Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Frasierquest 4.15: Roz's Krantz & Gouldenstein are Dead

James Earl Jones as Norman

Norman: Are you here visiting somebody?

Frasier: Oh no. I'm just here with a friend of mine, Roz. She's here doing some community service.

Norman: Ah, the Angel of Death, nice girl.

Most Frasier episodes try to build themselves around one main plot or specific theme, with subplots and such around the edges. "Roz's Krantz & Gouldenstein Are Dead" is more of a melange, with two main stories build on slightly different themes which nonetheless end up intersecting. It's a very pleasant episode, built around scenes of genuine insight mingled with its humor, and not demanding too much of the viewer in terms of following a story.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In Theaters: The Muppets

Poster and IMPAwards link

It never really felt like the Muppets went away. Sure, they hadn't made a movie in over a decade, and the less said about the Wizard of Oz special the better, but they never really sank below the horizon. Nonetheless, we all wanted to see more of them, and The Muppets is a return to glory, as a new generation of behind-the-camera talent steers Jim Henson's creations away from after-school platitudes and back to grand irreverence. The new film hits just the right blend of silliness, self-awareness, and pure idealism, and is simply the funniest the old gang have been in some time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Academy of the Underrated: Dune (1984)

Dune cover and Amazon link

Over four years ago, when I reached my one hundredth post, I introduced the Academy of the Underrated, dedicated to defending the disliked, the disregarded, and the despised. Since then, one entry has been inevitable, but I've been waiting for the right time. Four hundred posts later, the proper moment has arrived.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Academy of the Underrated: Explorers

The success of Super 8 this past summer had me thinking of how "Spielbergian" used to be a category of movies all its own. Throughout the Eighties, filmmakers and studios made many, many attempts to capture audiences with stories about the magic of childhood and stories of ordinary people encountering the otherworldly. Explorers was Paramount's big-budget attempt to follow in E.T.'s footsteps, but with Joe Dante at the helm and a particularly offbeat script by Eric Luke, the film is both quirkier and more personal than a typical summer offering then or now. Though it's not really consistent, it has an innocence and whimsy that makes it more effective than most attempts at sci-fi-tinged nostalgia.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Random Movie Report #96: Journey to the Seventh Planet

There's an entire subgenre of science fiction movies, in which a group of astronauts lands on a planet controlled by some powerful psychic intelligence, which throws hallucinations, disasters, and monsters at them until they defeat it or all die in the process. It runs from such early efforts as Angry Red Planet and The Wizard of Mars all the way to the Roger Corman sleazefest Galaxy of Terror, and possibly Event Horizon. (Whether Stanislav Lem's Solaris counts is arguable.) Journey to the Seventh Planet, a Danish/American production from 1961, is in some ways a standard telling of this timeless and universally relevant story, but some odd decisions and budget woes end up with a much weirder- and frankly more entertaining- picture than probably would have resulted from a slick approach.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Frasierquest 4.14: To Kill a Talking Bird

Niles and his new friend

Niles: I don't think my reputation can suffer more than it already has.

Frasier: I wouldn't be so sure about that. Wearing a white bird after Labor Day...

Niles is in a transitional phase in his life. He's not quite divorced, not quite reconciled, and while he's been living on his own we really haven't seen him doing so. "To Kill A Talking Bird" gives us some stability, in the form of the Montana, a high-end apartment building where Dr. Crane will make his home for several years. It's a lovely place, old and stylish and full of stuffy people, the Gallifrey of sitcom settings, but entry to a place for which Niles is suited so perfectly comes at a price. Just what that price is, is explored in a welcome return to farce, featuring one of the first of many disastrous Crane dinner parties.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Theaters: In Time

In Time poster and IMPAwards link

Andrew Niccol is probably one of the most undervalued filmmakers around today. While Gattaca and The Truman Show both caught attention, not much of what he's done in this millennium has met with acclaim. But he's always working with interesting ideas and applying a distinct low-key touch to his films. In Time is an unexpectedly relevant film, a picture about the growing divide between haves and have-nots released just as a lot of the have-nots have finally become vocal, and it couches this in a metaphor that's both obvious and powerful. It's high concept, but makes sure to ground the concept in genre convention, this time a thriller. The blend of concept and genre is rough around the edges, but it works more often than not.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Frasierquest 4.13: Four for the Seesaw

Laura and Beth, the ones who will inevitably get away

Frasier: Maybe we should ask them out.

Niles: On a date? We just met!

Frasier: Good point, Niles. Perhaps we should go out with them a few more times before we ask them on a date.

On the surface, "Four for the Seesaw" is basically a misadventure; the Crane boys get into a good situation and ultimately screw it up. It's an odd kind of story which doesn't rely on building comic momentum, but while it seems inconsequential at first, there's some interesting character stuff going on. And hey, any episode with Megan Mullally is worth remembering.