Train-ing Video: Death Proof (2007)

I was incredibly excited for Grindhouse and planned on seeing it in the theaters, but it wasn’t meant to be. The marketing folks decided that this Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino jam fest should come on, when else, but Easter weekend? Well, I had to go to New England, so I missed it while all my friends, who were still here, went. Soon enough, Grindhouse wasn’t in theaters anymore and I had to wait until the movies came out on DVD as Death Proof (Tarantino) and Planet Terror (Rodriguez). I checked them out, dug Planet Terror and was left feeling lukewarm towards Death Proof, which bummed me out cause I’m a big Tarantino fan. I gave it another shot on the train yesterday and, unfortunately, was left with the same feeling.

The first time I watched DP, I actually fell asleep just before the big switch in main characters, so I didn’t realize how it would take a Psycho-like turn and follow completely different characters for the rest of the movie. Something very similar happened to me when I first watched Usual Suspects.

Anyway, I don’t have any problem with that switch, what I do have a problem with is the tone. I understand that the film was shot to look like an old grindhouse movie and is written to match, but the problem from me comes from the inconsistencies I noticed. See, the first group of girls all seemed pretty real and fleshed out even when they’re spurting out some of Quentin’s clunkiest and most repetitive dialogue. But then, the second group of girls flips the script and happen to be these caricatures of humanity who have no problem beating a man to death and leaving their fried by herself with a highly suspect individual in the middle of nowhere. I understand them wanting revenge and maybe the two stuntwomen being a little off their rockers, but why does Rosario Dawson’s character want to kill him so bad, going so far as to kick his head in? I didn’t get it. And the “It’s like a grindhouse movie, duh!” argument doesn’t hold up when the first half of the movie didn’t reflect that aesthetic.

I also found Kim to be incredibly annoying. I get it, she’s from the street, I don’t need to be reminded of it with every single piece of dialogue she spouts off. Other than Kim, though, I really liked the rest of the characters and would like to know what happened to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character (and why she was wearing a cheerleader costume throughout the whole thing, I don’t buy Dawson’s explanation).

But that’s not all, I also hated how much of a pansy Stuntman Mike turns into. Kurt Russell did SUCH a great job of making him likable at first, but then completely terrifying, but then, as soon as he gets shot, he starts crying? Seriously? I like the idea of flipping the script and putting him at a disadvantage, but seeing him be such a bitch just makes me want to see him dead NOW and you’ve got to sit through a long car chase to get there.

In a weird twist of fate, we got the fourth disc of Alias Season 1 today, which boasts a two part episode called “The Box” (2002) which stars none other than Tarantino himself. This was during a few year period where he would pop up with a different TV project every now and then. Anyone else remember his episodes of CSI where the dude who would voice Captain Atom in the JLU cartoon was buried alive? Good stuff. It looks like he only acted in the part in Alias, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote his own dialogue as well because it definitely has that Tarantino vibe to it.

I’ll get more into my thoughts on Alias when we’re done with the first season, but this was definitely one of the better episodes and Tarantino does a great job of playing an unhinged man.

And, of course, even with all the above things I disliked about Death Proof I’m still crazy-excited for Inglourious Basterds which drops in a few. Never let it be said that I’m a fair weather fan!

Mini Monsters: Cat’s Eye (1985)

There were two reasons I checked out Stephen King’s anthology horror flick Cat’s Eye. First off, this horror magazine I read called HorrorHound wrote about it in their latest issue which was anthology themed. A quick note on HH before moving on. I love this mag, but the lack of editing drives me CRAZY. As an editor myself and a big fan of upstart magazines (that’s definitely not an easy mountain to climb right now), I want the writing to be as crisp and consistent as possible to it won’t turn off people like me who are driven crazy by such things. As an example, depending on what kind of style guide you use, you either italicize a movie title or put it in quotes. Sometimes they italicize, sometimes they do quotes and sometimes they do both! I don’t know if this bothers you normal folks, but it bugs me. I guess it’s not all that bad because I’m still reading it, but I’d love to create a style guide for them.

