Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Opening Credits Sequence Theater: Dead Ringers

(Why is there still no soundtrack album goddamnit.)

In Theaters: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty poster

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is probably not a great film. It has a number of flaws, and signs of compromises made in the name of box office appeal. But there's something remarkable about it. It's often beautiful, meditative, and disarmingly sincere. It really isn't much of an adaptation of the short story and at many times seems to drift away from the very premise, but since fidelity to the source material and actual quality are two completely separate things, the worst that happens is the film gets a little unfocused. It has all the signs of the familiar Oscar-bait feel good picture, but its true atmosphere is more relaxed. And there's the very real danger that the conventional elements of the film, as well as its nature as an adaptation, will overshadow its very real and very odd strengths.

Frasierquest 5.16: Beware of Greeks

I have a feeling the screencaps are going to get rougher from here on out.

Daphne: I'd like to venture an opinion here.  I know this doesn't exactly concern me, but I feel very strongly about this. I like zither music, and I always have!

[She goes to her room.  Silence for a moment.]

Frasier: And we're back!

(From KACL780.net)

Sitcoms introduce us to families and groups of friends, but inevitably they leave people out. It's a fair bet that if a show runs long enough, we're going to meet long lost cousins who didn't exist before because the writers didn't need them to exist. "Beware of Greeks" basically posits an entire bough of the Crane family tree who we've never seen, all to get Patti LuPone to do a Greek accent and threaten people with violence. It's a silly contrivance and the whole episode is basically an odd excursion into a parallel universe, but it is amusing enough for the duration.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

In Theaters: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Hobbit poster

It's hard to separate one's feelings about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug from one's opinion on Peter Jackson and company's entire approach to the trilogy. Much more than the Lord of the Rings films, this is a radical rehaul of the source material, expanding upon it in such a way that the focus and tone fundamentally changes. There are downsides to this approach, on display in Desolation of Smaug as in the first film; an inevitable sense of bloat, a story that feels stretched and oddly contorted, characters getting lost in the cutaways. But even if the whole thing comes off a little indulgent and undisciplined, there's still a lot to be entertained by, from elven cities and dark foreboding secrets to a terrifying dragon with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch. It's just a little bit tighter and better focused than its predecessor as well, and its changes to the source material start to pay off in interesting ways.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Doctor Who at 50: The Sword of Orion

CD cover and link to Big Finish

While the Big Finish Audios have frequently played with the boundaries of the traditional Doctor Who story, both in order to better serve the audio medium and experiment with storytelling in general, they're still aiming for the same basic giddy thrill that the TV show inspires. "The Sword of Orion" gives us a traditional Cyberman story, a siege by a relentless force of silver giants with overtones of cosmic war that are never fully defined. The story has a few rough patches, which might be explained by excessive adherence to tradition, but the results are suitably atmospheric, and it's good to see McGann's Doctor face off against some classic villains.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Doctor Who at 50: The Day of the Doctor

Day of the Doctor poster

Wrestling fans have a term called "marking out". A "mark", historically, was someone who thought pro wrestling was real and unscripted. Nowadays everyone knows how things are set up (except for the kids), and those of us who still watch do so without any illusions. But once in a great while, things are so well put together and so convincingly played that some instinctive part of you forgets it's all a show. For a brief period you are the mark.

"The Day of the Doctor" got me to mark out just a bit, and because of that I can't be as objective as I'd like in reviewing it. Part of it is that the 50th anniversary special did something I had kind of been hoping the series would do, so I have to separate out my fannish satisfaction at seeing things go The Way They Ought To. But it is rare for something to work so well that I stop thinking about how well it's working and start thinking about whether the good guys will win this time. "Day of the Doctor" accomplishes something special, and it's worth looking into how.

