I’ve been pretty tired lately, which means I’ve started a lot of movies and left them half-watched at best. Yesterday I was trying to figure out the last time I actually finished a flick and realized it was just last weekend when the wife and I gave Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a watch. I didn’t know much about the film aside from seeing the trailers and a vague understanding that it didn’t do very well, at least in the States. Apparently people wanted a serious film about witch hunters starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, but instead got a tongue-in-cheek spin on things.
The Tommy Wirkola written and directed film kicks off as anyone familiar with the fairy tale would expect, with the title kids wandering through the woods, finding a house made of candy and getting into it with a witch. After that, they grow up and travel around acing witches for fun and profit. The main thrust of this story finds them in a particular town with a witch problem that turns out to be much bigger and more revelatory than they expected.
Sounds pretty rad, right? And it is, but there’s also a jokey layer of the film that probably got on a few nerves. For instance, Hansel is diabetic after being force-fed candy by the witch and injects himself with a substance, presumably insulin or something like it, every time his wristwatch goes off. I think it’s actually a really clever idea, but obviously anachronistic. If that’s the kind of thing that will turn you off too much from enjoying a fun action romp with a TON of decapitations, then you should probably skip Hansel & Gretel. If you have a sense of humor to go along with movie-based blood lust, then I think this will be your jam.
A big reason I found the film so enjoyable was because of the cast. I enjoyed Renner in Avengers, but let’s be honest, Hawkeye’s not really a character for most of his scenes. This is what I wanted from that film: a cocky hero who’s really good at shooting things. I’m not super familiar with Arterton aside from seeing her in Quantum Of Solace and Pirate Radio, but I really enjoyed seeing her play a strong, badass lady who’s equal to her brother in the witch hunting game if not better. Famke Jannsen also seemed to have a great time as uber-witch Muriel just rolling through the film chewing scenery and reveling in her badness. Plus, Peter Stormare is in this thing. That guy earned my fandom from Prison Break and I still get excited every time I see him skulk onto screen.
There’s even a few fun plot elements that weren’t exactly mind blowing, but still enjoyable. The troll looked rad and it features some of the coolest movie weapons I’ve seen in a while. Who wouldn’t want one of those side-shooting crossbow thingies? So cool. If that sounds like the kind of thing you want to see on screen, give Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a look. It’s even on Netflix, so it’s easy to get at!
I love seeing horror movies that I’ve heard about over the years but never actually seen. I also love the TLC that Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint gives to films like that as far as presentation and special features go. So, as you might expect, I loved Scream Factory’s recent Body Bags Blu-ray.
Originally conceived as a Tales From The Crypt-like horror anthology series for Showtime. Body Bags features director John Carpenter as The Coroner, a creepy, pun-loving ghoul who opens various black bags in the morgue and tells the person’s tale. Carpenter directed the first two installments, “The Gas Station” and “Hair” while Texas Chainsaw Massacre mastermind Tobe Hooper came in and did “The Eye.” As with most of the horror anthologies I’ve seen — like Cat’s Eye or Creepshow 2 — this one features two solid stories and one weaker one.
I loved “The Gas Station.” It’s about a young woman named Anne (Alex Datcher) working over night in a gas station in one of those small booths so she can take money and sell cigarettes. While there she encounters a few creepy regulars, a few nice guys and a bum-murdering adversary who wants to add her to his kill list. Carpenter does a killer job of making this whole thing feel tense and dangerous. There’s a scene where Anne locks herself out of the booth and has to go find keys in the main building. I got super nervous during this portion of the short. Then you’ve got the end where she actually faces the killer. It’s great how Carpenter never leaves the gas station and makes it seem both cramped and huge depending on the scene.
There are a lot of fear elements here, many of which are simply related to work. She’s new, wants to prove herself and also make herself seem super capable. This seems like less of a pride thing and more a need for cash to keep putting herself through school, which is super important to her. You’re also dealing with the claustrophobia of the booth which goes from safe zone to cage and the seemingly expansive space between it and the main building.
