly suspenseful, highly intelligent and gruesome thriller. Performances across the board are extraordinary, from Foster's ambitious yet naive Starling to Anthony Hopkins' slithering portrayal of the sociopathic Hannibal Lecter. His performance was so amazing that it painted in the minds of the nation's filmgoers a flesh and blood rendition of The Bogey Man. Levine, as Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb, is very effective, as well. Though not given near as much screen time as Foster or Hopkins, Levine's characterization of the killer who "likes to skin his humps" is frightening, while also oddly sympathetic. Thomas Harris, upon whose novel the film is based, explained that Buffalo Bill was actually an amalgamation of numerous true-life serial killers including Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacey and Henry Lee Lucas.

Demme's direction makes the most of the gothic asylum locations and the rural communities through which Starling's investigation leads her. In fact, the cinematography and set decoration seem to have inspired the television series The X-Files, right down to the super-imposed locations appearing across the bottom of the screen. Demme shows a real flair for directing his actors and allows the camera to linger on their faces as they look directly at us, the viewers, making their words take that much deeper a root in our minds. When Lecter leans forward during the infamous "fava beans" sequence and sucks his teeth, he's not just creeping out Starling; he's creeping out us, the viewers, as he looks right at us. Incidentally, Hopkins admits that this chill-inducing moment was completely improvised when director Demme failed to yell "Cut" after his dialogue. A testament to Hopkins' skills, I'd call it, as this moment is one of the most memorable moments of the film.

Based on the Thomas Harris novel of the same name, The Silence of the Lambs is also the first horror film to ever sweep the Academy Awards by winning every major Oscar, including Best Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Foster), Director (Demme) and Adapted Screenplay (by Ted Tally). Anyone who's not seen the film has obviously been living in a sealed off bunker or a cordoned-off cell of some type, or you just don't like horror movies. Which means cameos by such genre luminaries as Roger Corman and George Romero will go unnoticed by you. For shame!

Overall, The Silence of the Lambs is a gripping, white-knuckle excursion into the minds of psychopathic madmen and why they do what they do. Though many would argue against the film's qualifications for "horror movie" status, these qualifications are quite obvious. You have your psycho killer (in this case, two), loads of suspense, plenty of scares, bloody kills and heaping handfuls of morbid underpinnings and subtext. Bluntly put, if this film isn't a horror film then I don't know what is.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go... I'm having an old friend for lunch.

King Kong (2005)

By Simon Woodhouse

Some movies suffer from the Titanic syndrome, i.e. everyone knows the end even before the opening credits start to roll. Does this affect everything that comes before the final few reels? Yes, but if handled properly, that can be a good thing. Knowing the ultimate fate of a character (especially if it's tragic) right from the get go means there's instant sympathy. Armed with readymade, dread-filled foreshadowing, the makers of such a movie should be able to use it to their advantage. There's no need for excessive sappiness or truckloads of schmaltz. A gritty, more realistic approach can be used, especially if it means breathing new life into a familiar story. But unfortunately, because this is a riskier way of doing things, it's very rarely attempted. Especially if it means not making such a huge mega-profit.

Returning the story to its roots, this version of King Kong is set in the 1930s. It's depression era America, where only the wealthy have anything to smile about. Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is a struggling actress, who's just about managing to get by. But life becomes a whole lot harder when the vaudeville style show she's in shuts down. At the same time, movie director Carl Denham (Jack Black) is finding it very difficult to convince studio execs to keep bankrolling his current project. These two meet by chance, and before you know it, Carl has convinced Ann to play the lead in his new movie. A rather motley cast and crew set sail from New York for Skull Island, a never-before-seen lump of rock shown on a mysterious map that's come into Carl's possession. For some reason, he thinks it'll make the perfect location for his movie. Also onboard the ship is Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody), a screenwriter hired buy Carl to pen the script.

Considering Kong is a remake, and therefore full of familiar characters, this version takes its time to introduce the various players. But that doesn't mean it's an exercise in character development. Naomi Watts gives Ann a constant puppy dog look. Jack Black suffers from an over exuberant screen presence (reminiscent of Robin Williams, and we all know how irritating he is). Whilst Adrian Brody seems totally miscast as the screenwriter, a character that's part wimp, part he-man action hero. However, all the human players are really only there to push the story towards the film's main star. After about an hour of rather dull build up, Kong himself makes an appearance.

Things go badly on Skull Island. Ann is kidnapped by the natives and offered up as a sacrifice to their god. The god in question is a twenty-five foot tall male gorilla. Previous versions of the giant ape have consisted of a stop-start motion miniature (1933) and a guy in a gorilla suit (1976). In the digital age Kong is a super-realistic CGI monster. However, this takes away some of his mysticism. Because both previous Kongs didn't look much like a real gorilla, they had a sort of other-worldliness about them. This also allowed them to behave (convincingly) in a manner that perhaps a real gorilla wouldn't. CGI Kong is all ape, which means he has to act like a real gorilla and nothing else.