Needless to say there will be spoilers.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Doctor Who At 50: The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964)

Dalek Invasion of Earth DVD cover

Doctor Who survived because of the Daleks. True, it reinvented itself many times over and insinuated itself as a British institution, but before any of that, the only reason the show made it past year one is that audiences went crazy over a bunch of genocidal salt shakers. When the show's second season began, a sequel to "The Daleks" was inevitable, but Terry Nation commendably improves on his own work to deliver one of the best stories of William Hartnell's run, a postapocalyptic epic which cements the Daleks as classic villains.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Doctor Who at 50: Storm Warning

Storm Warning cover and Big Finish link

One sour note in Doctor Who's long history is that Paul McGann's star turn as the Eighth Doctor in the 1996 TV movie was essentially a one-off (at least until very recently)- when the show finally did return, it was nine years later and time for a new Doctor.  Even the film's harshest critics tended to have nothing but praise for McGann's performance, and it took the fellows at Big Finish to let us see (or hear) what he was capable of in the long term. Storm Warning marked McGann's debut with the BF audio series, and it's still one of the best jumping on points they have, an adventure that not only tells a thrilling story and introduces a new companion, but shows off just what a Doctor Who story can be without the constraints of a visual effects budget.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mini-Monsterthon: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

I normally try to close out these marathons with something really good, but that's not entirely necessary. Even bad movies have their appeal, and though Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is pretty much the precise point where the franchise jumped the tracks and started to speed downhill, it ends up doing so with a certain idiotic panache. To its credit it does actually build from some of the story developments of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, but it blows its potential with a dull buildup followed by a ridiculous payoff.

Mini-Monsterthon: Child's Play

Chucky is an anomaly among movie slashers, and not just because he's battery operated. The killer doll with a foul mouth came in at the tail end of the 80s slasher craze, and the original Child's Play doesn't follow most of the familiar clichés of the genre. Instead of taking a small group of gullible people, throwing them in an enclosed space and killing them one at a time, Child's Play actually tells a fairly ambitious story mixing the supernatural and psychological, and putting a lot of effort and effects money towards selling the illusion of an evil My Buddy toy. It's fairly restrained and reasonably slick, and if it backs away from exploring the satiric possibilities of its premise, it manages to spin a good yarn anyway.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mini-Monsterthon: Night of the Creeps

Blending comedy and horror is something filmmakers have done a lot, but it's always fraught with peril. Unless you're outright spoofing the genre, you have to balance the tone and make sure the audience doesn't get whiplash, and too often a horror comedy (or comedic horror film, or whatever) will turn into a bland mush without the courage of either conviction. Night of the Creeps stays on the lighter side of the equation for about 90% of the time, throws in just enough drama to keep things interesting, and the resulting mixture is fairly pleasant. There are a few amateur touches and some problems with the story, but it's definitely one of the good B-movies.

A strange canister is ejected from an alien spacecraft and lands on Earth in 1959, disgorging a worm creature that burrows itself into the head of a local college student. Local scientists put the student on ice, until years later, when freshmen Chris (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall) accidentally thaw him out when trying to pull a prank to get into the college's most exclusive fraternity, so that the former can get closer to sorority dreamgirl Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow.) The unfrozen student, now a host for alien brain worms, soon dies explosively and releases many of the sluglike creatures, which hide around campus and slowly start infecting people, just in time for the big dance.

This is a very silly film, which is established when the first scenes of the films show babylike aliens shooting rayguns at each other in a half-scale corridor. The 50s sequences are shot mostly in black and white, there are references to that immortal alien-undead classic Plan Nine from Outer Space, and Cynthia Cronenberg isn't the only character named after a prominent genre director. J.C., a nice amiable paraplegic, provides some gentle comic relief, and the Beta fraternity is straight out of Animal House (or one of its many ripoffs.) By 1986, the initial wave of slasher films had played itself out, and there was a move towards different, more inventive kinds of horror, including the comical. Night of the Creeps checks off a few of the required cliches, including gratuitous sex and violence, but doesn't overdose on either- there's a certain comic restraint that makes it agreeable.

