Archive for August, 2013

The Host

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , on August 24, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In the future, the human race has been assimilated by extraterrestrial psychic parasites called “Souls”. Melanie Stryder, a human, is captured by a Seeker (Diane Kruger) and infused with a soul called “Wanderer”, in order to discover the location of one of the last pockets of non-assimilated humans. However, Melanie survives the procedure and begins to struggle for control of her body.

Wanderer discovers that Melanie was captured while scavenging for food with her brother Jamie and her boyfriend Jared Howe, and that they were looking for Melanie’s uncle Jeb, who lives in a cabin in the desert. Wanderer loses control of Melanie and the Seeker decides to be inserted into Melanie to get the information herself. With the help of Melanie, Wanderer escapes and makes her way to the desert, eventually found by a group of humans, including Jeb. She is taken to a series of underground caves, discovering that Jared and Jamie are living there too.

Wanderer is kept isolated from the others, who are hostile towards her because she is seen as another alien, and a potential threat. Eventually, she begins interacting with the humans, who start to slowly trust her, and develops feelings for one of them, Ian O’Shea, all the while beginning to believe the Souls shouldn’t steal other people’s free will. Although Melanie had instructed Wanderer not to tell anyone she is still alive, the survivors learn the truth from Jamie (the only person she was allowed to tell). Meanwhile, The Seeker learns that the community is located somewhere in the desert and follows Wanderer there, but fails to locate them. After nearly being captured by the Seeker, Ian’s brother Kyle attempts to kill Wanderer, but is stopped by Ian and another human, Wes, after which Jared also learns that Melanie is still alive.

Wanderer is horrified to learn that Doc, the community’s medic, has been experimenting on people infused with Souls, removing the Souls from their bodies and killing them, and isolates herself from the group, but agrees to help Jared infiltrate a Soul medical facility to steal technology to cure the ill Jamie. In the process, they are attacked by the Seeker, who is then shot and captured by Jeb. The Seeker is taken to the caves, where she is removed from her host and contained in a pod stolen by Wanderer, who then sends the Seeker to a distant planet.

Wanderer teaches Doc how to remove the Souls from people’s bodies without harming them, and asks to be removed from Melanie’s so Melanie can have her life back. Melanie protests, having bonded with Wanderer, but Doc goes through with the procedure. However, rather than letting Wanderer die, Doc inserts her into Pet (Emily Browning), a human who was left brain-dead after the Soul inside her was removed, thereby ensuring that Wanderer can live without harming another soul. Wanderer, now in Pet’s body, begins a relationship with Ian, while Melanie reunites with Jared. A few months later, Wanderer and the others meet another group of humans who have been joined by Souls who have decided to live peacefully among them.

REVIEW:

Boy, oh boy, oh boy! Stephanie Meyers, author of the greatest literary work ever (note the sarcasm), tries her hand in the sci-fi genre with The Host. Comparisons to the abomination known as The Twilight Saga aside, curiosity does have me wondering what her next project would be and how  it would fare.

What is this abut?

When an alien race implants a parasite soul named Wanderer into Melanie Stryder’s body, she resists the takeover. Soon, Melanie and Wanderer become reluctant allies as they go on a quest to track down the men they love in this sci-fi thriller.

What did I like?

Idea. Say what you will abut how everything plays out, you cannot deny that this is a pretty nice idea. In the hands of a more competent author, I believe we could be looking at the next great sci-fi flick in the same vein as 2001: A Space Odyssey or the Alien franchise. Yes, I went there when talking about a Stephanie Meyer work.

Shiny. Just the other day, I was thinking about Flight of the Navigator, then I saw the vehicles these aliens were driving/flying around in. At first, I was going to criticize the overuse of chrome. Then I thought it is really no worse than the pristine white walls of their buildings and clothes. The use of the chrome seems to be just a way for them to differentiate and separate themselves from the humans.

What didn’t I like?

Love. For some reason, Stephanie Meyers cannot seem to get past the overly dramatic, slow moving (which I will touch on soon), too emotional character whom the audience has no connection to. I say this because the film was actually starting to move along at a decent pace and then we get hit with this love triangle that I guess fits in with what is going on, but also feels like it could have been left out.

Not the dude. William Hurt does a good job with his role. He and Diane Kruger seem to be the only ones with any discernible acting skills in the film. However, for some reason it appears as if he’s doing some weird Jeff Bridges impression and I don’t really know why. If the filmmakers wanted Bridges, they should’ve gotten him. Since they didn’t, then Hurt should’ve just played the character his own way.

Uninteresting. The pacing in the picture is horrific. It is over 2 hrs and feels like 20! I’m all for developing characters and really setting up the story and all, but there comes a time where you just need to get to what the audience came to see say the hell with all this other bs. Someone apparently didn’t give this filmmaker that memo as this could not have been dragged out any longer. I literally felt like I needed t slit my wrists and gouge my eyes out just to feel something other than boredom!