Kong takes Ann deep into the island's interior, where thanks to a rather silly scene involving her performing vaudeville style tricks for him, she manages to save herself from being squished. The pace of the movie suddenly picks up here. The island is not only home to Kong, but also numerous varieties of dinosaur (most of which want to eat Ann). Ape and lizard duke it out in an extended fight scene that sees Kong save Ann from certain death.

As if trying to make up for the film's slow first hour, once the action starts it hardly stops. Some of these sequences, however, seem unnecessary (especially the bit that sees Carl and Jack trapped in a canyon full of giant insects). Various lesser members of the cast meet a grizzly end on the island, but this doesn't really register on the emotion-o-meter. They're cardboard, generic characters who can really only be described as ballast.

Thanks to Kong's devotion to Ann, he ends up being captured by Carl and co. and transported back to New York. He escapes (of course), and after rampaging through the city, finds Ann and makes his iconic ascension of the Empire State Building.

This is a long film (three hours plus), but it can be easily split into thirds. The first third is the pretty boring, overly long setup. The middle third features the dino fights and all the action on Skull Island. The last chunk is the stuff set in New York. If you want to only watch the best bits, stick to the middle third. Though there's action in the last section, it's tempered with masses of overly contrived schmaltz. There's tons of the stuff, poured on so thick it's almost choking.

Stripped of what made him more than just a big gorilla by the CGI realism, this version of Kong doesn't generate the sympathy of his predecessors. When the inevitable ending comes around, I didn't feel what I did when first watching the 1933 original. Even the 1976 remake had a more emotional ending. The 2005 Kong does all that's required of him - stands atop the Empire State and thrashes it out with circling biplanes, but (and this might make me sound a bit heartless) he just doesn't suffer enough. Previous Kongs took a real beating during the finale. Modern Kong grunts, growls and groans, but there's no heart.

All said and done, the movie is just too long. Had it been anything up to an hour shorter, it would have been a better film. Whole chunks from the beginning (especially) the middle and the end could have been jettisoned and the story wouldn't have suffered. A shorter movie would have also done away with the cloying sentimentality, the paper-thin minor characters and the unnecessary CGI creepy crawlies on Skull Island.

Is it all bad? No. In certain scenes Kong is an endearing creation. Some of the dinosaurs on Skull Island are also quite good (even though we've seen them all before thanks to Jurassic Park). The principle players have their moments, but on the whole they just seem miscast and overshadowed by the great ape. As with so many modern blockbusters, King Kong is a missed opportunity. All the pieces were there, but they were arranged wrongly. Perhaps in a few years time when someone else has a go, they'll get it really right.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Dead next door (1989)

The Story: A virus has infected the dead, animating them so the corpses can feed on human flesh, thus feeding the virus.

The dead have overrun the Earth and the cities have become war zones. The Government sets up a team of crack soldiers called The Zombie Squad, to protect humans and hunt down the dead. An escaped virus, one in which a Doctor Bow was working on, has revived the dead. It animates the corpses and uses it to feed on humans, feeding the virus itself.

Without human flesh the virus will feed on the corpse and die. Doctor Moulsson (Bogdan Pecic) is trying to create an antidote that makes the virus feed on the corpses right away, thus destroying the threat. He needs Doctor Bow's notes to complete the job so with the zombie squad, commanded by Captain Raimi (Peter Ferry), they head for the Doctors house. Unfortunately it's not just the dead they have to contend with. A religious cult has formed, led by Rev Jones (Robert Kokai), who think the dead are a divine punishment and will fight to stop them being destroyed and thus cleansing the world!

Shot on Super-8mm, this was J R Bookwalters' first film. He has since gone on to more ambitious projects (sometimes too ambitious for his budget) such as Ozone and Polymorph, but it's with this cheap and cheerful zombie film he is probably still best known.

The budget was originally $4000 but after leaving a message on the Renaissance Pictures answering machine, Bookwalter eventually met up with Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) who offered to help with the project. Raimi increased the budget and shooting began. Supposedly, Raimi later disowned the film. I can't confirm this, certainly Bookwalter does not mention it in the production notes to the film on the VHS used here, but Raimi's name does not appear anywhere in the credits.

Given what Bookwalter and his dedicated team had to work with, they have pulled off some commendable work. The amount of extras on screen is larger than most Indie productions have to play with and this helps add a bit of scale to the zombie take-over. Shooting on location in Washington, adds to the authentic look of the project.

The zombie makeup, in most of the cases, is excellent with some agreeably horrid looking corpses. The gore is plentiful and is extremely well done, with spurting wounds, stretching flesh and stringy intestines being thrown into the story with great aplomb! It's clear that a lot of the budget was used on here. But it's in trying to do more complex creations that the budgetary constraints show, and some are jarring. The use of animatronic/puppet zombie heads for certain scenes is an idea too far and look very bad. It would have been better to stick to more complex latex effects than to attempt, without any hope of a satisfactory outcome, some of the work that desperately needs a much bigger budget to pull off. Given the outstanding work everywhere else, these puppet heads stand out badly and add some unintentional humour to certain scenes.

