Saturday, June 30, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

What begins as a simple go-pick-this-kid-up-for-questioning, quickly turns into multiple life and death situations involving shoot-outs, explosions, kidnapping, and a seriously mean girl who likes to kick, all while the entire United States infrastructure hangs in the balance. Just another example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or the right place at the right time, depending on your perspective) for old fashioned, every-man police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis), the self proclaimed fly in the ointment, monkey in the wrench and pain in the ass.

In this outing, directed by Len Wiseman (Underworld 1 & 2), McClane has been sent on a routine and boring call to bring in Matt Farrell (Justin Long also known as "Mac" from the PC/Mac television commercials), a computer code writer and known hacker, for questioning concerning recent events involving governmental computer breaches as well as the deaths of several other known hackers. The routine call turns complicated when shots are fired and McClane is able to prevent the murder of Farrell by several heavily armed and well trained men. As electronic systems across the country began to collapse, McClane, using his common sense and observation and Farrell, using his hacker insight coupled with information from the F.B.I., a plot emerges to destroy the country's vulnerable infrastructure perpetrated by uber-cyber-terrorist-with-a-grudge, Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), using systems he created along with the unwitting assistance of several computer hackers including Farrell.

It's been about twelve years since the last Die Hard movie and I'm of the particular camp that thinks twelve years is about nine years too long. Willis' McClane character is one of my favorite characters of all time and even had the movie only been moderately entertaining, I would have still been glad to be sitting in the theater for another action ride. Fortunately, in my opinion, the movie was extremely entertaining and I was glad to see the progression of the character mirroring the amount of time that has passed with only a few subtle references to the past experiences and adventures. The other aspect that I found enjoyable was that fact that an aging outdated and seemingly out of touch with technology character like McClane can still be pertinent in today's world. Sometimes old school is the best school.

Overall, I thought the movie had an excellent story that was far from being ridiculous while being tech savy enough to make certain aspects seem frighteningly plausible. The action was frequent but not a central character and did not seem out of place with what the story required and was produced with the use of old school stunt work and very little CGI effects, adding an additional depth of realism. The most important part, the human element, was never ignored and carried with the same "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" attitude that only a small handful of actors have ever been able to properly portray.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Big Wheel of Time (part 3)


Thinking back, I'm positive that was the quietest shout I've ever heard.

I wanted to run. Every cell in my body was telling me to run, but I all I could do was stare, transfixed in anticipation of the cry of anguish that would, at any moment, be issuing from the depths of that little boy. As if on cue, a cavern opened up on his beet-red face and what came out was many times worse than anything I could have imagined: absolute silence. Emerging from his tiny lungs was the howl of a pain without voice, a hurt of such intensity that no sound could adequately convey the emotion behind it.
Lanny pushed me as he ran by, breaking the spell. "Run!"
I realized immediately that we had very little time remaining because once that kid refilled his lungs with air, a sound similar to that of an air raid siren would cut through the night alerting the rest of the family, the surrounding neighbors, and probably every dog within several miles, that something was terribly terribly wrong. So I ran.

Coming out of the garage, I almost collided with Phil and Lanny who had stopped dead in their tracks and were staring across the front lawn, dumbfounded, as Stuart , holding the Big Wheel high above his head, sprinted away as swift and sure as any Olympic runner ever had.
"Holy --"
"Don't stop!" I said as I pushed them back into motion, "We've got to get out of here!"
Expecting to hear the sounds of pursuit at any second, we disregarded any notion of trying to be nonchalant for the sake of passing cars and ran like crazy.

We had parked a few houses down, around a curve, out of sight from the house, and I kept telling myself that if we could make it to the truck before anyone came out to investigate, we could possibly get away without being seen. I know Phil was thinking the same thing because, as we neared the truck, I could hear him saying, "Please, please, please." I looked behind me and everything was still clear. I looked back at the truck and could see Stuart in the back, motioning with his arms and saying, "Hurry up you guys," which was probably the most surreal part of the entire evening. Lanny, being a few strides ahead of us, was already in the driver's seat and firing the ignition which gave Phil and I just enough time to dive into the back with Stuart as Lanny put the truck in gear and took off.

