Saturday, March 31, 2012

Random Movie Report #102: King Kong Escapes

DVD cover and Amazon link

A curious chapter in the Toho kaiju saga as well as its title character's filmography, King Kong Escapes is a film that languished in obscurity for many years, not even getting an American video release until the DVD era. It's definitely a lesser effort for Kong and for Toho, but it's not without its ridiculous charms either. Since it's apparently my lot to cover every SFX film Toho made in this period, well, here we are.

Opening Credits Sequence Theater: Spider-Man 2

Been too long since I did one of these, and writing time has been a little pinched, so here's the opening to one of the best superhero epics of the last decade. There's not a lot to say about this one, it's a variation on the opening for the first movie, but the addition of Alex Ross's art as a recap of the first film is a nice touch (and something movie sequels don't actually do that often these days.) Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Random Movie Report #101: Battle Beyond the Stars

Battle Beyond the Stars cover art and Amazon link

My weakness for the glitzy space operas of the late 70s and early 80s is tempered by my understanding that, Star Wars aside, most of them weren't very good. It's a genre that's harder to do well than it looks, and it's both significant and surprising that one of the most artistically successful attempts to ape the 1977 blockbuster is from Roger Corman. Battle Beyond the Stars attempts to do on a shoestring what Lucas did on thirteen million dollars, and manages at least a decent part of it. For a low-budget movie we get plenty of model spaceships whizzing around and shooting lasers at each other (you know, the fundamentals), wrapped in a particularly fast and bouncy take on The Seven Samurai. It gets that space opera is supposed to be fun, wondrous, and that it doesn't have to take itself too seriously.

Monday, March 19, 2012

In Theaters: John Carter

John Carter poster and IMPAwards link

The worst thing about box-office flops, from a pure end-user perspective, is that they put the fear of God into studio executives and send them scuttling from any project that seems remotely similar. The predetermined-before-it-even-happened failure of John Carter probably means we won't get any retro pulp sci-fi movies for a while, so drink it in while you can.

Low expectations are tough to put aside when dealing with a film represents as major a financial misstep as this, but it gives one the benefit of low expectations. John Carter works much better than I expected it to, and though it never rises above well-executed pulp adventure, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. There are some points one can pick at, but Andrew Stanton's first live-action feature as director (hopefully not his last) has a lot to recommend it, and should be sought out before the box office closes.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Frasierquest 4.21: Are You Being Served?

Frasier and Niles, at bay

Niles: You know, this is sort of exciting. Even as a child I always fancied I might make a first-rate society cat burglar. I think I'm right.

Frasier: Yes. All it takes is stealth, cunning and a key to the door.

The longer a show goes on, the more it has to do to keep our attention. Frasier had established itself up to this point as working from several formulae. There are the conceptual episodes, there are the silly farces, and there are episodes which mark significant developments for the characters and their relationships. "Are You Being Served?" blends all of the above with remarkable grace, with a strong central plot allowing for all kinds of humor. It does a lot with its premise, putting Niles at the forefront in a story that tests his resolve and his willingness to break with the past.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

RIP Peter Bergman

The Club Parnassus is sad to announce the passing of Peter Bergman, writer, voice artist, and founding member of the Firesign Theatre, at 72 from complications from leukemia.

The influence the Firesigns have had on American comedy and American audio theater is easy to understate. At the same time groups like the Beatles and Beach Boys (and Stones, baby, Stones!) were using multi-track editing to produce complex, genre-defining rock albums, the Firesign Theatre used the technology to turn their comedy albums into fully-formed audio plays, with complex soundscapes and all sorts of audio tricks. Their surrealistic humor was as much about constructing imaginative worlds as telling jokes, and they provided a unique view of much of the era's social upheaval. Bergman's sardonic voice was key to characters ranging from the gruff, show-stealing Lieutenant Bradshaw to teen deadbeat Mudhead, and on Duke of Madness Motors, the recently released DVD-ROM archives of the Firesigns' early Seventies radio shows, he's frequently the passionate hippie philosopher, calling for the end of pointless laws and hellish jobs and bland food, wrestling with a kind of New Age anarchism.

The Firesigns had mostly stopped producing original material for some years before this, but with this the group is likely truly done. He is dearly missed by his friends and partners, and by those of us who appreciated his unique perspective.

"I'm finished in politics because I don't have the votes, and I can't go into wrestling because I don't have a mask. Guess I'll just swim, swim, swim..."