The other reason I checked Cat’s Eye out is because Rickey thought that it might be the mini monster movie I remember from my childhood, but still haven’t been able to track down. And that lack of success has continued with Cat’s Eye even though it does have a gremlin monster of some kind and the bouncing ball. But, I had a blast watching it so who cares?

So did my cat Milo. Before getting into the movie review, here’s a few pics I took of him watching the cat (the connector of the three stories) run away from a dog. He loves watching animals on TV.

So, the three stories are like this. First, James Woods joins this crazy-strict mob-run program that helps you quit smoking on the threat of harm to your loved ones. It’s over the top and has great moments of dark humor and I didn’t see the end coming. The second story focuses on a rich guy torturing the guy who plans to run away with the rich guy’s wife by making him walk around the outside of a skyscraper. And the final, my personal favorite, brings the cat into the hero role as he defends a little girl (Drew Barrymore) from a mini monster, even though her mom swears the cat is causing all the problems.

What I like best about the final segment is the practical effects they used to convey the mini monster running around Barrymore’s bedroom. I didn’t see any behind-the-scenes stuff, but it looks like the dressed a regular dude up in the costume and then put him in a room where everything was built huge to make him look tiny. Just think about how much fun that would be? I would love to do something like that. The whole idea made me smile every time they showed those scenes. Here’s a video of the scene. If you’re worried about spoilers you might want to skip it, but if you think anyone, even Stephen King would kill Drew Barrymore, you’re nuts. Just saying.

Aside from the FX, though, all three stories are really solid and fun while still feeling scary. They play out like EC horror stories, which I love in all their non-comic forms (the few I’ve read, read really slow to me, but the art is awesome). So, I may not have found my mini monster, but I checked another movie off in my copy of Creature Features book

Where Have All The In-Office Bars Gone?: Some Thoughts On Mad Men

The early 60s were awesome you guys. Not only could you drink at work all the time, but the ladies were crazy hot! Need proof? Just watch AMC’s Mad Men. If that isn’t a quote worthy of the DVD box, I don’t know what is.

Over the past few months Em and I have gone through the first two seasons and will hopefully be able to keep up with the new one which starts in the next few weeks, it depends on how often AMC reruns the show, really.

But, I kind of like watching the show on DVD. I’m not too good at remembering the small details thanks to Lost and comic books taking up so much of my memory banks. It’s easier for me to remember who some of the ancillary characters are when I’m watching three episodes a night instead of one a week.

The thing about Mad Men that I keep coming back to when I think about the show is how much I like the style of it. I’m not saying the show is style over substance, but I’m also not really sure what the story as a whole is about. Sure, you’ve got Don Draper and all the mysteries wrapped around him (can you imagine marrying someone who you know NOTHING about?) and Peggy’s rise from secretary to…whatever she will become and all the side stories, but I think what keeps me coming back is the time period. I’ve talked before about how fascinating old New York is to me and how much I like the 60s, so the show definitely rolls right into my wheelhouse.

Plus, everything just looks so cool. Don Draper is a badass and everyone always looks so well put-together (at least when they’re at work). You didn’t have to worry about political correctness or anything like that. Sure there’s all kinds of negatives (especially if you’re a woman who’s not Peggy), but this fictional representation of times gone by definitely has some resonance, even considering the fact that I work only a few streets over from Madison Ave. and get to wear a T-shirt and shorts to work if I want.

I think part of the affection I feel for this time is based in the fact that it wasn’t that long ago, that maybe my parents or aunts and uncles experienced similar life events and what that would mean to them. Plus, damn, a lot has changed since the early 60s. I like that the show embraces the time period and makes the occasional joke in reference to things they couldn’t possibly know coming up in history, but don’t overdo it.