It would be easy to sit here and compare this to those Twilight films because it was written by the same author, but the truth is The Host is something that is different…until it falls back into the trappings of Meyers’ writing. For me, I’m not a fan of seeing my alien invasion films reduced to nothing. This is just a film that is best avoided at all costs. If you want a god alien invasion film, try Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Hell, even the remake will work better than this waste of 2 hrs and 5 minutes that I will never get back.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

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Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

At Camp Half-Blood, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) meets his half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith), who is a cyclops. The camp is later attacked by Luke Castellan (Jake Abel), who announces his plans to destroy Mount Olympus. Percy’s mentor Chiron (Anthony Head) discovers that Luke has poisoned the magic tree responsible for the barrier that protects Camp Half-Blood, which Percy learns was created out of Thalia Grace (Paloma Kwiatkowski), daughter of Zeus, who was killed by a cyclops. Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario) finds out that the Golden Fleece could restore the tree, and the camp’s director, Dionysus (Stanley Tucci), sends Clarisse La Rue (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares and Percy’s rival, to find it. Percy then sets off with Annabeth, Tyson and Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson) to locate the Golden Fleece on his own. Before they leave, the Oracle (Shohreh Aghdashloo) prophesies that a half-blood child of one of the three prime gods will fight Luke, and the half-blood will have the chance to either save Mount Olympus or destroy it. As Percy is the only known half-blood of the three prime gods (Tyson is not a half-blood because he is not half human), he assumes the prophecy must refer to him.

The Graeae (Missi Pyle, Yvette Nicole Brown and Mary Birdsong) give the group the coordinates to the island and leave them in Washington, D.C., where Grover is captured by Luke’s men, who need him to find the Fleece as satyrs are naturally drawn to it. Grover fears the cyclops Polyphemus (Robert Maillet), the creature that guards the Golden Fleece and uses it to lure in satyrs to eat. Percy, Annabeth and Tyson then meet Luke’s father Hermes (Nathan Fillion), who tells them that Luke is in an ocean liner in the Atlantic Ocean called the Andromeda; he asks Percy to apologize on his behalf for being a bad father to Luke. Equipped with gifts of tape that makes things disappear and a thermos of wind from Hermes, Percy, Annabeth and Tyson take a Hippocampus to the Andromeda and end up being captured by one of Luke’s soldiers, the Manticore (Daniel Cudmore), but escape using the magic artifacts. The trio eventually reaches the Sea of Monsters and is swallowed by Charybdis, meeting Clarisse in its stomach. She was given an old Civil War Confederate ironclad from her father to use on her quest, run by a crew of Confederate zombie soldiers, which has been somewhat modernized. They join forces to escape and reach Circeland, an abandoned amusement park above Polyphemus’ lair, where they rescue Grover and retrieve the Golden Fleece before being confronted by Luke, who reveals his plans to use the Golden Fleece to awaken the Titan Kronos (Robert Knepper).

Tyson sacrifices himself to protect Percy from a crossbow bolt fired from Luke, who subsequently steals the Golden Fleece and awakens Kronos. Tyson then returns, having been revived in contact with water, and rescues the others. In the ensuing fight, Luke and Grover are swallowed by Kronos before Percy realizes his magic sword, Riptide, is prophesied to be Kronos’ only weakness. Percy’s sword swing send Kronos’s body back, piece by piece, to the golden coffin which held his remains, and Luke becomes trapped in the hungry Polyphemus’ lair. The Manticore mortally wounds Annabeth before being killed by Grover and Clarisse, and Percy uses the Golden Fleece to revive her.

Returning to Camp Half-Blood, the group uses the Golden Fleece to restore the tree, and are surprised when it revives Thalia and restores her body. While the others celebrate, Percy realizes that perhaps Mount Olympus’ fate might rest on Thalia’s hands, not his.

REVIEW:

Percy Jackson returns to the big screen with Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. For some, like myself, the announcement of this flick has led to pure joy, while others have questioned why it was even made, especially three years following the original film when no one was really clamoring for it. Well, since I’m still working on a project regarding Greek mythology, this is right up my alley.

What is this about?

The epic adventures of Percy Jackson continue as the son of Poseidon and his friends venture into the perilous Sea of Monsters to find the Golden Fleece that has the power to save Camp Half-Blood, safe haven and training ground to the demigods.

What did I like?

Up the ante. As can be expected, the ante was upped in the sequel to 2010s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. With this film, we get bigger set pieces, no origin-itis, and lots more action. If Percy is going to succeed on the big screen, these films will have to continue to grow and give us more of what we ask for, because, if I recall, fans were begging for more action from the first film, and now we got it.

Old and new. All the characters we fell in love with in the first film are back. Well, most of them, anyway, as Pierce Brosnan is replaced, some may argue upgraded, by Anthony Head. Also returning to challenge Percy is Luke, son of Hermes, who now wants to resurrect the titan Kronos and is still suffering from daddy issues. We are also introduced to some new faces, particularly Tyson, Percy’s Cyclops half-brother with a heart of gold and Clarisse, daughter of Ares and an apparently rival to Percy.

Heart and comedy. Some films these days lack that emotional resonance with the audience, but when you have a character like Tyson who is whole heartedly devoted to his half-brother Percy. Sometimes, we just need to see that innocent love put on display. I, for one, was very appreciative that they played tins angle up, not to mention the fact that he was a nice little bit of comic relief. Also bringing in some of the funny was Nathan Fillion’s cameo as Hermes. You’ve seen his scene in the trailer, but he has a line that will have Firefly fans cracking up, plus who better to run UPS than Hermes, messenger of the gods?

Stain glass. Early on, there is a scene that is a bit of a flashback, but it is told using animated stain glass. The animation fan in me was loving this. I wish more films would use this technique. It wasn’t perfect, but it broke up the monotony of the film up to that point.

What didn’t I like?

