April 28, 2014

KITTEN KIBBLES: Pet Peeves of a Movie Snob

I hate it when people refer to special effects as graphics, as in “Independence Day had good graphics.” Yes, most modern filmmakers utilize computer graphic technology in creating certain effects, but people have been incorrectly throwing the word around as an all-encompassing term for decades. All this tells me is they have no idea what they’re talking about, but wish to sound intelligent. Video games have graphics, movies have special effects.

Speaking of which, it irritates me when people base their entire assessment of a movie’s worth on whether or not its special effects (which they’ll inevitably call graphics) are convincing. These are the kind of pretentious ignoramuses who laugh at and ridicule inarguable classics like Jaws or Forbidden Planet, while praising such creatively-bankrupt eye candy as Transformers (nothing more than a two-and-a-half hour video game you never get to play).

On a related note, anyone who equates ‘old’ with ‘shitty’ is a complete moron.

I question the intelligence of anyone who bases their decision to see a particular film strictly on its box office performance, as though financial success or failure is an accurate indication of whether or not it's any good. These people are mindless sheep who probably don’t know The Wizard of Oz was a box-office flop when initially released.

On the flipside of the coin, I'm annoyed by people who only choose to see a particular film once it’s been nominated for several Oscars. People like this are usually doing it for one of two reasons: 1) So they have something to root for on Oscar night, or, 2) So they can jump on the Good Taste Bandwagon. People like this aren’t true movie lovers. Whether you enjoy art-house cinema or sleazy exploitation, your tastes should never, ever, be influenced by anyone else’s definition of quality.

Old folks love to say they don’t make movies like they used to, which is totally ignorant. Of course they don’t. They don’t play football like they used to, either, but we don’t compare the 2013 Seattle Seahawks to the 1967 Green Bay Packers.

Speaking of which, I’m now at the age where films I loved growing up are being remade left and right. Although I’m wary of them, I don’t blindly pass judgment simply due to my fondness of the original. Nor should you, regardless of your age. Besides, remakes have been a huge part of the film business since it became a business. The following is just a short list of classics that are actually remakes of previous films: The Ten Commandments, Heat, Scarface, The Magnificent Seven, A Fistful of Dollars, The Fly, Heaven Can Wait, The Thing, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Maltese Falcon, The Departed, Ben-Hur, The Wizard of Oz. Sure, most remakes are vastly inferior to the originals, but the next time someone of a different generation poo-poos the latest Hollywood remake without having seen it, respectfully remind them that, sometimes, first doesn’t always mean best.

I always get a chuckle out of people who declare a movie ‘stupid’ simply because they don’t understand it.

Hey, guess what? Nobody within earshot of your big mouth gives a flying fuck what you have to say about a movie until after it’s over.

Here’s a subtle message to those of you enticed to see a film because it’s offered in 3-D: STOP! You guys are encouraging Hollywood to continue pumping out this shit because you’ve somehow mistaken 3-D for a Disneyland thrill ride. Aside from Avatar, which was only good because it was in 3-D, I defy you to name a single movie ever made that was truly worth the inflated admission price.

If you think the films of Aaron Seltzer & Jason Friedberg qualify as satire, you do not know the definition of the word.

Similarly, if you think the gory death scenes in the Saw franchise qualify as horror, you do not know the definition of the word.

If you’ve ever been convinced to check out a movie because ads ballyhooed it was “From the director of (insert title here),” you’re a true movie fan. If you’ve ever been lured by the tagline, “From the studio that brought you (insert title here),” you’re a sucker.

Similarly, I've never understood anyone who's ever chosen not to see a particular film because of a personal dislike for one of the individuals involved in its production. With a few notable exceptions, movies are not a reflection of those who made it. They’re just stories, and whoever makes them shouldn’t be a factor in your assessment on whether or nor they’re any good. Tom Cruise’s Scientology views may be batshit crazy, but he’s so-far kept them separate from his day job.

If you deem a film stupid which was intentionally stupid in the first place, you missed the point.

If you accept a movie as a true story because a title card tells you so, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

If you think every scene, plot-point, action or character decision needs to be explained in enough detail to eliminate all ambiguity, I feel sorry for you.

Those of you who’ve blindly bought-into the greed-driven trend of turning single novels into two-to-three individual films are total rubes. This shit started with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, the final book in the popular series. Not only did you not complain, you joyfully shelled out twice the cash for a single movie. The worst example is Peter Jackson’s decision to pad-out The Hobbit into three films, an obvious and insulting attempt to squeeze the last dollar out of fanboys suffering from Middle Earth withdrawl, and you still showed-up in droves for a three part, nine hour adaptation of a 300 page book. Thanks a lot fanboys…you’ve encouraged Hollywood to keep doing it. I’ve got just four words for you…Gone with the Wind, a 1000+ page novel that no one had trouble adapting into a single four hour film.