Sometimes with anthologies or shorter form horror stories, they feel like truncated films, but I thought this story was perfectly suited for this format and used the timing well. Too much longer and it would be filled with too many fakeouts and lose suspense, which it has in spades.
SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH I want to talk a bit about the killer reveal in this one. Carpenter set up several possibilities for the killer in the forms of various customers — including a super-creepy Wes Craven — but I’ve got to say, I never once thought it was going to be Anne’s fellow employee played by Revenge Of The Nerds star Robert Carradine. He got me there. Even though I didn’t recognize Carradine right away, I knew he was a nice guy and didn’t even think about him again I also liked how Carpenter included a few nods to his other films like when Carradine’s character does the background sit-up Michael Myers style with Anne in the foreground.
I wasn’t nearly as interested in “Hair” which stars Stacey Keach as an aging rich business guy who becomes obsessed with his thinning hair. I understand that this is something that does get into peoples’ heads, but it’s not really on my radar. Anyway, Keach goes to Doctor Lock whose method for hair growth seems to work really well, so well in fact that hair starts growing everywhere. I won’t get into the end reveal, but I’ll say it didn’t do much for me. I’ve actually gone back and watched this segment with an eye for the satire of it all and enjoyed it a lot more.
Thankfully, I enjoyed the third installment, “Eye” starring Mark Hamill and Twiggy. Hamill plays baseball player Brent Miller who gets into a car accident that leads to the loss of an eye. He gets a transplant, but soon comes to realize that this new organ might be a bit defective as he begins seeing morbid scenes some of which are genuinely spooky. As it turns out the new eye came from a misogynistic killer who starts taking over his body which doesn’t work out so well for his wife. This is definitely the darkest, most intense entry in the series as Hamill struggles for his sanity.
It’s funny, while watching the movie again with audio commentary, “The Gas Station” whizzes by. The first time I watched, I was so absorbed and freaked out that it felt like a feature. Carpenter also points out that he used a station out in the middle of nowhere so it would feel even more remote and lonely. He also pointed out a number of shot set-ups that add to the feel of the picture. Carradine also joined in on the fun. The pair caught up a bit and talked about a few other things, but mainly stuck to the story at hand offering lots of insider details.
Keach comes on and does the same for “Hair” and it’s a ton of fun listening to these two longtime pros talk craft. More than that, Keach says that this story was very personal for him because his parents always told him to wear his hairpiece in part because his dad thought he didn’t make it as an actor for being bald. They even went off on a bit of a tangent about zombie movies after pointing out effects artist Greg Nicotero in a quick shot which was a lot of fun. Listening to this track actually framed the story in a better light for me which will definitely make repeated viewings more fun.
For “Eye” Hooper wasn’t available, so producer (and Carpenter’s wife) Sandy King and Justin Beahm talked about not only his segment, but also some of the goings on behind the scenes that went into filming the various segments and how the movie came to be. This one’s a bit more dry, but still really interesting.
The last major bonus feature on the disc is a doc called Unzipping Body Bags. Carpenter and King get a little more into the background of the show, which started out as an anthology script that they presented to Showtime who bit. So, they decided to do the first one without much thought to anything beyond this first offering. Carradine and Keach also joined in on the doc, which adds a lot of depth to the proceedings.
I’ve been on a John Carpenter kick lately and this movie just continues to build my feelings of affection for this director who has such weird, great sensibilities that have resulted in some of the most fun, creepy and adventurous films around.
Like a lot of comic fans, I get skeptical when I hear of a new licensed comic. For every great continuation of a beloved mythos, there are plenty of uninspired stories that either feel like cash grabs or fail to capture the qualities of the original that made them so great to begin with. However, when I heard that Brian Wood was starting a new Star Wars comic set within the time frame of the original trilogy, I was pretty excited. After it started coming out, I heard good things which made me even more curious to pick the book up. So, when I found myself looking around on InStockTrades with a little extra birthday scratch to spend, it was one of the first books I added to my cart.