Once the adrenaline had worn off and the nervous laughter had subsided, the drive back to Bates House was relatively quiet and low-key. No one bothered to mention the remaining item on our list because there wasn't enough time left and I'm sure, judging from the looks on everyone's faces, no one cared. As it turned out, it wouldn't have mattered anyway because, a few blocks from the dorm, we were stopped at a train crossing and by the time the train had passed and we had pulled into the parking lot, we were about five minutes late. Taking the plunder up would have taken, at least, another ten minutes, so we didn't even bother. We simply made our way to the sixth floor (Lanny had to take the back entrance to avoid the RA) to see who had won.

Surprisingly, had we made it back it time, we would have won. The first two teams to return had tied with seven items each and the third team had only been able to get five, and while each of the other teams had been able to find beach umbrellas, none of them had returned with foosball men. The other common items between the teams were traffic cones, barrier signs, pink flamingos and, of course, Big Wheels even though one would have been disqualified because it was a Green Machine. Technically not a Big Wheel.

Everyone sat around telling stories of their adventures and , after a while, I noticed that none of the stories were being told by my team. Not even the "Stuart sprinting" story. One of the time keepers had heard about Lanny and the janitor and repeatedly asked about it but everyone kind of shrugged it off and said it was no big deal - except for Stuart who seemed interested since he had obviously missed something and couldn't understand how. Finally, the other guys lapsed into stories concerning the less exciting events of the evening and I couldn't help but notice my friends all seemed a bit preoccupied and I guessed they were all thinking of that little boy's face, just like I was. I realized that we were keeping our silence because we felt guilty and knew the other guys wouldn't quite understand; they had all enjoyed themselves and had avoided the part of watching some kid cry by obtaining their Big Wheel's at empty playgrounds and, in the case of the Green Machine, at a Salvation Army donation box. I listened to the stories for a little while longer and, finally, got up and wandered back down to my room. I wanted to lie down for a while, maybe even go to bed early, to see if I could get that crying kid out of my head.

It's funny how it's so much easier to do something when you don't have to see the consequences of your actions. It's so easy to see objects and not consider their connections to actual living people and how we would feel if we were on the receiving end of such a so called "innocent" prank, or how one person's prank can be another person's violation. Growing up is a bitch and no one, for the most part, likes the thought of acknowledging the fact they've hurt people in the past, even if that was not their intent and it was "all in good fun." I couldn't help but wonder if my friends were as bothered by the situation as I was.

I was still in bed thinking about those things when someone banged on my door. I looked at the clock and realized I'd been brooding for a couple of hours because it was after midnight. I opened the door and standing in the hallway were Phil, Lanny and Stuart. They were all smiling at me.
"It's a good thing I wasn't asleep."
"We knew you'd be up," Phil said as they continued to stand in the hallway and smile at me.
Several seconds passed and no one said anything. All three of my friends just stood there, looking at me, smiling.
"Okay, you guys are starting to scare me. What's going on?"

Phil quickly explained that while it was okay to keep some of the smaller items like a couple of hard hats or a pink flamingo or two, there was no place to keep the larger things that were piled by the study area at the end of the hall. The big stuff needed to go before the RA saw any of it because he'd know who to blame. He went on to say they could really get into trouble because of the barrier signs and anything else that was "obviously" stolen.
"So me, Lanny and Stuart volunteered to dispose of it, being that we were the losers and all," Phil said, "And we knew you'd want to help."
"Cause you're part of the team," Stuart said.
"And a loser," chimed Lanny.
"At midnight?" I asked, "Why can't we do this in the morning after lunch? All we're going to do is toss the junk in the dumpster. Right?"
A funny look spread across Phil's face. "Not exactly."
"We came up with an idea without your help," Stuart said.
Lanny pointed back into my room, "Now grab your car keys and let's go."
"My keys?"

Roughly two hours later, after four or five trips to the dumpster from the sixth floor, two trips to Lanny's truck and one side journey in a Volkswagen Beetle, with Lanny on Stuart's lap in the front and Phil stuffed in the back with three Big Wheels and a Green Machine, I was back in my dorm room feeling physically exhausted but mentally upbeat. It had been a long night with several ups and downs but, in the end, it had proven a good night. I had learned several things that night but the most important was that I was only as good as the friends I kept and, thankfully, I had discovered that my friends were excellent people.

