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by Bill Gibron

25 Mar 2010

Sometimes, it is worth it. The wait, that horrible expanse of passing time that seems to purposefully thwart your best intentions, often ends up delivering nothing but disappointment, or worse, the prospect of what could have been vs. the undeniable junk you wind up with in the end. But in this case, the inexplicable lack of reasonable excuse, the seeming decades of rumor and regret, the notion that somewhere, in a studio substrata somewhere, a bean counter and a preservationist were battling for future release supremacy, has truly made it all the more worthwhile. After persistent hints at a possible remaster and release, The African Queen is finally available in a pristine new DVD and Blu-ray release and, as suggested, the end result more than makes up for the years of delay.

For many film fans, this was the Holy Grail, the hallowed motion picture project which saw seminal star Humphrey Bogart win his only Oscar. This was the movie which brought together classic cinema giants Katherine Hepburn and director John Huston, each forging what would be a middle-aged masterpiece. No studio wanted to touch the film, Warners sitting on the rights for more than ten years, and when producer Sam Spiegel finally found financing in England, he saw many of the Tinseltown majors turn their noses up in distribution disinterest. Thus we had one of the industry first A-list independents. There was even some wrangling about the ending, Huston in favor of maintaining the original novel’s downbeat, defeatist ideals. Booked passage to the fabled continent itself and a sense of real adventure guaranteed that the entire experience would be unlike any other film of the ‘50s.

by Bill Gibron

24 Mar 2010

Granted, the characters are as cardboard as a Dominos Pizza crust (yes, even after the big overhaul - sorry, current sales team). The storyline is also so scattered, stupid, and silly that it can barely contain its own retarded ridiculousness. Almost all the actors are in it for the paycheck or the needed commercial profile (sadly, someone forgot to tell Chiwetel Ejiofor or Woody Harrelson) with a few barely able to keep a straight face through all the forced fear mayhem. Yet without a doubt, Roland Emmerich’s 2012 stands as the greatest disaster movie of all time if for one sequence and one sequence alone - the complete and utter annihilation of California.

As the film’s first major F/X set-piece, the German born genius of the mindless action apocalypse (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) knew he had to craft a real showstopper, and for decades, pundits have been speculating that the next “great” quake would turn LA and its surrounding San Adreas fault line friends into a great big pile of Pacific floaters. Emmerich decided to run with that idea, creating one of the most mind-bloggling examples of CG chaos ever created, a sequence so sensational it raises goosebumps on your flesh as its systematically lowers your overall IQ. In fact, when viewed in the latest incarnation of the home video format - Blu-ray - one gains a deeper appreciation of the moviemaker’s warped vision, and how he turned it loose on our Left Coast cousins. 

by Bill Gibron

21 Mar 2010

At this point in the critical game, does Pixar and its premiere franchise, Toy Story, really need defending? Do you really need another writer waxing in a wholly self-indulgent manner about how John Lasster and his love of all things play produced the impetus for a literal cavalcade of creative genius? One would imagine that anyone under the age of 20 would have these movies memorized, repeated VHS to DVD viewings cementing an unquestionable love for Woody, Buzz, and their gang of kid-friendly tchotchkes. Now the latest hi-tech -ism - the proposed theatrical experience “recreation” known as Blu-ray - is being used to once again woo the home video aficionado to their local B&M. Frankly, it’s unclear whether these technological marvels need further scientific sprucing up. They were already so great to being with.

By now, the plots of both films are more or less rote. In Toy Story, Woody the cowboy grows concerned that his place as favored amusement will be usurped by clueless spaceman action figure Buzz Lightyear. While trying to one up each other, they both wind up in the clutches of the cruel next door neighbor, the vicious bully Sid. In Toy Story 2, Woody is stolen by a collectibles geek who wants a complete set of the Wild West character’s merchandise to sell to a museum in Japan. Buzz, along with a few of Andy’s other playthings, set out to rescue their friend, unaware of the dangers, and dilemmas, they will face along the way. Each movie is made with the utmost of care, both brimming with imagination, adventure, and sequences of show-stopping visual acumen. The first effort is quaint in its wistful nostalgia. The second amplified everything to new levels of emotional heft.

by Bill Gibron

18 Mar 2010

Classic TV shows just don’t spring to life, fully formed. They grow, are nurtured and blossom over time, trial, and error. It sometimes takes years for their true genius to shine through, while many see the greatness initially, but acknowledge that the best is often yet to (and does eventually) come. Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a perfect example of this “vintage” ideal. Like a show it is often compared to, the equally brilliant SCTV, it started out strong, found real footing around Season Four, and then had to retool its entire approach when star Joel Hodgson left. His replacement, head writer Mike Nelson, hit the ground running and around the time the Sci-Fi Channel was growing weary of all the schlock spoofing, the series was pure parody gold.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: XVII, the latest DVD release from Shout! Factory, offers a wonderful overview of this prickly process. Disc One offers The Crawling Eye, the very first episode to hit the national cable airwaves (the show was originally a local Minnesota UHF broadcast only). It offers a glimpse at the material in its infancy - staggering, sometimes unsure, but always hilarious. Next up, a true MST classic - The Beatniks. Not really your typical genre material, this show business story of a hoodlum turned hit parader is one of Joel and the ‘bots best. Mike’s up next with the wonderful Final Sacrifice, a nutty Canadian action/fantasy horror film which can best be described with one word - Rowsdower! Finally, The Blood Waters of Dr. Z showcases the final phases of series; banging on all six cylinders, brilliant…and a little bewildered. 

by Bill Gibron

16 Mar 2010

Eons from now, when movies are viewed as antiquated pop culture casualties they seem destined to become, CG will be seen as the stereoscopic 3D of our time, as daft and Smell-0-Vision and as PT Barnum as William Castle and his various roadshow gimmicks. Pixar will probably survive, what with its desire to treat story seriously and character with clarity and creativity, and some will still harbor a soft spot for Shrek, though God only knows why. As for the rest, for the Shark Tales and Fly Me to the Moons, Space Monkeys and Ice Ages, a special place in the Museum of Mediocre Motion Picture History will be reserved, a spot where technology was proven to hinder, not help, the development of inventive and engaging family entertainment.

And the star attraction at the center of the exhibit will more than likely be Astro Boy, a bad idea bungled even more ineffectually by a studio system that believes any moldering old relic from animation’s past (in this case, a beloved Japanese cartoon that introduced ‘anime’ to a world outside of Tokyo) can be spiffed up by the application of computer bit maps. That it deviates so wildly from its source material is not the movie’s main problem. In essence, Astro Boy is the worst kind of proposed eye candy, so empty of narrative nutrition and excessive in popping primary color calories that it threatens to give the viewer dumb-down cinematic diabetes. Then, to make matters worse, it tosses in an attempt at action and/or adventure that’s as pointless as the videogame tie-in mandated by the marketing.

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