Departure. I read this book when it first came out and was excited about it coming to the big screen. Unfortunately, it seems as if they strayed so far from the source material that it was nearly unrecognizable, not to mention leaving out and rearranging sections. It is too easy to bring up the age thing, or how the car scene is eerily reminiscent of the one from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but that is just the beginning. There are numerous things out of place from the source material, too many for me to look past.

Fantasy. I don’t know, I just felt like there should have been more of a fantastical element here. At times we got it, like with the chimera, the cyclops’, and the hippocampus, but I just think there could have been so much more. This is a film about the children of Olympian gods who have powers and abilities far beyond that of us mere mortals, let alone the fantastical creatures they can see that we don’t. I guess the filmmakers were thinking too many would have made this “childish” or “immature”. Don’t you hate it when they assume things like that?

Kronos. The great titan and father of the goods, Kronos, makes his first big screen appearance, but I have to question the choice of using him. First of all, he doesn’t appear for another couple of books, if I’m not mistaken. Going even further is the fact that he seems to resemble Hades from the God of War games, in terms of design The worst thing about the guy was his liquid form. I’m a little unclear if this was meant to be because he was still coming together, or if this is another power he had. Whatever the case may be, the CG wasn’t that great. As a matter of fact, he looked a bit pedestrian. For such an imposing figure, they could have done so much better with him.

Golden fleece. So, if something has golden in the name, such as the golden fleece, doesn’t it make sense that it should be gold? So, why is the golden fleece that they use to resurrect Kronos and heal Thalia a piece of fabric with a pattern on it. If this is to keep it in the modern world, fine, but, like I said, it’s called the golden fleece for a reason! Some may say it is cheesy, but at least in Jason and the Argonauts, the fleece is actually gold and…um…fleecy!

Please don’t get me wrong. I really did enjoy Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters for what it is, which is a decent fantasy flick. I even enjoyed the 3D *GASP*, because they actually did it right and threw things at the screen, which is more or less the reason for 3D, right? I don’t think it is any secret that they want this to be the next Harry Potter type franchise. If they want this to happen, then they need to tighten up the script and give us better visuals. That being said, this is still a highly enjoyable film, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

4 out of 5 stars

Top Hat

Posted in Classics, Movie Reviews, Musicals with tags , , , , , , on August 21, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

An American dancer, Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) comes to London to star in a show produced by the bumbling Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton). While practicing a tap dance routine in his hotel bedroom, he awakens Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) on the floor below. She storms upstairs to complain, whereupon Jerry falls hopelessly in love with her and proceeds to pursue her all over London.

Dale mistakes Jerry for Horace, who is married to her friend Madge (Helen Broderick). Following the success of Jerry’s opening night in London, Jerry follows Dale to Venice, where she is visiting Madge and modelling/promoting the gowns created by Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes), a dandified Italian fashion designer with a penchant for malapropisms.

Jerry proposes to Dale, who, while still believing that Jerry is Horace, is disgusted that her friend’s husband could behave in such a manner and agrees instead to marry Alberto. Fortunately, Bates (Eric Blore), Horace’s meddling English valet, disguises himself as a priest and conducts the ceremony; Horace had sent Bates to keep tabs on Dale.

On a trip in a gondola, Jerry manages to convince Dale and they return to the hotel where the previous confusion is rapidly cleared up. The reconciled couple dance off into the Venetian sunset, to the tune of “The Piccolino”.

REVIEW:

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were the “it” couple back in the day. Admittedly, Top Hat is only the second time I’ve seen them on screen together. The other being Swing Time. From what I’ve heard from others about this film, I’m sure to enjoy this, right?

What is this about?

This joyous Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical features an Irving Berlin score and the classic duet “Cheek to Cheek.” Astaire stars as Jerry Travers, a singer-dancer who auditions some new moves for producer Horace Hardwick at his hotel. The beautiful Dale Tremont (Rogers) is staying downstairs and the wackiness begins when she mistakes Jerry for Horace in this romantic comedy that received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

What did I like?

Dance, dance, dance. Fred Astaire is one of those people who can draw an audience in without saying a word. All he has to do I dance. Arguably one of the best dancers to grace the screen, he is also a good singer and actor. Compare him and Gene Kelly (the best example of this is their scene in Ziegfeld Follies) …good luck picking who is the better of the two.

Chemistry. Aside from the obvious chemistry between Astaire and Ginger Rogers, I was really impressed with how well the cast as a whole came together. As a whole they seemed to work like a well-oiled machine, something we don’t get to see too often in films of yesterday and today.

Golden voice. You may not know the actor, but if you watched the Rocky & Bullwinkle show, then you will recognize his voice from the Fractured Fairytales segments. Edward Everett Horton plays a pretty major role as the producer of Astaire’s show and is quite good in the role, especially with the likes of Fred Astaire to play against.

What didn’t I like?

Addendum. The last 30 minutes or so of this film just seemed to drag on. I would say that I had lost interest, but that wasn’t the case, as the best songs take place during this part, but I just couldn’t get into it.

Identity thief. A major plot point is the case of mistaken identity, but this doesn’t come into play until after the halfway point. Well, at least that’s when it seems to become the focal point. I guess I’m just a little wary on the identity thing after recently watching Identity Thief, so it didn’t really work for me.