April 27, 2014


By Paolo D’Agostini; Forward by Franco Zeffirelli. (2013, 616 pp).
White Star Publishers

One thing is certain…if I were to drop this book, there’s a good chance it would break every bone in my foot. Legendary Movies is a huge, hefty (and expensive) coffee table book with a holographic 3-D hardcover and 600+ glossy pages featuring hundreds of photos & individual chapter summaries of the 130 films selected. If nothing else, this is a big, beautifully put-together book.

Regarding those 130 films…this is NOT a collection of the greatest movies of all time, as author Paolo D’Agostini quickly points out in the introduction, which you really need to know before you pop a blood vessel over his inclusion of the Twilight saga. These films are selected for their historical importance, influence and cultural impact, from the silent era to 2012. Many of the usual suspects are here (Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, 2001, The Godfather, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Schindler’s List, etc.) along with some unusual suspects (Escape from New York, American Gigolo, Nine ½ Weeks, The Last Samurai), influential foreign films (Seven Samurai, Amelie), game-changing technical achievements (Lord of the Rings, Avatar) and pop-culture phenomenons (Twilight, Grease, Jaws). Each film’s plot is summarized in detail (spoilers and all), along with occasional bits of trivia and behind-the-scenes stories, though there isn’t much here that well-versed movie nerds probably didn’t already know.

Even though D’Agostini admits any book like this is highly subjective and will have some readers incredulously lamenting the exclusion of certain films, the list of titles not included is rather staggering…Bonnie & Clyde, The French Connection, Vertigo, Night of the Living Dead, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Patton, Airplane!, To Kill a Mockingbird, Annie Hall, The Searchers, Stagecoach, The Great Escape, Die Hard, and every animated Disney film ever made. The list could go on and on, which is fine because part of what makes books like this fun is getting your panties in a bunch over what the author leaves out.

However, D’Agostini makes is personal tastes quite apparent on several occasions. He doesn’t hold comedy or animation in high regard (designating The Blues Brothers as a flop, even though, despite its bloated budget, was a financial hit in theaters). It’s also obvious he’s not the world’s biggest Hitchcock fan, giving only Rear Window and Psycho ‘legendary‘ status, and still regarding Psycho (one of the biggest mainstream hits of the 60s) as a nothing more than a cult film. On the other hand, he clearly loves the work of Ridley Scott, including four of his films (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator) and even fudging facts surrounding Blade Runner’s box-office performance…the film bombed in theaters, only growing in stature over the coarse of many years. Still, D’Agostini writes as though it were a blockbuster from the get-go.

The book really drops the ball regarding film franchises, a major part of the industry during the past 40 years. For example, only the first film in the Star Wars franchise is included, which is initially understandable, since it’s the one which started it all. But then why, in later chapters, is every film in the Bourne, Twilight and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises included? Sure, they’re fun…but is every one of them legendary? I doubt there’s anyone out there who can honestly argue the Star Wars saga isn’t the most culturally-significant franchise of all time.

Then there’s the issue of superhero films, currently the most popular genre in the world. Sure, what’s considered the first, best or most influential can be argued endlessly, but the only film given its own chapter is Batman Returns, Tim Burton’s inferior sequel to the film which arguably breathed new life into the genre. It's immediately obvious superheroes aren’t the author’s forte. In fact, one might suspect he hasn’t-yet even seen such genre-defining films as X-Men or The Dark Knight.

But in the end, I’m nitpicking. There will never be a definitive historical volume on the most legendary films in history, nor should there be. I could write a similarly subjective book and garner the same reaction from readers outraged by films I chose to exclude. Books like this are meant to be scrutinized, debated and discussed among movie nerds. That’s what makes them so fun to read.

I just wish the damn thing weren’t so heavy.

(OUT OF 5)

April 24, 2014

Book Review: HORROR!

By Kim Newman and James Marriott. (2013, 360 pp).
Carlton Books

For film geeks, the next best thing to watching movies is reading about them. I have dozens of film-related books in my own library, from annual movie guides to reference books of specific genres, from director biographies to significant eras in film history, from academic analysis to barely-disguised fanboy worship. As one admittedly-inclined to bring reading material for lengthy bathroom excursions, books like these are perfect crapper fodder.