The film isn't entirely a comedy, and its detours into more serious horror have mixed results. There's a lengthy subplot involving Tom Atkins as a detective obsessed with a serial killer who axed his estranged girlfriend on that fateful night in 1959, and it's never clear how seriously we're supposed to take all this, and though it's relevant to the overall story it feels like a subplot that's been grafted on. More successful is a scene involving one character's enslavement by the creatures and their strange, heartfelt goodbye as the alien mind takes over.

The best moments of the film are when it's focusing on delivering full creature feature mayhem in all its implausibility. It's never really scary, but it's lively and inventive, with one sequence in particular anticipating Peter Jackson's Brain Dead. The climax revolves around an attack on the sorority house by zombified fraternity brothers, which leads to the classic line, "The good news is, your dates are here. The bad news is, they're dead." It's that kind of movie.

Night of the Creeps isn't the most memorable of horror comedies but it's successful at negotiating the balance between the two genres, and that's a rare accomplishment in and of itself. It's got a solid if occasionally oddly constructed story, some interesting visuals, and an overall good-natured vibe that makes one inclined to forgive its shortcomings. It's a solid addition to any seasonal horror marathon, warts and all.

Written and Directed by Fred Dekker

Grade: B

Saturday, October 26, 2013

In Theaters: Gravity

Gravity poster

I'm writing this review under a bit of a time crunch, partly because I want to jump ahead to Halloween stuff but also because Gravity is a film that needs to be caught while it's in theaters, and while it's playing in 3-D on a good large screen. The movie is a rare event, a roadshow spectacle, and that makes it a little hard to judge. The common thinking that if a movie is so dependent on visual splendor that it needs to be seen in the best circumstances to have its full impact, it can't be that good. But the impact Gravity has is so powerful that it feels unfair to downgrade it for its exclusivity. I of course expected great things when the director of Children of Men tackled science fiction (or something like it) again, but had my doubts as to how to sustain the story of two people lost in the void of space. But the film's conceptual simplicity is its great strength, resulting in a disciplined, tense, and beautiful experience, one which shows just how difficult it can be to cling to our lives.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Frasierquest 5.15: Room Service

Lilith and Niles, the morning after

Lilith: Stan was a contractor we had hired to extend our master bedroom.  It's ironic, isn't it - no sooner do I get the closet of my dreams than my husband comes out of it.

Three straight classics in a row is rare for any show, even one as good and long-lived as Frasier. "Room Service" is, again, an example of bedroom farce, but not quite as pure a genre riff as "Ski Lodge". Instead it's there to move along some character relationships and get even further mileage out of the story of Lilith Sternin, the one woman Frasier can never keep out of his life. At least here he makes some emotional progress.

Monday, September 30, 2013

For Your Ears Only: Hordes of the Things

Thanks to the rise of nerd and gamer culture (and that can be a mixed blessing, believe you me), fantasy spoofs are pretty easy to find these days. They vary widely both in quality and in approaches to the material, but they all reflect the increasingly mainstream position the genre enjoys in pop culture. So it's interesting to uncover a relatively early attempt at lampooning high fantasy.

Hordes of the Things was broadcast in 1980, in a period of animated Tolkien adaptations, the early Dungeons & Dragons craze, Star Wars and its imitators, and perhaps most significantly, the highly popular, acclaimed science fiction comedy series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Hordes is by no means a retread of Douglas Adams' masterpiece, but it's hard to imagine that BBC Radio didn't have it in mind when commissioning this four-part adventure from Andrew Marshall and John Lloyd. (And both were produced by Geoffrey Perkins.) It's not nearly as groundbreaking, but it is a decent collection of jokes deflating the seriousness and pomposity of the millions of epic adventures adorning bookstore shelves then and now.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