The issues contained in this book take place just after A New Hope. The Rebels scored a huge victory by blowing up the Death Star, but they’re not exactly on top of the world as they search the galaxy for a new home base. Of course the Empire is looking for them, but they also seem to have some inside information as Star Destroyers keep appearing at potential HQ locales. To find out what’s going on and also speed up the search process Mon Mothma puts Senator Leia in charge of a black ops pilot squad that includes several new characters as well as Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles.
Meanwhile, the Emperor strips Darth Vader of his command ship and places him in charge of overseeing the construction of the second Death Star. In his place we meet Colonel Bircher, a hot shot pilot who wears a pretty cool looking red TIE fighter pilot suit when he’s out there trying to blast Leia and her Gray Squadron. And then there’s Han and Chewie who try to meet up with a Rebellion contact on Coruscant which doesn’t work out so well and leads them into that planet’s seedy underbelly. In other words, a whole heckuva lots goes down in this one book and that doesn’t even cover Boba Fett’s appearances.
I freaking loved this book. Not only does it tell a variety of interesting and compelling stories that match up with my expectations for new additions to this world, but they also take into account several elements I never would have thought of. In my mind, Luke’s the hero of these movies, but at this point in the story, he’s still the brash farm boy who’s pretty high on himself after blowing up the Empire’s major weapon, but who has very little Jedi training. He actually doesn’t play that large of a role in these issues. Instead, Leia takes the spotlight and shows the world why she’s such an amazing badass. Seeing her in that cool dark Gray Squadron flight suit, zooming around space and shooting bad guys was great!
It also seemed like Wood did his homework when it came to the prequels. I’m no huge fan of those movies, though I also don’t spend my time hating or resenting them for what they are. In fact, I haven’t seen them in a while, but reading this book made me want to go back and check them out again because there are allusions and references to those films that take them seriously. It would have been fairly easy to ignore those movies — basically writing them as if the original trilogy were the only movies in existence — but Wood takes bits and pieces from them, which makes them more relevant in a way.
Of course, Wood’s not the only big name on this book. I’ve been a fan of Carlos D’Anda going back to his WildStorm days. He’s got a great, cartoonish style that works so well when rendering everything from crazy aliens to shiny robots and stealthy vehicles. I’d like him to draw a huge Mos Eisley Cantina poster to cover my walls with. And then there’s this cover artist you may have heard of by the name of Alex Ross. I became a huge fan of Ross’ painterly style with Kingdom Come, but thought he got too far into pastels in the 00s. These Star Wars covers he did are so great, though, that I’d also like to see posters of them. If Dark Horse could get on that, that’d be great.
All in all, I’d say this is a home run for Star Wars and comic fans. I loved the story held within these covers and am looking forward to adding more of these books to my library as they come out. My only complaint, and it’s a publishing one, is that all the covers from the monthly issues aren’t included in the collection. I prefer them to appear in between issues, but barring that, they should at least be collected in the back, especially when you’re dealing with a killer artist like Ross. But that’s all I got on the negative front, which says a lot about how much fun I had with this comic. Here’s hoping Episode VII captures some of that same energy and adds another great new chapter to one of my favorite franchises.
I don’t talk too much about vehicles here on Toy Commercial Tuesdays, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t a fan of them growing up. While playsets were definitely the gold standard for me when it came to action figures accessories, vehicles were a lot easier to get back then, especially when it came to the 3 3/4-inch scale of G.I. Joes.
While looking around YouTube for this week’s TCT, I stopped when I saw this ad for the G.I. Joe Personnel Carrier a vehicle that not only let you mow down evil members of Cobra, but also gave you a practical place to store your toys. I don’t remember when I added this truck to my collection, but it definitely helped lead to some epic Joe adventures that took place on the terrain of my parents’ living room floor.