But one inherent problem with being a well-read movie geek is you eventually begin reading the same factoids, trivia, critical assessments and behind-the-scenes anecdotes over and over again. It becomes increasingly difficult to find anything new or useful you haven’t read before.

Which is what makes Horror!, by Kim Newman & James Marriott, an indispensable volume for any fan of the genre. Its subtitle, ‘The Definitive Companion to the Most Terrifying Movies Ever Made,’ is well-earned. This book is a phenomenally-detailed, decade-by-decade critical history of horror cinema, from its humble beginnings in silent film through 2012. If you think you know everything, this book will prove you don't.

Horror! doesn’t come close to covering every terror to ever hit the screen (nor does it claim to), but damn-near every classic, influential or noteworthy horror film (good and bad) is discussed in detail by numerous authors who know the genre inside and out. Whether they’re box office smashes, foreign obscurities or rare cult items, we understand what makes these movies important contributions to the genre (even if we don’t necessarily like some of them). This also means, with a few exceptions, little space is wasted on needless sequels which often run horror franchises into the ground (besides, do you truly think there’s anything interesting to learn about any of the Saw sequels?).

Among the individual film entries are detailed essays focusing on the histories of specific subgenres (vampires, zombies, mad scientists, slashers, etc.), strategically placed in the book’s timeline, roughly around the time they first appeared onscreen.

What I truly appreciate about this book is the authors’ willingness to acknowledge a classic film’s influence, yet still concede that the dialogue and performances in a cinematic sacred cow like King Kong are actually pretty terrible. Similarly, the original Friday the 13th may be one of the most influential slasher films of the 80s, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good movie, which this book argues in great detail. In other words, Horror! is not written by fanboys for fanboys. Though each individual entry is obviously subjective, it’s written in near-academic language by knowledgeable writers who are able to provide compelling arguments of a particular film’s virtues and shortcomings

This is the most knowledgeable, detailed and comprehensive book I’ve ever read about the horror film genre, worth repeatedly revisiting during trips to the bathroom (sorry, that’s where I think reference books are the most fun to read). I don’t necessarily agree with every individual assessment of certain movies included in its pages (what would be the fun in that?), but more often than not, arguments contrary to my opinion are at-least intelligent and articulate. This book is a must-own for any true horror movie fan.

(OUT OF 5)

April 23, 2014

CAT NIP Reviews: Costner Kills, Birds Attack, Dinosaurs Sink

3 DAYS TO KILL (Blu-Ray)
Kevin Costner plays a world-weary CIA assassin, estranged from his family and dying of brain cancer. All he wants is to re-establish a relationship with his teenage daughter, made more difficult when a fellow agent (Amber Heard), offers an experimental cure if he takes one last job. The film aims for the same vibe as Taken (both co-written by Luc Besson), but while it doesn’t quite match that film’s still-surprising success, ample doses of humor and a solid, likeable performance by Costner make this one worth checking out. From Fox Home Video.

Angry Birds is arguably the most stupidly-addicting game since Tetris, so it isn’t surprising that an animated series based on these critters would soon follow. The fun of watching them in actual stories doesn’t compare to shooting them at unfortunate pigs on your iPad, but if your children are totally obsessed with all-things-Angry, there are far worse video adventures to waste your money on. From Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Don’t be fooled by the title, named after the popular BBC series. Unlike that highly-respected six-part BBC documentary (which effectively used CGI to recreate these extinct animals for educational purposes), this heavy-handed family film throws together a fictional story of one runt dinosaur’s attempt to find his place in the herd. Walking with Dinosaurs is a depressingly cynical film, utilizing a brand-name, poop jokes and 3-D with the hopes of raking-in cash from parents of little kids enamored with anything related to dinosaurs. Fire up your old copy of Jurassic Park instead. From Fox Home Video.

April 17, 2014

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and What We Can’t Unsee

Starring Robert Kerman, Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen. Directed by Ruggero Deodato. (1980, 96 min).

I have a vague recollection of my first trip to Disneyland when I was 11. Aside from being bowled-over by Pirates of the Caribbean, what I most-clearly recall is waking up in the hotel one of those mornings, having to pee real badly, and catching Mom and Dad showering together.