The scavenger hunt was only one of the adventures shared by the four of us that year, but it's memory is the one that flooded over me staring at Mrs. Brown's garage. Time is funny stuff. It can help us remember and forget as it rolls along it's uncertain path and while I may have forgotten small details here and there, I can still remember my three friends from that time period as if it were only last week. I can still see their expressions and hear their voices, and even though I could still see the image of that little boy breaking down in tears if I wanted to, I prefer to imagine the look on his face the following morning when he came outside to find three Big Wheels and a Green Machine sitting in his driveway.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Big Wheel of Time (part 2)

Besides myself, my team consisted of Lanny, Stuart and Phil. Lanny was a local (Columbia) boy; small and wiry with wild blond hair and unlimited energy, he was best described as a preppy Tasmanian devil and was the perfect representation of our spontaneity. Stuart was from a small town outside of Charleston and he was the polar opposite of Lanny: Tall, lanky, short dark hair, horned-rimmed glasses and extremely casual (slow). Nothing could make Stuart rush, so he represented our appreciation. Phil was the only "Yankee" in our group, having joined us from an average size town in New Jersey, and he was my best friend on the planet. He was short and stocky (built like a fire hydrant), wore his hair in a kind of flattop, had a mustache (like me) which his Italian heritage dictated and since Phil lived each day with a desire to laugh but a tendency to worry, he represented our conscience (or our mother). As for me, I was an average kid from a small South Carolina town who spent a lot time asking, "what if." I guess you could say I represented our possibilities.

As we descended the stairs, I shouted ahead to Lanny, who was already a floor ahead of us, that when we reached the third floor, Phil and I were going to go by my room to get a screwdriver and then we'd meet him and Stuart, who was nowhere to be seen, in the game room. Lanny shouted back a quick, "Whoo-hoo!" as Phil and I yanked on the fire door to the third floor and headed to my room. I wanted a screwdriver not only because I knew it could come in handy (no pun), but because there was one item on the list that had provoked immediate but silent eye contact between the four four of us: a foosball man. We all knew there was a storage room at the back of the game room and in in that storage room was four or five folding tables, fifteen or twenty folding chairs, various deflated sports balls and ripped volley ball nets, three pairs of crutches, two wheel chairs and several large canvas drop cloths laying on top of an old and broken foosball table. There was no way to know if any of the other teams knew about the table or not since we had discovered it, quite accidentally, when we were removing the wheel chairs for a race soon after realizing the storage room door could be opened by grasping the handle, lifting up and then pulling sharply to the right while simultaneously pulling it open or, in other words, forcing it. In our haste to get the wheel chairs out, a handle had caught on one of the drop cloths and pulled them all off, exposing the table. The foosball table was in poor shape with a cracked top, bent rods and missing handles but I knew we could easily remove one of the men without doing further damage because a team that can't play, can't be a man short. The only real problem would be getting into the store room without attracting the attention of the Resident Assistant on duty at the front desk, which was only about twenty feet away but, thankfully, facing away from the game room. The RA's had been keeping kind of a close eye on the game room, as well as us, since our wheel chair races had caused a bit of a ruckus and they had informed us that there would be disciplinary consequences if we were discovered entering areas that were off limits, again. With screwdriver in hand and heading towards the stairway that terminated beside the game room I was pretty sure I heard Phil say something like, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

I'll admit, as we descended the stairs, I was growing a bit nervous because, if the RA was up and roaming or not otherwise occupied, we were going to have a difficult time getting to the store room without wasting too much time since we couldn't very well keep wandering back and forth without seeming to be up to something. As I eased the fire door open, I heard the unmistakable sound of a disturbance consisting of a couple of raised voices, several people laughing, a loud and continuous squeaking and, louder than the rest combined, a sharp and pronounced , "Whoo-hoo!" every couple of seconds. Looking out across the main floor, it took Phil and I a minute or so before we grasped what we were seeing. Lanny, obviously knowing our intent and desiring to be the tactical diversion, had, upon exiting the stairwell by the front desk, commandeered the janitor's big yellow mop bucket (with mop wringer) by placing his left foot inside the bucket, holding the wringer handle for support, and pushing with his right foot in an effort to utilize the bucket as an unruly skateboard. Upon each push, Lanny would bellow a resounding, "Whoo-hoo!." From our perspective, Phil and I could see several students in the lobby watching the entertainment in confusion as the RA stood at her desk, yelling at Lanny to stop playing and getting water everywhere while the janitor, a amiable older black man who chewed tobacco and surreptitiously drank lime daiquiris from a thermos (long story), was yelling about his clean floors and, with mop in hand, trying his best to catch Lanny without busting his ass. We could tell when Lanny was approaching the desk because the squeaking would get louder, Lanny would pass in front of the desk and, before disappearing from sight, bellow a "Whoo-hoo" followed by the janitor, slipping and sliding and brandishing his mop overhead. After the third pass, Phil and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and ducked into the game room.

