Syfy has been calling Merlin a “Syfy Original Series” since they started airing it. It’s not, of course; not by any reasonable definition. It’s a BBC production, shot and originally aired in the United Kingdom, and only reaches the United States after each season has ended its run there; to be precise, the fourth season, which just ended tonight in the U.S., apparently ended in December 2011 in the U.K., so we’re about four months behind. And Syfy can’t even claim to be the first network in the U.S. to air the series (though they have it exclusively now), as during its first season it was aired as a summer program on Syfy’s parent network, NBC. None of that is particularly germane to the quality of the show or the season, I just felt like tweaking the nose of Syfy a little bit, since the “Syfy Original Series” bit feels a lot like the same pretentiousness that led to them no longer calling themselves the Sci-Fi Channel.
Obviously, since I’m aware of where its first season aired, I’ve been watching the show from the beginning. While the show takes an unprecedented amount of liberties with the legend of King Arthur, it manages to do so in a way that is not only entertaining and novel, but still plays it close enough that the viewer could see how the legends could match up with this particular telling, if a certain amount of narrative drift is allowed for. Since the fourth season just ended in the U.S., it’s time for a post-mortem review; spoilers, as usual, lurk within. Continue reading →
Looking up the details for this film on IMDb, I couldn’t help but notice that there are more than one film titled Crossroads that concern musicians. The other is a 2002 film featuring Britney Spears. It’s unlikely I shall ever cover that film here; even the Morbid Curiosity Files have limits.
This 1986 film was directed by Walter Hill, and is built largely around the legend of blues man Robert Johnson, and his mythical “deal with the devil” to learn the blues. Ralph Macchio, in between Karate Kid movies, plays Eugene Martone, a 17-year-old guitar prodigy who is studying at Juilliard but has become fascinated with the blues and with Robert Johnson in particular. Wanting to know the secret of Johnson’s 30th song (Robert Johnson famously recorded only 29 songs before his early death), he tracks down a man who he believes was Johnson’s friend and co-musician, Willie Brown, also known as “Blind Dog” Fulton (Joe Seneca). Continue reading →
“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” “Hit it.”
I have to wonder what the executives at Universal Pictures thought while The Blues Brothers was in production. Besides the fact that it went over budget and ran over on time, which are always concerns, it had to have seemed to be a little risky just on the face of it. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the stars, were both popular comedic actors, but their previous outing together, Steven Spielberg’s 1941, had a lackluster reception at the box office (likewise, so did their third and final collaboration, Neighbors; both are actually good films, but have largely been forgotten). Belushi had Animal House to his name, but nothing else of note; Aykroyd didn’t even have that. The characters of the Blues Brothers were known from their appearances on Saturday Night Live, but as a musical act more than just a comedy sketch, and there hadn’t been any prior attempt to bring an SNL concept to the big screen (though obviously there would be several later; other than Wayne’s World, I don’t think any of them were worth watching.)
Musicals were largely a thing of the past. So was blues music. The film called for the casting of several blues and R&B musicians in significant roles, and not only were they not experienced actors, but most of their careers were in slumps at the time; they weren’t going to draw any audiences in on their own. Dan Aykroyd was the writer who came up with all of the ideas, and he hadn’t made a name for himself as a writer yet; in fact, it was his first project, and he handed director John Landis a literal tome — the size of and in the covers of a phone book — which Landis then had to trim down in order to make a working screenplay out of it. Landis himself was also known solely for Animal House and a couple of schlocky cult comedy films — Kentucky Fried Movie and one literally titled Schlock. And then in order to shoot everything that still remained after Landis trimmed the script, they would have to get unprecedented permission from the city of Chicago to film. On the surface, it had to have looked like a risky proposition; there was every chance that it’s large-for-the-day budget of $27 million would be going to a box office bomb. Continue reading →
The exploits of Frank and Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang have been a celebrated story in American history since they first began, and continue to be so to this day. Robert Boris’s 1995 film, Frank and Jesse is neither the first nor the last film concerning the outlaws; not by a long shot in either direction. In fact, it seems that there is usually at least one a decade, sometimes three or four. So any film attempting to depict the James brothers needs to find some way to distinguish itself.