When I was in seventh grade, I had a Math teacher named Mr. Osterman. He was a peculiar guy, physically imposing and square-jawed, but with a sardonic sense of humor that I personally found pretty amusing, and he helped me grasp mathematical concepts better than any teacher I had before or since. But one day I ventured into the boys’ bathroom, and back then, schools never saw fit to equip toilet stalls with doors, which is probably when I learned to hold my crap until I was home. Anyway, there was Mr. Osterman, casually sitting on a crapper for all to see, knees apart, his gigantic dong hanging into the bowl as he did his business. Apparently unburdened by anything resembling modesty, he casually nodded “Hey” before I quickly darted to the nearest urinal…but the damage had been done. From that day forward, despite my efforts to erase that terrifying image from my head, Mr. Osterman was no longer my Math teacher, but the man with a monster in his pants.

A few years ago, I was driving home from work when the traffic slowed. I spotted two children on the side of the road. One was crying aloud, rivers of tears streaming down her cheeks, while the other held onto her, doing her best to provide comfort. As I passed, I saw what had them so upset…on the road was a dead cat, presumably their pet. But it wasn’t just dead; the tail was still twitching and one of its eyeballs had popped out of its socket, glistening in the sun with a shocked & dead stare. It was obvious these two kids just watched their beloved pet die. I’ve lost numerous pets in my life, but never forced to see their expression at the very moment of untimely death. Thinking about that eye disturbs me even today.

Sometimes we witness things we can never unsee, images so vividly-imprinted in our memory that time is unable to erode them, like they were engraved in stone. Unfortunately, such permanent pictures are often awful ones, and we can’t simply shake our heads and erase them like an Etch-A-Sketch. That kind-of pisses me off…I only have a vague memory of a drop-dead gorgeous cheerleader in high school who once took her top off in front of me (during Truth or Dare at a party), but vividly recall the celluloid image of a monkey’s face being cut off, while still alive and screaming, from Cannibal Holocaust, arguably the most notorious piece of Italian sleaze to ooze out of the 80s.

I saw it during college, living in dorms, where a favorite weekend activity among my friends was to see who could bring the most violent and/or disgusting movie to show the others. One particular weekend, I thought I had them all beat when I brought Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (with it's infamous entrail-vomiting scene), only to be beat-down by Mike, who had a bootleg copy of Cannibal Holocaust (it hadn’t yet been released on video in the U.S.). “Wait’ll you guys see this!” he said with a shit-eating grin.

Though initially up for the challenge, I wanted to leave and go back to my dorm room about halfway through. Only the fear of losing-face among my buddies kept me there for the duration.

Cannibal Holocaust is an awful film, and by that I don’t mean poorly made. Quite the contrary…for low-budget exploitation, it’s very well made. What’s awful about Cannibal Holocaust is its utter nihilism, moral apathy and, worst of all, numerous scenes involving the actual onscreen killing of animals. The story and tone are bleak enough, and this movie would have earned its cult credentials among exploitation fans without the animal torture (they really have nothing to do with the plot at all). The only reason I can think of for their inclusion was director Ruggero Deodato’s desire to appeal to that perverted portion of the population who get off the real pain of others.

I’ve got a pretty strong constitution when it comes to onscreen violence. Movie gore doesn’t really bother me. In fact, I kind-of enjoy it if done well and presented in the right context. Even though the quasi-documentary style of Cannibal Holocaust adds a disturbing level of realism to the sexual violence & gruesome human death scenes - not “fun” gore like Scanners or Dawn of the Dead - it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

But when one of the actors kicks a pig several times before blasting it with a rifle, all I could think about is what was going through that poor critter’s head at the time (besides a bullet, that is)…pain, confusion, fear. One minute he’s be-bopping through the village like he does every day, the next minute he’s bludgeoned and shot for the sake of someone else’s entertainment. There are several other animal deaths in the film, none of them quick, all of them violent and graphic. Sitting in the dorm watching this, there were a few times I nearly asked out-loud, “Who gets off on this shit?” But I bit my tongue, because some of the guys in the room were loving it (apparently not overcome with sudden animal empathy) and I didn’t want to be a killjoy.

It’s been over 25 years since I’ve seen this movie, but every one of those animal killings remains vivid in my memory, critters who died horribly so people like my former college friends could get off on their torment. In fact, another thing I can’t unsee is the excited look on one of these guys’ faces when a giant turtle is dismembered alive.

Yeah, I know Cannibal Holocaust is a cult classic, and hugely influential on the found-footage genre that would explode in popularity two decades later. It has a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the British magazine, Total Film, ranks it as the tenth greatest horror movie of all time. But once again, I gotta ask…Who gets off on this shit?

I think I’d rather see my parents in the shower again than watch this film a second time.

April 16, 2014

10 Movies Nearly Ruined by a Single Character

This is not a list of bad performances which have undermined good movies. If that were the case, Kristen Stewart & Adam Sandler would dominate it. Most of the actors here are actually pretty good, simply doing their best with the material handed to them.

