Saturday, March 03, 2007

Long story short, I'm moving blog.
So, as I'm going through the motions of replicating all the 2007 posts over in the new blog, there may be a slight delay with the newer reviews.
Anyway, here's the new Five-Legged Iguana.
Thanks for stopping by.
Now get over there.

Carpe noctem and all that Latin jazz,


Thursday, March 01, 2007


Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is one of those comic titles that seems tailor-made for the animation treatment, and true enough, Sword of Storms is quite possibly the best of the recent crop of animated adaptations of comic book heroes.

Taking Japanese myth and folklore, Mignola, Phil Weinstein (director), Tad Stones (on story), and Matt Wayne (on the script) craft a rollicking yarn that is populated by a whole slew of beasties from fox spirits to kappas. (My personal favorites though, were the floating vampire heads, reminiscent of the penanggalan—the Malaysian cousin to our own manananggal. Of course, the traditional penanggalan have their intestines dangling from their bloody neck stumps, but this is a cartoon after all…)
Considering I have a serious yen for weird sh*t (including weird Asian sh*t), I think it’s fantastic the way the writers and artists approached the material. This isn’t one of those cases where the legends are just chewed up, swallowed, and excreted in a form that degrades and diminishes the myth. Despite the over-all fun mood of a Hellboy adventure, you still get the feeling of proper respect for these ancient tales.
Everything gets thrown into Sword of Storms, including the samurai journey where the young warrior encounters all sorts of mystical ne’er-do-wells, and the ghostly love affair which must find a final resolution. All that, and dragons too!

I must guiltily admit this: I actually enjoyed Sword of Storms a lot more than the live action Hellboy movie. (Sorry, Senor Del Toro.)
All I missed from the live action version were the vocals of David Hyde Pierce for Abe*, and Selma Blair in the flesh. Ah, well, can’t win ‘em all.
Here’s hoping Blood and Iron (the next Hellboy Animated adventure), and the live action Hellboy sequel, will be just as fun as Sword of Storms was.

* David Hyde Pierce did not take credit for voicing Abe since he felt Doug Jones deserved full credit for the character. Jones has frequently collaborated with Guillermo Del Toro since he first appeared in Mimic; Jones portrayed Pan and the Pale Man in El Laberinto Del Fauno. He is also appearing in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, as Norin Radd (a.k.a. the Silver Surfer).

Thanx to Reg.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

HEROES Season 1 Episode 17 (WARNING: SPOILERS)
“Company Man”

Though I’ll probably be accused of bias, I’m going on the record as saying “Company Man” is one of the best episodes of Heroes since the pilot landed us all firmly in the middle of this brave new chapter of serialized television.
Ted and a hesitant Matt taking the Bennets hostage sets the stage for us to witness HRG’s past, and an explosive past it is.
It’s fifteen years ago and HRG gets a partner, one of “them,” and look! If it isn’t our roguish invisible man.
HRG then gets to adopt a baby girl, thanks to… Gasp! Sulu is evil! And there! That little geeky Japanese boy! And that rooftop looks awfully familiar!!! Is everyone in this world evil?!?
As it turns out though, it appears HRG may be one of the least evil of the bunch. Eric Roberts (yes, Julia’s brother) appears as Thompson, HRG’s immediate superior, and a slimy superior he is (and we all know E.R. can do slimy with the best of them).
There’s more in the flashback, pivotal moments in HRG’s life, and even as we’re privy to that, there’s the whole tense hostage situation at the Bennet home taking place, a stand-off which results in the spectacular destruction of said home from Ted’s minor meltdown (the best protracted fx sequence of the show thus far).
And when Thompson sees evidence of Claire’s powers, all I could think was, “The f*cker saw! The f*cker saw! Now Sulu’s gonna take Claire away!!!”
Man, this episode wrung me out…
Written by Bryan Fuller (co-creator of the sadly short-lived and sorely missed Wonderfalls) and directed by Allan Arkush, this is one of those brilliant hours of television where everything just falls into place. Even the final step HRG takes to ensure Claire’s safety has a nice poetic irony to it.
Fuller and Arkush make it all look so effortless, and my proverbial hat is off to them. The tension is palpable, the performances are top-notch, the episode looks great, and the script is emotionally potent, firmly establishing relationships and conflict, giving characters we’ve already come to know even more depth and complexity. (Mrs. B is an eye-opener.)
Here’s hoping we see more of the Fuller-Arkush tag team in episodes to come.
Given how “Company Man” ends though, I hope HRG’s journey back towards humanity hasn’t been brutally truncated. I also hope this doesn’t mean Claire disappears off the board for awhile. Then again, we do have to get back to the other subplots, particularly Jessica off gunning for Nathan. (It has been two episodes since we’ve seen Jessica. And yes, I know I’m not her biggest fan—shhh, don’t let her hear that—but that particular dangling subplot is distracting.)
And soon… the mysterious Mr. Linderman…
LOST Season 3 Episode 9 (WARNING: SPOILERS)
“Stranger in a Strange Land”

So last week was Desmond, this week it’s Jack.
Now, I’m not necessarily against spotlight episodes. (And, by Lost’s nature—with each episode having flashbacks centering on one character—each episode is, in a manner of speaking, a spotlight episode.) It’s just that we seem to be losing sight of all the other characters, not to mention the plot.
Sure, we see Kate and Sawyer, but what about Locke, and his plan to get Jack and company back? What about Sun (who did, after all, shoot another person dead)? Then there’s the little matter of Des’ lady love, Penny, picking up the electromagnetic anomaly that was the hatch implosion during season 2’s finale.
I only point this out because Lost is the kind of show that may have difficulty attracting a new audience, given the complexity of its story. It’s also a show that at the moment, seems to be losing some of the less faithful (and less patient) portions of its core audience.
Now, it’s always been my firm belief that the best Lost episodes are those that give us a deeper, better insight on the psychology of the characters (through the flashbacks), while at the same time, advancing the plot of the story taking place on the island.
The thing is, at the moment, the island story is moving at a snail’s pace, and I feel the show should step it up, considering all that doomsayer talk surrounding its flagging ratings.
Come on, people! This show is still one of the best on the air today, with one of the best ensembles, and some of the sharpest writing around.
Sure, I love Bai Ling, but did we need to see more of Jack again? I mean, we’ve brought in Paulo and Nikki but these two have done little more since their introduction than be two more pretty faces stranded on the island. And while we have yet to learn more about Paulo and Nikki, we are then sucked into the lives of Alex and erstwhile boyfriend Karl. We also make the acquaintance of the new sheriff in town, Isabel (played by Diana Scarwid, fantastic as Jaye’s mom, Karen, in the sorely missed Wonderfalls).
So, so many players. And will some of them end up deader than disco even before we really get to know them?
And perhaps because of the Cecil B. DeMille cast of thousands, sometimes it seems the focus of the show gets too diffuse; though we do learn more about specific characters, the main story gets sidetracked. We also need to ask ourselves, was what we learned about the character truly significant in the larger scheme of things, or was it ultimately a character note to add to that person’s bio?
I bring this up only because I want the show to have firmer footing than it has right now. I want Abrams, Lindelof, Cuse, and company to end the show according to their plans, and not because ABC decided to pull the plug due to ratings.
I think it’s safe to say that window when Lost burst into the social consciousness as a phenomenon is shrinking (if it hasn’t already disappeared). The Lost team needs to make what we, the hardcore fans, already know, glaringly obvious: that this is a great show.
Of course, there will be hiccups, there will be lags. No show is perfect, after all. Peaks and valleys and all that. But what needs to be done is to minimize the hiccups and the lags, keep the peaks high and the valleys shallow. Episode in, episode out, we need to kick a$$, gentlemen.
Let’s get down to it. A little over a dozen episodes to go till season end.
Dazzle us. I know you can.

Monday, February 26, 2007

OSCAR Reactions 2007

So I’m writing this in the glow of my annual post-Oscar watching labors, and if this is how I feel year in year out on the big night, the thought of what the nominees go through is mind-boggling.
And speaking of nominees, the opening sequence with the nominee interviews was great, the first of several excellent montages seen throughout the night.
Like all Oscar nights, it was a night of wins and surprises and close-but-no-cigars.
Let’s get to it.

I’ll be doing this by the films I’ve actually seen and was rooting for in one category or another, and since I mentioned Oscar in its review, I’ll start off with:

El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)
2 out of 6 (for Art Direction and Cinematography). Not exactly an outpouring of love, but hey, they could have gone home with nothing (see below). It stung though, when it was edged out in the Best Foreign Language Film category. (All I have to say is, Herr von Donnersmarck, your film better kick major a$$.)*
That, and a) Guillermo Del Toro was nowhere to be seen in the Best Director category, and b) Little Miss Sunshine ran away with Best Original Screenplay. (This was an instant replay of the BAFTAs; I honestly thought Babel was the stiff competition in that category.)

1 out of 7. Thankfully, it was for one of the elements of the film that really impressed me (in a film that was incredibly impressive as a whole), Gustavo Santaolalla’s score. (Talk about instant replay of the BAFTAs; same ratio, same category win.)

Children of Men
0 out of 3. Like I said, you could go home with nothing.
One of the biggest Oscar crimes this year, sending Cuaron home with nothing, not even a nomination for Best Director. And you’d think that with the jaw dropping shots they got for this film, that it would have gotten Emmanuel Lubezki that statue for Cinematography. (I may love El Laberinto Del Fauno, but Children of Men just doesn’t take any prisoners when it comes to getting and delivering the shot.) At least Lubezki got the BAFTA. (Which at least had the decency to send the film home with 2 out of 3.)

Marie Antoinette
1 out of 1 (Costume Design). At least Milena Canonero went home happy.
It’s a crime though that this film was so underrepresented at the Oscars, and was sent home on BAFTA night with 0 for 3.

An Inconvenient Truth
2 out of 2 (Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song). Go, Al Gore!!!
And go, Melissa Etheridge!!! (I mean, opening that can of whoop-a$$ on Dreamgirls the way you did is almost criminal…)**

Superman Returns
0 out of 1. Arrgghh!!!
Isn’t it enough that Dead Man’s Chest went home with the boffo box office, they have to steal the award too?!? (Again with the BAFTA instant replay.)
Props though, to Michael Mann, for including a Superman Returns clip in his “America in Film” montage, along with snippets of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and Sam Mendes’ Jarhead.

Little Miss Sunshine
2 out of 4 (for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin).
I may have had issues with you, but I liked you well enough. Then you had to butt heads with Del Toro and Laberinto, and whup a$$ at the BAFTAs and the Independent Spirits. Little Miss Evil is more like it…

And the big win of the night…

The Departed
4 out of 5.
Finally, Marty gets his statue, and is given it by three of his life-long film school buddies, Coppola, Spielberg, and Lucas. (The second that triumvirate came out on stage, what seemed to be a foregone conclusion of the night became concrete reality, and I was thrilled and relieved.)
With William Monahan taking home the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, the pressure for the Departed sequel, already great, is now massive. Monahan now has a new first name: “Academy Award-winning writer of The Departed.” (A lot rests on Monahan’s shoulders, as final approval depends on Scorsese liking what’s on the page.)
Best Editing was a category I was really conflicted by. I loved Thelma Schoonmaker’s work on it, and after seeing the film, felt certain she deserved the award. But then there we were, with Schoonmaker up against Rodriguez and Cuaron and Children of Men hadn’t gotten Best Cinematography. Ugh. In the end though, Thelma came up the winner, and I’m really happy for her. (Sorry, Alfonso.)
And then of course, Best Picture.
That category worried me. I wasn’t sure they’d give it to a crime drama/thriller. I mean, there was Babel, a better version of Crash (and they gave Crash Best Picture last year). There was Little Miss Sunshine, which would have been the major upset of the evening, and dangerously had the legs for that sort of coup. And there was Letters from Iwo Jima (the Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film winner) and The Queen (Best Film at the BAFTAs). I mean, bloodbath, right?
But The Departed came out guns blazing, wrapping up another year of brilliant cinema and finally giving Martin Scorsese his well-deserved Best Director Oscar. (Something he shall be forever indebted to Hong Kong cinema for; that was a shoddy screw-up, for the Oscar voice over to say Mou Gaan DouInfernal Affairs—was a Japanese film.)

So there you have it. Another year, another Oscar night.

* Best Foreign Language Film went to Germany’s Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others), directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

** In the Best Original Song category, three out of the five nominated songs were from Dreamgirls.

Parting shot: It was a year when I hadn’t seen a majority of the nominated performances, thus no mention of the acting categories.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


I’ve said this before.
Having never seen the original, I can come at this with a clean slate. And on that clean slate, I write…

Glen Morgan is a name I’ve kept an eye on since his days as an X-Files alum. From Mulder and Scully, he went on (along with his collaborative partner James Wong) to Millennium in its sophomore year, giving the show its best season in its three-year run.
Morgan then went on to script feature films which Wong would direct, starting with Final Destination (interesting and effective), and then on to the Jet Li starrer, The One (disappointing), and Final Destination 3 (dull and pointless).
During this time, Morgan also had his directorial debut with the remake of Willard (which I missed seeing).
As the films came and went though, it seemed Morgan was becoming less of an interesting storyteller and just a mild curiosity in my books.
At the tail end of last year, Morgan wrote and directed the remake of the 1974 slasher flick, Black Christmas, coming up with quite possibly the worst film he’s worked on to date (it’s a toss-up between this and Final Destination 3).

We’re trapped (along with a gaggle of annoying sorority b*tches) as psychotic killer Billy Lenz (Robert Mann) escapes from the loonybin and comes home for Christmas; as it turns out, the Delta Alpha Kappa sorority house happens to be Billy’s old home.
General mayhem and much eye-gouging and -yanking ensue as the film unfolds in its bizarrely perfunctory manner, with sections of Billy’s life told to us by different characters. (These flashbacks seem to have been directed by Tim Burton on a really bad day, while in the worst possible mood.)

The visual hi-jinx (an overabundance of skewed, extreme angles which, instead of building mood and tension, just get really annoying, really fast) does nothing to hide the flimsy plot and script, populated by spoiled little princesses who aren’t really characters, but Dead Meat Walking.
Not to sound misogynistic, but seriously, these are sorority sisters you can’t wait to see get iced by the mad killer. And speaking of ice, check out the death by icicle scene. Yeesh.

With a cast of ciphers that includes Party of Five’s Lacey Chabert and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Michelle Trachtenberg, there is absolutely no one to sympathize or identify with. The only performer to actually register is long-time Morgan collaborator Kristen Cloke (who played Lara Means, a recurring character on Millennium’s second season, and appeared in Final Destination), as the estranged sister of one of the sorority girls, come to the house to look for her sibling.

Just squeezing past the 1 hour 20 minute mark by a hair, Black Christmas feels interminably long, and is the kind of sad excuse for a horror movie which makes you just want to climb into the screen and help the killer shut these damn girls up.
These are the kinds of movies right wing conservatives should worry about, the ones that are so badly made, they actually promote violent tendencies.
I’m not sure which is more horrendous, this, or the worst examples of pointless masochism that exist within the currently burgeoning sub-genre of torture porn. Believe me, watching Chabert, Trachtenberg, and company natter away about how Christmas and their families suck is sheer, effing torture.

Okay, it’s official. Earlier on I said worst film Glen Morgan ever worked on was a toss-up between Black Christmas and Final Destination 3.
Well, Final Destination 3 wasn’t really bad so much as it was pointless and redundant. Black Christmas however, is bad. It’s the kind of film that eventually killed the slasher movie, the kind of film that wasn’t about suspense or thrills, but about cheering on the killer as he dispatches the next pretty little airhead.
And perhaps its worst offense (in a long string of them) is that it doesn’t even have one sorority sister who emerges from the ordeal as the kick-a$$ Sidney Prescott. Instead, just when you hope one of them will rise to the occasion, they devolve into screaming, hysterical ninnies.
I think it’s safe to say even girls would be annoyed with this pack of hyenas.

So the next time you feel that the worst part about Christmas are the crowded malls, or the traffic, or hearing the same holiday songs over and over, or that dreaded family reunion, think again.
The worst part about Christmas is that it can spawn cinematic dreck like this.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Ever since I saw Guillermo Del Toro’s strange little vampire film Cronos, I knew this was a filmmaker I needed to keep my eyes on. And over the years, he has not disappointed.

After Cronos, the director had his first brush with Hollywood with Mimic. A flawed creature feature marred by studio interference, Mimic was still nonetheless recognizable as the work of an evolving storyteller.
Del Toro then went on to El Espinazo Del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone), a ghost story set in an orphanage in 1939 Spain.
This quietly chilling tale was quickly followed by his second Hollywood feature, Blade II. Popcorn movie, yes. But this was popcorn laced with buckets of butter, blood, and adrenaline, and was far superior than its predecessor, Stephen Norrington’s Blade.
Working with comic book artist Mike Mignola on Blade II then led to Hellboy, the film adaptation of Mignola’s comic book of the same name.
Then, last year brought us what many (including myself) consider his best work to date: the darkly magickal El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth).

Set in 1944 Spain, El Laberinto Del Fauno tells the tale of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero, who won a Goya1 for Breakthrough Performance), whose widowed mother Carmen (Aridna Gil) has recently married one Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez, known for doing light romantic comedies). Vidal has his heavily pregnant wife and stepdaughter transported to the outpost he is commandant of, an outpost beset by the activities of a band of rebels, covertly being helped by a couple of the camp’s insiders: Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) and Dr. Ferreiro (Alex Angulo, who worked with Pedro Almodovar on Carne TremulaLive Flesh).
And as socio-political turmoil rages around her, book-loving Ofelia discovers that there is another facet to the world she lives in, a facet of magick and fairies and ancient fauns, who reveal what could very well be her secret destiny.

Mining the Alice in Wonderland template and placing it in the context of a country torn by civil war, Del Toro takes us deep into the maze of a child’s life, a child whose world is undergoing upheaval, just as the larger world around her is experiencing the wracking pains of a global war. And in doing so, he does what every director should do: tell us a moving, involving story that is, ultimately, about something more than just the narrative, and, in the process of storytelling, shows us something we’ve never seen before.

For those who may be inclined to dismiss El Laberinto Del Fauno as a frivolous work of fantasy, understand that the “real world” elements of the film—particularly the rebels fighting for a cause they are putting their lives on the lines for—are treated with the utmost seriousness. One only need see Lopez’s coldly cruel Captain Vidal dealing with a suspected insurgent using only a wine bottle to be convinced that this is not a whimsical children’s movie.

And as for Del Toro showing the audience cinematic sights heretofore unseen, three words.
The Pale Man.
For my money, the Pale Man is one of the creepiest movie characters to have graced the silver screen in 2006. (He, along with the assorted residents of Silent Hill, made last year a year when the darkened theater once more became a place of unease and dread.)

Though Del Toro’s work has always displayed elements of the fantastic, in his non-Hollywood work (Cronos, El Espinazo Del Diablo, and El Laberinto Del Fauno), it is apparent that however scary his ghosts and vampires and fauns are, what is far more terrifying are the forces of the mundane, the men whose world these creatures move through.

Coping with the horrors her world presents her with, Ofelia moves through the ritualized paces of the traditional Quest (three tasks to perform before she can come into her destiny), speeding her inexorably towards the film’s moving climax.
Just as we are witness to Ofelia’s journey through her own metaphorical labyrinth, so we see the other characters of the tale, navigating their own personal mazes as best they can, shedding blood and tears in equal measure, as they struggle towards some greater understanding of their lives.

And when we finally emerge at the film’s denouement, we are exposed to the savage, uncompromising beauty of the narrative’s end. This is a beauty which both ravages and scours, and yet, feels right somehow, as if there was no other way this story could have ended.
Standing there, with that cold knowledge now a part of us, we look back, yearning for a fleeting glimpse of a fairie’s wing, or the earthy smell of an ancient faun, wondering if there is any way we can return to our innocence and ignorance, but knowing we cannot.
For a lesson, once learned cannot (and should not) ever be forgot.

With El Laberinto Del Fauno, Del Toro has secured his place as a master storyteller on the stage of global cinema, racking up nominations and wins at the Goyas and the BAFTAs.2 It also garnered six Saturn nominations.3 And in a few days’ time, we’ll see if Oscar loves it too.4
Here’s hoping.

1 The Goyas are Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars. El Laberinto Del Fauno won 7 out of its 13 nominations. Aside from Breakthrough Performance, it won for Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Visual Effects, Film Editing, Sound, and Makeup and Hair Design.

2 Its BAFTA wins were Film Not in the English Language, Costume Design, and Make Up and Hair (3 out of 8 nominations).

3 Its Saturn nominations are for Best International Film (where it’s up against Gwoemul), Best Supporting Actor (Sergi Lopez, up against Superman Returns’ James Marsden), Best Performance by a Younger Actor (Ivana Baquero, up against Gwoemul’s Ah-sung Ko and Superman Returns’ Tristan Lake Leabu), Best Direction (where Del Toro is up against good friend Alfonso Cuaron, as well as Bryan Singer), Best Writing (where Del Toro bangs heads with Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, for Superman Returns), and Best Make-up (going up against Slither and The Descent).
As you can see, I’m very conflicted when it comes to the Saturns…

4 Its 6 Oscar nominations are for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay, Achievement in Art Direction, Achievement in Cinematography, Achievement in Makeup, and Original Score.

Parting shot: It’s also up for two Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Picture.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

SMALLVILLE Season 6 Episode 15

It’s that time of Smallville again, the time when for one reason or another, I make it a point to watch a particular episode.
This time out, it’s because this is the directorial debut of Lex himself, Michael Rosenbaum.

Just 5 episodes after Welling’s “Hydro” (as if this is Lex’s delayed punch in the Never-Ending Battle, in answer to Supes’ two opening salvoes), Rosenbaum helms this episode which follows Lex’s on-going concern, 33.1.
Using Tobias Rice (Greyston Holt), a Smallville high kid who was blinded in the last meteor shower, and left with the ability to “see” meteor freaks, Lex is abducting and keeping DNA samples of meteor-infected individuals, then releasing them with their memories of the abduction erased.

Though the direction of this episode isn’t terrible, it isn’t really anything noteworthy either. Like Welling’s “Hydro,” this one isn’t anything out of the ordinary.
The one saving grace of the episode is a major revelation concerning one of the regular cast, but this is a function of the script more than anything else.
It is however, a revelation that has a lot of potential and could be the source of interesting stories to come, if handled properly.
So, here’s hoping they don’t bungle it.

Erratum: in reviewing “Hydro,” I mentioned that it was Tom Welling’s directorial debut. As it turns out, it wasn’t. That distinction would go to season 5’s “Fragile.” (Somehow, that episode flew under my radar.)

Parting shot: Aside from Smallville, Rosenbaum’s other high profile project for 2007 is the upcoming animated feature film, Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, based on the Weis and Hickman novel. Rosenbaum voices Tanis, while other cast members include Kiefer Sutherland (as Raistlin!), Lucy Lawless (as Goldmoon), Rino Romano (who voices Batman on the animated The Batman series, as Caramon), and Michelle Trachtenberg (ick, as Tika).
For any non-RPG geeks out there, Autumn Twilight is the first in a long line of fantasy novels, and is part of the Chronicles trilogy, with Dragons of Winter Night and Dragons of Spring Dawning rounding out the tale.
Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight is scheduled for a September release.