Frank and Jesse takes some liberties with the history for the sake of telling a good story. It starts with the Jameses being rounded up along with other Confederate soldiers and being forced to take an oath of loyalty to the Union, swearing never again to take up arms against the United States. It doesn’t stick. Continue reading →
Terrence Faulkner on The Focused Filmographer mentioned this on his blog a few days ago (thanks, T!), but I’m still sufficiently irked that I feel the need to weigh in on it a bit more than I did there (at the time I was mostly in the sputtering with amazement stage.) Michael Bay, who has helmed the live-action Transformers films, is now tackling another beloved 1980s action cartoon franchise. This time, it’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Only there’s a teensylittle change in the origin story: “These turtles are from an alien race, and they’re going to be tough, edgy, funny, and completely lovable.” Continue reading →
Normally the entries in the Morbid Curiosity Files are not films that I’ve spent any money on. While I enjoy watching the occasional comically bad film, I’d prefer that any of my hard-earned dollars go to movies that are actually good. Nevertheless, I couldn’t pass up Morons From Outer Space when I saw it in a 2-pack for only $3 for a new copy. (And yes, that does mean there’s another MCF entry already on the horizon as well.) Comedic science-fiction isn’t attempted nearly enough, and it’s always worth a shot. Besides, it’s from 1985, and we all know I love the 80s.
Morons From Outer Space was directed by Mike Hodges, who you might possibly recognize as the director from Flash Gordon and the original Get Carter, which are better known and better acclaimed, respectively, than this film. It was written by British comedians Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith, who, perhaps not coincidentally, play two of the more interesting characters in the film. Continue reading →
There is no way that this winter is ever going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He has to be stopped. I have to stop him.
The day before yesterday was the official first day of spring. Yesterday my town got hit by a snowstorm. Had somewhere around six inches at its peak, and as far as I know, it continued last night. And due to the snow taking out a power line in the area, I was left without electricity between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., leaving me unable to write the review of the movie I’d watched, or do anything else on the computer, for that matter. Power is back on, so hopefully I’ll be able to do all of that, but if I disappear again, you now know where I am: outside, hauling tree limbs out of the driveway and hoping the utility board fixes the power more quickly the next time around.
When I reviewed Gangs of New York, I mentioned that there were a number of Academy Awards — notably Best Picture and some of the technical awards — where it lost out to Chicago. I wondered at the time if this was a case of highway robbery, or if Chicago really did deserve all the acclaim over the other film, and made a note to myself to check out the other film at some point. A few months later, I’ve had the chance to do so; while I don’t feel that Gangs of New York was out-and-out robbed — Chicago is a decent film and it’s easy to see why the Academy loved it — I do find myself disagreeing with the Academy, at least as far as which is the better picture.
Interestingly, there are some similarities between the two 2002 pictures, even though one wouldn’t expect much correlation between a film about gang warfare and a modern-day musical. But both are period pieces set in iconic American cities at pivotal points in their histories, and both meticulously established that period through the use of set design, costume design, and dialect. Also, coincidentally, both feature John C. Reilly in supporting roles. Continue reading →
As today is Saint Patrick’s Day, I thought the 2009 animated feature The Secret of Kells would be an appropriate movie to watch and review. After all, it has some similarities to the holiday. Both are rooted in Irish tradition, both involve a great deal of the color green, and both involve the mixing of Christian tradition with Celtic lore: St. Patrick and leprechaun symbolism for the holiday, and a woodland fairy in the film, which is about the creation of the illuminated manuscript the Book of Kells.
It’s a purely fictional tale (as if you couldn’t guess by the fairy), but the Book of Kells is a real item, an illustrated edition of the four Gospels of the New Testament. Directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey decided to create a film which used animation design based on the illuminated pages of the book, giving the film a look that is rather unlike any other animated feature I’ve seen. Continue reading →
Bleeding Cool reports that Jim Henson Studios are working on The Happytime Murders, a detective film featuring puppets as second-class citizens in a world they share with humans. The main character will be puppet private eye and ex-cop Phil Philips (pictured at left in concept art), who is tracking down a serial killer who murdered his brother and is targeting the former stars of a children’s television show. Katherine Heigl reportedly has a role in the film, which is speculated to be as Phil’s human partner.
Speculation based on early concept art and script snippets is that the movie will be rated “R”. I don’t know… I can certainly see how that would be the case from what’s shown so far, but I think it would be box office suicide to push it as hard as they initially appear to be. They describe what is basically an octopus-cow sex scene, and that’d be pretty out there even for a normal film… a few deviants aside, I don’t think the general public is looking for that in a puppet film. And I’m certain they’re not looking for it in something from Jim Henson Studios, with very Muppetesque characters (side note: since Disney owns the Muppets, I believe Jim Henson Studios is unable to use the name for this project or any other; the division of Jim Henson projects after his death has some peculiar ramifications). Go for the PG-13, guys. Don’t squick people out, and you might be the next Who Framed Roger Rabbit.