Plus, it’s really interesting to see the effects historical events had on people. The women in the office are devastated when Marilyn Monroe dies, everyone’s watching Jackie Kennedy’s tour of the White House (something my mom has told me she remembers from her childhood) and the looming threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis. People really thought the world was going to end and I loved Pete’s rationale when he was talking to his wife. Moving closer to DC would bring you closer to a target, while NYC will probably already be a target. I can’t relate to him wanting to die in Manhattan, but I remember my dad telling me that we’d be screwed living in in Toledo if there was a nuclear attack because one of the first things a theoretical enemy would do is blow up Detroit to cripple our ability to make vehicles. Kinda heavy stuff, but I always remembered that, not that he was always talking about getting blown up or anything, it was just something we talked about at some point.

My biggest complaint with the show is how there doesn’t seem to be a clear indication of how much time passes between episodes and scenes. It’s not a problem for the most part, but it does become kind of annoying when you’re not sure how long Don’s been gone for or how long Betty’s been carrying on her investigation.

I’ve also got to say that it’s really hard to like some of these characters. It’s the same kind of thing I felt while watching the first few seasons of Sopranos. They hook you early with these fascinating characters and then you’ve got to watch as they continually make BAD decisions and do some pretty reprehensible things.

If I can jump into some SPOILERish territory right now, I’ve got to say that Betty really bugged me in the second season. Look, we all know that Don is, was and probably will be cheating on her, but after tearing through his closet and desk and not finding any kind of proof, I don’t understand why she still believed the word of a d-bag comedian who is hardly a reputable source. Never once do we see her thinking she might be wrong, she just keeps him at arm’s length. I really expected her to give up and bring Don back, saying something about her depression or whatever mental disorder her psychiatrist told Don about in the first season. I did feel bad for her when her dad felt her up though. That’s gotta be one of the creepiest non-horror moments in TV.

That being said, Don’s little California excursion didn’t help matters. What was the deal with those rich people anyway? I kept thinking they might be Manson Family stand-ins or something. In fact, there are all kinds of moments during the second season where I felt this dread at the most mundane times. Bobby goes to pee behind a tree at a park and I couldn’t help but think that something bad was going to happen (and not the rampant littering when they take off). I guess that’s my moderness talking. Back to California though, it was cool to see a little bit more of Don’s past.

I’m not really sure where Season 3 will take us, but I’m definitely strapped in for the ride. I hope Joan (who was also on Firefly a few times!) ditches her asshole fiance, though I doubt she will, that Peggy continues to climb her way up the ladder and find herself as an adult and that Duck’s dog comes back, bites him and then goes off to live with Pete. I swear to God, Em almost stopped watching the show after he let the dog loose.

Finally, why isn’t Jon Hamm in talks to play Superman? Aside from looking like old timey Clark Kent with the hat and suit, the dude’s got the voice of a superhero and should play one STAT. He already does a great job portraying Don in different stages of his life, with the meek Don in flashbacks (Clark) and the ultra confident Don in current times (Supes), plus we’ve seen him play Lex Luthor, so there might even be some interest there. This man was born to play Superman and should immediately be signed to a contract for a trilogy. I hear that Mark Millar fellow has one in mind even. Maybe if Kick-Ass does really well, it’ll happen.

Halloween Scene: Hatchet (2006)

It’s funny how elements beyond your control can come together to enhance a movie-watching experience. Saturday night I was flipping through my online Netflix queue looking for something to watch and decided on Hatchet, which I think I’ve heard good things about. I say “I think” because, like any other horror fan, I was bombarded with ads for this movie online and in print a while back. Anyway, it was probably around midnight when I pushed play and about 15 minutes in, I started seeing flashes of lightning through the trees (my TV is right in front of our living room windows). As the film went on and things got bad for the characters on screen, nature added ever closer lightning along with some nice pouring rain to match the movie. I can’t think of a cooler viewing experience I’ve had. Oh, and the movie was pretty great too.

