Thursday, May 31, 2012

Frasierquest 5.1: Frasier's Imaginary Friend

Frasier attempts to get it on film.

Frasier: I am dating a supermodel zoologist, whom I stole away from a football player, and she is off to the Galapagos Islands to artificially inseminate iguanas! Is that so hard to believe?

Season Five marks a lot of milestones. It has the show's one hundredth episode, some major character developments, earned the show a fifth consecutive Best Comedy Emmy, and it aired alongside the first syndicated reruns, which shows relied on to reach immortality before home video releases were commonplace. So a big year lies before us, but the premiere is focused on resolving a little bit of business from last season. When we last left Frasier, he was still going through a desperate romantic dry spell, which compelled him to board a plane to Acapulco. At long last, the dry spell ends, but in a way that so typifies what makes Frasier, well,  Frasier.

Random Movie Report #106: Scanners

Scanners DVD cover and Amazon link

Scanners isn't the best film David Cronenberg has made, or even the most commercially successful, but it's become a cult classic all the same. A lot of this is, let's be honest, down to the scene where a guy's head explodes. It was the sort of big gory shocker that could make a movie's reputation in the splatter era, and it helped to cement Cronenberg's reputation as One to Watch Out For in the new breed of horror filmmakers.

Explosive cranial displacement aside, Scanners is an intense flick. Drawing heavily from the work of writers like Philip K. Dick, A. E. Van Vogt, and Alfred Bester, Cronenberg puts together a slick and thoughtful sci-fi tale which presents the old chestnut of telepathy in a unique and visceral way, and becomes a story about a new culture rebelling against its elders. Though not quite as polished as the filmmaker's  later work, it's a really good example of how to make a technological thriller on a low budget, and ultimately a pretty compelling ride.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Three Faces of Kong, Pt. 3: 2005

Poster and Amazon link

And we come to the movie that got me started on this. I wanted to talk about Peter Jackson's King Kong but it's hard to do so without reviewing what's gone before, even if you're a formalist like me who believes in taking a work of art in and of itself before going on about external connections. Sometimes those connections are key to understanding, though. The first time I saw the 2005 take on Kong, I thought it was very well made but somehow dissatisfying. The length of the action sequences, or indeed the film overall, didn't bother me much, but the intensity of it is a bit draining and the sadness of it is more pronounced than in the original. Like the seventies remake it can't quite dodge our modern sensibilities, which inevitably turn the story from a fun adventure to a plain tragedy. But on re-watching, what makes this movie great is that it goes beyond just moping about our mistreatment of nature. Instead it expands on the world and themes of the story, creating something that's suitably lush and fantastic for our time, and being almost as powerful. If the original Kong was about Beauty and the Beast, Jackson's film is about how the pursuit of beauty can make beasts of us.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Three Faces of Kong, Pt. 2: 1976

King Kong poster and Amazon link

The Dino De Laurentiis-produced remake of King Kong is an interesting case, in that it's not very good but still quite watchable because, in the end, it's still about a giant ape. Apes seem to make everything better, and the 1976 King Kong is the kind of movie I'm willing to watch even if it always disappoints just a little. My relationship with it is complicated. This is a movie that does a lot of things right, but there's something wrong with the core of it- it's a version of the original story with a lot of the magic and adventure missing, replaced as the times dictate with a grim cynicism and too many attempts to poke fun at itself. It's not without its moments, though.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On Dan Harmon's Removal from Community and Similar Bullshit

Annie tells it like it is

I should say something about Dan Harmon being fired from Community. God knows it's been bugging me enough. After the exhilaration of the show being renewed, followed by a gloriously fun three-episode finale, Sony Pictures Television decided to throw us all in the dumps by ousting its showrunner without even so much as a courtesy call, and so threatening to turn one of the most cutting edge shows on TV into something depressingly normal.

Obviously certain things must be gotten out of the way first. This is a low-rated show and it's a damn miracle it's been on as long as it has, and Harmon does not have the very best reputation as a showrunner- he recently had a major personality clash with star Chevy Chase (though in defense, Chase also has a difficult reputation), and there were rumblings of this for a time.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Three Faces of Kong, Pt. 1: 1933

King Kong poster and link to the Blu-Ray on Amazon

King Kong is an icon of cinema, and indeed a household name. A single film in 1933 was enough to endear him to the world, partly because it's a classic and partly because it was the first motion picture to realize the awesomeness of giant apes. This simian innovation is but one part of the legend, and here at the Club I've decided to look at the three major renditions of this classic story, from its original version all the way to the Kong of the digital age. I'm not touching any of the sequels or tie-ins yet, except of course for the monster's two Japanese outings, chronicled here and here.

