If you want to feel the passage of time, don't pay attention to your own (eventually) creaking joints or the gray in your hair: look at the faces of the band you've been listening to for years or of your favorite actors in a long-running TV show. In my case, it's seeing the years at play on the actors (and jokes) of the British sci-fi comedy series "Red Dwarf" which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year across ten seasons in the DVD release of "Red Dwarf X."
In the years since my teens, when the misadventures of the last human in the known galaxy and the hapless crew of the Red Dwarf were fresh, funny, and weird in that Douglas Adams-by-way-of-shopping-mall-punk way, I've seen many (many) better-plotted and thought out sitcoms. After three years off the air (and another ten before that), maybe it's a combination of nostalgia and love of these actors and their characters, but I can't quit you, "Red Dwarf."
Now that we've seen it animated, can we stop begging and pleading to see Batman/Superman slobberknocker from Frank Miller on screen? With the second half of "The Dark Knight Returns," director Jay Oliva has finally visualized one of those things fans of the two characters have longed to see in well-staged, visceral beatdown, one of the success of this animated adaptation.
But does the total package nail the source material? And if it does, is that a good thing?
To the first question, yes, and to the second... well, let's read on.
"Tai Chi 0" spends its 90-minute running time setting up the action, characters, and stakes of its sequel "Tai Chi Zero." Ultimately, this makes the charming and funny "0" the lopped off first half of a three hour martial arts comedy epic, a weird decision that might have doubled the chances for director Stephen Fung's film to rake it in at Hong Kong and mainland Chinese cinemas, but leaves this Blu-ray release from Well Go USA feel like only part of a movie.
"John Dies At the End" is in limited release from Magnolia Pictures. You can find out if it's coming to your city with this handy list Alternately, you can watch the movie via your favorite VOD service.
In a few ways, director Don Coscarelli's adaptation of David Wong's novel "John Dies At the End" is imperfect--it's too short, for one thing, and a major character is given short shrift as a result. But these are the complaints of someone who wanted even more of this strange world of sentient drugs and surreal-comic horrors cropping up in a small unnamed town. In that way, "John Dies At the End" is a success: it's created a world that's so interesting, that by the end of its brief running time, you're wishing for another trip there.
What's this? Sterling Archer actually grows as a person in the latest season of the FX spy series? Okay, maybe he doesn't exactly "grow," but lessons are kind of learned and emotions are felt in the wake of his fiancee's death at the end of season two.
In a lot of ways, the black and white, animated "Frankenweenie" feels like Tim Burton's most personal movie to date: how else would you describe this loving homage to classic horror monsters featuring a lonely, sensitive, and creative boy in the mid-60's grappling with loss in a close-minded town? Burton resurrected his own 1984 short about young Victor Frankenstein using the power of science to resurrect his poor dead dog Sparky (with a design that even recalls the Burton-produced animated series "Family Dog").
So why then, does "Frankenweenie" 2012 feel so incomplete and cobbled together with loose ideas? And more troubling, why didn't a movie about a dead dog (and the boy who loves him) completely and totally break my heart?
You can get a healthy argument started among film geeks about "Psycho's" denouement, that curious scene where a psychiatrist breaks down Norman's psychoses for the audience and the mild-mannered hotel clerk/serial killer stares into the camera. Some argue it's a case of Hitchcock telling too much after showing so well in the nearly perfect thriller. Now, extrapolate that to a feature film, a movie where every character is not only hypothesizing about the motives and feelings of a would-be killer, but the villain himself gives away the plot through tortured speeches and jittery, speed-ramped flashbacks.
That's "The House At the End of the Street" in a nutshell, a thriller that believes its audience is as brainless as it is, shot with a mix of excessive style and pore-revealing closeups, with a central mystery whose tension is more or less undone within the first half hour, and worse, wasting Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Shue in an embarrassing mess.