When it comes to books, I’m not the most adventurous consumer. Over the years I’ve discovered enough authors I like who have solid outputs that I’m pretty well set when it comes to the book department. I’ve also got a huge backlog of books in my to-read piles and bins thanks to sales at various stores, most of which are out of business. But, one of the interesting things about moving into the world of e-books is the Amazon system put in place that either suggests other offerings you might like or gives you a great deal on semi-related novels. That’s how I came to own a digital copy of Bobby Cole’s The Dummy Line. While in Michigan over Christmas, I decided to travel light, take the Kindle and decided to give this book a shot. I’ve been casually reading it since, but finished it over the weekend.
The story focuses on Jake Crosby, a turkey hunter heading to a hunting property with his daughter for a weekend of shooting. Once they get there they run afoul of some ruthless local hoodlums and things quickly get dangerous. They’re not the only ones in the area though as a pair of local teenagers also get wrapped up in the conflict. Before long the police start investigating and scramble to figure out exactly what’s going on as an increasingly confusing series of events make themselves known to the authorities.
I was pretty much on board with this thriller from the get go because it features a normal guy trying to get away for the weekend with his little girl who realizes he needs to make some tough decisions to keep them both safe. That’s an easy in for me as a dad, even if the idea of going to a remote cabin to shoot birds is not something I feel the need to do.
I also enjoyed the way Cole bounces from player to player in this drama. You’re not just with Jake — which would have been exhausting — but also his pursuers, the teenagers, the cops and various other characters. This not only mixes things up to alleviate tension, but also shows how various events can be correctly and erroneously misinterpreted by various parties. Too often I see stories where everyone can figure out exactly what’s going on and that seems too unrealistic. For me it was as interesting seeing the cops try to figure out what’s happening as actually experiencing those moments firsthand with Jake.
But it’s not a perfect book, not that I would expect as much from a first novel. My biggest problem with this book was the proliferation of clunky prose. One of the tricks I learned early on as a writer is to read your work out loud to see if it sounds natural to your ear and not just your brain. It seems to me like this step might have been skipped in the process because there are some overly complicated ways of saying simple things in this book. I didn’t feel like this on every single page, but it happened enough from beginning to end that it stuck out to me.
I also wasn’t a fan of the early chapters in the book when the villains were introduced. As a dad, I felt easily manipulated by these grown men who had no problem harming a child in any manner of awful ways. But, I also realized that they were presented as very one-note characters right off the bat. These are bad, bad dudes with no conscious who faithfully follow the most cunning of their ilk. And, for the most part, that stuck throughout the book, though I was happy to see one of them go to great lengths to stop some pretty bad stuff from happening.
In the process of reading The Dummy Line, I was listening to an episode of the horror podcast Killer POV and I had an interesting thought. On the episode, one of the hosts was talking about seeing an early movie by a filmmaker, noting some parts where they didn’t do so hot, but also looked forward to seeing what their next project would display as far as growth. This got me thinking about Dummy Line because it’s also by a relatively new creative person. It’s not a perfect offering, but it sure is good and got me interested enough to eventually read his next book Moon Underfoot, which I also got on the cheap from Amazon. While I still enjoy reading all the authors I’ve come to know and love over the years, it’s also kind of exciting to get in on the ground floor with someone developing their craft and trying out this whole author thing, which I myself am trying for as well.
Prince is an artist I’ve never been overly interested in. I missed out on the Purple Rain-era (I knew the Milhouse line “So this is what it’s like when doves cry,” long before I knew the song) and by the time I was paying attention to pop music, he was in the middle of changing his name to a symbol and other silly activities I didn’t care about. A few years back, I found Purple Rain for a few bucks at a mall record store and decided to give it a shot. It’s been a while, but I wasn’t impressed. My memory is that the singles were as solid as they’ve always been, but the other tracks were pretty unimpressive.
So, when my pal Jesse sent me 2009′s three disc set of Lotusflow3r, MPLSound and Bria Valente Elixr for my birthday I wasn’t sure what to think. Then, I hit a point last week where I wasn’t feeling podcasts and figured I’d give it a shot, especially after seeing the artist’s recent appearance on New Girl. Holy crap, these are great records!