Okay, this is partly because of the title. I'm proud of it dammit.

So we start in 1933, with one of the very best films ever made. King Kong is in some ways the ultimate demonstration of what people talk about when they talk about the magic of the movies. It shows us things that can only exist in the imagination and makes them vividly real, even more than real, for the time we watch it. It's a blend of romance, adventure, and tragedy that with time and changing attitudes has become more complex than its makers even intended, but hasn't lots its original emotional power in the process. Superlatives are hard to avoid in talking about this one.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Frasierquest 4.23: Odd Man Out

Frasier's not-so-chance encounter

Frasier: Great news! Laura's in town!

Niles: Who's Laura?

Frasier: A stranger who called my machine by mistake.

Season four closes on an odd note, but not one unwarranted by what's gone before. For once paying little to no attention to the the problems of other characters, "Odd Man Out" is all about Frasier being in a rut. It's a rut we've seen him in all season, and it reaches a peak here that inspires him to commit an act of romantic chivalry with Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies. The result is a simple story that starts out realistically awkward but ends up very sweet.

After Roz skips out on her own birthday dinner, Frasier has a humiliating experience dining alone in a restaurant of families and loving couples. In his early 40s and still single, he's starting to realize that Lilith was a long time ago. When he finds that a woman named Laura (Linda Hamilton, a guest caller on the show's first episode) called his machine by mistake and is arriving at the airport, he finds himself mysteriously drawn to her. She's a cellist, she's witty and cultured, and as Martin observes she expresses affection easily. So off to the airport Frasier goes, to rescue a woman he's never met from the horrible fate of having to take a cab.

All of this is building off Frasier's "dry spell" that's lasted most of the season. If he had been doing maybe a little better in the dating department, his desperation here wouldn't seem so believable, and while this doesn't seem like it was planned explicitly, it works well regardless. The episode is about him feeling lonelier than he ever has in his life, and at times it's almost too cutting. (Then again, I've eaten alone a lot of times without feeling a stigma about it. I'm weird that way.)

That the episode focuses on Frasier to the near-total exclusion of everyone else is unusual for a sitcom season finale. There's no real taking stock of where all the other characters are in their lives as in years past. It's easy enough to infer some things- Martin is still with Sherry, Niles is still in couples therapy, and Daphne and Roz are single and doing their best to enjoy it. It makes sense, then, to focus on Frasier, because he's the one with the most problems.

The redemption Frasier finds at the end of his adventure is not quite what he hoped for. Laura's married, but she tells him he should appreciate the thrill of not being married. It's a concept that cuts to the heart of Frasier as a character- he craves a certainty and stability to his life that just isn't there, and looks ridiculous as a result. But for a moment, at the end of his rope, he's willing to listen.

So we end the season with Frasier off to Mexico in pursuit of another beautiful woman, a redemptive yet silly note showing his optimism after a year of setbacks. This is not a man who stays down for long, which is why we can enjoy his pratfalls. After what is easily one of the show's best years, though, he's earned a vacation.

No Guest Caller

Written by Suzanne Martin
Directed by Jeff Melman
Aired May 27, 1997

Daphne: And I have a date with Greg.

Frasier: Greg? I don't believe I've met him yet.

Martin: I have, he's gorgeous. (Off their looks) Well, he is!

Daphne: Certainly the best looking man I've ever been out with. Of course, he doesn't have a thought in that pretty little head of his. Oh, this could be the one.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

In Theaters: The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers movie poster
Poster from

I come into The Avengers with conflicted feelings- on the one hand I'm glad they're finally doing a big superhero team-up movie, embracing the full range of absurd imagination inherent in the genre, and I've always liked Joss Whedon, but on the other hand I now have to be really specific when talking about the single most underrated film of the 1990s, and I do talk about it a lot. After much wheeling and dealing, Marvel Studios have brought together Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Thor from their respective franchises, added a couple more heroes alongside them, and given writer/director Whedon the task of bringing it all together in a coherent fashion in time to kick off the summer blockbuster season.

This could easily have ended in disaster, given the sheer scale of what was attempted and the micromanagement inherent in any movie with a budget the size of several government programs. But The Avengers is admirable in how well it negotiates the perils of blockbuster moviemaking; it delivers even more action and spectacle than you'd expect, draws characters big and charming enough to engage us, and even has a plot that basically, more or less hangs together. Not too much, but it'll last until you get to the fridge.