The third film in Michael Bay’s version of Transformers is being released to Blu-Ray and DVD today, so I knew from experience that if I was going to catch it in the second run theatre, it was probably going to be last night or never. Fortunately, they still had it available in 3D as well. I went in not knowing what to expect in terms of the movie’s quality; Bay’s Transformers movies have toyed with my expectations throughout. Being a fairly typical boy growing up in the 1980s, I was a big fan of the original cartoon (and the comics when I could get them). Also being a fairly typical 80s kid, I still have a good number of Transformers. So when a Transformers movie was first announced, I was eagerly anticipating it. Then it was announced it would be directed by Michael Bay, whose filmography was less-than-impressive to me, and they started revealing what the robots would look like. I wasn’t a fan of the style; I’m still not, in truth, though it has grown on me a bit. But it’s too busy and it makes it harder to distinguish between them in robot form, especially the Decepticons.
The more I heard and saw about the movie, the more I expected to dislike it. But when I went and saw it, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself watching a movie that I’d happily give four stars to. So I was back to eager anticipation for the second movie… which turned out to be awful. Maybe it was because of the writer’s strike causing it to be rushed, I don’t know, but the cringe comedy that had been a minor element of the first one dominated the second, especially for the first hour or so. I’d give it two stars, and that’s entirely on the strength of the second half of the movie, and even that never completely let up on the stupidity.
So with the third movie, I was again uncertain. Would it be as good as the first? Or would it be more like #2? Continue reading →
Alice Cooper can, admittedly, be something of an acquired taste. The original shock rocker, his works treat the macabre and the grotesque as sources of inspiration and often humor, sometimes to the outrage of self-designated moral guardians (whose heads would likely explode if they remembered he’s a Christian himself). But he’s one of the most skilled and most prolific rock musicians around, and his work has inspired everyone from KISS to Guns n’ Roses to They Might Be Giants. Even Frank Sinatra once covered Alice’s soft love song “You and Me” in concert on one occasion.
I’ve been a big fan of Alice Cooper’s since I was introduced to his music (and his sense of humor and musical insights) through his syndicated radio show, Nights With Alice Cooper. While I don’t own every album (with 26 studio albums to the name, it can take a while to get them all), I do own several of them, including the more pivotal ones. So when I heard he was releasing a sequel album to 1975′s Welcome to My Nightmare, I had to get it.
Starting off the season’s selections of spooky (if not necessarily scary) cinema, I opted for a short, older film. 1940′s The Devil Bat was a Producers Releasing Corporation production featuring Bela Lugosi as Dr. Carruthers, a well-liked physician, chemist, and inventor in the town of Heathville. But, as one might suspect by the actor playing the role, Dr. Carruthers isn’t quite as kindly as he seems. Heathville was founded by the Heath-Morton Cosmetics Company, and several years ago the company founders made their fortune off of a cosmetic Carruthers created, and which they paid him a relative pittance for. Though their relations have remained amicable, and they periodically buy other formulas from him, he has come to resent that they have become millionaires off of his work.
Dish Network has been providing a free preview of HBO’s various channels these past few days, and as a result, I was finally able to sit down and catch James Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar. Yes, this is the first time I’ve seen it. You knew there had to be someone out there who didn’t manage to catch it in the theatres; well, I’m the guy. To hear some tell it, I was the only one, though this seems unlikely. In my defense, I was broke at the time.
Unless you’ve cut yourself completely off from the media for the past 2 years (in which case, Hi! Welcome back!), you’re at least somewhat familiar with Avatar. A huge blockbuster of a movie, it set a new box office record, at least as long as inflation isn’t accounted for (it really should be, though; that’s something that always bugs me a bit. Compare ticket sales, not dollars.) Though it had an extravagant budget, estimated at over $230 million, it made back over three times that in the U.S. alone, and effectively changed the landscape of the cinema, at least for the short term. It’s the reason why anything with even a slight action bent gets a 3D treatment right now; it’s why every movie theatre has little kiosks around them asking you to return your Real3D glasses, and why so many garage sales have free bins full of Real3D glasses they didn’t return. Everybody’s playing follow the leader right now, and Avatar is the current leader.
The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final movie in Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman, is currently under production, and new pictures have surfaced of the actors. Most notably, we finally know what Anne Hathaway’s complete Catwoman costume will look like. There are several pictures out there, but I’m just going to select one, as honestly, the rest are redundant.
This is just an on-set picture, not a still from the film, of course. But I think this gives a good idea of how well it will work in the final film. It’s a simple design, with a basic mask and the cat ears up top; nothing ornate, and nothing like the Frankensteinian look Michelle Pfeiffer’s costume bore in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. It’s actually fairly reminiscent of the costumes worn by Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt in the Adam West-led TV series, and by Lee Meriwether in the movie spin-off. Simple, classy, and elegant, while getting the theme across. Just like a cat burglar’s outfit ought to be. So far, so good for the third movie.
With the 23rd of September having come and gone, it is officially autumn in the United States. Though it’s not yet October, I feel now is as good a time as any to declare it the start of the Halloween season. Hey, if department stores can start surreptitiously slipping in Christmas stock in August, I can talk about Halloween and horror movies in September. I’ve always enjoyed Halloween, ever since I was a kid. It’s easily a close second to Christmas as far as my favorite holidays. I like the fact that we have a day every year dedicated to the macabre, the eldritch, the mysterious, and the spooky.
