Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Frasierquest 4.19: Three Dates and a Breakup

Frasier prepares for a date

 Frasier: Niles! I'd offer you a sherry, but I'm fresh out!

We arrive now at a milestone, the first of quite a few hour-long episodes the show would have over the years. These days it's fairly rare for a sitcom to get a bigger-sized slot, but back in NBC's heyday (and yes, such a rare and mythic time existed),  it was common for them to beef up installments of their hit shows by a little or a lot in order to grab more ad revenue. Frasier, being a hit show, got to stretch its legs a few times, and usually with good results; the writers generally used the time to let stories breathe and develop rather than simply cramming in more story. "Three Dates and a Breakup" is an organic use of the format; it doesn't feel padded, or for that matter overstuffed. Rather, it interweaves two storylines that could by themselves make for good episodes, and does so in a way that enhances both.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Random Movie Report #98: Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster DVD cover and Amazon link

After Monster Zero, Ishiro Honda took a break from the Godzilla series, and the series itself took a vacation. In one of those great stories of Tinseltown, a script originally intended for King Kong was instead messengered over to Godzilla's people, deals were struck, and Godzilla traded Tokyo for the South Seas. It was a move that allowed Toho to save a little money on miniature city sets, and Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, under the direction of Jun Fukuda, turned out to be a really neat change of pace. It's a jaunty, colorful romp in which four Japanese guys get mixed up with island natives, international terrorists, a giant dinosaur, a giant moth, and one very angry shrimp.

Monday, January 23, 2012

In Theaters: The Artist

The Aritst poster and IMPawards link

The silent film is a form so distinct that it's a shame they just aren't done very often anymore. Whereas filmmakers sometimes will be able to use black and white as an artistic device, few have been able to go as far as eliminate sound. So The Artist is a welcome experiment, a look at vintage Hollywood through the lens of the goofy, sweet romances they made at the time. For someone like me, it's an irresistible approach and I have a hard time being truly objective. The movie just charms; it tells a sweet story with a sweet tone, using the tricks of the silent form without letting the self-awareness get in the way of the emotional content.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Random Movie Report #97: Attack the Block

Attack the Block poster and Amazon link

I'm not sure why Attack the Block didn't get a better release in the US. Sure, it's uniquely a product of British culture, immersed in UK slang and the sensationalized chav gang culture, but alien monsters are a universal language and the hook of "inner city vs. outer space" (see above) isn't exactly hard to explain to a wide audience. In any case, it's a movie you should see, working both as a genre exercise and a riff on social issues. In spirit it hearkens back to the alien-monster epics of the 80s, but has a vibe all its own.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Frasierquest 4.18: Ham Radio

Frasier Crane, actor/director

Frasier: The people of Dad's generation would sit around the radio every night, absolutely mesmerized.

Martin: We were a simple people

As a fan of audio theater I've been looking forward to this one. "Ham Radio" is one of the show's best and silliest episodes, an exercise in pure goofiness that trades on the old comedy trope that, in a live performance, Murphy's Law is always in effect. It's one of Frasier's own great personal disasters, but while his arrogance is the cause of a lot of it, it's mostly just things going wrong because it would be funny. And that's all right, because the gags end up being just that good.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

In Theaters: Young Adult

Poster and IMPAwards link

One of the good things about sticking up for creative people is the smug sense of validation when they finally prove themselves. When I reviewed Jennifer's Body I said that the backlash against Diablo Cody was a little excessive and that she actually had talent that was obscured by her tendency towards overly hip dialogue. Now she's gone and reunited with Juno director Jason Reitman and they've made a mature, thoughtful character study with only a few audible hipsterisms. Young Adult is the best film I've seen from either talent, and though it's confusingly being marketed as a straightforward comedy, the reality is it's a scathing, discomforting work that nonetheless has compassion for its broken central character.

Friday, January 06, 2012

In Theaters: The Adventures of Tintin

Tintin poster and IMPAwards link

Now that we're mostly out of the holiday season (by the Gregorian calendar at least), I finally have time to actually see some of the major holiday releases. The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg's first animated film (which seems wrong somehow), has actually been out for a while in most parts of the world. When I was a child I read a lot of Tintin's adventures, and even have some memory of the animated series, so it's gratifying to see the world's favorite boy reporter who isn't Jimmy Olsen get his due on the big screen. Spielberg does right by our hero; his Tintin may be a little more action-heavy than the books were, but it's still a light comic adventure with plenty of mystery, wry humor, and an engagingly crazy story adapted straight from Hergé's books.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Comics Page: Lightrunner

Lightrunner cover and Amazon link

The boom in original graphic novels in the 1980s gave us a lot of material that's since sunken into obscurity, be it through low print runs, poor distribution, or simple physical decay. I found Lightrunner in an antiques store some years ago, hardbound with some nice foil embroidery. It was  a labor of love for its creators, a full color science fiction epic, and if it's not exactly original, the enthusiasm of it is charming.