Black Cauldron Update

As an update to my Black Cauldron review the other day, I’d like to pass along this wonderful video that actor John Hurt was kind enough to pass along. It provides a behind the scenes look at his Horned King voice. Somehow this didn’t make it on the 25th Anniversary DVD…maybe Disney is holding out for a future Blu-Ray release? We can only hope.

X-Files: A Retrospective


“The X-Files.” Most everyone is at least familiar with the long-running, sci-fi classic TV series. Whether you’re a devoted fan who trudged through all nine seasons, or a casual viewer who caught a few 1 am reruns on the Syfy channel you’ve probably seen a few episodes.

My obsession with the franchise began in the days of VCRs and predated our purchase of cable or satellite. Luckily a few tweaks of the bunny ears sent Mark Snow’s warbling theme song blasting over out tinny Zenith speakers.

With a whopping nine seasons and two feature films, I’m often asked about the audience appeal which established the series as longest running sci-fi television franchise until that title was ursurped by “Stargate Sg-1.” The x-factor, shall we call it, was multifaceted. For starters, the 1993 debut of “The X-Files,” captured the paranoia and dark, brooding elements of the early 90’s perfectly. Season one overflows with conspiracies of all sorts. Sure the show had plenty of extraterrestrial episodes, but a better descriptor for content is “supernatural.” The protagonists, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) covered an array of cases dealing with topics including aliens, religion, mythical creatures, and overall government mistrust.

Viewing flexibility afforded by the structure of the show also helped the show gain popularity. While there were continuous story arcs which required audiences to follow the series closely, each season contained mostly standalone “monster-of-the-week” shows. These were basically unrelated cases Mulder and Scully investigated, and allowed viewers to casually drop in and out without missing much. You could, for the most part, follow the main storyline by just watching story arc episodes. That being said, some of the best entries in the series were monster-of-the-week episodes, so you’ll probably want to check those out as well.

What really brought “The X-Files” together, on top of the varying subject matter and episodic content was the chemistry between Mulder and Scully. From season one, their opposing personalities and fields of expertise foster a love-hate relationship. Scully’s work is grounded in scientific fact, while “Spooky” Mulder as he is called behind his back operates in the supernatural realm. It isn’t until the later seasons (eight and nine) that the pair really express and acknowledge their mutual romantic feelings.

As with most TV series’, early seasons of the show were superior to later ones. Particularly, seasons eight and nine bothered me mainly because of Mulder’s replacement by John Doggett, portrayed by Robert Patrick (famous for his role as the shape-shifting Terminator in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”). I admit Doggett grew on me after a while, but he wasn’t nearly as well-rounded a character as Mulder. David Duchovny, couldn’t you have waited until the conclusion of ‘The X-Files” to enter into sex addiction therapy?

“The X-Files” is available on dvd in individual season sets, mythology (story arc) packs, and a complete series set which includes the first film and a bundle of other goodies. For those who prefer digital distribution, you can purchase the show on iTunes, Amazon, and a handful of other sites. And Netflix was kind enough to add the entire set to its streaming catalog, which is a fantastic deal for anyone looking to delve into the series. You can look up the mythology episodes and just watch those, but if you’re considering starting “The X-Files,” I really recommend watching the whole thing. I’ve listed my top 10 episodes below:

1. Little Green Men

2. The Host

3. Duane Barry/Ascension

4. Colony/End Game

5. Blood

6. Die Hand Die Verletzt

7. Paper Clip

8. 731

9. Home

10. Arcadia

A word of advice on the films: The first feature film, set between seasons five and six, is great. It plays out like an extended TV episode. Avoid the second X-Files movie. I admit I couldn’t suffer through more than 20 minutes of the painfully slow, clichéd box office bomb. Stick to the show and the first film.

Happy watching!

Mission Impossible 3 Review


Strange things happen when you’re poking around Netflix streaming. Like you rediscover pretty good movies which you forgot about. Recently I found “Mission Impossible 3” on streaming and rewatched it. For some reason MI1 and MI3 are available instantly but MI2 is only on DVD. I’ll have to watch it again but I recall the second entry in the series to be subpar, though this may have been based entirely upon the Limp Bizkit theme song.

After seeing “MI3” again, it resonated with me as the strongest in the series. While “Ghost Protocol” received pretty good reviews, it is still sitting in my Netflix queue, so I cannot pass judgment. “Mission Impossible 3” starts off with a pseudo-retired Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). Although he intends to give up his life of espionage, settle down and get married, the audience and the Impossible Mission Force know this will not occur.

