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Oz: The Not So Great but Mostly Enjoyable

And darn pretty to look at! The land, I mean. Not the man. Though there is some kind of an appealing rascal look to James Franco. Hmm…

Let me start this off with a few things. First of all, I love, love, love The Wizard of Oz. I know all the songs, and I have a small collection of Christmas ornaments. For Christmas a couple of years ago, I was given the anniversary DVD box set that came with all the promotional material, a watch, and even a copy of the film’s budget. I freaked out.

I think, that even though I know the MGM film with Judy Garland takes liberties with the L. Frank Baum books, there is still something pure about it. It’s as if the film is protected in one of Glinda’s magic bubbles, and all other adaptations can’t seem to connect to it. There have been many attempts, and none have made it. I kind of hoped Oz the Great and Powerful would come the closest or at least be enough of its own movie that we wouldn’t need the connection. In some says, the movie latched on to its predecessor. But in many, many ways, it missed the target.

I didn’t go into Oz  with the highest of expectations, but I had hopes. After all, Sam Raimi was at the helm. He’s a crazy cool director, and I’m a huge fan. While I hoped Raimi’s film would have a little more edge, instead it came across as more of a fairy tale. In my opinion, the movie is more aimed at the kiddies than adults. I felt that everyone in the cast was given direction to overact a bit. If someone was happy, they weren’t happy. They were happy! Characters weren’t sad or angry. They were devastated  or wrathful. I felt that the overacting distracted me from the overall experience.

The story was pretty good, but it took a long time for the film to click into place. That could have been me though. I had been promised a Bruce Campbell cameo (as per tradition in Raimi films) and spent most scenes looking for him to pop up. Also, the motivations of some of the characters seemed odd. Franco’s Oscar Diggs just seemed disconnected from a lot going on around him. I don’t get it. Franco seemed more intense and connected when he spent an entire movie pinned by a rock in a canyon. In Oz, I felt like he was distracted for most of the time as if he wasn’t sure what his lines were or if there was something better going on off set. This wasn’t the case for the whole movie, mind you. Franco had some pretty cool scenes, and I enjoyed those scenes. However, he was really difficult to read for most of the movie.

There were also writing issues. I have a brother, but I rarely, if ever, call him “Brother” when addressing him. Two characters must call each other “sister” more times that not. It got kind of annoying. It’s a nit-picky thing, but it bothered me.

All these grievances aside, there were things I did enjoy. First of all, the movie was gorgeous to look at. A friend of mine saw it in 3D, and said the effects were pretty groovy. Also, Danny Elfman did the music. He’s the best film composer in my book. There were some pretty cool lines in the movie, but I can’t repeat my favorite ones because they contain spoilers. Just take my word for it.  Characters such as Knuck the fanfare player and the China Girl made the movie enjoyable.

Also, I want Finley the monkey. Every close up on this adorable computer animated primate caused me to coo and awww over him. This film was my Oscar prize, so I saw it with Crint. He kept laughing at me whenever I’d melt over the adorable monkey. Seriously folks. He’s soooooo cute.

So yeah. I had fun watching Oz the Great and Powerful, but I don’t think it lived up to what I hoped for it. If I graded movies, I’d give it a B-.  It gets points for good casting (Rachel Weisz’s tricky Evanora and Michelle Williams’ kindly Glinda), visuals (Oz the land was absolutely gorgeous), and music. It gets bonus points for  an adorable monkey and Bruce Campbell.  However, it loses points to questionable casting (Franco and maybe Mila Kunis), overacting, and unpolished writing.

There were many kids in the movie theater when I went. Most were okay, but I overheard two boys on my row ask their adult supervisor if they could go play in the lobby. That’s never a good thing. The little girl who sat a few seats away from me, however, was a like a little version of me. When the lights dimmed and the movie started, she gave a happy little squeal and did a sort of anticipatory dance in her seat. From what I can tell, she was happy when the end credits started rolling. I can only hope that she maintains her excitement for movies and good stories. I’m sure children like her were in Raimi’s mind when he made this movie. If that’s the case, then he definitely succeeded. But for this slightly disappointed adult…I’ll take what I enjoyed from Oz and be happy with that.