Once in the game room, getting into the store room, getting the foosball man and getting out again took us less than ten minutes. When we made our way into the main lobby, Lanny had already made his exit (or escape), the janitor was mopping up the excess water and mumbling something about "crazy white boys" and the RA was glaring at Phil and I as if we were miscreants beyond redemption. I glanced at Phil, who had the foosball man in his pocket, and his ears were a bright crimson and I swear I could feel heat radiating from them.  Calmly and slowly we made our way out the front entrance and, once the doors had shut behind us, Phil looked at me and said, "Now all we have to do is get to the parking lot and find Lanny." I started to answer but, instead, I simply pointed down at what I can only describe as the trail of a one-legged sponge making a break for it, and even though I knew who the single-footed print belonged to, it was still a rather odd sensation following the trail of a lone wet foot. Luckily, by the time we made it up the entrance ramp and was crossing the sidewalk to the parking lot, we could already see Lanny coming around the fire lane in his white pickup truck, wicked grin, windows down and Aerosmith blaring. Lanny had recently discovered the song "Dream On" and was so overwhelmed by it that he had taken a two-hour blank cassette and recorded the song eighteen times on each side and would let it play in a continuous loop. The first thing Lanny said as he stopped the truck was, "Whoo-hoo!," followed by, "Where's Stuart?" Phil and I, again, looked at each other but before we could shrug and say anything I heard Lanny say, "There he comes." I turned around and watched as Stuart, hands in his pockets, came strolling up the entrance ramp, across the sidewalk and over to the truck.
"Are we ready to start?"
Lanny gave Stuart a brief and empty stare and said, "Just get in the truck, Speedy."
So, with Lanny driving, Stuart in the front, Phil and I in the back and the four of us doing our best to devise a strategy through the sliding rear window while Steven Tyler wailed about getting old, we pulled out into the early evening with one item obtained and an hour and forty-five minutes left for the remaining nine.

The next hour passed rather quickly and uneventfully. During that time, we had acquired a railroad spike, a barrier sign with flashing orange light, a plastic pink flamingo, a cue ball, a hard hat, a traffic cone (we got the hard hat and traffic cone from the same telephone truck) and a neighborhood Community Watch sign (ironic, I know). With a little less than forty-five minutes left, we were faced with trying to find a beach, or other large, umbrella and a kid's Big Wheel. Since we were already in a housing community, Lanny was trying to drive slow enough so we could all scan the yards for either item, but fast enough so as not to attract any unwanted attention. Finally, after several minutes, there was a communal gasp as we all saw the same thing while being reminded that maybe tomorrow the good Lord would take us away.
"There it is," said Lanny.
Stuart followed with, "I don't care what anybody says, I'm getting out this time."
"We're going to get in trouble," piped Phil.
I just stared at the open garage; car pulled in on the right and a Big Wheel on the left near the inside door and said, "Park a couple of houses down and we'll walk back."

Now, to this day I have no idea why we all got out to go after the Big Wheel. I could understand Stuart wanting to be involved because we hadn't allowed him out of the truck based on his penchant for leisure; forcing him to sit and watch while the rest of us got out and ran around like a bunch of morons with no sense of direction. As it was, after previously only having only one or two people collect any given item(s), there went the four of us, slowly walking up a quiet sidewalk toward a house with an open garage and, as best we could tell from the lights, no activity near the object of our desire.