This is a list of god-awful characters who are overly-stupid, obnoxious or insultingly generic. In fact, you could remove some of them from the story entirely and they wouldn't be missed. In any case, these characters exist to the detriment of the films they appear in. Some of them are so badly-realized that the viewer might be tempted to skip the scenes they appear in altogether.

1. The Fifth Element (Ruby Rhod)
Played by scrawny, helium-voiced Chris Tucker, this manic character ceases to be remotely funny two minutes after he appears on screen, yet he tags along for the rest of the movie, even though he is completely unnecessary and does nothing to advance the story. Listening to him is like someone scraping a fork across a bone china plate for 45 straight minutes.
2. Jaws 2 (Mayor Vaughn)
This character was dumb enough in the original. Here, he's in such denial of another shark problem (despite overwhelming evidence) that he makes Mitt Romney look like he understands the plight of the working class.
3. Die Hard 2 (Capt. Carmine Lorenzo)
Deadly shoot-outs; planes being hijacked; an evil mastermind who's taken control of the entire airport. Still, this genius simply exists to berate McClane for his continued heroism. He makes the police chief in the original Die Hardlook like Serpico. How'd this asshole get his job, anyway?
4. Passenger 57 (Charles Rane)
The most generic 'criminal mastermind' of all the Die Hard clones. Every lingering screen shot, and every line he utters, just smacks of "Look how deliciously eeeevil I am." Even the most over-confident bad guys in other movies have moments when they appear at least briefly concerned their plans may be foiled. Not here...even after all his henchmen are dead, his hijacking plans are foiled and escape is impossible, this guy still acts like he's winning, right up to the second he plummets to his death.
5. Diary of a Mad Black Woman (Madea)
Tyler Perry's obnoxious creation not only totally sinks this movie, she is given a disproportionately huge amount of screen time, even though she has nothing to do with the plot. Enduring this is like watching The Godfather, with Francis Ford Coppola stopping the film every fifteen minutes to throw in a Jerry Lewis routine.
6. Spaceballs (Dot Matrix)
And you thought C-3PO was annoying. Even as a robot, Joan Rivers is obnoxious and 100% not funny. On the plus side, at least we don't have to see her face, which was Hollywood's worst plastic surgery nightmare until Kenny Rogers went under the knife.
7. Falling Down (Mrs. Prendergast)
This movie is a lot of guilty fun, except for the scenes when lead detective Prendergast repeatedly stops mid-case to calm his neurotic and phenomenally-annoying wife over the phone. These scenes have nothing to do with the plot and bring the movie to a grinding halt several times. If this was my wife, I'd have gone out of my way to die in the line of duty.
8. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Jar Jar Binks)
Come on...you knew he was gonna be on the list.
9. Dante's Peak (Ruth)
This snarky old woman puts everyone in harm's way because she's too stupid to evacuate her home, even after the mountain explodes. She's a clueless ass right up until the moment before her death, at which time we're suddenly expected to shift emotional gears. Fat chance.
10. The Last Boy Scout (Darian Hallenbeck)
As Detective Hallenbeck's estranged preteen daughter, Darian is mean, foul-mouthed and completely unlikable. Of course, the character only exists to be put in harm's way later on, but she's such a little snot that one could understand if Dad stopped giving a shit whether she lived or died.

April 15, 2014

PIXAR Easter Egg Challenge

The clip below is from the Pixar Easter Egg Challenge found exclusively in the Discover section on Disney Movies Anywhere. Disney Movies Anywhere is Disney's all-new, cloud-based digital movie service.
Watch the all-new Pixar Easter Egg Challenge clip and see how many hidden gems you can find from your favorite Pixar films!

April 12, 2014

IRON MAIDEN Goes to the Movies

In case you didn’t know, Iron Maiden is a veteran heavy metal band from England. They’ve been around for almost 40 years, their most successful period being the 1980s. As a young impressionable headbanger, I loved everything about them from the beginning...the chugging riffs, the intricate guitar solos, the soaring vocals. Then there’s the often-violent artwork of their album covers, which enticed kids and outraged conservative groups.

But what I loved most were Iron Maiden's lyrics. While many 80s bands sang of partying, banging groupies and the glory of rock & roll, Maiden based many songs on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Frank Herbert, to name a few. They’ve also written about Alexander the Great, Greek mythology, ancient Egypt, war history, Biblical prophecy and the plight of the American Indian. Additionally, Iron Maiden have covered the advent of the atom bomb (“Brighter Than a Thousand Suns”), corporate greed ("Be Quick or Be Dead"), war from a soldier’s perspective (“The Trooper,”), famous military battles (“Paschendale”) and, of course, numerous scary things which go bump in the night.