For Your Ears Only: Doctor Who: Excelis Dawns

Excelis Dawns cover
Available for download at BigFinish.com

The Doctor Who Big Finish audios most often aim to capture the feeling of the TV show, and that's just fine. In aping the episode structures and traditional story beats Who fans are familiar with, the audio dramas tend to explore the cinematic possibilities of the medium, seeking to convey action and thrills without visual aid, and they often succeed. But Excelis Dawns is a break from the cliffhanger approach. The first part of a three-story triptych covering the history of a planet over three eons and three different Doctors, this Fifth Doctor story takes a somewhat calmer approach, focusing on the audio debut of the previously book-only character Iris Wildthyme as well as the establishment of at least one character who will be key to the entire trilogy. (Hint: it's the familiar face in the armor.) It's not always successful but it does some interesting things with the format, and that's always worth paying attention to.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Random Movie Report: Things to Come

Things to Come Poster

As odd as it seems now, for most of the last century of filmmaking, science fiction was a subject the studios didn't give much attention to. When Alexander Korda produced Things to Come (recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Criterion after years of public domain dupes), it was a rare attempt at making an A-level motion picture with the future as its subject, something that had not been attempted since Metropolis ten years ago. As spectacle, Things to Come is just as impressive; however, saddled with the burden of adapting H. G. Wells' didactic future history, it runs into some dramatic shortcomings. But even at its preachiest and most nakedly political, the film is a rich visual symphony, a tour de force for director William Cameron Menzies, and an affirmation of a seemingly naive optimism that is often in too short a supply.

Friday, September 06, 2013

In Theaters: The World's End

World's End poster

It may have taken six years, but Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have finally finished the "Cornetto" trilogy. After red zombie horror/romance and a yellow giallo mystery, we reach blue, which is apparently the color of… well, that would be telling. Well I guess it is sort of melancholy, and The World's End is a film primarily about middle age and the fact that you can never go home again. Though more an ensemble piece than a buddy picture, the film is still dominated by Pegg and Nick Frost, giving performances that flip their normal dynamic, and the results are not only extremely funny but dramatically compelling. It's a film about the inevitability of change and how that can be the most terrifying thing of all.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Why There Were No Posts in August

I hope you will understand.

One thing that happened in the meantime was that my Amazon Associates program was abruptly terminated. There's some foo-fer-ah between Amazon and the state of Missouri, which is now charging sales tax on Amazon transactions, so they've suspended Missouri memberships. This is no great loss, as I only once or twice saw an actual payout. In the meantime I get to make the blog less cluttered. I may attempt some kind of monetization in the future but it's not a priority.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Frasierquest 5.14: The Ski Lodge

Frasier, Niles, Daphne, Annie, and Guy

Daphne: Oh, sounds like heaven!  Skiing all weekend, then warming up with a nice hot rum drink, curled up under a blanket in front of a roaring fire...

Niles: I can feel the steam rising off my toddy already.

It's all about the set-up. "Ski Lodge" is Frasier's purest riff on the bedroom farce, making direct reference to French playwright Georges Feydeau in one of its title captions and placing most of the action in the titular lodge, the kind of cozy space that could easily fit on a theater stage and has enough rooms for doors to constantly be slamming open and closed. Characters run around in robes and underwear, show up in the wrong beds, all that's really missing is a vicar stopping by. It's a welcome dose of pure comedy after last episode's poignant goodbye, and it also expands on the first question raised by Niles and Maris' final split.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Theaters: Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim movie poster

Pacific Rim is a rare kind of spectacle. A Westernized fusion of kaiju eiga and mecha shows, not based on any existing IP, Guillermo del Toro's latest feels like some kind of weird nerd indulgence, something that shouldn't have gotten through the Hollywood assembly line but for a few vague resemblances to the Transformers series. The movie is a toybox, packed full of nifty sights and sounds and concepts, but what really makes it sing is that del Toro and co-writer Travis Beacham not only take their concept seriously and sincerely, but make sure there's a heart beating at its center. A film this dense and chaotic may be easy to write off as a jumble of special effects, but on closer examination it's a lot more finely crafted than that.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Television Postseason Postmortem: The Tuesday Night Massacre

Penny Hartz, contemplative

This season on television bore witness to an utterly brutal and heartrending slaughter, and in this case, The Rains of Castamere barely figured. No, this little massacre took place on Tuesday night, as two great networks scheduled evenings of hip, quirky comedies aimed at the hip childless consumers so prized by advertisers, either not seeing that the overlap in demographics would inevitably cause massive casualties or feeling so confident in their schedules that they didn't care. Every year sees cancellations, and there were plenty this season, but I want to focus on these three, partly because for me they were this year's most painful final bows, but also because I think there are some unsettling ramifications for the future. The Golden Age of Television isn't over yet, but winter may be coming.