Fred Astaire is one of the best entertainers to ever grace the big screen, especially when he’s paired with Ginger Rogers. Top Hat is passable entertainment with its enjoyably plot, memorable songs, and breathtaking dance scenes. However, the flimsy plot hurts it more than anything and I just had trouble staying with the goings on. With that being said, though, I still recommend this as something to check out. It isn’t a bad film, just not the best. Give it a shot sometime!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

The Muppet Movie

Posted in Comedy, Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The Muppets have gathered in a theatre to screen their new biographical film The Muppet Movie. As the film-within-the-film opens, Kermit the Frog enjoys a relaxing afternoon in a Florida swamp, singing “Rainbow Connection” and strumming his banjo, when he is approached by Bernie (Dom DeLuise), an agent who encourages Kermit to pursue a career in show business. Inspired by the idea of “making millions of people happy,” Kermit sets off on a cross-country trip to Los Angeles, but is soon pursued by businessman and entrepreneur Doc Hopper and shy assistant Max in an attempt to convince Kermit to be the new spokesman of his struggling French-fried frog legs restaurant franchise, to Kermit’s horror. As Kermit continues to refuse Doc’s offers, Hopper resorts to increasingly vicious means of persuasion.

Meeting Fozzie Bear, who works as a hapless stand-up comedian in a sleazy bar, Kermit invites Fozzie to accompany him. The two set out in a 1951 Studebaker loaned to Fozzie by his hibernating uncle. The duo’s journey includes misadventures which introduce them to a variety of eccentric human and Muppet characters, including Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem and their manager Scooter, who receives a copy of the script from the pair; Gonzo and Camilla the Chicken; Sweetums, who runs after them after they think that he has turned them down; and the immediately love stricken Miss Piggy.

Kermit and Miss Piggy begin a relationship over dinner that night, when Doc Hopper and Max kidnap Miss Piggy to lure Kermit into a trap. Using an electronic cerebrectomy device, mad scientist Professor Krassman (Mel Brooks) attempts to brainwash Kermit to perform in Doc’s commercials until Miss Piggy, infuriated by Krassman’s insult, knocks out Doc Hopper’s henchmen and causes the scientist to be zapped by his own device. After receiving a job offer, however, she promptly abandons Kermit in the barn alone and devastated.

After being joined by Rowlf the Dog and eventually Miss Piggy once again, the Muppets continue their journey. Fozzie trades his uncle’s Studebaker to a used car dealer for a 1946 Ford Woodie station wagon to accommodate their new friends, but later regrets the trade after the car overheats in the New Mexico desert. During a campfire that night, they sadly consider that they may miss the audition tomorrow, and Gonzo cheers up most of the group with a song about his longing to find his place in the world, while Kermit wanders off, ashamed of himself for seemingly bringing his friends into a dead end, and wondering whether his dreams were really worth leaving home for. Upon consulting a more optimistic vision of himself, Kermit remembers that it was not just his friends’ belief in the dream that brought them this far, but also his own faith in himself. Reinvigorated, he returns to camp to find that the Electric Mayhem and Scooter have read the script in advance, and arrived to help them the rest of the way.

Just as it seems they are finally on their way, the group is warned by Max that Doc Hopper has hired an assassin to kill Kermit. Kermit decides he will not be hunted by a bully any longer and proposes a Western-style showdown in a nearby ghost town inhabited by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker, who invent materials that have yet to be tested. While confronting Hopper, Kermit explains his motivations, attempting to appeal to Hopper’s own hopes and dreams, but Hopper is unmoved and orders his henchmen to kill him and all his friends. They are saved only when one of Dr. Bunsen’s inventions, “insta-grow” pills, temporarily turns Animal into a giant, scaring off Hopper and his men.

The Muppets proceed to Hollywood, and are hired by producer and studio executive Lew Lord (Orson Welles). The Muppets attempt to make their first movie involving a surreal pastiche of their experiences. The first take suddenly erupts into a catastrophic explosion that makes a hole in the roof through which a portion of rainbow shines through on the Muppets. The film ends as the Muppets, joined by the characters from Sesame Street, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, the “The Land of Gorch” segment of Saturday Night Live, and the James Frawley Muppet to sing “Rainbow Connection.” Back in the screening room, Sweetums bursts through the screen having finally caught up with the rest of the Muppets.

REVIEW:

I just heard this week that they greenlit a sequel to The Muppets, so I decided to take the time to watch The Muppet Movie. I thought I had seen this before, but I don’t remember it, if I did, of course, it was released before I was born, so that may have had something to do with it.

What is this about?

After deciding to pursue a career in acting, Kermit the Frog goes on a cross-country trek to find fame in Hollywood. Along the way, he meets Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the rest of the Muppets cast, and voilà, the Muppets are born.

What did I like?

Rainbow room. One of the things the Muppets are known for are the songs, whether they be catchy or heart wrenchingly beautiful, they grab your very soul and don’t let go. This is the case with the film’s opening number, “Rainbow Connection”. Not only is this a great melody, but it the cinematography leading up to it and introducing us to Kermit sitting in the swamp with his banjo really sets the mood.

Muppets. If you’re a fan of The Muppet Show, then you’ll see pretty much all of your favorites here. In a way, this film acts as a prequel to that program. For me, it was a blast to see all these characters again, and with the original voices. There is nothing like the warm tone of Jim Henson’s vocals coming from Kermit. No offense to the guy that currently lends his voice to our favorite frog.

Pacing. There is a nice pacing to this film. It isn’t slow nor does it slow down and bore the audience to death. Also, it slowly adds new characters, giving the audience time to invest in Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, and the others before adding on even more. I thought this was genius and something that other films with massive ensemble pieces should consider doing, especially as we are getting to know them.

What didn’t I like?