Listening to director Wes Craven talk about "Deadly Blessing" is infinitely more interesting than watching the tonally scattered, sloppy 1981 slasher/supernatural thriller. In fact, the director's commentary is so enlightening, I'd advise you to pick up this terrible movie with a very good disc from Scream Factory for the sole benefit of listening to a veteran filmmaker reflect on the challenges of getting a low-budget horror movie made with intrusive producers and a constantly morphing script.
Plus, it stars the late, great Ernest Borgnine as a stern, abusive religious sect leader which you almost never see (you know, excepting the "The Devil's Rain").
It's not clear if Touchstone Pictures or parent company Disney knew what they had in their hands back in 1990 with "Dick Tracy." It was a passion project for star Warren Beatty who took over directing duties for the project and brought on some of his famous friends like Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and then-girlfriend Madonna (did they start dating during or after--I can't recall), and the whole thing was the first of several not-great attempts to bring classic comic strips to the big screen (see "Brenda Starr," "The Phantom"). In this case, it was the first splashy, big-budget comic-to-film adaptation to land after Tim Burton's "Batman," and with its ripped-from-the-comic strip look, high body count, and brief nudity, "Dick Tracy" did the "Sin City" on film thing before "Sin City" did.
But in spite of a stellar cast led by Beatty as the square-jawed cop, "Dick Tracy" never comes to life--it's the rough idea of a "Dick Tracy" movie, stiff, formless, and kind of dumb.
"Dredd 3D" is a nearly perfect action movie, stripped down and kicked bloody and growling into the world. I'm not sure how much sense that metaphor just made, but this second adaptation of the "2000 A.D." character is lean, mean, and efficient in a way many recent action films fail to be.
Comparisons to Gareth Evans' "The Raid" will persist and they're fair: but whereas Evans delivers a knockout of technical martial arts prowess, director Pete Travis and "28 Days Later" screenwriter Alex Garland deliver a gun-crazy drugs and murder movie.
At some point you're going to have to confront the question, "Who was Kaine?" And you're not going to have an answer to that question (at least one that doesn't involve shaking your head and mumbling something about clones and the 90's).
Want to help a new Spider-Man fan get immersed in the world of the wall crawler? DK Publishing has two handsome new hardcovers out--"Spider-Man Chronicle: A Year-By-Year Visual History" and "Spider-man: Inside The World of Your Friendly Neighborhood Hero"--that both take a look at the history, battles, and characters in Spidey's 50 years of publication history.
"The Mystical Laws" has all of the hallmarks of being a vanity project with the added bonus that its producer/writer is a self-professed living Buddha (no, really). This bizarre near-future story of Westward expansion of a evil, Chinese-based empire, aliens, and space gods flits back and forth between sci-fi and philosophy (with a wee bit of nationalism thrown in). Also, there are carnivorous lizard men, but that comes later in "The Mystical Laws'" bloated, bizarre two hours running time.
Author Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's comic-apocalyptic novel "Jam" pokes fun at military-industrial incompetence, an over-saturation of hipster irony, and the corporate hive mind--all pretty soft targets for the usually sharp and funny writer. Unfortunately, given its broadsides against such dull unworthies, a lead character who's a quivering moral vacuum (although that's not a bad thing in and of itself), and a weirdly languorous structure, this story of the carnivorous strawberry jam that ate Brisbane never really does justice to the absurdity of that pitch.
A good friend, on seeing "Looper," accused it not being half as clever as it thought it was. That particular complaint is slippery, notoriously hard to quantify, and one that I've beeen guilty of making in the past. What I think it means, in this context, is that a thing is so concerned with impressing the audience on the basis of its construction--how complicated the puzzle box is--that this complexity comes at the expense of what's actually inside the box.
This complaint is, I think a fair one to a certain extent for Johnson's debut "Brick," and definitely applicable to the hard-to-sit-through grifter comedy "The Brothers Bloom," but it's so far off the mark when it comes to "Looper." The director's foray into sci-fi feels lived-in, real, and populated with characters this time around who aren't just slaves to the plot or genre. Plus, it happens to be a smart and efficient sci-fi movie to boot, giving us one of the strongest genre films of 2012.