“Mission Impossible 3” stands out from its predecessors largely due to the acting, setting, directing, and a sense of genre. MI3 does not attempt to be anything greater than what it is: an action film. Rather, by accepting its fate of featuring outlandish, improbable and sometimes, yes, impossible stunts the movie becomes great. A tongue in cheek approach emerges as the film progresses through both dialogue and acting. Ethan Hunt devises a plan to steal the mythical rabbit’s foot, a generic biological weapon. True to the foundation of the “Mission Impossible” series, Hunt’s proposal involves using himself as a human slingshot and propelled onto a building. From there he slides down the glass roof, shoots the guards while skiing down on his back, pops in the building, grabs the weapon, parachutes out and back in time for tea. While rehearsing the plan, one of his team of rogue IMF employees remarks that the idea seems preposterous. Well, isn’t that the point of the movie?

Through this resignation and admittance of improbability, the film is able to overcome it’s outlandishness. By not taking itself too seriously, it is actually a great film. The highlight of the film is when the IMF crew break in to Vatican City. Hunt rappels up a wall, lays on top in the buildup to a seemingly dramatic moment. As the camera zooms in on his prone figure, he turns his head and says “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…” As if this isn’t surreal enough, a minute later Hunt is seen strolling about the Vatican dressed in priest regalia. The image is especially hilarious and ironic considering Cruise’s status as a scientologist. Through these and other similar moments, the film adopts a rather psychedelic quality, emphasized by exotic set pieces of Vatican City, dilapidated Chinese apartments, and even a field of wind turbines. Towards the beginning of the film, after rescuing an IMF agent being held hostage, Ethan Hunt and team embark on a helicopter chase through a wind turbine farm. The chances of escaping from a similar situation in the real world are, once again, impossible, but that doesn’t matter. Monolithic turbines, graceful in their silent, slow movements act as a foil for the miniscule choppers weaving in between the pillars and firing rockets at one another.

While the set and self-awareness of the film are great, the acting is superb. Tom Cruise, whatever you may think of him, is a seasoned actor. Yet it is arguably the cast around him which propel the film to the forefront of the trilogy. Ving Rhames puts in a performance as a tough talking, advice giving member of Hunt’s IMF squad, Luther Strickell. Acting as head of IMF is Theodore Brassel, played excellently by the ever brooding Laurence Fishburne. And the multi-talented Philip Seymour Hoffman, possibly the most underrated actor of all time, nails the part of the villain, arms dealer Owen Davian. Davian is calm and collected even when shooting people in the head, torturing IMF agents, and being tortured or transported himself.

The film actually opens with Ethan’s fiancé being shot in the head by Davian, and about three quarters of the way through the film the movie picks up from here again. There are a couple big twists which I didn’t see coming the first time I watched MI3, and didn’t remember the second time through. Overall, the film, despite being somewhat formulaic, is definitely worth a watch. “Mission Impossible 3” works as part of a trilogy or as a standalone film. If you’ve got some spare time, you should take another look at MI3. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Sure, it might not be mind blowing or revolutionary like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” or “The Big Lebowski,” but it isn’t supposed to be. Why mess with a good, reliable system that you know works when you can just spice it up a bit?

1976 King Kong Review

You might be familiar with “King Kong,” but there is a strong possibility you missed this version. And for good reason. One oft, and understandably overlooked iteration is Dino De Laurentiis’ 1976 “King Kong.” It truly falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category, and the one redeeming quality it possesses is the appearance of Jeff “The Dude” Bridges. And believe me, this movie is very undude, dude.

The first thing you’ll notice is the cheesy not-quite 80’s music as the opening credits roll for an obnoxiously long time. From here you pretty much know the story, so I won’t explain the plot too much. The Petrox Oil Company sends a ship to an unexplored island in search of a supposed oil deposit, and an apparently drunken Jack Prescott (Bridges) stows away aboard the ship. We find out he is a primate paleontologist trying to warn the crew that they may discover more than oil on the island. Careful man, there’s a primate here! On the journey there a lifeboat conveniently deposits an aspiring actress Dawn (Jessica Lange) on the ship. I find it kind of ironic that Lange portrays a low-budget wannabe actress, because her role in the film is completely cliché. She plays a dumb blond solely in the movie for her part of love interest for Prescott and King Kong.

Apart from the abysmal music, trite dialogue, and stereotyped characters, what really makes the film go from mediocre to terrible are the mistakes. In one scene the team happens upon a massive wall which all but Prescott believe to be uninhabited ruins…until they hear drumming from within the fortress. The all-knowing expert Prescott hypothesizes that the building’s purpose is to keep out a giant primate. Far out man, far fuckin’ out. Then the scene cuts to the scouting party sitting behind a pile of rocks on a hill within the compound. So if a bunch of humans can easily clamber over the walls, how is this thing supposed to keep out a massive gorilla? And why do Prescott and company seem surprised when they are noticed by the natives? In the grand scheme of things, this is the least of the movie’s problems.