Cameos. I was listening to a podcast this morning and they were discussing this film. For those that don’t know, it was released on DVD/Blu-ray this week, the “nearly” 35th anniversary. The topic that stood out to me was the cameos. These are big stars, Bog Hope, Steve Martin, Orson Welles, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, etc. However, in 2013, not many people now who they are, at least the younger generations. Hell, even I have to go to Wikipedia for some of them. Does that take anything away from the film? No, but I think there may have been a bit of overkill with the number of cameos.

Picture. This is a minor technical complaint, but still something that needs to be mentioned. I watched this on Netflix streaming just now. I’m one of those people who actually likes the grainy look as opposed to the crystal clear picture. There is just a charm to it that really appeals to me. I guess you can say it makes a film akin to a fine wine, it has aged gracefully. The Netflix version isn’t perfectly clear, but I do think it could have been more of what the original was. I can’t blame them, though, that probably goes back to the DVD that they burned onto their servers, or whatever the technical way they go about getting movies on-line is.

Chase. Kermit, and later Fozzie and the Muppets they pick up along the way, are being chased by the film’s antagonist, Doc Hopper. As far as I can tell, this guy just wants to take Kermit and make from legs out of him. He must think those are some damn good frog legs for him to give chase cross country. I’m sorry, but the plausibility of that was a bit too much for me to swallow. Perhaps I just missed something, but his motivation just seemed a bit cloudy as far as I was concerned.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better family picture than The Muppet Movie. This is one of those rare films that all generations can enjoy, though for different reasons, be it nostalgia, jokes, or what have you. I found very little fault in this, but I can’t get over a weak villain. Other than that, I highly recommend this as a must see before you die film. Check it out!

4 3/4 out of 5 stars

11 Things

Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2013 by Mystery Man

Taken from the article “11 things we no longer see in movie theaters” by Kara Kovalchik

Before faceless multiplexes became the norm, one could always spot a movie theater in the distance, even if it was your first visit to that town. A large illuminated vertical sign announced the name of the cinema, and the triangular marquee below was lined with tiny blinking light bulbs. Even if the film being shown was a dud, that sign out front just lured you inside.

And that was just one of the trimmings that used to make “going to the movies” an event, a night out on the town. If you remember when an usher would scold you for speaking too loud, or had a grandma who had a full set of china only because she’d faithfully attended weeks of Dish Nights, these 11 artifacts might bring back some fond memories.

1. RED VELVET CURTAIN

As patrons entered the movie theater prior to showtime, they naturally lowered their voices and spoke in hushed tones as they found their seats. There was something about the lush, heavy red velvet curtain covering the screen that gave the auditorium an aura of majesty and demanded that people be on their best behavior. When folks were seated, they talked quietly among themselves, which was possible because the latest pop hits weren’t blaring out of oversized sub-woofers. If there was any soundtrack, it was atmospheric Muzak playing softly in the background. When the lights dimmed and the curtains parted with a flourish, the audience fell silent in anticipation.

Curtains haven’t covered movie screens since theater owners figured out how to turn those screens into temporary billboards. Today the screen is almost never blank; if the main feature isn’t showing, then a constant slideshow of advertisements and trivia questions is.

2. UNIFORMED USHERS

Those gallant men and women who escorted you to your seats at the cinema used to dress in more finery than a decorated soldier. But that was at a time when movie ushers did much more than tear tickets and sweep up spilled popcorn; they kept an eye out for miscreants attempting to sneak in without paying, offered a helpful elbow to steady women walking down the steeply inclined aisle in high-heeled shoes, and were quick to “Shhh!” folks who talked during the movie. Ushers carried small flashlights to guide patrons who arrived after the movie had started, and they were also the ones who maintained order when the film broke and the audience grew ornery. Of course, cell phones hadn’t yet been invented, so doctors or parents who’d left youngsters home with a babysitter often mentioned such to the usher as they were seated, so he’d be able to find them during the show if an emergency phone call was received for them at the box office.

3. DISH NIGHT

One gimmick that kept movie theaters operating during the very lean 1930s was Dish Night. Money was obviously very tight during the Great Depression, and families had to be extremely cautious when it came to any discretionary spending. A night out at the movies was an unnecessary luxury, and cinema audiences dwindled. Theater owners lowered their ticket prices as much as they could (sometimes as low as 10 cents for an evening feature), but what finally put bodies in seats was Dish Night.

Salem China and a few other manufacturers of finer dinnerware struck deals with theaters across the U.S., selling the theater owner their wares at wholesale and allowing their products to be given away as premiums with each ticket sold. Sure enough, soon housewives were demanding that their husbands take them out to the Bijou every week in order to get a coffee cup, saucer, gravy boat, or dinner plate to complete their place setting. One Seattle theater owner reported by distributing 1000 pieces of china costing him $110 on a Monday night, he took in $300—a whopping $250 more than he’d made the previous Monday.

4. ASHTRAYS

Movie theater seats didn’t come equipped with cup holders until the late 1960s, and even then it was something of a novelty that only newer cinemas boasted. What every seat did have for many decades before then, however, was a built-in ashtray. You can probably guess why that particular convenience has gone the way of the dodo bird: fire regulations and second-hand smoke dangers and all that.

5. NEWSREELS

Before TV became ubiquitous, most Americans had to get their breaking news from the radio or the daily newspaper. But neither one of those sources came equipped with moving pictures. Hence, the newsreel, a brief “you are there” update on what was going on in the world, was invented. Newsreels were commonly shown prior to the main feature and was the only way most people first saw actual film footage of events like the Hindenburg explosion or the Olympic games.