Standing at the end of the driveway, we scanned the road for signs of headlights and the surrounding houses for signs of movement. Hopefully, everyone was in front of the television watching The Cosby Show. Satisfied that all was clear, we looked at each other and with Phil whispering, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," we casually walked up the driveway and into the garage.
"Okay, somebody grab it and let's go," I said as quietly as I could and still be heard.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God"
"Maybe they have a beach umbrella in here," Lanny said.
"I get to carry the Big Wheel," Stuart said as I heard him lift it off the floor of the garage.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God"
"Let's go," I said as I looked up the street for any signs of cars.
"I'm still looking for an umbrella."
"Forget the umbrella. Let's go," I hissed.
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God"
"I've got the Big Wheel and I'm ready......uh oh."
"Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God"

It's amazing the chilling effect a small phrase like, "uh oh" can have on a person. There are probably millions of situations in which that phrase is the last thing you would ever want to hear and standing in some stranger's garage trying to steal their Big Wheel (and beach umbrella if they happen to have one) is definitely one of them.

I briefly locked eyes with Lanny as we both turned around to see why Stuart had uttered such a ridiculously terrifying phrase. Phil was standing next to Stuart still whispering "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God," and I swear his eyes were squeezed shut as tightly as another, less sunny, part of his body probably was at that particular moment. Stuart was standing where he had stopped and picked up the Big Wheel and, as he stood there holding it by it's right handlebar, I didn't say a word, I merely continued turning to see what he was looking at.

Standing just on the other side of the storm door was a little boy, maybe five or six-years-old, eyes beginning to well up, bottom lip starting to quiver and face turning a mottled purplish-red color. He was going to blow any second.

** to be concluded.........

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Big Wheel of Time (part 1)

Memories are curious things - they take all sorts of shapes and forms, some are easily accessible, others I wish I could get rid of, and some actually disappear when they're most required only to turn up after an exhaustive search and the need has passed. Kind of like keys. In fact, I'm sure I have plenty of memories that are essentially keys to who I am and they reside in a subconscious servant's quarters of my brain and only make themselves known when certain external stimuli act as a mental bellpull. These memories tend to be very detailed with emphasis on emotional content (good and/or bad) and can often times be intense enough to recreate the accompanying smells; a sensation which can be really weird or sometimes very comforting. A quick example would be how a certain blend of colors in a summer sunset can transport me back to the age of thirteen with daylight fading and a similarly painted sky overhead as I walk across the lawn to my house surrounded by the smell of cut grass after having spent a large portion of the day working in the yard. The memory carries a certain sense of tranquility and accomplishment along with a suggestion of loss and there are times when it surfaces that I can, beyond any doubt, smell the cut grass as I'm wondering if I'll ever feel contentment to that degree again.

Another, more recent, example is what prompted me to begin this retrospective meandering in an effort to further preserve a memory and the people involved while, at the same time, enjoying the opportunity of experiencing it, once again. It was early evening, I had just gotten back from the gym and was about to go inside when I heard Mrs. Brown, my neighbor from the street beside my house say, "Hello." Mrs. Brown is our neighborhood "cat lady," but rather than being alone with a house full of cat's by choice, she's alone because what family she had and everyone who was ever close to her has already passed away. She's still extremely nice but you can tell she expects to be joining her friends and family soon and it's easy to see in her face that she's a little frightened. She gets around with the assistance of a walker with wheels and when I see her out on the sidewalk I'm always afraid one of her cats is going to run between her legs and cause her to fall, so I was surprised to hear her voice coming from behind me and several houses down from her driveway. I turned around and saw that she was coming from the park in front of my house and had stopped at the intersection of her street, which ends at the park, and my street, and was accompanied by a little boy, no older than five-years-old, on a Big Wheel. I said, "Hi," and waved as she and her companion worked their way across the street and up the sidewalk. "This is Stevie," she said, as they neared her driveway, "He's Mrs. Daniel's boy," as if I'd know who that is, "She had to go back to work and I told her I watch him until his daddy comes to get him." Mrs. Brown seemed genuinely pleased to be looking after someone, for a change, and the finality behind her eyes was almost totally obscured by the smile on her face. I continued to watch as they made their way up her driveway and into the garage and once there, after greeting a multitude of cats, they, along with the cats, disappeared inside. I was left staring at an open two-car garage with a single car parked on the right and a Big Wheel parked on the left in front of the door leading into the house. That's when I remembered.

It was my second semester at the University of South Carolina and I was living on the third floor of Bates House (building on the right), a dorm named for a South Carolina state treasurer but heard most often in association with the word "master" in a majority of conversations. My best friends lived on the sixth floor and on one particular Saturday evening the remaining weekend residents of their floor persuaded us to partake in a scavenger hunt. The idea of a prize consisting of pizza and beer was tossed around, but in reality the hunt was merely a competition to see who could return with all the items for the sake of bragging rights and because we didn't have anything better to do. There were enough people involved to make up four teams ranging from four to six members which basically meant that four groups of best friends would be competing against each other.

The list was comprised and agreed upon by three residents of the sixth floor, who would remain on the hall to act as time keepers as well as judges for the returning teams, and presented to us with a two-hour time limit. It was fortunate that at least one member of each team drove a pickup truck, no big surprise in South Carolina, really, since some of the items on the list were a little bulky and trying to quickly stash them into a Volkswagen Beetle (what I drove) with four occupants could have proven difficult.

So, with the word "go" from the judges, lists in hand, and an overwhelming desire to be cool and conspicuous as opposed to proficient and practical, our four Bates House Scavenger Hunt teams dashed from the centrally located breezeway (by the elevators) to the four opposing stairwells.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Brotherhood of the Wolf

The year is 1765, the king is Louis XV and in a rural province of France, a vicious and seemingly supernatural creature is savagely killing local inhabitants, primarily women and children. Unseen, possessed of enormous strength and a cunning, almost human, intelligence, the beast has eluded capture for years. The King sends in a renowned scientist, Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), and his Iroquois blood brother, Mani (Mark Dacascos), an unconventional team whose combined methods and talents may give them the required advantage in finding and destroying the beast. Unfortunately, the beast represents a much darker horror that few, if any, could have foreseen.

Yeah, I know, another subtitled movie - but a really good subtitled movie. Anyway, if you haven't already seen this movie, I highly recommend it, and don't worry about the subtitles because it does have an English language track and, to be honest, the English track is not nearly as distracting as some of them can be. I only prefer the subtitles because, generally, the full meaning along with certain nuances are more evident.

The original title to this French film is, Le Pacte des loups, and the movie is based upon the Beast of Gévaudan, a real wolf, or wolf-like creature, that terrorized the Auvergne and South Dordogne regions of France killing close to 100 people during the years 1764 to 1767 in brutal and sometimes bizarre circumstances. The incorporation of this very real horror with a well conceived story makes for an exciting and sometimes tense viewing experience. Things are not what they seem and everyone has something up their sleeve.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

In this follow-up to 2005's Fantastic Four, director Tim Story introduces us to the Silver Surfer (portrayed by Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne), a mysterious and powerful creature who has come from the deep reaches of space to make preparations for the impending destruction of the Earth. As the surfer wreaks havoc around the planet, Reed Richards, also known as Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue Storm the Invisible Girl (Jessica Alba), her brother Johnny Storm the Human Torch (Chris Evans) and Ben Grimm the chiseled Thing (Michael Chiklis), are called upon to ascertain the purpose of and devise a strategy against the Silver Surfer while, at the same time, dealing with the unexpected return of their mortal enemy from the first adventure, Dr. Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon).

Just like the first movie, check your brain at the door, find a good spot in the center of the theater, sit back and have fun. There's nothing overly serious about this sequel, yet there's nothing overly insulting, either. The story is fast paced, the action and humor is often, the effects are top-notch, the slow parts are, thankfully, few and far between and the running time is only 1 hour and 35 minutes; long enough to cover all the bases and short enough so as not to become tedious.

I had taken the time, Friday night, to re-watch the first film in order to refresh myself with the feel and style of the director's storytelling which allowed me to already have the proper mindset as I entered the theater. Since the origins of each member had been described in the prior film, the story was able to advance rather quickly and while the main plot of the Surfer and return of Dr. Doom would have been adequate for this sequel, alone, I found the inclusion of a subplot dealing with the media and their coverage and infatuation with "celebrities" over real news to be somewhat refreshing, if not a little ironic.

All in all, I enjoyed this movie more than the original and found it to be a fun, unpretentious hour and a half of escapism that asks little of the audience except for maybe a strong suspension of disbelief. Just what a summer movie should be.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cold Comfort Farm

This film is the second adaptation of Stella Gibbon's 1932 comic novel which parodies the popular conception of life in rural England in the late 1800's and early 1900's set forth by such authors as George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and Emily Brontë. The heroine, Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) is a twenty-year-old aspiring writer in need of material for her first book and a residence following the death of her parents. A close and well-to-do friend (Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous fame) persuades her to contact her only remaining family, the cousins who live on the rural Cold Comfort Farm, and move in with them. Upon arrival, she discovers the farm to be brimming with eccentrics including, just to name a few, Judith (Eileen Atkins), who has strong feelings for her son Seth (Rufus Sewell), who has a fondness for movies and sex, Judith's husband Amos (Ian McKellan), the amateur hellfire preacher at the Church of the Quivering Brethren and Judith's mother Ada Doom (Sheila Burrell), the reclusive farm owner who dictates orders from a locked room because of having seen "something nasty in the woodshed" when she was young. As Flora, using her modern education and common sense, begins to unravel and organize the lives of the characters of Cold Comfort Farm, it eventually occurs to her that the material for her book has been surrounding her all along. (me)

As I mentioned at the top, this is the second adaptation of the book - the first was a British television mini-series (1971) and this one (1995) was a British made for television movie directed by John Schlesinger who is known for such movies as Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man and Pacific Heights. This version was so popular that Universal acquired the distribution rights and released it in U.S. theaters in 1996.

I first saw this movie a couple of years ago and was surprised that it had remained under my radar for as long as it had (the DVD came out in 2003). I'm a huge fan of British writing and acting and a collection of actors, such as this, is enough to get me to watch a movie regardless of the story. Everyone involved puts forth a typically good, easily believable and, in some cases, exceedingly funny performance. Ian McKellan, of course, stands out and is a joy to watch along with the performances of Rufus Sewell and Kate Beckinsale, however, that is not to say that everyone else's performances are lacking because they're not. Even Stephen Fry, most recently seen in V for Vendetta, shows up with most sincere performance.

If you're fond of British pieces (period or not) and have an affinity for eccentrics, there's a good chance you will enjoy this movie but, that's just my opinion. For me, a recent viewing has convinced me that I should add the book to my list of "books to hopefully read in this lifetime or the next" in order to get the full effect of the characters. I'll keep you Poste(ed).

Friday, June 08, 2007

Work Work Work

The return of higher temperatures and humidity to sunny South Florida has had a two-fold effect on the company of which I'm the Office Manager:

1. We are very busy and will tend to remain so until some time in October - which is great for the company and everyone involved who has become accustomed to making decent and increasing salaries (including me) but, unfortunately, it also means that

2. I actually have to work.

I guess it's a fair trade off considering I get to pretty much take it easy for roughly six months out of the year. So, believe me, I'm not complaining I'm merely stating the reason for not being around as often as I would've liked during the past couple of weeks. Keeping up with the movie stuff is easy since that occurs on the weekends but suddenly being hammered at work has kept me conspicuously absent during the week because, in all honesty, I do most of my writing while at work or, as least, I start most of it while there. The problem is after being on the phone and computer all day long performing real work, the last thing I want to do when I go home is start all over again when I know there are books to read, movies to watch, games to play, food to cook and well, you get the idea. I'm the type of person (geek) that if I come home and sit down in front of the computer, I could easily be there until 1:00 in the morning and then I'd be frustrated that I didn't get to anything else (geeky) that I wanted to do. So, instead, I've gotten to where I try and allow a little time for several interests or needs, each night, so that by Friday I generally feel that I've had a full, productive and enjoyable week. It doesn't always work out that way but, at least, I try.

However, fear not, for as I slowly readjust to being busy on a semi-continual basis, time should become less and less of a dominant factor in my writings and I'm sure that daily life will provide me with ample mental fiber for somewhat regular posts. At least, that's how I see it and hope it will be.

By the way, I had a review for Paul McCartney's new CD, memory almost full published over at Blogger News Network. BNN gets notices from certain PR companies regarding upcoming materials and will offer the chance to make contact and receive the item(s) in order to write a review. I was lucky enough to get the McCartney info and the company representing Hear Music, Starbuck's new music label, sent me the CD a couple of weeks ago. I listened to it several times, really enjoyed it and got the review up last weekend. Odds are, you've probably heard it if you've been in a Starbuck's this week. The review is posted here, if you're interested. I've included the CD cover - if you'd like to know more concerning the CD and the development of the collection of songs, just click on the picture (you have to register, but it's kinda cool - if you're a fan, at least).