My problem with Purple Rain — again, if memory serves, which it only does about half the time — was that the non-hit songs felt stale, antiseptic and maybe too produced or electronic. I’ll give it another listen and see if those thoughts still hold up, but that’s what I went into these two records thinking. Instead, I was treated to an awesomely funky, guitar-filled pair of discs packed with songs I can see myself listening to over and over again. From the opening guitar calisthenics of the first track “From The Lotus” to the killer “Crimson & Clover” cover and beyond, I was sold right away and kept getting surprised by how much I loved these two records.
Originally, I skipped over Elixer, but after listening to these albums for a second time and writing most of this post, I figured I should give the third part of this trilogy a listen. Bria Valente has one of those classic female R&B voices that those of us who came up in the late 80s and early 90s remember as being super prominent. Those records weren’t my thing back then, but I found myself enjoying these tracks for their mix of quality vocals and diverse backing tracks that go from slow jams to funkadelic and back again. As far as I’m concerned, the funkier this record goes the better everyone sounds. I’m not sure how often I’ll be jonesing for this kind of listening experience, but I like keeping it around just in case.
After intentionally listening to the Prince discs, I figured it would be a good time to reach into The Music Box and go the random route again. This time I pulled out Tift Merritt’s 2004 album Tambourine. As with many of the Music Box discs, I knew nothing about this going in, popped it on and gave it a listen.
Merritt’s sound reminded me a lot of Sheryl Crow. I’m not sure if that’s altogether fair but they’re both women singing country-tinged songs about their life experiences, so that’s where my head was at. With that comparison in mind — and the fact that they do sound sonically similar at times — I had trouble really getting into these songs. I think the person-playing-guitar-and-singing-quietly thing just isn’t all that interesting to me in the first place. I love that people do it, but it’s not always something I want to listen to unless the songs are super original, hit me in a truly emotional place or do something really interesting with the backing tracks.
When Merritt and company pick things up on tracks like “Wait It Out” and the title track, I’m in, but those wound up being a bit too far and few between for me to keep this one in the collection. Hopefully someone at the library will find it and dig the heck out of it though!
As you can tell by the lack of posting last week, I got pretty swamped with work. When I get swamped with work, I have less time to blog and get sleepier earlier. In other words, I have less time to not only write about things, but also wind up falling asleep about four minutes into things (sorry Alien).
Anyway, we did watch the Olympics pretty much non-stop and I found myself enjoying them for the most part. I’d like to see robot judges comparing moves to Platonic ideals in judged sports, but we’re at least two years away from that. After the games on Saturday, I was surprised to find myself watching NBC’s new half hour comedy About A Boy.
When I first started seeing previews for this show, I was pretty skeptical. I read the book back in 2012 followed quickly by the movie, both of which were emotionally powerful looks at two strong adult forces and the child in between them who’s trying to figure out which elements to bring into his own life. The story is funny and heavy and a really tough but satisfying ride. So how would all that translate into a half hour sitcom?
Pretty well actually. The first episode is basically a condensed version of the book/film minus the mother’s more intense emotional problems. Basically Marcus (Benjamin Stockham) and his mom Fiona (Minnie Driver) move next door to Will (David Walton). Marcus is very much his earthy mother’s son, but that’s lead to some trouble at school. He winds up forcing his way into Will’s life where the two start becoming friends, something Will uses to his advantage, but eventually comes to realize is mutually beneficial.
By speed skating through the source material, the first episode (which you can watch on NBC.com) might have felt a little quick and off balance, but it also seemed like a good way to jump right into the series. It’s about this kid and these two adults and them all trying to live around each other and figure out the world. I think this cast is well equipped to handle that challenge. Driver pulls off the struggling single mother who also has a strangely positive outlook on the world while Walton seems ready to take on Will’s life which goes from completely detached emotionally to (hopefully) immersed in relationships with others. But the real pressure lies on Stockham’s shoulders who needs to have the kind of innocence that leads a pre-teen to sing a One Direction song at the talent show and dedicate it to his mom because he knows it will make her happy, but also the knowledge that the world doesn’t always react positively to such things. I think he’s got it and am interested to see how things pan out with this show.