6. DOUBLE FEATURE PLUS A CARTOON

Movie patrons of yore certainly got a lot of bang for their buck (actually, more like their 50 cents) back in the day. Very rarely would a cinema dare to show just a single motion picture—patrons expected a cartoon or two after the newsreel, and then a double feature. That is, two movies for the price of one. Usually the second film was one that wasn’t quite as new or perhaps as prestigious as the main attraction, which is why we oldsters sometimes still describe a bad B-movie as “third on the bill at a double feature.”

7. SERIALS

A staple of the Kiddie Matinee was the Chapter Play, or Serial. Always filled with action and adventure, and either cowboys or space creatures, these 20-minute shorts were continuing stories that ended each installment with a cliff-hanger. And if even if the producers sometimes cheated and the hero managed to survive an automobile explosion even though he hadn’t gotten out of the cockadoodie car in last week’s episode, kids made sure they got their chores done and weekly allowance in hand early each Saturday. No one wanted to be the only kid on the playground Monday who hadn’t seen Crash Corrigan battle Unga Khan and his Black Robe Army.

8. “LADIES PLEASE REMOVE YOUR HATS” SIGNS

Going to the movies was a much more formal occasion in the 1920s and ’30s, and even the 1950s. Ladies and gentlemen dressed accordingly—women in dresses or smart suits (never their house dress that they wore while washing the dishes and vacuuming) and men in suits and ties. And no man nor woman would leave the house without a hat completing their outfit.

As fashions evolved, women’s chapeaus went from big to huge to ridiculously elaborate and back to tastefully understated (think Jackie Kennedy’s famous pillbox), while men had a more limited selection—the straw boater, the derby, the fedora. During those hat-wearing decades, blocking the field of vision of those sitting behind you was a very real problem, and it was just plain good form for men to place their hats in their laps during the film. Women, on the other hand, were more reluctant to doff their headgear—it was a part of their fashion statement, after all, and quite often a lady had said hat very intricately pinned in place. Thus the admonition for ladies to remove their hats during the show was born.

9. INTERMISSION

Remember what we said above about double features and serials and such? During that era, the projectionist needed time to change reels, which resulted in five or 10 minutes of “dead air.” Theaters put that down time to good use by rolling promotional reels to remind patrons of the cornucopia of delicious snacks just waiting for them at the concession stand.

10. EXQUISITE DÉCOR

There’s a reason that some of the larger downtown theaters in big cities were called movie palaces—thanks to elaborate architecture and decorating the Riviera or the Majestic were probably the closest most Americans would get to a palatial setting. Such cinemas were called “atmospheric theaters” because they were built and decorated with a theme, often one featuring a foreign locale such as a Spanish courtyard or a South Asian temple. Atmospheric theaters had lobbies that were several stories tall with one or more grand chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. No wonder folks dressed to go to the movies back then; wouldn’t you feel out of place wearing jeans and a baseball cap amid such splendor?

11. FULLY-EQUIPPED CRY ROOMS

Those elaborate movie palaces had many amenities that not every neighborhood theater had, including “cry rooms.” A cry room was a soundproofed elevated room in the back of the theater with a large glass window in front so Mama could still watch the movie (and hear it over a public address system) while trying to calm down a fussy baby. Many theatres that provided cry rooms also came equipped with electric bottle warmers, complimentary formula, and a nurse on duty.

December Boys

Posted in Drama, Independent, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on August 17, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

This film is a coming of age picture for the four main characters, and how their lives change over one Christmas holiday. The film is set in late 1960s Australia. Four orphan boys from a Roman Catholic orphanage in the outback of Australia – Maps, Misty, Spark and Spit – were all born in the month of December, and for their birthday, they are sent on a holiday to the beach to stay with Mr. and Mrs. McAnsh. While there, they meet Fearless, a man who claims to be the risk motorbike rider in the nearby carnival, and his wife, Teresa. Misty, Spark and Spit instantly become closer to Teresa, but Maps, eldest of the four, is still reluctant to talk to her. He instead finds more fun in spending time with an older teenage girl named Lucy, who had come to the beach to stay with her uncle. He often goes up to a place with strange rocks, and meets her there.

A few days later, the orphans peek through a window in Fearless’ house to see Teresa undressing, but Misty, being the most religious of the four, throws a rock at the wall to make them go away. Misty runs back to Mr. McAnsh’s house and looks through the small opening of a door to see someone in the shower, only to find that it is the sickly Mrs. McAnsh. They soon discover that she has breast cancer.

One night, Misty overhears Fearless talking to his friends about the possibility of adopting one of the orphans. Excited about the opportunity to finally have parents, he keeps it to himself until he decides to reveal it to a priest who has driven to the beach for the orphans’ confessions. The other boys realise that he is taking too long, and once he is finished, they force it out of him with the threat of Spit spitting on him while he is pinned to the ground. Misty, Spark and Spit are eager to compete for the love of the seemingly perfect Fearless and Teresa, but Maps is less than excited, even saying to Lucy, “What’s the big deal about parents, anyway?” Maps experiences his first kiss with Lucy, and soon loses his virginity to her in one of the caves of the Remarkable Rocks.