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Don’t Panic

I’m back, and in celebration of the possible end o’ the world, I thought I would do another one of my annoying lists to mark the occasion.  But first, let’s look at December 21 (or 22nd depending on where you get your info). It’s also the Winter Solstice. Kim Harrison’s groovy Hollows books have characters that celebrate it. Lots of real folks do too. I plan to decorate my tiny gingerbread village if the planet is still intact ,and we still have a breathable atmosphere. Plans are good.

So anyways, apparently per the ancient Mayan calendar, tomorrow is the last. day. ever. It had to end sometime, I suppose. Or maybe it won’t. I always wondered if maybe it’s just the last day ever for Mayans. Who knows? Certainly not I.

Enough rambling musings. On with the list of best end o’ the world movies and/or scenes!!!! [Insert crazy Kermit dance here]

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy    I may have celebrated a love fest for this movie before. I can’t remember. Anyways, the Vogon Destructor Fleet moves in and in a span of seconds, BOOM goes the planet. And that’s just the beginning. Has anyone checked to see if the dolphins are still around?

2. Sunshine  Only about 45 seconds of this movie take place on Earth. The rest is up on space where a crew of scientists and astronauts are on a mission to recharge a dying sun. The world-ender in this one is that the sun is almost extinguished (I guess you would call it that) and the earth has become a rather chilly place to live. It’s a pretty intense movie, but I like them that way. Danny Boyle directed this one, and it’s pretty cool.

3. Twelve Monkeys  This Terry Gilliam-directed flick is one folks either love or hate. Basically, Bruce Willis is sent into the past from his post-apocalyptic future to collect information and possible evidence regarding a virus that all but ended human life on the planet. The movie is a little trippy but it wouldn’t be a Gilliam film otherwise.

4. The original ending of Army of DarknessStuck in mediaeval times, Ash drinks the potion and is supposed to wake up in his own time. Instead, he oversleeps and wakes to find a destroyed world. It would be a depressing ending if it wasn’t so funny.

5. Children of Men   In the not too distant future… People have not been able to successfully procreate for some time now, and the human race is aging and dying out. Another intense movie. It was really good.

And last, but not least…

7. It’s a tie between two episodes of Doctor Who. Yes, I know it’s not a movie, but it’s relevant. The first episode is appropriately titled “The End of the World.” The Ninth Doctor takes companion Rose Tyler five billion years into the future. From the safety of an orbiting space station, they play to watch the sun’s expansion wipe out an abandoned Earth. I However, this being Doctor Who, nothing goes as planned.  The other episode is called “Doomsday.” In this one, the Daleks and Cybermen are on the attack. it’s up to Rose and the Tenth Doctor to prevent world extermination. It’s probably my favorite DW episode, and it’s also one that makes me cry–oh how I cried the first time I saw it. 

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There are so many other movies or TV episodes I could list. I’ve left off 28 Days Later, for example. There’s also The Pink Panther Strikes Again in which a crazy Chief Inspector Dreyfuss invents a death ray and threatens to destroy England unless someone kills Clousseau. I could also have mentioned Independence Day but I really didn’t want to, so that’s all you are getting.

Anyways, tomorrow will be here in a few short hours. I assume we’ll be here a number of hours, days, weeks, months, years, eons afterwards too. But you never can tell…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Halloween!!! I love October. I love how the temperature drops, how it gets darker earlier, how the leaves change, etc. I even have a list of movies I work my way through every year in anticipation of the greatest holiday this side of Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day. So for right now, while I work on the next review to present to you good people, here is my list of must-see movies for October.