Monday, July 01, 2013

In Theaters: Man of Steel

Man of Steel poster

I really have to wonder who it was in the Warner Bros./DC hierarchy that looked at Superman Returns and decided the big problem was it wasn't solemn enough. I know I'm in something of a minority concerning my very positive opinion of Bryan Singer's take on the comic book legend by way of Richard Donner, but I was still willing to give a fair chance to Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan's reboot. Man of Steel is a very reverent and sincere try at placing the original comic book superhero in the pantheon of modern superhero movies, an ambitious retelling of the title character's beginnings and ascent to legendary status which takes some controversial liberties in the name of keeping things fresh, but what brings it down is not its emphasis on violent spectacle nor its changes to the character. No, the problem is the sheer weight of the plot, which crushes warmth, humor, and characterization underfoot while trying to tell the story of an alien finding his essential humanity.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Frasierquest 5.13: The Maris Counselor

Niles: Fifteen years with Maris, I end up in bed with her lover.

The shoe finally drops. In a way this was an episode that people had been waiting for, for many years. I don't think anyone believed that Niles and Maris would stay together by this point; it was a relationship that was fundamentally broken, and after a while it was just no fun to see Niles suffer. So "The Maris Counsellor" is only mostly sad, a bittersweet picture of the end of a relationship that, however toxic, still meant a lot to a person we care about.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Tabletop: On the Oncoming Demise of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition

Two iconic characters running from a boulder

As time goes by and columns like this come out, it's becoming more and more obvious that the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons, called "D&D Next", will in fact be the first edition designed entirely by fear. While previous revisions to the rules set were done in the spirit of expanding, modernizing and generally improving the performance of a system that, by virtue of being the most widely played RPG in the world, had its quirks and eccentricities put to the test, this is an edition in full retreat, an effective apology on behalf of Wizards of the Coast for trying too hard to do something innovative and interesting with the system last time.

Friday, May 31, 2013

In Theaters: The Great Gatsby

The worst thing I can find to say about Baz Luhrmann's film version of The Great Gatsby is that it's not as good as the book. It's the best adaptation we're likely to get, though, and that's because it engages with its source material rather than reveres it. The theoretical blasphemy of adding 3-D, hyperkinetic cinematography, loads of CGI, and Jay-Z to a richly nuanced critique of Jazz Age decadence turns out to be just the thing to make the story work in another medium, and the real surprise is that this approach doesn't drown out the book's tricky subtleties. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald's original work, it's both cynical and deeply moving, a tragic sort of love story which sees the futility of dreams as something to admire.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In Theaters: Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek poster via IMPAwards.com

I'm always up for a good spaceship movie, so it's been a long wait for the sequel to J. J. Abrams' Star Trek. I went into Star Trek Into Darkness with some misgivings, some about rumored callbacks to the franchise's past (and more on that later), some about how early trailers made it seem as though most of the film took place on Earth in large piles of rubble. The film's obtuse marketing campaign has done it no favors, but not only have Abrams and company managed to craft an enjoyable space saga which delivers most of the things one expects from the genre, they've also managed to touch on the long-neglected "big ideas" of the Trek franchise, marrying some pointed social commentary with an affirmation of what Trek's core values ought to be. It's not really deep, but it is smart enough to be fun.

There will be spoilers below.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Frasierquest 5.12: The Zoo Story

Roz and Bebe

Bebe: When there's a dirty job to be done, you can't go wrong with a Mormon!