The acting is as bad as you would expect, but some performances are a lot of fun, such as Pecic as the loony Dr Moulsson who wears a baseball cap with 'Once I thought I was wrong but I was mistaken' scrawled on it. Michael Gross as the ill fated squad member Mercer, who also sports some excellent zombie make up. If the voice of Captain Raimi (yes, we shall get back to the names) sounds familiar that's because it's none other than Bruce Campbell! Campbell, as well as dubbing the lead also helped on the audio post production. Director and Raimi collaborator Scott Spiegel also appears as a squad member, and strangely one of the cult members is dressed exactly, including the wig, as Raimi's cult leader in Spiegel's production of "Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except", which was being filmed at roughly the same time.

The names of the characters also brings us to the biggest and sadly almost fatal fault with this film, the humour. You can forgive the naming of characters after famous horror personalities as production started around 1985/6 and this was not then such a cliche. And of course they are all here, Raimi, Romero, King, Savini and a character called Carpenter who has the most horrific mullet hairstyle this side of Bon Jovi! It's in the general humour that the film can sometimes become cringe worthy.

With supposedly witty dialogue and self-conscious horror in-jokes dragging the film down. Add some appalling line reading to put unintentional humour onto the unfunny intentional humour and the film does start to try the patience of the viewer. And was it part of the humour to make the squad members amazingly stupid? One gets bitten because he leans on the table where a zombie is strapped down! Another is killed while trying to get three zombies out the back of a car, into a ridiculously rickety cage, because his partner rolls the window down too far!

Some of the homage humour works, and it's nice to see certain familiar "Day of the Dead" zombies recreated! In fact, except for the squad which reminds you of the "Dawn of the Dead" SWAT units, this film owes more to "Day" than anything. Dr Moullson's laboratory, complete with strapped down cut up zombies is like Dr Logan's as does the keeping the zombies in cages, and Rev Jones's dead son who comes across as being based on Bub.

The addition to the basic zombie plot of the religious cult also makes for some messy plot development and slows the pace down too a crawl at a time when it should be building. But it at least shows a willingness to not simply concentrate on the more simplistic hunt the zombies story line.

The music is pretty good and is only let down by the hysterically bad song other the end credits! The transfer, at least on the VHS, is overly dark and takes away from some of the gore effects.

Overall, though it's certainly a project that was obviously close to the hearts of everyone involved and great effort has gone into it's creation, it can only really be classed as a valiant failure.

Check it out though for the zombie make up, gore effects and a sense of love for the horror genre that seems so sadly missing in today's big budget Hollywood efforts.

Cherry Falls (2000)

The Story: A psychotic slasher kills off virgins in the peaceful town of Cherry Falls, Virginia.

In the history of horror films, very few have had as much trouble reaching the screen as the film Cherry Falls. Directed by Wright, who also directed the excellent and violent skinhead film Romper Stomper, this late entry into the revivified teen slasher sub-genre was threatened with an NC-17 rating, and submitted to the MPAA a whopping five times for cuts. The original film was so full of bloody violence and explicit sexuality that by the time the ratings board was done with it, all the things that promised to make this one of the best slasher movies ever had been nipped and tucked worse than an LA socialite.

A total of eight minutes was removed to garner the 92 minute R rated version and the film was ultimately picked up by the USA Network, who cut it yet again for content so they could premiere it on their cable network, removing two or three more minutes of already censored carnage and sexuality. All this while the film was enjoying a reasonably successful run overseas. To say this film was kicked around like a red headed step child is a vast understatement; this film was completely gutted, period. Thus, it would be a waste of time to review the final TV print, so instead I'm going with the badly trimmed R rated video version which was unjustly slapped onto a double feature video with the lame John Ritter film Terror Tract (not going to waste my time reviewing that stinker). Let's take a look.

We start the film off with a young guy and gal making out in a car parked in the woods. She thwarts his every attempt to get more intimate, so the guy steps out of the car to let off some steam. Next thing you know, the girl is attacked and killed by a long haired, high heeled psycho woman and the word "virgin" carved into her skin.

Sheriff Marken (Michael Biehn) is on the case and soon comes to find out that there's a slasher running loose, carving up virgins. He begins worrying about his own teenage daughter, Jody (Brittany Murphy), and calls a town meeting at the local high school to inform parents of the situation. The thought of virgins being murdered seems unfathomable to the parents, yet while the meeting proceeds, no one notices that Jody and a friend are listening in the wings. While the meeting continues, Jody and her friend are attacked by the lady killer, and the chase leads them into a class room where Jody barely manages to escape a grisly death.

Soon, word of the virgin killer spreads throughout the school, and students hoping to escape a violent death organize a massive orgy to ensure that no virgin is left unturned, so to speak. In the meantime, the concerned Sheriff Marken asks his daughter just how far she and her boyfriend have gone intimately. For the first time in probably the history of the world as we know it, the father is actually upset that his daughter has yet to lose her flower, making her a prime candidate for an early grave. Will Jody manage to save herself by losing her virginity? What exactly is the connection between Sheriff Marken and the female murderer? What are all those kids gonna do when the psycho suddenly turns up at the teenage sexathon? And what's the deal with the overly sensitive teacher Mr. Marliston (Jay Mohr)? You'll have to watch to find out.