Oh, and before I get to that list— and yes, I do realize that I killed the moment there—I just wanted to point out that I’m not big into ghosties or slasher films. I don’t like any Japanese horror films either because they truly freak me out. I never got more than ten minutes into The Ring and have no plans to find out what happens in the remainder of that film. As a child, I was completely terrified by Ghostbusters and The Lady in White. After seeing the former, I was convinced Slimer was going to come out of the faucet, and I can’t remember what frightened me about the latter other than it did.

That said, I’m sure my personal list isn’t very festive for some folks, but to each their own. And now, without further ado and in no particular order:

1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I mean, how on earth could this not be watched at least 2 or 3 times this month? It’s the greatest TV special ever in terms of Halloween.

2. Shaun of the Dead. Funniest zombie movie I’ve ever seen. Bonus points because Bill Nighy is in the movie.

3. Underworld. Sequels aside, this first endeavor in the franchise was a pretty groovy movie. Extra Bill Nighy bonus points.

4. Sleepy Hollow. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp took a favorite story and made it even better. It’s creepy, silly, and cool. Extra points given for Christopher Walken and his pointy teeth.

5. 28 Days Later. They are infected zombie-like people, not zombies. Doesn’t really matter. It’s not the infected you need to be scared of.  Its sequel, 28 Weeks Later, is pretty good too.

6. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Actually, it’s okay to turn this off right after Tim Curry sings “Sweet Transvestite” because after that, in my opinion, the movie gets dull pretty quickly. Up until that point, however, it’s a blast.

7. Clue. I know it’s not exactly a Halloween movie. But, it is a good murder mystery movie (and a fun board game as well). I watch this one every Halloween.

8. Arsenic and Old Lace. Maybe for the fact that it’s set on Halloween, or that two little old ladies turn out to be innocent-looking serial killers, but this slightly creepy screwball comedy is an annual favorite.

9. Meet Me in St. Louis.  Most people would consider this a Christmas film since the famous “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” song is in it. But the Halloween section where little Margaret O’Brien’s “Tootie” works herself up to be the most horrible is the best part. Also, it’s a little scary that the children of the neighborhood are building bonfires on the street.

10. Army of Darkness. Why this one? Because it’s a classic. Any of the other movies in the series (Evil Dead; Evil Dead 2) could just as easily sit in the #10 spot, but Army of Darkness is the most fun of the three. From this movie, you know that you “shop smart; shop s-mart.” You know what a boomstick is. You know or maybe think you know the magic words to safely collect the Necronomicon. I could go on for days about the wonderfulness that is Bruce Campbell, but I won’t. If you aren’t sold on Bruce by now, I worry about you.

And for the Meh Movie of the list………………

11.  The Queen of the Damned. I actually saw this movie in the theater. For the most part, the movie is just silly. It’s nothing like the book, and the characters feel more like caricatures than anything else. Still, it’s vampires, and some of the music is okay. I do like one of the music videos Lestat’s band does. It’s in the style of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari which is a very creepy silent film. If you can’t seen that little gem, you need to go find it.

And Then There Were Aliens

In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a group of people are lured to an island by a mysterious host. The guests are then picked off one by one, and no one knows who the murderer is. Next to Murder on the Orient Express, it’s one of Christie’s most famous works.

This week’s cinematic endeavor is really similar to And Then There Were None—sort of. You have to squint and be really flexible with the term “similar.” If you make it that far, you too will see that Terminal Invasion has “classic” potential written all over it—not. I kid!!! It’s not a classic at all, but it did make me think of the Christie work.

Terminal Invasion is a movie that I really hesitated in reviewing. It should have been a no-brainer. After all, it hits almost all of my “meh movie” criteria. The problem is that Bruce Campbell is the star of the movie, and I am a card-carrying Bruce Campbell fangirl. How can I objectively review any movie with him in it? That was my main worry. Would my admiration of Bruce block my reasoning brain cells from seeing the turkey that the movie could potentially be? As it turns out, I’m able to separate Church of Bruce from the State of the Movie. All is well.

TI takes place at the world’s most inconvenient and tiny airport. I think it might be patterned after Tom Nevers Field Airport from TV’s Wings. I half expected Tony Shalhoub to wander into a scene. There is a nasty blizzard, and a small group of passengers and airport personnel are trapped in the itty-bitty lounge.