After two episodes that didn't offer much to chew on, it's good to run into one this densely packed. "Zoo Story" gives us the glorious return of Bebe Glaser after her sad but inevitable firing, and gives us agents in conflict, a horny and desperate Niles, and one very angry bird. It may be the best Bebe episode, and it helps define her story as Frasier's eternal temptress, the vulgar showbusiness goddess who will stop at nothing to ensnare him.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Random Movie Report: The Living Skeleton

Living Skeleton cover and link to box set on Amazon

Japanese horror films were still finding their way in the late Sixties, not having fully formed all of the conventions that we now associate with the geographical subgenre. The Living Skeleton is a unique chiller which benefits from this uncertainty. It has elements of American horror cinema combined with those of Japanese ghost stories, with some pulpy crime and horror trash thrown in for good measure. The results are somewhat inconsistent but benefit from a great atmosphere and a genuine sense of unpredictability.  There's something wonderfully vivid and organic to how the story develops, like a living thing.

Monday, April 29, 2013

At Long Last The Best Movies of 2012

Scene from Cloud Atlast

2012 was a movie year so complicated I'm only just now getting around to it. A lot of very good films came out, to the extent that I wondered if I was being overly generous in my grading (something a critic, amateur or not, really needs to not fuss over.) But at the same time there are a couple of worrying trends that make me worry about the modern movie audience just a little. Still, the state of the industry isn't something to panic over just yet. Here's my Top 10.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Random Movie Report: Dredd

Dredd cover and Amazon link

In a year full of overlooked films, Dredd is an especially dear casualty. As an attempt to finally do cinematic justice to a British comics legend, it's an unqualified success, but nobody saw it (myself included) and the potential for an entire series of films about everyone's favorite fascist brute force weapon remains unrealized. Perhaps the spectre of the bloated 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle looms too large over the franchise, though frankly I'd be surprised if that many people remembered it. Dredd is a leaner beast, its low budget guiding the filmmakers into a straightforward raid story that, as it unfolds, allows for some pointed but subtle commentary and moments that are downright mystical.

Monday, April 08, 2013

RIP Roger Ebert

The death of Roger Ebert is something just about anyone who loves film has cause to mourn. He was a fundamental part of the landscape of film and film criticism, and though his passing follows a long illness and much contemplation about life, death, and how best to approach both. I'm not so good with the heavy stuff, so I'll stick to a short appreciation of the man's work and how important it's been.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Random Movie Report: Highlander 2: Renegade Version

It was always going to be difficult to make a Highlander sequel. Highlander has always been a really great idea for an action movie franchise, but the film's very premise works against it- if it's about immortals battling each other through the ages until only one is left, what do you do when there is, in fact, only one? How do you start up the conflict again without invalidating everything that happened already, and worse, just repeating what's already taken place?

The makers of Highlander 2 were entrusted to find the answers to these questions, and the search drove them mad. Highlander 2: The Quickening is the product of their insanity, a work both stylish and inept, audacious and cliché-ridden, so intensely stupid it wraps around to a kind of brilliance, but the brilliance of a character in a Lovecraft story after witnessing the nuclear chaos at the center of reality.  This review is based on the so-called "Renegade Version", a Director's Cut that tried to restore some semblance of sanity (the original cut was essentially finished by the film's insurance company), mainly by undoing a controversial plot point, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't help much.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Frasierquest 5.11: Ain't Nobody's Business if "I Do"

Niles: An engagement ring?  Dad must be about to ask Sherry to marry him.  Do you know what that means?

Frasier: Yes, we're going to hear what Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" sounds like on the banjo!

And it's the end of the road, for one character anyway. When "Ain't Nobody's Business if 'I Do'" aired, I don't think anyone really expected that Sherry would be a permanent fixture on the cast, but her departure is laced with more poignancy than expected. Sometimes sitcom relationships end on funny notes, and sometimes it's a little harder than that. This episode isn't short on comedy, but it treats the end of a long relationship as something worth mourning.