Like I mentioned above, I saw a TON of advertising for this movie, but I think it was all in print and online, so it didn’t really hint at the plot aside from the image of the hatchet itself. This is the art that was on Netflix and I’m pretty sure also adorned most of the ads:

I actually prefer this poster, which hints at the humor that goes along with the horror in the movie:

I was actually starting to think the movie might turn down the Scary Movie route when the cast started revealing itself. Our hero is Joel Moore, who you may remember as the nerdy guy in Dodge Ball, the nerdy jerk in Grandma’s Boy and the dude in Katy Perry’s Waking Up In Vegas video. He’s accompanied by Deon Richmond who I recognize most as the Token Black Guy from Not Another Teen Movie. They’re at Mardi Gras (pre-Katrina obviously) looking for a zombie boat cruise which brings on a pretty funny cameo by Candyman himself Tony Todd (we also get treated to a Robert Englund (Freddy) role in the beginning and Kane Hodder plays the killer). So, I wasn’t so sure what to think.

Until Hatchet Face (aka Victor Crowley) shows up and starts wrecking shop on a small group of boat tour patrons and their guides. In the group you’ve got an older couple (the man being played by Office Space’s Richard Riehle), a Girls Gone Wild-ish guy with two girls who keep taking their tops off (the guys was in the first two seasons of Mad Men and one of the girls played Harmony in Buffy), the tour guide with a bevy of fake accents, our two guys and a mysterious young woman. Wow, that’s a long sentence. Anyway, the characters are just interesting enough that you feel bad when they get offed. I also really liked seeing Deon in a larger part, sure he got a little annoying at times, but overall he kept the mood light even during some incredibly gory scenes.

So, the story was cool, the characters solid and the gore rad. All in all I had a great time watching Hatchet and was really impressed with Moore’s transition from nerd to bad ass. He should really do more stuff. Plus, he wears a Newbury Comics shirt throughout the movie, a comic/DVD/CD store I’ve been to a few times when visiting Em’s parents in New England. And, super double extra points for an ending that I saw coming but was still surprised by the execution of. I think there’s a pun in there, but you’ll have to figure it out for yourself.

Firefly: The Series (2002)

As I mentioned in one of these posts over the last few days, the missus and I have been watching a bunch of TV on DVD lately. We burned through the second season of Mad Men and all of Firefly and are four discs into the first season of Alias. I completely missed out on/didn’t care about Firefly when it first aired and didn’t have much interest in it until recently when Rickey and Sam gave it to us to check out and we couldn’t say no (also, nothing else is on). I’ve been told the proper order to consume the entertainment in (TV, both comic series’ and then Serenity), so I figured I’d blog about them in that order.

Damn, this is a great show you guys. I realize I’m super late to the game on this, but Joss Whedon actually really impressed me with this show. I’ve been kind of down on him after being really bored with the one episode of Dollhouse I watched and not being too impressed with Astonishing X-Men. Being a big fan of Buffy, both of those were disappointing for me. Plus, we went back and watched the first season of Angel, which was hard to get into. I was starting to think that Whedon didn’t have the ability to hook viewers with a new show right away. I was getting sick of people saying “Yeah, the early stuff isn’t great, but you’ve got to get through it to get to the good stuff.” What kind of rationale is that? I understand that in the age where we can watch everything online or on DVD that it becomes much easier to go back and catch up on a show that got bad or started off poorly, but why should we? If you want me to watch your show, here’s an idea, wow me from the beginning.

And that’s exactly what Whedon and company did with Firefly. Right out of the gate, BAM, I’m engrossed. The characters are cool and interesting and all have their own mysteries about them. Things are seeded for future episodes (something Whedon does better than most) and the effects are sick. I was surprised throughout the entire series how good the spaceships, space stations and alien worlds looked. Plus, of course, the premise of “cowboys in space” is just too cool.

Firefly also doesn’t get too caught up in the characters that Whedon seems stuck on now. You don’t have the geeky guy and Kaylee only kind of gets into that Kitty Pryde territory that Whedon so clearly loves. Plus, Mal’s just a rad character, kind of Preacher meets Han Solo and Nathan Fillion does an awesome job with him.