You get all kinds here. First of all, there’s Cathy the spunky feminist pilot. She’s a by-the-book type which means that no, she won’t fly the plane in a blizzard, and it doesn’t matter how much money you offer her. Cathy is instantly likable since her first scenes show her handling snobby passengers such as the wealthy David Higgins (who I’ve been calling “Armani” in my notes), and the bickering Phillips couple—Sarah and Andrew. There’s also Gloria the old lady airport um…lady. Del the TSA Agent and Darian the wise-cracking passenger round out the airport folks. Also, there are two very bratty and creepy children running about. Where are their parents??!!!!

Lastly, I mention Bruce. Bruce plays a convict named Jack. Jack was being transported when the police vehicle slid across the road and landed in a ditch. The two cops and Jack all got to wander to the nearest building which happened to be Tiny Airport. The cops want to keep Jack at the airport until a relief vehicle can arrive to continue his transport to the next prison cell.

Using the old “I’ve got to take a leak” trick, Jack dupes the cops into taking off his cuffs so he can take care of his business. While Jack tries to pee, a priest exits one of the stalls and washes his hands. But I’m telling you here and now that there was no soap usage. Ew. Then, preacher man totally picks up one of the cops and tosses him about the room. I did not see that coming. Or maybe I did. After all, he didn’t use soap. We can’t trust anything about this man. Preacher man kills the two cops, and starts heading towards Jack. Preacher Man is an alien!!!!! We get to see his shifty alien eyes. They are very creepy. They kind of blink from regular eyes to a sideways slide of black. Not normal.

Jack is able to kill the alien. However, alien guy’s body melts into goo, so it looks as if Jack has killed the cops himself. This isn’t going to go over well with the folks out in the lounge area. Jack must be some kind of hardened criminal, because he takes it all in stride, and Bruce Campbell is just so cool when he’s playing a meanie. He holds the passenger group at gunpoint and explains that he needs a flight to Canada.

Oh, I forgot to mention that there’s this blond lady in the group. She’s sobbing over the dead cops and does a lot of overacting in general. She calls Jack an animal (Yeah, he is!) and then starts hyperventilating. She’s really very annoying, so it’s a wonderful thing when, during a struggle between Jack and Del the TSA guy that the gun goes off and Blondie eats a bullet. But does this kill her right away? Nope. She is an alien!!!

Blondie the alien really just looks like she’s slept in her car. Her hair is suddenly wild, and she starts snarling at Bruce before he shoots her dead—for reals this time. Part of me kept waiting for him to utter some lines from Army of Darkness but alas…

So here’s the dilemma: There are aliens in the airport. The aliens look like regular people, but are clearly intent on doing harm. Also, the group is stranded and can’t leave. What to do? What I love is how quickly everyone rolls with the alien concept. There isn’t a single naysayer in the bunch trying to find a more “rational” explanation. Nope. Someone says alien, and everyone else agrees. It’s kind of refreshing.

Pilot Cathy immediately starts calling the shots, or as she so politely puts it, “I am the Alpha Female, people. What I say goes.” Ha! Cathy suggests that whatever the group does, they have to do it together and also keep an eye out since any one of them could be an alien. I love the immediate trust/distrust.

One thing the group agrees on immediately is that despite the bad weather, they have to get out of the airport. Del suggests that in order to figure out who is alien and who isn’t they each take a ride through the carry-on x-ray machine. This works fine for a brief period. We learn that the Phillips’ are not aliens. Also, Del checks out fine. Alas, tiny, old Gloria turns into a giant alien creature and we see her transform on the view-screen. What’s funny is that somehow she sets off the alarm system on the x-ray machine. Is there a setting for that? Del peers into the machine like a fool, and is snatched inside. There’s a cool view-screen play-by-play of their struggle. Neither survives.