Hard Times is a film set in 1933, in the midst of the Depression, but despite the title, this isn’t a tale about crawling back from the brink of starvation, or of serving time in jail, though main character Chaney is implied to have done both of those things. Rather, it’s about the underground world of bare-knuckle street-fighting, and the characters that inhabit that world. The film stars Charles Bronson, just a year after 1974′s Death Wish, and a few years before he found himself permanently typecast as a vigilante as a result of Death Wish. Here Bronson plays Chaney, a drifter who hops out of a boxcar at the beginning of the film, witnesses a street-fight play out and more importantly pay out, and approaches one of the promoters for his own shot at the action. The promoter, Spencer “Speed” Weed (played masterfully by James Coburn), takes him on, and after witnessing him knock out an opponent with one punch, takes him down to New Orleans in the hopes that they can win some serious money down there. Strother Martin rounds out the main trio as Poe, a medical school drop-out who has an opium addiction and makes his living by patching up fighters.
Before I begin, I feel obliged to apologize for starting my “Recommended Reading” series of posts with a book that may be hard to come by. Not the most heavily published novel to begin with, A Night in the Lonesome October has apparently gone out of print in recent years, and online markets seem to be starting the prices at $14 and up for even a paperback edition. It’s just the way of things… when it comes to science fiction and fantasy, things only stay in print if the author is alive and writing, has been dead for more than 100 years, or if the book has recently been turned into a major motion picture. With Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, none of those things is true, and so it’s become a bit scarce. We can hope that NESFA, the publishers of the Collected Roger Zelazny series of short story compendiums, will eventually get around to reprinting some of his novels, but it hasn’t happened yet, and “Lonesome October” may not be one of the early selections in any case.
Still, though it may require you to scour the used book stores, I feel strongly about recommending this novel, especially at this time. We are, after all, approaching Halloween season, so it will soon be the optimal time to read it. Although I’m jumping the gun a bit on the season, I figured the extra lead time would hopefully give people a chance to pick it up while it’s still Halloween time. And this is a great book, one of my favorites. Published in 1993, it was the last novel completed by Roger Zelazny before his death due to cancer, and he is at the top of his game here. One of his few novels to deliberately have a light-hearted, humorous feel to it, A Night in the Lonesome October is also full of intrigue, sinister plots, and just enough action to keep things exciting without overwhelming the mystery. It was nominated for the 1994 Best Novel Nebula Award, but lost out to Greg Bear’s Moving Mars.
I’ve been a fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic since I was a kid. I can remember my brother bringing home a cassette of Even Worse and playing it, and being immediately engrossed by the idea of musical parody, and of musical comedy in general. Probably every Weird Al fan has a similar story. Comedy music only occasionally nears the top of the charts; Al’s one top 10 hit was 2006′s “White and Nerdy”, Allan Sherman only had “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”, and as far as I know Tom Lehrer never broke the top 40 (and Spike Jones simply predates the Billboard Hot 100.) Ray Stevens was most successful by this measure, breaking into the top 10 with four separate songs, and even snagging the #1 spot on two separate occasions, but one of those was the completely-serious “Everything is Beautiful” (of course, the other was “The Streak”, so it balances out.) But generally speaking, there’s no critical acclaim for the comedy musician. None of the above are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and even Weird Al, the youngest of that lot, has been eligible for several years at this point). Nobody claims them as influences except for other comedy musicians. The only way anybody becomes a fan is by being introduced to them through another fan.
And as I listen to Alpocalypse, Weird Al’s first full album in 5 years, I wonder how much longer that’s going to happen (though I have to note that Alpocalypse had Al’s biggest album chart debut, at #9). As I get older, I find myself feeling less enjoyment of his parodies. It’s not that I’ve “outgrown it”; far from it. My sense of humor is as sharp as ever, and Al has honed his own sense of humor, and his musical skills, to a razor’s edge. No… it’s the source material that I’ve drifted away from. I’m just not the target market for today’s pop songs anymore.
Bein’ that the 19th of September be “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, as it were, and finding mine pockets laden down with a dozen pieces of eight, I took meself down to the local second-run theatre to partake in the viewin’ of the fourth movie ’bout the Pirates of the Caribbean. As circumstances had conspired to prevent me from witnessin’ the spectacle in 3D, I opted for the standard picture-showing format instead. I can’t say as it would have a tremendous difference in any case.
Seein’ the fourth movie in a series is enough to give any savvy scallywag some stirrings of trepidation. A man goes into it wonderin’ whether ‘twil hold up to the better entries in the series, particularly when the series had shown some signs of succumbing ta scurvy. Givin’ extra pause for consideration was the new helmsman, Rob Marshall, replacing Gore Verbinski, and the logical though somewhat lamentable departures of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. True, their story had come to its nat’ral conclusion, and their persons being in the film would have been out of place. But it did set me to wonderin’ if the erstwhile Captain Jack Sparrow would be nearly as entertainin’ without his favorite foils.