There, she tells him to promise that he will always remember her as his first. The next day, he goes up to the Remarkable Rocks, only to find Lucy is not there. Her uncle tells him that she’s left the beach to return to her father, and will not likely be back until next summer. Heartbroken, he goes to the carnival to find Fearless and talk to him, but discovers that he is not a motorbike rider there, and instead cleans up after the animals. Furious that he’d lied all along, he finds a painting made by Misty of him as the son of Fearless and Teresa, and destroys it. Misty attacks him and hits him with the fragments of the frame he’d put the painting in, and the bond between the four orphans is broken.

Fearless finds Maps in the cave of the Remarkable Rocks, and explains to him what had really happened. It is revealed to that Fearless was formerly a bike rider, and did all of the stunts with Teresa riding on the back of the bike. Then, there was an accident that kept Teresa in the hospital for nearly a year, making her unable to have children. That was the reason they had wanted to adopt one of the orphans.

Maps returns to the beach and finds out from Spark and Spit that Misty has gone into the water, and is drowning. Maps goes after him despite the fact that he cannot swim. Both he and Misty nearly drown. Underwater, they open their eyes to see a vision of the Virgin Mary, possibly meaning that they are dying. Before they can reach out to it, the two boys are grabbed by Fearless and brought back to the shore. Maps and Misty reconcile with each other and the four are friends again.

The next day, the boys are called to Fearless’ and Teresa’s house for an announcement. There, they reveal the couple is going to adopt Misty. He takes leave of his friends and he watches on the front porch with Fearless and Teresa as the other three orphans walk away and begin playing on some rocks down the beach. Misty realises that they are his true family, and asks Fearless and Teresa if he can stay with them instead. They accept, and he returns home with the orphans.

Many decades later, Misty, as an old man, drives to the same beach along with the ashes of Maps, who had recently died while working as a priest in Africa helping refugees, and Lucy’s ring that she gave to Maps on that holiday long ago. He meets up with Spark and Spit, and they toss the ashes & ring loose into the wind from the hill above the beach, remembering Maps and their time there, with a cheer to “The December Boys

REVIEW:

There was a time, not that long ago, that audiences were wondering if Daniel Radcliffe could do anything in his career besides play Harry Potter. He answered this question not only with this film, December Boys,, but also with a turn on Broadway in the play Equus, which saw him totally disrobe. I think it is safe to say that he can do more than play Harry, wouldn’t you?

What is this about?

After living together for years at a Catholic orphanage, four teenage boys must face the likelihood that they’ll never be adopted. But while on vacation, the boys become rivals as they compete for the affections of two prospective parents.

What did I like?

Coming of age. Look back to films such as The Outsiders, My Girl, Stand By Me, etc. Those were flicks that showed us a period of time where the characters were…”coming of age”. This film does the same thing and, from what I can recall, is the first of its kind in quite some time. I wonder why they stopped making films in this subgenre.

Characters. Anytime you take a story that involves multiple characters, you need to give each of them decent amounts of screentime. For the most part, this film does that and also throws in a few other characters. Is this a study in character study? A little bit, but that isn’t the main reason for being, if you will, for this film. Or is it?

What didn’t I like?

Dull. I really hate to say this, but this film is just plain dull and boring. I was fighting dozing off the whole way through it. The only time anything interesting happened, such as the super cute Teresa Palmer appearing, it doesn’t last long and we go back to having to sit through the equivalent of a lecture.

Horse. Perhaps I missed something regarding it, but there is this horse that randomly shows up. I’m not sure if it is really there or if it is some kind of hallucination, but it sort of makes no sense for it to be there, especially given the tone of the film. At the same time, though, it was a nice change of pace and lightened things up. Still, I believe it was misplaced.

I applaud Daniel Radcliffe for taking the chance and stretching out from the Potter universe with December Boys, but this was not a film that worked for me. My goodness, I hope the book isn’t this boring! Sure, there are those out there that will enjoy this, and that’s fine. More power to you, but for me, this is one of those films that exists for the artsy-fartsy crowd. Obviously, that isn’t me. If you’re into tis kind of flick, though, give it a shot.

3 out of 5 stars

Dragonheart

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Bowen (Dennis Quaid) mentors Saxon prince Einon (Lee Oakes) in the ideals of chivalry in the hope that he will become a better king than his tyrannical father. When the king is killed while suppressing a peasant rebellion, Einon rushes to claim his crown and is accidentally mortally wounded by the peasant girl Kara (Sandra Kovacicova). Einon’s mother, Queen Aislinn (Julie Christie), has him taken before a dragon whom she implores to save his life. The dragon replaces Einon’s damaged heart with a piece of its own on the promise that Einon will rule with justice and virtue. However, Einon soon becomes more tyrannical than his father, enslaving the former rebels and forcing them to rebuild a Roman castle. Bowen believes that the dragon’s heart has twisted Einon, and swears vengeance on all dragons.

Twelve years later, Einon, now an adult (David Thewlis) has had his castle rebuilt, and Bowen has become a dragon-slayer. Brother Gilbert (Pete Postlethwaite), a monk and aspiring poet, observes Bowen slaying a dragon and follows him to record his exploits. Bowen stalks another dragon to its cave, but the confrontation ends in a stalemate. The dragon (voiced by Sean Connery) states that it is the last of its kind, and thus if Bowen kills it, he will be out of a job. The two form a partnership to defraud local villagers with staged dragon-slayings. Bowen calls the dragon Draco, after the constellation of stars. Unbeknownst to Bowen, Draco is the dragon who shared his heart with Einon, and through this connection, any pain inflicted upon one is also felt by the other.