A band after my own heart, they also drew a lot of inspiration (lyrically and visually) from movies, new and old, classic and not-so-classic. Sure, many artists have occasionally found inspiration on the silver screen, but seldom with the sincerity of Iron Maiden, who always seem to have a deep fondness for the subjects they choose to write about. The following list is by-no-means comprehensive, nor are all of these songs necessarily great (in fact, a few of them suck), but they are the ones most-obviously inspired by specific films. 

“Children of the Damned” (from the album The Number of the Beast) - This song is based on the 1964 British horror film of the same name, a sequel to the far-superior Village of the Damned. Lyrically, the song just as effectively tells the story of the first film, but somehow, damned 'children' sounds a lot more metal than a damned 'village.'

“The Number of the Beast” (from the album The Number of the Beast) - This is arguably Maiden’s signature song, and in the 80s, made controversial by conservative idiots who never bothered to actually read the lyrics. Songwriter Steve Harris was inspired to write it after having a nightmare from watching Damien: Omen II. Unofficially, this also makes Harris the only guy on Earth who was ever scared by Omen II. The song draws equal inspiration from Robert Burns' poem, "Tam O' Shanter."

"How 'bout YOU 'Run to the Hills'."
“Where Eagles Dare” (from the album Piece of Mind) - War, both fact-based and fictional, has always been one of Maiden’s favorite lyrical topics. Most of their albums include at least one song inspired by historic wars, legendary battles or works of literature on the same subject. This one is based on the 1968 WWII action film of the same name, starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. 

“Caught Somewhere in Time” (from the album Somewhere in Time) - Maiden’s penchant for science fiction & fantasy became more prominent as their career progressed, most notably with their sixth album. In addition to the detailed Blade Runner-inspired artwork of the cover (one reason I still truly miss LPs), half the songs deal with otherworldly subjects. The woefully-underrated title track was inspired by the 1979 fantasy film of the same name, Time After Time, starring Malcolm McDowell.

“Heaven Can Wait” (from the album Somewhere in Time) - This is based on the 1978 fantasy film of the same name, starring Warren Beatty. Considering the movie’s whimsical nature, it seems like an unlikely inspiration for a heavy metal band, but the song is widely considered a Maiden classic from that era. This is also one of Maiden's songs it's almost impossible not to find yourself singing-along with.

“Man on the Edge” (from the album The X Factor) - The 1993 film, Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas, is a bleak commentary on American values…hardly conducive to a song treatment, which Iron Maiden proves on their first album without iconic, long-time singer Bruce Dickinson, who had just left the band. The lyrics by replacement singer Blaze Bailey are simplistic, stupid and almost painful to read (like they were written by a reluctant 7th grader in a poetry class). While commercially, this song was one of the few bright spots during Maiden’s Blaze Bailey era, it is a lyrical low point well below their usual standards.

“The Edge of Darkness” (from the album The X Factor) - Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 classic, Apocalypse Now, has inspired numerous artists over the years. As a band with a penchant for war songs, it isn’t surprising Iron Maiden eventually got around to it as well. Musically, it's as dull & rambling as the final act of the movie which inspired it, but the lyrics are suitably dark and mournful.

"I'm runnin' FREEEEE, yeah...I'm runnin' free..."
“The Clansman” (from the album Virtual X) - Based on the 1995 film, Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson, this epic track is one of the few memorable songs from the Blaze Bailey era. One can even imagine this song being suitable accompaniment to the bloody battle scenes.

“The Wicker Man” (from the album Brave New World) - The 1973 classic of the same name (not Nick Cage's bastardized bee debacle) provided the inspiration for this song, the opening track on Maiden’s first album with Dickinson back in the fold (after a sorely-missed, decade-long absence). Compared to Maiden's glory days, it's no classic, but at the time of its release, the catchy chorus and fiery guitar work made this their best song in years.

Up the Irons!

April 8, 2014

MOVIES IN HAIKU, PART 5...in Odorama

Thelma and Louise;
They're on the run from police.
Too bad cars can't fly.

There are better ways
To use that stick of butter
Than baking a cake.

I am Jack's haiku;
I am NOT about Fight Club.
First rule unbroken.

“Heeeres Johnny!” roars Jack,
Because all work and no play
Makes him a dull boy.

And you thought the worst
Thing they could do was shit on
Your freshly-washed car!