Daphne discovers an engagement ring in Martin's underwear drawer, and comes to the logical conclusion that he's about to pop the question to his longtime girlfriend. She shares her discovery with the Crane boys, and they're naturally less than thrilled at the prospect of Sherry becoming their new mom. Niles takes it a little far and hires a private detective (Tucker Smallwood) to look into Sherry's past to see if there's anything really worth worrying about, and while Frasier is apprehensive, the fact that Sherry has been married five times before is something he feels Dad should know. This of course leads to the inevitable Crane family argument.

The story retreads the familiar ground of Martin's sons having problems with his girlfriend, which may be one of the reasons this is the last Sherry episode. The writers may have figured that after all this time they had done all that could be done with the character, though of course Marsha Mason's availability is just as likely to have been an issue. In any case, it's an end that comes organically; Martin wants to find someone to marry again, and Sherry just doesn't want to go through that. It's the sort of final meeting that nobody wants but which seems inevitable.

Since none of this is funny, the humor has to revolve around Frasier and Niles being their usual selves. They don't really dictate the direction of the plot at all; Martin already knows about Sherry's prior marriages, so all they're doing is pissing him off. But they serve a narrative purpose, bringing up the subject of Sherry's past husbands so that the audience knows about that in advance of it being the reason she and Marty have to call it quits. It's a nice bit of plot legerdemain, steering us towards an unexpected conclusion without seeming obvious or contrived. And of course there's the whole business with Frasier embarrassing himself by still thinking Dad is about to propose to her as they're breaking up, but since the episode's not about him the sting fades quickly, and he ends up commiserating and watching basketball with his dad. (The fact that Jordan was still playing when this aired makes me feel very old indeed.)

What's interesting is just how focused this episode is on this storyline. Rare for this far in the series, there are no real subplots, and Daphne and Roz both only get about a scene apiece. It's not an entirely serious episode, with a lot of screentime spent on the "detective" plot which succeeds in making the Crane brothers look like nosy idiots. But knowing in retrospect what happens puts a pall over things, and so this episode isn't the most fun to revisit. (It's worth noting it also carries the show's weirdest end bumper, a sight gag based on a prop- a fish-shaped hors d'oeuvre display stand for a party Martin is hosting- that you'll barely notice in the episode proper.)

Still, it's a good send-off for Sherry, which she deserved; it's possible her presence would have gotten old as a regular, but Mason does an excellent job in the part, and at the end we get a strong picture of what Martin Crane wants out of his autumn years. It's a bittersweet goodbye which, in a way, foreshadows a much bigger change about to happen.

Written by Jay Kogen
Directed by David Lee
Aired January 13, 1998

Daphne: Sherry's never exactly liked me.  You don't think she'll try to make your father get rid of me, do you?

Frasier: Oh, Daphne, of course not.  He'd be lost without you.

 Niles: Yes, and even if by some chance that were to happen, Daphne, I could always use you. I, I would know of a position you could take ...services that you could perform. I would know of an opening...  [takes up the check] This is on me.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Academy of the Underrated: Giorgio Moroder's Metropolis (1984 release)

Blu Ray cover and Amazon link

Now you may think that I've gone a little crazy. Everyone loves Metropolis, and what's more, I've already reviewed it! But this one needs some context. Composer and producer Giorgio Moroder released a partial restoration of this beloved silent film in 1984, at a time when the only other version was the bastardized US cut. To attract people to theaters, especially the kids who would normally have no interest in silent movies, he released it with a modern electronic rock score similar to the work he did for Scarface, Flashdance, etc., and featuring a number of familiar stars like Freddie Mercury, Pat Benatar, and Bonnie Tyler. Critics welcomed the new footage but scorned the music, and it's long been lambasted as an unnecessary modernizing touch on a timeless classic.