Graphically, the movie isn’t spectacular, but I won’t hate on the Technicolor red skies too much considering it was made in the 70’s. Some problems are really inexcusable though, like contrast in lighting effects when Kong is holding Dawn on the island. The shots of Kong make it seem like dusk, with a red-orange sky, but when it pans to Dawn the jungle is extremely bright as if it is midday. There really isn’t any excuse for such inconsistency.

The first time I watched the movie, I was doped up on pain meds after surgery so I didn’t really notice these problems. Watching it sober the film was equally as funny, and there were some enjoyable scenes. One of the highlights is a battle between a giant snake and King Kong. Monster showdowns are pretty enjoyable for the most part and this doesn’t disappoint, despite the lack of realism. Kong’s rampage through New York culminating in his World Trade Center climb is done really well, and I actually prefer it to the CGI that would have been used now.

Although it is unbelievably cheesy, I also enjoy the oil company plot and their willingness to exploit native people, animals and environments. This notion is particularly relevant today with companies more willing to pursue offshore oil extraction and mountaintop removal for coal rather than consider alternatives such as wind and solar. Now, I don’t mean to imply that the director meant to make this point because I honestly don’t such a complex thought even crossed his mind in the creation of this film. Any such messages are purely coincidental.

Altogether, the movie is pretty bad, but I’d recommend it if you have some spare time and want a few laughs. Then again, that’s just like, my opinion man.

Teenage Mutant NinjaTurtles 2012 Series

When I first heard about the new Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, I was admittedly skeptical. Watching a small sneak peek on YouTube my initial reaction was that the show looked like a video game, and graphically resembled the abomination 2007 film release, TMNT. I prefer not to acknowledge its existence in the Ninja Turtles canon.

Regardless of my initial impression, watching the re-boot was inevitable. “Eh, what the shell,” I thought. Might as well DVR the first episode at least. So I threw on my Donatello Snuggie, poured myself a cup of French press coffee, and dusted off my 1987 Ninja Turtles TV tray. Since then, as when I was a kid, watching “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” has become an integral part of my Saturday morning routine.

The first differences you’ll notice are undoubtedly the theme song and animation. While watching, try to keep in mind that the show is an update, not a replica of the original. The new theme song is a hip-hop piece with slightly different lyrics. Presumably they altered it to fit an era when pop-rap is more popular than rock power ballads. It still goes through each of the turtles, explaining what each specializes in, and even preserves the original intro of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Heroes in a half shell, Turtle Power!”

As to the animation, hand-drawn cartoons are such a rarity these days that the CGI shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Sure, I’d have preferred hand-drawn graphics, but I’m willing to concede changing times. After all, the most important part isn’t presentation, it is on-screen portrayal. Thankfully, the turtles are pretty much the same as in the original series. They devour pizza, make corny jokes, have the same distinct personalities, and stumble through the episodes true to their goofy, fun-loving roots.

If you’re familiar with the original storyline, there are some slight alterations. Splinter’s history is a little different, while generally staying the same. His mortal enemy is still Oroku Saki, aka The Shredder. As in the original series, Shredder controls a group of ninjas, the Foot Clan, which he sends to hunt down the turtles and Splinter. It seems like most of the memorable heroes and villains will at least make an appearance, albeit in altered roles. Unlike the 1987 series, April O’Neil is not a news anchor, but the teenage daughter of a scientist. Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of this change, but I don’t really dislike it either. I guess I’m kind of neutral. Krang, the brain, is not one character but now an alien race which resides in robot bodies. Although the Krang lack Pat Fraley’s distinct high-pitched voice from the 1987 iteration, the new series compensates for this by lending the race an automated, computer-like speech pattern.

Other villains crop up, both old and new. Baxter Stockman makes a re-appearance, alongside several new malicious mutants. The new series adds Snakeweed and Spider Bytez, a plant and spider respectively. Each of their episodes shows the transformation from human to mutant, and features the Ninja Turtles providing a nickname.

Voice actor Rob Paulsen’s return to the franchise kind of sums up the new show as well as lends it some credence. On the 1987 series, Paulsen voiced Raphael and while he doesn’t appear in his original turtle form, he does grace the screen as Donatello. Same turtles, different audience and times. Overall, the show isn’t as good as the original series, but if we are honest with ourselves, nothing will ever be. This comes about as close as any re-boot. If you want to relive some totally radical awesomeness from your childhood, check out this worthy series. I mean, if is good enough for one of the original turtle voice actors, is good enough for any fan. And if you’re jonesing for your fix of the original series, you can pick up every season on dvd separately or the soon to be released complete collector’s set which comes packaged in the Turtle Van.