April 7, 2014

In Appreciation of PETER HYAMS

Peter who?

Few casual moviegoers are likely to know this prolific director by name. He’s not a superstar whose reputation sells a movie. He has helmed many successful films, but never a runaway blockbuster. None of them are classics, none ever won an Oscar (or were even nominated for one). None will ever be lovingly remastered or restored by Criterion for a multi-disc Special Edition. As far as I know, there’s never been a Peter Hyams film festival or college course focusing on his body of work.

But if you’ve been around awhile, chances are you have seen and thoroughly-enjoyed at least one of his movies - probably more than one - on cable or DVD. None are high-art, but a lot of them are really fun, fast and very clever (some written by Hyams himself, making him a bit more than a director-for-hire).

Here’s also worked with a lot of Hollywood icons: Elliot Gould, Michael Douglas, Sean Connery, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, Billy Crystal, to name a few.

In researching Hyams’ career, I was fairly surprised to learn he was once a CBS News anchorman, and was also a good-enough jazz drummer to play with the likes of Maynard Ferguson. Impressive, but hardly a resume likely to parlay into a lucrative life as a filmmaker.

But it is his long, productive (and woefully-unappreciated) directorial career which deserves more attention than it gets. No one will ever confuse Hyams with Hitchcock or Spielberg, and yeah, the guy has made some crappy movies, but even Spielberg screwed the pooch on several occasions. When you look back at Peter Hyams’ entire filmography, he directed a surprising number of really good films for someone hardly anyone's ever heard of. For example...

"That's it...I'm switching to Direct TV."
CAPRICORN ONE (1978) - This is every conspiracy-theorist’s wet dream, which depicts NASA’s first attempt to send astronauts to Mars, only to discover such a mission is impossible, so they fake it. Once the crew of Capricorn One (James Brolin, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson) realize that the only way for NASA to successfully pull this off is to kill them, the film becomes a fight for survival in the high desert. Elliot Gould plays...well, Elliot Gould...a gonzo reporter who slowly uncovers clues suggesting the televised space flight never happened. This is a fun film with ample does of humor and some astonishing chase scenes that are still impressive today.

Space hemorrhoids.
OUTLAND (1981) - This is gritty, violent, adult sci-fi that’s often been called High Noon in space. Sean Connery plays a weary law-enforcer assigned to keep the peace on a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons...only nobody really wants him to enforce the law. This becomes clear after several miners go apeshit and kill themselves due to their addiction to a synthetic drug created to boost production. Still, the powers-that-be (led by Peter Boyle) send assassins to kill Connery. Outland is similar to Alien in look and tone, but essentially a cop drama that happens to be set in outer space. Like a lot of Hyams’ films, there’s a great deal of witty dialogue and attention to character.

The Star Chamber...one of the few movies from the 80s
where Michael Douglas keeps his pants on.
THE STAR CHAMBER (1983) - This criminally underrated thriller stars Michael Douglas just before Romancing the Stone and Fatal Attraction turned him into a bankable leading man. Here, he plays a judge, frustrated at the number of criminals he’s forced to acquit due to legal loopholes. He’s approached by a shady group of fellow judges, who hold their own court outside the law, then hire assassins to carry out the sentences. He’s happy to join this organization, at least until he discovers evidence which proves the innocence of someone they initially decided was guilty, yet the rest of them refuse to change their verdict. The Star Chamber is a suspenseful & paranoid conspiracy thriller, similar in tone to The Parallax View and definitely worth seeking out.

"We're gonna need a MUCH bigger boat..."
2010 (1984) - You gotta admit it takes a huge set of cajones to write and direct a sequel to what many think is the greatest sci-fi film of all time, not to mention the very definition of a sequel no one was asking for. Still, Hyams (working with original 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke) creates a film that, while technically a sequel, is a damn fine stand-alone film in its own right. The special effects are very good for its time, and while the ultimate revelation is admittedly a bit too literal (considering the original’s intentional ambiguity), 2010 is intelligent science fiction for those who think the genre is beneath them.

"I always wanted to ask...did you do all your
own driving in The French Connection?"
NARROW MARGIN (1990) - Loosely based on the 1952 film noir, The Narrow Margin, Gene Hackman plays a district attorney desperate to put-away a cruel mob boss and forced to escort the lone witness to a murder back to L.A. to give testimony. All the while, both are hunted by numerous hired assassins. There are plot holes a-plenty, but Hackman is terrific as usual, as is Anne Archer as the witness, and their antagonistic relationship in-between murder attempts and gunfights is amusing.