I’m also a big fan of Jayne because, to me, he’s the Wolverine of the group. He’s the badass, a/immoral dude who loves what he does and is the best at it (at least amongst the crew). But, unlike the merry mutant, Jayne isn’t over used. He’s like Wolverine at his earliest, a cool character who we got glimpses of without being overloaded on him. It’s a good way to go.

I think my favorite episode has to be “Out Of Gas.” The story structure, presentation and character development are all just crazy awesome, but the finale “Objects In Space” was also pretty sick. I liked Early and was glad to see River not just be a crazy weirdo. These are the kinds of episodes that Whedon excels at, it’s too bad they tend to take place late in a season.

I don’t know why the show was canceled or any of the details (because I didn’t look them up, I don’t want any more spoilers than what I already know), but it really is too bad Firefly didn’t get the proper support from the network (like airing the episodes in the correct order). It came out during my college days, so I assume that’s why I was out of the loop (though I do vaguely remember it’s existence).

Here’s hoping that whatever Whedon’s next project will not only start off strong, but get a network backing it that knows what to do with his kind of show. I’m even contemplating going back and watching Dollhouse’s first season in short order. I keep hearing about some kind of game changer, but, I gotta be honest, I REALLY didn’t like that one episode I saw. I mean, it was BAD. I guess I could skip it (or at least the “most dangerous game” parts. Uch, I don’t even like thinking about it.

Up next? The trades!

I’m Sure SDCC Was Fun, But It’s No Orange County Fair

Hey, I’m as excited as everyone else about Marvel’s Marvelman announcement (it’ll take a while to get used to saying that instead of Miracle Man), but we couldn’t all be there. In fact, some of us had the chance to head on over to the Orange County Fair. Yup, that’s a country fair y’all.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been to one, but I was not disappointed. There were the requisite carnival games with barkers who weren’t all too enthusiastic, all kinds of awesomely bad-for-you food, classic (probably old) rides and livestock, but we were also treated to a tiny circus and a pig race.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so, please, enjoy the following slideshows of the greatest show on earth (that day…in Middletown, NY).

I know what you came to see, so let’s start with the pig races. The contestants had some pretty impressive names like Lindsay Loham and Brad PIg, this was the Hollywood Pig Race afterall:

The show wasn’t all pig races though, I actually really liked checking out the look of the rides. They had a classic feel to them, one that I wasn’t used to going to my school’s festival every year. You can imagine your parents riding these same rides back when they were kids and while that doesn’t lend any positive thoughts towards their safety, it does seem kinda cool.

Like I mentioned, there were also a ton of animals, both exotic (giraffes) and mundane (lots and lots of cows). Our personal favorite thing in regards to the animals though was this sign, it’s just too good to potentially lose in the slideshow:


It reads: WARNING Please DO NOT Feed Animals From Your Mouth WARNING. I love that that’s a problem that needs addressing. Anyway, here’s the rest of the animal pics:

And then there’s the circus. Now, I’ve been to the Ringling Bros. Circus before (I was little, but I got to ride an elephant and that was cool), so there was something a little sad about seeing these people who seem really talented, doing their thing for 20-30 people sweating it out on some bleachers. But, I guess that’s what circus folks have been doing for years, right? This group also ran then exotic animal section and the pig race, so you might recognize some people. Also, please note during the motorcycle stunt at the end that the blonde woman came out, did a little dance thing and then pointed at the cage. The first rider to come out had some kind of problem with his bike, but the blonde woman didn’t flinch. So, not only is she tough, but she’s a pro. Also, she got in a cage with motorcycles, so she’s probably a little crazy.

Oh, also the circus had a really annoying clown who had this routine that went on about 5 minutes too long and there was a portion where some camels ran around in a circle and then a horse did the same. I didn’t take any pictures of the clown because I wanted to hit him and only a few of the animals because, well, they were boring.

And finally, the most important part of any good county fair is the food. Between the two of us we had corn dogs, fried pickles, soda, fried Oreos, a fried Snickers bar, lemonade and beer. I only thought to take a picture of the Oreos and the old Pepsi machine they had.