Anyways, after the x-ray disaster, our survivors decide to ignore their earlier plan and split into groups. Super… Armani, Darian, Sarah and Andrew hang out in the lounge. Armani and Darian bond over snack foods. Meanwhile Sarah chooses this to be the time to discuss with Andrew the current state of their marriage? Really?

Cathy remembers the bratty little kids and goes off to find them. Why she thinks they’ll be in the scary basement-looking hangar is beyond me, but there they are. Meanwhile, Jack learns from Sarah that those kids don’t belong to anyone that they know of. I bet you can put two and two together on this one. Jack runs to save Cathy.

Creepy little boy and girl have alien eyes!!! Run for your lives!!! I knew it! The little boy is the scariest. He’s got red hair and very pale skin. He grins like Damian, and when he starts to morph into alien form, he’s even creepier. Eek!!! Jack and Cathy manage to escape the evil children, but that’s okay. The kids can just kill off the group hanging out in the lounge—and that’s just what they set out to do.

The rest of the movie is mostly Jack and Cathy being the smart ones by outrunning and outwitting the aliens. The others seem better suited at being hunted by the evil alien children. I won’t say who else lives or dies. I don’t want to give away the whole thing. Sheesh!

Oddly enough, the movie started to slow down for me around the time everyone was running away from aliens. The psychological drama of who could be an alien was actually, pretty interesting. Once folks are crawling through ventilation ducts and blocking entryways, the movie lost a little something.

I know! I’ll talk about the aliens. For most of the movie the aliens are in people form. But after a while, they change into full-on alien form. They are flesh-colored with longish limbs. They are also really slimy and very toothy. They kept reminding me of the alien assassin that shows up in The Last Starfighter. You remember—he’s the one who showed up to kill Alex but was thwarted by Robert Preston. Man, I love that movie. I’m putting it in as soon as I finish writing this. Back to subject. Yes. So picture the Xandoxan from The Last Starfighter and then make his head more cone-shaped and make his mouth bigger. Also move his eyes from the sides, more up to like regular peoples. They are practically twins. Scary.

Bruce Campbell: It was interesting seeing him play an anti-hero. I mean, in the Evil Dead movies, Ash would rather be someplace else obviously, but I’ve never thought of him as anti. He’s just the hero. For most of this movie, Bruce seems to be PMSing a little bit. He comes across as bored and cranky. He’s also kind of cold-hearted at times.  He has a plan to get out of the country and will do whatever is necessary to achieve that. However, because this is Bruce as the lead, he’s also the hero. He has no problem fighting the aliens. It’s not much of an action role, but he’s so the alpha male in the group. Armani is like a very distant second. Way distant. Bruce also has the best line in the entire movie. The arch-villain (whom I won’t reveal) seems to think he/she knows that Bruce will leave the other survivors to their doom so he can escape to Canada. And that’s when we get this line: “You don’t know Jack.” ha ha…Cheesy yet effective because his character’s name is Jack. *snort*

So looky there, kids! I was able to do it. Terminal Invasion is not the greatest of films. It has the strange honor of slowing down when the action speeds up. It’s also fairly easy to figure out who is and who isn’t an alien. For that reason, the plot gets very predictable, and I kind of wanted the aliens to hurry up their hunting of the humans so we could get to the end. Chase Masterson who played Cathy the pilot was okay in her role. She wasn’t super memorable, but she held her own in scenes with Mr. Campbell.

And Bruce…he’s the man.

Wolverines and Spiders and Bats—Oh My!

So the new Spider-Man movie releases this week. If you’ve read any of the coverage on this film, you’d know that folks are a bit divided on it. Is it a wise move in rebooting a bankable franchise so soon? What does this say about our Batman prospects since the last installment of that franchise releases this summer?

Bruce is so cool.

I’m a little bit unsure about seeing The Amazing Spider-Man. I sort of feel it is too soon. But then again, the last movie was so bad that I haven’t seen it since that initial ill-fated trip to the theater. Not even Bruce Campbell’s shining beacon of a comedic cameo could save this film. While I enjoyed that scene, along with Topher Grace’s jangly teeth as Venom, and James Franco’s character development as Harry Osborn/ New Goblin, the rest of the movie was pretty much worthy of being in one of my reviews.