So I'm going to bat for it. I may be incredibly biased, since this was the way I first saw the film, but even then I knew the rock score was a sore point. But it works, and the reason it works is because the film itself is so timeless. It goes just as well with an electronic rock score as it does with its original orchestral accompaniment, and though it's been rendered a curiosity by the discovery of the complete version, it has its own aesthetic appeal.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Random Movie Report: Godzilla vs. Megalon

Poster and Amazon link

Every series has its nadir, and after a few years of falling budgets and a lack of interest, something had to give for Godzilla and company. Godzilla vs. Megalon is doubly an embarrassment for Toho, being not only its worst entry in the Godzilla series, but also one of its most widely seen abroad. It's arguable that this junky, cheaply made drag is responsible for most of the English-speaking world's perception of Godzilla films as campy trash. The poor thing never really had a chance, and while its ubiquity gives it a certain nostalgic charm for those of us (un)fortunate enough to have seen it as children, said charm wears off pretty quickly.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Random Movie Report: Godzilla vs. Gigan

DVD cover and Amazon link

Following the heady surrealism of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Toho decided they needed to get back to tradition and make a movie that was just about giant monsters destroying cities and beating each other up. So seasoned kaiju director Jun Fukuda took the helm for Godzilla vs. Gigan, a big sci-fi brawl in which Godzilla and a friend face down space monsters like they did in the Sixties. But the Japanese film industry was a darker and less friendly place for such things, and Godzilla vs. Gigan suffers some of the worst effects of Toho's austerity. Cheapness leads to shortcuts, which blend with a few significant story problems to make a film that really is only for the fans. It has a few neat and quirky ideas, though, and introduces one of the franchise's most memorable villains.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Random Movie Report: Cosmopolis

Cosmopolis poster and Amazon link

You can count on David Cronenberg to deliver a very pleasant kind of discomfort. There's a frission underlying just about every film he's made, a sense of things that are not right and will probably never be right, but it's as alluring as it is disturbing- it's tempting to see what happens. Cosmopolis has its flaws but it manages a wonderful feeling that everything is about to spin out of control, and in its deliberate pacing and stubborn lack of realism it ranks with the filmmaker's adaptations of Naked Lunch and Crash (the good version).

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Random Movie Report: The Twonky

Arch Oboler had good reason to resent television. As everyone knows, American radio networks more or less abandoned radio theater when TV came along, transferring all their talent and money to the boob tube once they realized how big it was going to be. Oboler, a star writer for Lights Out!, didn't make the transition to television easily but found it impossible to go back to what he did best, as the networks began to discard radio drama. So Oboler looked to film, and decided to take a stab at the medium which had caused him so much pain. The Twonky is a weird little satire that's all the more fascinating because it doesn't quite gel. Oddly enough it's not the transition to film that trips Oboler up; instead, the story has fundamental flaws that you'd expect he'd be able to overcome.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Random Movie Report: Tarantula!

Tarantula DVD cover and Amazon link

Spiders are creepy, and big spiders creepier still, so they tend to make great movie monsters. Sure, you lose the portion of the audience which has actual arachnophobia, but you can't make an omelet, etc. After Them! introduced the concept of giant insects spawned by radiation, a film about a giant spider was inevitable, but Jack Arnold's Tarantula!, to its credit, isn't just a ripoff. It's got an original, kinda goofy storyline, and while it sometimes stretches plausibility even by the standards of a movie about a giant spider, it captures contemporary paranoia about atomic science pretty well, and delivers some very memorable moments.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Frasierquest 5.10: Where Every Bloke Knows Your Name

Frasier's new hangout spot

Frasier:  You've got to be careful what you bring down to the pub with you.

Daphne:  Tell me about it!

I was slow to jump into "Where Every Bloke Knows Your Name", since I recalled it being a gimmicky episode without a lot of substance to it. The episode revolves around a faux-British pub that Frasier takes over, and with that you get all the phony accents and broad stereotypes you'd expect. But amidst the wackiness there are a few good emotional beats, and it's really only nearabouts the end that the story gets too shaky. It's definitely a step down after a great Christmas, but still decent television.