"EEEEW," said every guy who ever watched this scene.
TIMECOP (1994) and SUDDEN DEATH (1995)  - These two films speak volumes of Hyams’ unsung talent. After all, he managed to direct the only two Jean Claude Van Damme movies worth watching a second time. Timecop is a surprisingly clever sci-fi action thriller, which occasionally reaches the creative heights of The Terminator regarding the concept of time travel (not to mention the semi-classic scene where Van Damme performs wince-inducing splits during a fight). Sudden Death is a Die Hard knock-off, but not only is it often intentionally funny (check out the fight-to-the-death between Van Damme and a Pittsburgh Penguins mascot), Hyams manages to coax a pretty decent, even vulnerable, performance out of Van Damme himself.

Always clean and chlorinate your pool on a
regular basis, otherwise...
THE RELIC (1997) - This film is essentially Alien-at-a-museum. But even though it’s highly derivative, with questionable special effects at times, The Relic makes up for its shortcomings with a wild premise, amusing dialogue, terrific performances (specially Tom Sizemore, likeable for once) and a few well-timed scenes of spectacular gore.

Like any other filmmaker, Peter Hyams directed numerous movies of dubious quality throughout his career (Hanover Street, Stay Tuned, The Presidio, End of Days, etc). However, he was responsible for a slew of solid popcorn flicks that are smart, quirky, funny, suspenseful and entertaining.

It would be a shame if we were to forget that.

April 3, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: THE NUT JOB

Starring the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Katherine Heigl, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Iglesias, Stephen Lang, Maya Rudolph. Directed by Peter Lepeniotis. (2014, 86 min).
Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Once again, I have called upon the youngest movie fan in my household, Lucy, to provide her invaluable assistance and insight in reviewing The Nut Job.

I feel sorry for critics who don’t have a kid handy when reviewing discs like this. Unlike the Disney/Pixar canon - and the occasional homerun by DreamWorks - these movies can’t be appreciated without a kid in the room…the intended audience.

If I’d have watched The Nut Job by myself, I’d develop my assessment with adult eyes, then verbally rip it to shreds, damning its rudimentary animation, unimaginatively-rendered (sometimes unlikable) characters, pandering scatological humor and gratuitous stunt-casting in order to add marquee value. Not only that, the story itself is not enough to justify its already-scant running time (not surprising, considering it’s expanded by the director from one of his earlier, crudely-animated shorts). Here, the animal residents of a city park, led by Raccoon (Liam Neeson), face starvation due to a shortage food. After the fiercely selfish and aptly-named Surly (a squirrel voiced by Will Arnett, sounding just like his Batman role in The Lego Movie) compromises everyone’s chances for survival, he’s banished from the park. Later, Surly discovers a treasure-trove of food  in a local Nut Shop, which has also been taken over by mafia gangsters (led by King, voiced by Stephen Lang) who plan on using it to gain access to the bank next door. In other words, both animal and human are planning a massive heist from the same location.

"I already told you...do NOT talk about Fight Club!"
An amusing scenario for a short film, perhaps, but needlessly padded out here with the usual cliches which make The Nut Job just another creatively-bankrupt ‘family’ film designed to clean out parents’ wallets…fart jokes, eye-rolling ‘nut’ puns, unimaginative slapstick, heavy-handed themes of friendship and totally out-of-place & pandering pop culture references (especially when an animated version of Psy shows up to dance to his hit “Gangnam Style” along with the film’s characters during the end credits). The movie is only partially redeemed by a fairly rousing climax and resolution.

But that’s if I were to watch the film alone (when I would have shut it off after twenty minutes). Lucy, who’s 10, had a great time. She was totally enthralled from the get-go, laughed aloud at many of the jokes & sight gags. She loved the character of Buddy (Surly’s hapless rat sidekick), became sad when it briefly looked like things wouldn’t end happily, and expressed her joy when (SPOILER ALERT!!!!…but not really) everything turned out hunky-dory. She even started rocking when “Gangnam Style” played over the credits. As a parent, I got a lot of enjoyment out of her enjoyment, which made The Nut Job worth enduring.

In other words, The Nut Job is a generic 'family film,' meaning the whole family won't likely enjoy it. But if seeing your little ones happy brings you personal pleasure, it’s worth sitting through at least once before forever-vanquishing it to their bedroom TV, where it’ll entertain their friends during sleepovers.


  • Deleted Scenes
  • Storyboards
  • “The Great Nut Heist” featurette
  • Two animated shorts (including “Surly Squirrel,” the initial inspiration for The Nut Job)

(Dad's Score)
(Lucy's Score)