First of all, there were too many villains. What allowed the first two Spider-Man movies to work was the concentration on one villain. That’s what went wrong, in my opinion, with the Batman franchise once Joel Schumacher took over. His first foray, Batman Forever, introduced both The Riddler AND Two-Face. We could have done without Two-Face completely. I think it was more of a “how many Bat-villains can we fit into this movie” type thing. Schumacher did the same thing again with Batman & Robin. This time, we had to deal with Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. The movies began to feel more like the Adam West TV-show, and a lot less than the darker storyline that Tim Burton had brought to the screen. I know there are a lot of Burton version naysayers out that, and that’s their opinion. But I think Burton saw the darkness in Batman and put his own spin on that.

Christopher Nolan has also seen the dark side of the Bat, and his versions while not phantasmagorical like Burton’s, are certainly not campy like Schumacher’s. Thank goodness. His movies have been gritty and dark, full of stressful situations and tough decisions. In his movies Batman never has it easy. Every obstacle is a test, and there are no correct answers. But more to that later. Back to the spider issue.

I love Sam Raimi. He’s just awesome. I love the Evil Dead movies, and so I was eagerly on board when the first Spider-Man was released back in 2002. The movie was really cool, and when Spider-Man 2  came out a couple years later, I was happy to go see it. I liked that one as well. But something happened around the time of the third film. I don’t know if it was the studio thinking “Bigger = Better= $$$$$$$$$” or issues with the script or what. But aside from the multiple villain mistake, this movie was all over the place. There was a musical dance number in the movie for Pete’s sake!!! I still cannot get over this. Also, Peter Parker had emo-hair and I swear I saw eyeliner on the boy.

And I’ll be honest here. I like Tobey Maguire, but I’ve never been a big fan of him as a superhero. He just seemed too docile. Now, I know Peter Parker is an every-guy and that’s part of the appeal to the character, but I never saw that drive in him. I never saw that need for revenge coupled with the need to defend people from criminals and ne’er-do-wells. This should have sprouted after the death of his uncle at the hands of a man Peter would have caught much earlier and giving us the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” thing. I know it was there, but maybe it was just too subtle. I just didn’t see it.

And that’s sort of why I’m onboard with Andrew Garfield as Peter/Spidey in the new version. Garfield looks gentle but at the same time, I can see a little edge to him. Did you see him in The Social Network? Most folks did. Now go rent the first Red Riding movie. Edge. Not super-sharp and dangerous, but edge nonetheless. I feel the drive might be there in this movie, with this Peter Parker.

I plan to rent The Amazing Spider-Man. I hope the movie does well, but Spider-Man isn’t my guy. My guy is Batman.

Maybe something isn’t wired quite right in my brain, but I love that man. Spider-Man is, above all else, a do-gooder. Superman, while really cool, is a boy scout. Batman….Batman is vengeance and Sherlock Holmes and obsession and all sorts of mysterious emotional baggage. He’s like a shadowy spy. He’s James Bond without the fanfare. He fights evil without having any kind of superhuman/alien powers. His superpower is his mind. That’s just Andrea-candy, that is.

What about the bad-boy thing? Could it be that? Maybe a little, but really who out there doesn’t find Wolverine to be the #1 pick over Cyclops? I dare you to bring that person to me, and when you do, I’ll call them a liar.

I’ve sort of digressed from my opening bit about the new Spider-Man movie. I’m not sure what point I was making. Oh yeah–is it a gamble? A little bit, but I think to the legions of Spider-Man fans, it’s a no-brainer. Like with me and my Bat, they’ll be in line for any incarnation of their hero. Me? I’m waiting for later this month when I can watch my hero. In the meantime, I’ve got Batman: The Animated Series on my Netflix queue. I hope my next disc gets here soon.