Even in the heavily cut R rated edition, Cherry Falls is a fresh, entertaining slasher flick that takes all the typical slasher rules and turns them on their ear. There are no rules here, folks: sex does not equal death, our main heroine is not your typical girl next door, and the killer is not the slow walking type. One of the most thrilling moments in the film is during the scene where Jody is first attacked - the killer actually pours it on, full steam ahead, bounding across the floor like a steroid-fueled track star as our petite heroine suddenly has to scramble for her life. There are terrible family secrets and a performance by Murphy that keeps you guessing. You don't know what she's going to do next, and this sets her far above her co-stars with the exception of Biehn, whose revelation of a long hidden secret will surprise you.

And the idea of the movie itself is hilarious when you think about it. Virgins getting killed. In a town called "Cherry Falls" (a sneaky way of saying "losing your cherry"). In "Virgin"ia. Or, I don't know, maybe I'm just reading too much into it.

All the aforementioned cut scenes are obvious in the film. You can see where scenes of gore were either trimmed or removed, where some shots were panned and scanned or zoomed in on to avoid showing explicit nudity, and even entire scenes omitted. But seeing this R rated version simply heightened my desire to see a fully uncut version, with all the gore and sexuality intact. If they were to ever release this version, I guarantee you we'd have a new classic slasher flick on our hands. But USA would have to pull its head out of its ass to do this. And I'm not going to hold my breath - this is the network responsible for for the ghastly La Femme Nikita TV series, and that alone tells me they don't have the slightest idea of what entertainment is.

Full of sly sex jokes (as well as some blatantly obvious ones), a new twist on the slasher plot and characters you actually give a damn about, Cherry Falls, though not great in its R rated form, is still an entertaining sojourn into the world of teen horror. Keep an eye on the closing credits for a funny twist on the old "no animals were harmed during the making of this film" disclaimer. And dammit, let's tell USA we want an Uncut release!

Hitch (2005)

I was excited to watch the 2005 Will Smith film Hitch because it was a romantic comedy with a twist. Instead of being told from the point of view of a female character, as is usually the case with these kinds of movies (thus the term "chick flick"), Hitch would be from the guy's point of view. Plus, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the screenwriter, Kevin Bisch, because he was new to the game and was able to make it to the big leagues with just his third script ever. These two factors were enough to get me to rent Hitch the other evening.

Smith stars as Alex Hitchens, a so-called "Date Doctor" who works with men to help them navigate through the notoriously challenging New York City dating scene. Hitch coaches his clients on how to act, what to say, and, most importantly, how to listen to the women they go out with. What makes Hitch different from, say, a Cyrano de Bergerac, is that he doesn't put specific words in his clients' mouths. He guides them, but in the end, the clients are on their own for their dates. So the women they're with see the real personality, not some sham.

The movie opens with a few establishing scenes that show us how Hitch works his magic with women. Then we get to his newest client, an overweight, accident-prone accountant named Albert (played by Kevin James). Albert has always had trouble with women because of his appearance and his clumsiness, so he has finally decided to turn to the Date Doctor for help. The only problem is, Albert's dream woman happens to be Allegra Cole (Amber Valetta), a young, rich, beautiful socialite who is a client at Albert's firm. Allegra has been linked to playboys in the past, so Hitch certainly has his work cut out for him in order to get Albert a chance with Allegra.

Meanwhile, there's a parallel storyline involving Hitch's own love life. It seems that although his advice works wonders for his clients, it doesn't do much for advancing his own interests. Currently, Hitch is pursuing a woman named Sara (Eva Mendes), an attractive, cynical journalist who thus far has paid more attention to her career than to her personal life.

Sara at first rebuffs Hitch's advances, but eventually gives in and goes on a date with him. Hitch does his very best to be the romantic, sweet, endearing man of Sara's dreams, but everything goes horribly wrong. Instead of a smooth talker, Hitch turns into a stuttering fool around Sara and hardly knows what to say. But, this being a romantic comedy, we get the feeling that things will work out in the end for everyone involved.

Overall, I thought Hitch was a very likable film. It wasn't as original as the previews and hype made it out to be, but I was still able to enjoy it. A great deal of that enjoyment stemmed from the actors involved in the film. I thought Will Smith was a great choice to play the lead role. He was charming and good-looking, and I could readily accept him as a date doctor. Kevin James was also very good in his role as Albert. While it was a bit harder for me to believe that any woman like Allegra Cole would give Albert so much as the time of day, that didn't detract from the movie as a whole.

The only character I didn't particularly care for was Sara. What she did to Hitch towards the end of the film was pretty unforgivable in my book, and she didn't even do anything to redeem herself or make up for her actions. As a result, I didn't think she deserved what she got in the end. At first, I thought I was being a bit hard on the character, but I re-watched the final 20 minutes of the film and stand by my original conclusion.