Meanwhile, Kara, also now an adult, (Dina Meyer) seeks revenge on Einon for murdering her father and is imprisoned. Einon recognizes her as the one responsible for his near-death and attempts to seduce her. Aislinn, disgusted by what her son has become, helps her to escape. Kara tries to rally the villagers against Einon, but they instead offer her as a sacrifice to Draco, who takes her to his lair. Einon arrives to recapture her and fights Bowen, declaring that he never believed in the knight’s code of honor. Draco intervenes and Einon flees. Kara asks Bowen to help overthrow Einon, but the disillusioned knight refuses.

Bowen and Draco’s next staged dragon-slaying goes poorly and their con is exposed. Draco takes Bowen, Kara, and Gilbert to Avalon, where they take shelter among the tombs of the Knights of the Round Table. Draco reveals the connection between himself and Einon, stating that he hoped giving the prince a piece of his heart would change Einon’s nature and reunite the races of Man and Dragon. Through this action Draco hoped to earn a place in his namesake constellation, which is a heaven for dragons who prove their worth. He fears that his failure will cost him his soul, and agrees to help Kara and Gilbert against Einon. After experiencing a vision of King Arthur (voiced by John Gielgud) that reminds him of his knightly code, Bowen agrees to help as well.

With Bowen and Draco on their side, the villagers are organized into a formidable fighting force. Aislinn presents Einon with a group of dragon-slayers, secretly knowing that killing Draco will cause Einon to die as well. The villagers are on the verge of victory against Einon’s cavalry when Gilbert strikes Einon in the heart with an arrow (He states “Thou… shalt… not… kill!”, quoting from Exodus 20:13). Draco feels the pain also, falls from the sky, and is captured. Einon realizes that he is effectively immortal as long as Draco remains alive, and determines to keep the dragon imprisoned. Aislinn attempts to kill Draco during the night, but Einon stops her, then he kills her.

The rebels invade Einon’s castle, and Draco begs Bowen to kill him as it is the only way to end Einon’s reign. Einon charges at Bowen with a dagger, but Bowen reluctantly throws an axe into Draco’s exposed heart. Draco and Einon both die, and Draco’s body dissipates as his soul becomes a new star in the constellation. Bowen and Kara go on to lead the kingdom into an era of justice and brotherhood.

REVIEW:

Anyone remember dragons? It wasn’t that long ago that they were on their way to being a big deal, but two less than stellar films curbed that push real quickly. Going back to the mid-90s, though, we get Dragonheart, a film that can appeal to the younger and older viewers, without alienating either by skewing more towards one or the other.

What is this about?

In an ancient time when majestic fire-breathers soared through the skies, a knight named Bowen (Dennis Quaid) comes face to face and heart to heart with the last dragon on Earth, Draco (voiced by Sean Connery). Taking up arms to suppress a tyrant king, Bowen soon realizes his task will be harder than he’d imagined: If he kills the king, Draco will die as well.

What did I like?

Hero. Every story like this has to have a believable hero, preferably one that will make women swoon. For some reason, girls go crazy for Dennis Quaid, so I guess that part is taken care of. As far as being a believable hero, well, given the development they give is character in the first few minutes, I would say that he does come off as a believable hero and the voice of king Arthur talking to him at Avalon was a nice touch that just added to the mystique.

Merida? When Dina Meyer was in the dungeon, she was wearing a green dress which, coupled with her curly red hair, made me think of Merida from Brave. I half expected her to start talking with a Scottish accent from that point forward. I would say that she should have been more of the damsel in distress, but considering that she is responsible for nearly killing the future king when they were young, it makes sense that she grows into a more independent woman.

Dragon. So, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know m thoughts on the CG vs stop-motion debate. Draco the dragon was made using early CG. By today’s standards he looks tame, but go back to 1996 and he looks pretty damn awesome! Sure, I would have liked for him to have been stop-motion, but that’s a personal preference. Now, if you’re going to have a dragon of importance, then it only makes sense he gets a powerful voice like Sean Connery, who is perfect for this role. Then again, I was reading that it was written with him in mind.

What didn’t I like?

Buddy comedy. When we first meet Sean Connery’s dragon, he seems like a creature of immense power and wisdom. The next time we see him, he shows off his fighting skills against Quaid’s Bowen. Unfortunately, as the film progresses, they seem to become more of a buddy cop film. I’m not against the dynamic between the two or the comedy, I just felt they could have done something else with their relationship.

Lupin. David Thewlis plays the young king Einon. As an evil tyrant king he actually does come off as a decent villain. However, there is just something about him that wasn’t sitting right with me. Perhaps it was the messed up teeth, the cheesy haircut, or the fact tat I’m more used to seeing him as Prof. Lupin in the Harry Potter films, I just couldn’t buy him as some kind of ultimate evil in the world.

Dust to dust. As it were, because of the heart transplant the occurs between Draco and Einon, they are connected and feel each other’s pain. Strangely enough, though, we don’t get much of this. It seems as if they would have taken every chance to utilize this plot device. Instead, we get a couple of scenes, and then the final death scenes where one of them turns to dust, I won’t spoil who. For me, it would have worked better if that would have done more with the bond between the two, or the good/bad side of the heart.

I felt the desire to watch a fantasy film this evening, so I took a chance on Dragonheart. I can’t say that I was disappointed with the results. While not the best film of this genre, it is was at least entertaining, which is more than I can say about some of its contemporaries. I know there are some out there that prefer darker, more serious fantasy films, but those of us with an open mind can enjoy tis film for what it is. Check it out some time!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars