Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Richard Widmark

I miss the giggling psychopath of Kiss of Death. I miss the way he managed the almost impossible task of reversing the image that Kiss had given him with Panic in the Streets. I miss him in The Swarm telling Michael Caine that he’s “not about to go down in history as the only US general to get his butt kicked by a mess of bugs!” I miss his drunken disgust at post-war German revelry in Judgment at Nuremburg. I miss him roughing up Don Stroud in Madigan almost as much as his double-gun run in the film’s final scene. I miss his scenes with Ida Lupino in Road House. I miss the decidedly un-snooty way he classed up Against All Odds. I miss him offering George Segal a letter of commendation in Rollercoaster. I miss him taking shots at Lawrence Harvey in The Alamo. I miss his exporting to England for Hammer’s swansong, To the Devil a Daughter. I miss his quiet malevolence in Coma. I miss the way he turned a naval marionette into a 3 dimensional character in The Bedford Incident. I miss him carrying the weight of a lifetime of cons in Night and the City.

I also miss the way he wore hats.

I already miss Richard Widmark and he hasn’t made a film in over 15 years. He turned 93 on the day after Christmas last year, and died today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

So, Its Steven Miner Now, Is It?

Steve Miner used to be one of the more dependable horror hacks in the biz – and I mean that in the most complementary terms. After a stint of miscellaneous production work with Sean Cunningham on Last House on the Left and Friday the 13th, he was given a shot at directing with the first two Friday the 13th sequels in the 80s (Part 2 being the best of the franchise and part 3 being perhaps the best use of 3D to date), followed in quick succession by House and Soul Man (which probably isn’t nearly as funny as I remember it) for New Line before slipping into television. In-between episodes of The Wonder Years, Dawson’s Creek, and Karen Sisco, Miner returned to the genre with another franchise-best sequel (Halloween H20) and the more-fun-than-it-had-any-right-to-be Lake Placid. Though his forays into “legit” pictures haven’t set too many hearts a flutter; in spite of the presence of Mel Gibson and a script by a then-unknown J.J. Abrams, there’s nothing memorable about Forever Young, though if you had to watch a Tom Arnold movie, I’m sure there’s worse than Big Bully out there…

But having said that, I’ve never been disappointed by any of his horror work. There’s no visual stamp, no patented “Miner shot” – he’s a hired gun, brought onto projects when the studio wants someone with a genre track record, but who also works cheaply and quickly. Lake Placid showed what Miner could do with an ‘A’ cast – well, certainly a B+ – and a light, bouncy script (by David E Kelly, no less) and I’ll take that over all the smarmy “Oh my God, how funny is it that we’re talking about horror movies while we’re in a horror movie!!!” that washed up post-Scream (which was directed by Wes Craven, who also directed Last House on the Left).

I haven’t heard anything good about his Day of the Dead remake yet, but I’ll hold out some hope, anyway. I hope the perceived quality of the film isn’t responsible for the change from Steve (as he’s always been listed in credits, and how he’s currently listed on the IMDB) to Steven, as it’s unlikely to fool anyone – even Elmer Fudd wised up to the sexy lady rabbit disguises after a while. It would be especially bad to see a lousy Day of the Dead remake, because there happens to be a very good script for Day that never got made, and it was written by George A Romero. A last minute slash of the original’s budget forced Romero to completely rethink and reduce the scope of his script – consigning all the action to an underground storage mine. The original script is readily available online and I’d imagine that some minor check-writing on the studio’s part could have secured them the rights.

Well, good luck anyway Steve(n). Nobody’s rooting for you harder than I am.

And really, if you’re going to rip off a tepid werewolf/biker pic for your ad art, try Werewolves On Wheels.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sic Semper Tyrannis!

Sorry to be away for so long

It’s one of life’s little frustrations to go to a favorite blog and find that several days have gone by without anything new having been posted and I just want everyone to know that I feel their frustration.

Now that I’m back, feel some of mine.

Last Saturday, I had a Cablevision installer come over and replace their all-but-useless DVR cable box with a single multi-stream cable card, which was inserted into my new HD-TiVo. I had been an early adopter of TiVo back in the 90s, but its inability to record and display HD content relegated it to white elephant status, and it was given up (actually, given to Mom). TiVo went HD a few years back, but the machines were expensive, and I was determined to make my new relationship with Cablevision’s DVR box work.

For those not familiar with the numerous Cable and Satellite forums out there, the program guide and DVR software in Cablevision’s Scientific Atlanta cable box is universally considered to be worthless. Instead of implementing TiVo software in their set-top boxes like Comcast and DirecTV have done, Cablevision has kept to their always dependable business model and done nothing – sticking their head in the sand and pretend that people won’t want the hassle of switching to Verizon’s FiOS service.

As for TiVo, their two HD models now operated on cable cards only, thus eliminating the need for cable boxes entirely. Essentially, the actual cable wire that had been plugged into the cable box now goes directly into TiVo, and the cable cards (roughly the size of a credit card) allow TiVo to decode the scrambled digital signals. After TiVo ironed out some initial functionality issues with the cards (and after a recent Woot discount chipped away the last vestiges of my resolve) I jumped back aboard the TiVo train.

The install went fine (though the first card couldn’t be “bound” to my account, but the technician had a second with him) and I’d be lying if I said that hearing the TiVo ‘blips’ and ‘bloops’ didn’t tug the geek-strings a wee bit. I had forgotten the crazy joy of setting up season passes, searching under actors (“Anything with Peter Cushing coming up for the next two weeks? Oh, right, Star Wars…”) and all those crazy TiVo recommendations that can, in a single day, speak both to my idealized self (a documentary on the president of Liberia) and its more pragmatic cousin (Banacek reruns!) But the best part was finally being able to wade through the channels that I’ve had to turn my back on because of the slow, unsearchable guide on CV’s box. Since going high-def, I’ve limited my watching to the HD channels in the 700 neighborhood and all but forgotten things like Encore Mystery, Turner Classic, Flix, and the hundred or so others that I’ve been paying for all this time. Plus, the cable card rental fee is only a couple of bucks a month.

The rub? The (extremely nice) CV tech informs me that a letter is currently circulating to their cable card customers informing them that CV is about to move its entire slate of Voom HD channels (including our favorites, MonstersHD and KungFuHD) to something called Switched Digital Video, or SDV in April. This allows more than one channel to “share” a single space, allowing CV to save massive amounts of bandwidth – and it will not work with cable cards, which means it will not work with TiVo. But never fear, you’ll be able to receive all channels with – you guessed it – CV’s marvelous set top box and a rental fee of $16.50 per month (for box and DVR service)

Years of terrible service was finally made up for just over a year ago, when CV added several new HD channels, including National Geographic, Discovery, and the Voom package. The move was the direct result of Verizon’s rollout of FiOS into CV’s backyard, finally giving people some degree of choice. Now I can’t even pretend to know exactly how this technology works, but apparently SDV is happening all over the country, and typically effects the channels that the provider feels are “specialty” viewing. While I’ll admit that MonstersHD isn’t to everyone’s taste, the fact that this will not effect the literally dozens of sports channels that I have no need for, or the dozens of digital music channels that no one listens to, or the dozens of foreign language channels (seriously, Puerto Rico only wishes it had as many Spanish language channels as Westchester County) is aggravating in the extremis

What can be done? Not much, probably. TiVo has said that it has worked with the cable companies for a “dongle” that would allow their unit to properly decode the channels, but the build and distribution would be in the hands of the cable companies. We can complain to the FCC but I can’t see that doing much. What we can do, however, is complain. Even if you don’t use the cards, the principal – that we can’t let them punish people who explore better options for viewing cable – applies to everyone.

(above pic was swiped with love from Gizmodo)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Incredible Hulk 2: Battle for The Keep

The brand new teaser for Universal’s lets-forget-that-that-other-Hulk-ever-existed reboot debuted today, and we’re thrilled to find that the villain of the piece, Abomination, is played by none other than the Golem-monster from Michael Mann’s The Keep. It’s been a lean quarter century since then, and it must feel great to get back into the saddle.

Welcome back!

The Scribe Speaks!

This coming Friday, yours truly will be introducing a showing of Alex Proyas’ Dark City at the Rubin Museum right here in NYC as part of their Cabaret Cinema series. I’ll be providing a mercifully quick introduction to what is being billed as the “Director’s Cut” of the film, which appears to run several minutes longer than the only version that I’ve ever seen.

The show begins at 9:30, and admission is free with a $7 bar tab at the museum’s K2 lounge (and if you can’t spend 7 bucks at a bar in NYC, then you’re just not trying hard enough.) See above link for address and directions.

See you there!

Friday, March 7, 2008

They Still Won't Stay Dead!

Swing on by Cinefantastique and take a gander at the first article concerning my recent southern sojourn to the Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas, this past February. Before the official start of the convention, the TFW and the Dallas AFI presented a screening (on actual film!) of Night of the Living Dead, along with a few special guests.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

30 Days On My Netflix Queue

30 Days of Night is a fabulous idea for a film that never quite jells into anything special. Based on a well-regarded graphic novel (geek-speak for comic book), the film centers around the sleepy Alaskan town of Barrow, about to enter into a month-long period without sunlight. While Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) puzzles over a pile of burnt cell phones and the slaughter of the town’s sled dogs, a stranger (Ben Foster) arrives sporting a thousand-yard stare and issuing cryptic warnings of evil tidings on the way. Sure enough, as soon as the sun sets for the last time, the town is besieged by a pack of ravenous vampires (led by Danny Huston) who proceed gnaw through the majority of the citizens, leaving a small pocket of survivors, including Eben’s wife (Melissa George, whose Australian accent makes frequent appearances) and younger brother, to wait it out until the sun comes up.

As long as there’s an audience for horror, there will be vampires. They can be witty and urbane, with the manners of landed gentry, or they can be feral beasts – wild animals driven only by their insatiable lust for blood. 30 Days of Night’s major misstep is in trying to have it both ways. Dressed for an IFC fund raiser, with sharp, dagger teeth and black shark-eyes, they’re a virtual amalgam of vampire clich├ęs. The townspeople fare no better; save Hartnett, there’s hardly a lick of characterization to be found. If that last sentence was confusing, let me formally state for the record that I am an unabashed fan of Josh Hartnett. He’s not the greatest emoter in the world, and if he can’t quite carry a film he can at least provide it with a strong center provided he’s cast correctly (he’s got one of the toughest – and least flashy – roles in Black Hawk Down, and acquits himself quite well). Danny Huston is stuck with a pretty thankless role, with makeup that doesn’t leave much for the actor beneath it and a silly vampire language that leaves him sounding like a Klingon with a cold. The only other actor to make even a slight impression is Ben Foster, giving another distractingly mannered performance, as if his character walked directly from the 3:10 to Yuma set all the way to Alaska. While watching, we thought of all the familiar actors that we’d be seeing had this been a Hammer or Amicus production (and yes, I’m well aware that it would also be 40 years ago). We’d have Michael Ripper as a nervous innkeeper, Michael Gough as the sinister stranger, and maybe even Nigel Green as Barrow’s Burgomaster.

Visually, however, 30 Days is a feast; director David Slade’s camera wrings much out of the desolate blue-white winter surroundings, and he uses digital augmentation to effectively light a town that is engulfed by darkness. Early scenes are handled quite well, particularly the wide overhead shots of vampire mayhem, leaving bright red splatters (the only appearance of the color is in blood) on the white snow. As the movie wears on – for a lengthy 113min – attacks degenerate into vampire wildings, with Slade leaning far too much on the every-third-frame-removed, Saving Private Ryan-esque visuals. This is especially damaging during the final battle between Hartnett and Huston, which plays like a gang fight in a direct to DVD programmer.
Sony’s Bluray disc offers an outstanding presentation of the film’s muted color scheme. Seen in standard def DVD, the darker scenes (that make up the vast majority of the film) appear murky, and much detail is lost. The Bluray reproduces very strong blacks, provided you’re watching on a properly calibrated television set. The major extra is a commentary track featuring co-stars Hartnett, George, and producer Bob Tapert which makes for a reasonable engaging listen, as all three are willing to speak to several of the film’s considerable narrative hiccups. The extras round out with a fairly comprehensive making-of documentary (actually comprised of shorter, individual segments that can be played continuously), a photo-comparison of various shots from the film paired with their comic counterparts (exclusive to Bluray), trailers are featured for other upcoming Bluray releases from Sony, but no trailer from the feature is included.