Hitch isn't a great movie, but it does deliver some laughs and fun along the way. I think it's a nice date movie, and provided enough entertainment that I didn't feel I had wasted my time. That's pretty much all I expected, so I wasn't disappointed in the least.

The Cat People (1945)

This was the first of a string of great films produced by the brilliant Val Lewton (The Body Snatcher, I Walked With a Zombie), and an early triumph for director Jacques Tourneur, who also directed Curse of the Demon, I Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard People. Lewton was originally given nothing but the title "The Cat People" and vague instructions to come up with an exploitative B movie to compete with the likes of The Wolf Man. Well, he and Tourneur royally screwed it up and even with (or perhaps due to) a painfully low budget managed to concoct a beautiful, subtle psychological horror film that resonates in the memory long after its noisier cousins have faded into insignificance. Oops.

While The Cat People isn't up to the stark visual standards of Tourneur's noir classic Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum, it does set quite high standards for pure suggestive terror that has very rarely been equaled, least of all by Paul Schrader's glossy but dull and virtually worthless 1982 remake.

The story: Achingly beautiful but painfully shy Irena (Simone Simon) marries handsome but dull Oliver (Kent Smith) only to have poor Oliver discover that Irena is afraid to consummate their marriage. It seems that she believes that she is one of a line of werecats, who remain human but become panthers if aroused by strong emotions. Oliver, showing superhumanly unbelievable patience, is understanding (Okay, maybe this isn't the most plausible plot you've ever heard, but let's carry on) for some time but eventually turns to an ex-girlfriend (Jane Randolph) for comfort. Somehow Tourneur manages to make everyone here believable and sympathetic and gets away with some quite mature themes for 1942.

Well, this movie IS called The Cat People, so it would seem that Irena's jealousy begins to get the better of her and her worst fears become realized. Or do they? Part of this film's brilliance is in allowing the viewers to make up their own mind about whether or not the curse is real or indeed if there even is a panther until the climax, and I won't be the one to spoil that for you. Suffice it to say that while this movie starts off on the slow side by modern horror standards, there are some fine, thrilling moments that are only muted in comparison to the myriad imitations and more graphic variations that have sprung up over the years. Two set pieces in particular, one set at an indoor pool and another a spine-tingling walk through the park with an unseen pursuer, are quite rightfully renowned as blueprints for finely tuned suggestive horror. All builds to a satisfyingly tense and quite sad climax.

Tourneur had an unequalled instinct of how to use light, shadow and sound to produce an almost subliminal sense of mystery and menace. He also used deliberate, methodical pacing to build up to his most tense scenes with long unbroken shots that quite possibly were an inspiration for modern masters of mood such as Argento and Carpenter. Sadly, this kind of style has mostly fallen out of favor in recent years and may seem quaint and old fashioned to the impatient. I'm afraid that the younger gorehound may be bored and turned off by The Cat People, but that says more about today's MTV-fried and slasher film-bludgeoned attention spans than it does about this fine, delicately crafted film.

This is a quite low-key and atmospheric effort for those who have been numbed by the flashy and noisy kind of obvious Jason and Freddy horror. However, a thinking film enthusiast with patience and an occasional taste for moody and shadowy, subtle terror should find it a true treasure. The only negatives that come to my mind while watching this film are some of the common complaints about many of its contemporaries: The characters are at times a bit broad (though not as much as most modern horror), some of the more adult themes are handled quite obtusely and obscurely to comply with the censorship standards of the day, and the dialogue is often a bit stiff and labored. Otherwise, this is a nearly perfect terror film and one that everyone with a taste for classic fright should see at least once. Those with a taste for the subtle, intelligent and artful will probably want to eventually own a copy.

Wedding Crashers (2005)

I'm a big Vince Vaughn fan, so I'll usually go see any movie that he's in. Even if the story is terrible, I know I can count on Vaughn's character to deliver a few laughs along the way. So even though I don't particularly like Owen Wilson and even though I was a bit wary of all the hype surround 2005's blockbuster Wedding Crashers, I finally gave in and rented it the other day. The film grossed more than $205 million dollars, so it couldn't be that bad, right?

Vaugh and Wilson play friends named Jeremy and John, respectively. The two work as mediators (or lawyers -- it wasn't made totally clear) at the same firm and try to hammer out divorce settlements for disgruntled clients. In their spare time, Jeremy and John like to crash weddings (meaning they show up at weddings even though they weren't invited). We get the idea that they've been doing this for a long time. In fact, they've gotten to the point where they have their own coded language and can pick up on each other's cues without giving anything away to people within earshot.

The point of crashing all these weddings is to meet "vulnerable women." Jeremy and John think that weddings are the perfect place to meet single, eligible women because the women will be in a sentimental mood due to the ceremony, thus becoming easy prey for single men who swoop in and pretend to be sensitive and caring.

Everything goes smoothly for Jeremy and John until they crash the biggest wedding of the season, that of Treasury Secretary Cleary's daughter. Secretary Cleary (played by Christopher Walken) is the patriarch of an old, established clan that is supposed to remind viewers of the Kennedys (the touch football scene at the summer retreat is a clear example of this). Cleary has two single daughters remaining, Gloria (Isla Fisher) and Claire (Rachel McAdams). These just happen to be the two young women that Jeremy and John set their sights on.

Jeremy hooks up with Gloria on the beach during the reception and thinks that will be the end for them. But Gloria turns out to be a bit psycho and thinks that she and Jeremy will have a lasting relationship. So for the rest of the film, she pursues him and tries to force her will on him.

As for Claire, it seems that she and John really share a connection, but -- as is usual in films like this -- she has an obnoxious, overbearing, verbally-abusive boyfriend already. So John spends the rest of the film trying to win Claire over from Sack (Bradley Cooper).

Like I said before, I was looking forward to Wedding Crashers because of Vaughn's involvement in the project. But I was extremely disappointed with what I saw on the screen. There were several major problems with the movie, which I'll try to cover now.

First of all, I thought the pacing of the whole thing was off. The beginning just kind of glossed over Jeremy and John's wedding crashing activities, but I thought we should have seen more of that. The middle (at the Cleary estate) was way too long and boring. Nothing happened there and it felt like the plot came to a standstill. Then the ending developed way too slowly. I thought the film should have started wrapping up after the weekend retreat, but instead it inexplicably went off into another minor storyline.

The second problem I had with this movie was that it wasn't very funny. I was expecting to be treated to several belly laughs, but that never happened. I thought the jokes were tasteless and overdone. Plus, I didn't like the way the script made light of Gloria's aggressive actions. Would those things have been funny if the tables were turned and Jeremy was doing that to her? Not at all: so why should we accept a double standard here?

And finally, I thought the acting in this film was just average. No one really stood out as giving a good performance, which was disappointing considering some of the names in the cast.

If you haven't seen Wedding Crashers yet, I can't think of a compelling reason for you to do so. I'd skip this one if I were you!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The Story: The "ghost" of the Paris Opera House extorts the starring role for his unknown protege Christine Daae. For his benefaction he demands her love, but she loves another. A scorned madman, his malevolence is boundless, endangering all who dare come near the opera.

Seventy-eight years after its release, The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney still stands as one of the seminal works in the horror genre and is quite probably the most famous silent film known today.

Unfortunately, it's not the best. It's a bit choppy, overwrought, and superficial. But it's still around and there's good reason for that.

The Phantom of the Opera, both the film and the character, underwent more than one tribulation on the way to immortality. Director Rupert Julian's original cut of the film was so unsatisfying to Universal President Carl Laemmle, he ordered more scenes shot and the end completely redone by a different director. Julian pushed his actors to theatrical extremes making the acting stilted and stagy even by the standards of twenties. Julian had a history of being a bully of a director, and had been so even to Lon Chaney during their partnerships on The Small Girl and Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin. Even though he turned in a performance for the ages, the actor's great talent was underutilized and misdirected. Chaney's self-devised makeup, astonishing to this day, and the strength of his characterization are what has carried the film into history, despite its flaws.

The story centers on the Opera House; upon the film's opening, the new owners of the theater are informed by the former owners about the "Opera Ghost." Dismissed by the unfamiliar proprietors as nonsense, we are shown backstage at the opera that the ghost is not dismissed by those who've worked there long enough to know the truth. He strikes fear into all who move backstage. Only one person had ever seen the ghost and to those who asked, he related a horrible description of a living skull!

It doesn't take long for the ghost to introduce himself as the "Phantom of the Opera," and demands the opera''s prima donna Carlotta, step aside and allow an unknown girl from the chorus to sing the lead. Falling mysteriously ill, Carlotta indeed steps down for the next performance. The Phantom's choice, Christine Daae (Mary Philbin), wowed the crowd, including her suitor, a young nobleman, the Viscount Raoul DeChagny (Norman Kerry).

For the next performance however, Carlotta returns to the role, despite the Phantom's numerous threats. As Carlotta takes the stage, the giant chandelier hanging above the auditorium is dropped in a fairly impressive bit of special effects (I rewound and watched it about three times in a row) onto scattering, frightened, and flattened patrons. In the midst of the confusion, Christine slips away, back to her dressing room. Hearing the voice of the Phantom beckon her sweetly, she walks toward her mirror, and through it! For the first time she sees her benefactor; he's cloaked all in black, his face hidden by a mask.

Catacombs flicker with torch-light as the two descend into the sepulchral domain ruled by the Phantom in the winding tunnels beneath the city. Almost like Charon the boatman of the dead in Greek mythology, the Phantom takes Christine across a stygian lake that separates his inner sanctum from the rest of the Parisian underground.