Sunday, June 03, 2007


The stylish direction of Guillermo del Toro makes this colorful adaptation of Mike Mignola's graphic novel a lot more entertaining than it might have been in less capable hands. The principal character, after all, isn't just some costumed do-gooder; he's a supernatural being whose origin is considerably less benign than that of the average comic-book crime fighter. Hellboy (portrayed by Ron Perlman), a genuine spawn of the netherworld, is found in the waning days of World War II by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt), who also looks after other mutants kept safe from prying eyes in a secret compound. When the reincarnated Grigori Rasputin -- yes, that Rasputin -- unleashes long-suppressed demonic forces against America, the FBI enlists Hellboy's aid in combating the inhuman creatures doing the evil mesmerist's bidding. Perlman, having played bestial characters before, brings much-needed warmth and humor to Hellboy. He's well supported by Hurt and Selm Blair, properly enigmatic and more than a little wistful as Liz Sherman, whose pyro-kinetic abilities make her dangerous to be around. Doug Jones, totally unrecognizable in makeup and prosthetics, turns in a fine performance as Abe Sapien (voiced by David Hyde Pierce), the half-man/half-fish who aids Hellboy when the FBI comes calling. Very much like the comic books it brings to life, Hellboy pulsates with energy and teems with dynamic visual effects. While the film has wry, humorous moments, it never condescends to its audience. That's more than can be said for many comic-book movies; and for that, del Toro deserves considerable credit. (all movie guide)

Just for fun, here are a few other comments concerning this film:

Washington Post

Del Toro moves his story along with unrelenting energy and wit while introducing the opposing parties with admirable efficiency. Richard Harrington

Chicago Sun-Times

One of those rare movies that's not only based on a comic book, but also feels like a comic book. It's vibrating with energy, and you can sense the zeal and joy in its making. Roger Ebert

Boston Globe

So forget about taking anyone under 12. But if you want to see what a benign demon looks like when he's eating nachos and unwinding to Al Green, this is the movie for you. Ty Burr


Guillermo del Toro is in a class with Peter Jackson as a fan-boy who gets it--a brilliant filmmaker who has a kind of metabolic connection to horror and sci-fi that helps him transform secondhand genre material into something deep and nourishing. David Edelstein


Hellboy is the first comic book based movie that I've seen in which I had never actually read one of the comics. I was familiar with the comic and it's creator, Mike Mignola, I had simply never gotten around to reading one. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with the movie and any prior knowledge of the story was unnecessary since all of the character's origins and motivations are explained perfectly.

Guillermo del Toro's direction of the film is nothing short of spectacular - every scene is realistically represented down to the most minute detail and is showcased with his flair for depth and color. By the way, del Toro is also the recent writer and director of Pan's Labyrinth which received 22 minutes of applause at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Foreign Language Film along with five other nominations - winning in the categories of Art Direction, Cinematography and Makeup.

Also, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Ron Perlman's performance. He is Hellboy. Perlman was able to bring an amazing sense of style, determination and casual wit to a character that, for the most part, is made up entirely of muscles and makeup. Not an easy task but Perlman pulls off one of the best performances of his career.

For me, movies are all about being transported to a different place and I usually base a large part of my like or dislike on how adequately a film achieves that goal - be it science fiction, action or drama. The more I feel like a witness, or a fly on the wall, the more I like the movie. Hellboy truly takes you along for the ride and I know there are plenty of people who have some unexplainable aversion to comic books (the horror!) and the movies they produce but, for once, expand your mind and imagination, pretend ever so briefly that possibilities really are limitless and give in to that sense of wonder from your childhood that still resides as a flicker somewhere deep inside of you and watch this movie. You might be surprised at what your narrow point of view is capable of accommodating. However, that's just my opinion.

By the way, there are two versions of the movie - the theatrical release and the director's cut - both are very good but if you haven't seen it, I would recommend renting either version but buying the director's cut which is longer and also includes two additional discs worth of material including extensive interviews and commentaries with the cast. Also, should you have the capabilities of high definition, Hellboy comes out on blu-ray disc June 7. Yes, I've already ordered mine.