Christine had been listening to the voice of the Phantom for years through the walls of the Opera House. He'd guided her and trained her, but she'd never known he was the Phantom. How she hadn't figured it out yet is a little beyond me, but she's not portrayed as the sharpest stick in the woods. When Christine finally does figure out her mysterious benefactor's true identity, she collapses in fright. Coming to, she slowly approaches the masked Phantom from behind. In one of the single most enduring images of fright filmdom, Christine quickly unmasks the Phantom, revealing his horrifying visage. Standing and turning, he lashes out at the terrified girl. He tells her she shall stay with him forever in his kingdom beneath the city. As Christine begs to be free, he partially concedes, granting her one last visit to say goodbye to the world; she must not, however see her lover Raoul. This, the Phantom gravely forbids.

At the grand Bal Masque (a masquerade ball), shot in an impressive, early, two-color Technicolor process, Christine finds Raoul. In a grandiose entrance, the Phantom coolly strolls into the Bal, dressed as Edgar Allen Poe's depiction of the Red Death. With a great flowing red cape and a skull-headed walking stick (to match his skull-head mask) he commands the attention of all in the great hall. As they stop and stare and the ominous, blood-colored ghoul, he scorns them for reveling atop the bodies of those tortured and buried in the tunnels below. While the Phantom delivers his mad tirade, Christine and Raoul duck away to the roof speak for the first time since her disappearance.

Little did the love birds know, the Phantom slipped away behind them and sat atop the Opera House listening to their plan to flee.

As the curtain rises on another performance at the Opera House, the Phantom blacks out the theater and abducts Christine! Raoul, along with a mysterious man from the Phantom's past (Arthur Edmund Carewe) discover the entrance to his lair and descend to rescue Christine.

Can the men survive the many dangerous traps set by the Phantom? Will Christine be forced to succumb to a madman for the rest of her days? Does the Phantom reign triumphant?

God love Lon Chaney. The old joke around the days of his highest popularity was if you saw something crawling, "Don't step on it, it might be Lon Chaney." With a simple makeup kit of standard items he created that bug-eyed, grinning, no-nosed ghoul and it has stood the test of time. And let me tell you, after all the changes the movie has been through over the years, that makeup is the one thing that has always stayed the same, and always been the best thing about the movie. A great deal of speculation has gone on over how Chaney actually achieved that ghastly look. Poplular myth has him sliding disks up his nose to point it; another story tells he glued a thin strip of latex or fish skin, yes fish skin, to the tip of his nose, pulled it tight, and glued it to his forehead. The prevailing story of those eyes is fairly constant, however. Chaney looped wires around his eye-sockets to make that wide-eyed, cadaverous gaze. In the end, I'm glad we aren't sure how he did it. In the age of CGI, it's nice to still see some magic in a movie.

What might be the biggest problem with viewing the Phantom of the Opera is knowing what version you are watching. It's quite hard to tell because it was re-released in 1929 with sound and extra footage. Notoriously wasteful, Universal lost all original copies of the print or processed it for the silver nitrate in the film (that's where 'silver screen' comes from). Over the years a foreign copy of the sound release, minus the soundtrack, was recovered and restored... several times, in several different ways. Universal let the copyright run out in 1953 allowing the film to fall into public domain, further muddying the waters. So depending upon which version you watch you might see Carlotta on screen, or she might be referred to as Carlotta's mother. That scene was added for the '29 release and was not seen in 1925. You might also see Raoul's brother who wasn't in the '25 version, or you might see a honeymoon scene at the end of the film (I won't spoil who's). No matter what version you watch though, what you always see is that historic unmasking and the horrible face, and that's what stays with you.

Unfortunately, Lon Chaney's presence in the first half of the movie is implied in order to build mystery around the Phantom. The most we see of him are his hands. The master pantomimist uses them to full effect, but they just don't convey emotion like his face. I completely understand that choice, but it's an enormous waste of Chaney's ability. Speaking of wastes of abilities, Mary Philbin was so far over the top, I half expected to see Snidely Whiplash jump out and threaten to tie her to railroad track. Norman Kerry was Norman Kerry. Not much ever changed with him from one movie to the next except costumes.

While Norman Kerry may not have changed much from film to film, this film changed a lot from director to director. Rupert Julian's replacement was comedy director Edward Sedgwick who inserted the chase through the streets of Paris, and a great deal of comedy. The comedy was scrapped before the release in 1925. The movie just had problems.

The color sequence at the Bal Masque, while dull compared to the sharp brilliant colors we're all used to now, is impressive. There were more color scenes in the original version, but over the years before the film's restoration all were lost. The color tinting of the Phantom's flowing red cape as he sat atop the Opera House was originally achieved by hand painting the film, today we see a computer-colored version. Still nice, but it's like having a replica of the original radio in your classic '57Chevy. It's just not as good as the original.

So, the Phantom of the Opera is not the best movie ever made. It's not the best silent movie ever made. It's not even the best Lon Chaney movie ever made. But it IS worth seeing, even worth owning if not for historical value, then to pop in the DVD player whenever you get sick of seeing CGI monsters and cheesy rubber masks. Watch Chaney grin and glare a few minutes and you'll be better in no time. Impressive to this day, but still a flawed piece of cinema, it's not as good as it could be, alas. But never mind.

This beats the hell out of Andrew Lloyd Weber's stage version.

Plan 9 from outer space (1959)

The Story: Aliens, having failed eight times in taming the warlike people of Earth, resort to turning the recently deceased into zombies to eliminate humanity's threat to the rest of the Universe. A few heroic people stand in their way.

Is this one of the greatest films ever made? To be sure, there are nearly as many opinions about this as there are films, but any reasonably objective list of cinema's masterpieces must include this science fiction/horror epic (with its heartfelt and poignant anti-war message) somewhere near the top. This is the towering achievement in the fruitful career of Ed Wood, the brilliant but relatively unsung and under appreciated B movie king of cinema's science fiction/horror golden era. So singular was his vision that Tim Burton saw fit to make a reverent film of his life in one of the greatest movies of the 1990's, the aptly titled "Ed Wood."

Enough about the man in cashmere, as it is his film we come to praise: We begin with the ominous Criswell speaking directly to the camera with a simply stated but powerfully portentious speech: "Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future."

We then meet an elderly man (Bela Lugosi), who is a shadow of his former self, having recently lost his wife. But this is just the beginning of the horrors to come, as we find that alien invaders have tried eight different plans to tame the warlike people of Earth. It seems that humans, who have discovered the terrible power of atomic energy, may soon discover the unspeakably destructive potential to be harnessed by splitting the very particles of sunlight itself! So unthinkable is this possibility that the aliens have only one hope to save the universe: Bring the dead back to life and turn them against the living! They only manage to come up with three zombies, two of which are the old man and his wife, but when you see them you'll know they are enough. Keep in mind that this groundbreaking film came a decade before "Night of the Living Dead." As the man says, "There comes a time in every man's life when he cannot believe what his eyes see." It is now up to a few good, unwar like people of Earth (Led by Gregory Walcott and Mona McKinnon) to save mankind. Will they succeed? Certainly I will not be the one to ruin this for you. You will simply have to see the film to find out for yourself.

This film has something for everyone: Romance, thrills, futuristic spacecraft, hair-raising suspense and yes, even a few laughs. In fact, there are moments when you will laugh until you nearly cry and wonder why a talent such as Wood's is not to be found these days. This is modern cinema's loss but there are still a few films such as this one left to remind us of what used to be.

Is this a perfect film? Of course it isn't, but sometimes with low-budget films we should overlook a few shortcomings. Sure, there are a few moments when the obviously cardboard sets topple as people bump into them. Certainly, the flying saucers look like wobbling paper plates on visible strings. And yes, the unfortunate Bela Lugosi DID die before Wood started filming his masterpiece but a chiropractor friend of his who was no more than a foot taller than Lugosi was able to fill in quite nicely. All he had to do was hold a cape over his face for the whole movie. We can forgive that and may not even notice if it isn't pointed out to us. At least we have that narrated footage of The Great One spliced in to make the illusion more real. And yes, because of budgetary constraints, the cockpit of a plane was made up of a couple of cheap props and a shower curtain behind the pilots and the spaceship interior is similarly constructed. We could nit-pick about such meaningless trifles for days. In fact, I have read whole articles overflowing with such finicky complaints, written by people who even seemed to think that this was not a good film. Such critics are not to be scolded or scoffed at, but to be pitied for their narrow-mindedness.

In the end, if it is a good film, who cares if the alien ruler (John "Bunny" Breckenridge) is obviously reading directly from his script which he makes no effort to conceal? This film was made on a short timetable, and as the poor man appears to have done this film while under the influence of alcohol, who could expect him to memorize Wood's rich and complicated dialogue? Who cares if scenes change from night to day and day to night in mere seconds, and who cares if a detective absentmindedly scratches his forehead with the barrel of his revolver as he mutters the immortal line, "Inspector Clay is dead! Murdered! And someone's responsible!" Certainly not I, and in fact I praise Wood and his cast and crew for having the artistic integrity to carry on in the face of such trivial matters.

I leave you with some unforgettable lines of dialogue from this timeless wonder of classic horror filmmaking, as they more than speak for themselves:

Alien Ruler: "Plan 9? Ah, yes. (Picks up script and begins to read) Plan 9 deals with the resurrection of the dead. Long distance electrodes shot into the pineal and pituitary gland of the recently dead."

Paula Trent (Mona McKinnon): "I've never seen you in this mood before." Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott): "I guess that's because I've never been in this mood before."

Gravedigger: "I don't like hearing noises, especially when there ain't supposed to be any."

Criswell: "The ever-beautiful flowers she had planted with her own hands became nothing more than the lost roses of her cheeks."

Air Force Captain: "Visits? That would indicate visitors!"

And last, but not least: "For a time we tried to contact them by radio but no response. Then they attacked a town, a small town I'll admit, but nevertheless a town of people, people who died."

Can you prove it didn't happen? Plan 9 From Outer Space: It's not just a film, it's a movie. Don't miss it