Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

The X-Files: You’d Better Believe It!

July 26, 2008

I want you to believe there are little to no spoilers below.

Ten years ago The X-files hit theaters in a big way. Trailers depicted cavemen, aliens, corn fields, men in black suits, explosions and little boys falling into holes. The X-Files: Fight the Future was a serious summer event. Having latched onto the series in it’s fourth season, I did the best I could in late night reruns to catch up on the first few seasons and get an idea of the overall mythology of the series before seeing the movie. I’ll admit, I still don’t really get it. I remember black ooze, aliens, a syndicate and Mulder’s little sister going missing. Oh yeah, and Skully was supposed to be immortal. Some of those pieces to the puzzle fit into Fight the Future, and the film acted as an arc between seasons. As a newcomer to the series with half an idea of the overall story, the film was quite entertaining.

Now, this summer Mulder and Skully return in The X-Files: I Want to Believe. The subtitle of the film comes from a poster seen in Mulder’s office and was a common catchphrase of the series. Another phrase of the series, “Trust no one”, appears in the opening credits for many episodes. It is in these conflicting phrases that the dynamic of Mulder and Skully is revealed. Mulder wants to believe the unbelievable while Skully trusts logic and rarely trusts anyone. The series relied and thrived on this dynamic. And despite the aliens, garbage monsters, detachable conjoined twins and telepathic death row inmates; Skully continued to be skeptical of the paranormal up until the series end.

Picking up six years after the last episode, The X-Files: I Want To Believe drops the alien mythology that either fascinated or confounded viewers. Rather, the film relies on the dynamic of Mulder and Skully in a much smaller, personal and still very creepy X-file. Mulder and Skully are still their old selves yet are a little closer than they were in the series. After six years together in hiding, the two have a questionable relationship. The words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are never used, and yet they live together. I think they’d like to think it’s because Mulder is still wanted for his actions in the last season, but really they can’t live without each other. Mulder and Skully are a perfect example of yin and yang, dark and light. And while Mulder truly thrives in the dark and Skully seeks the light, they both have a bit of the other in them (that’s what those little dots in the yin and yang mean). The focus of the film isn’t so much the case, the case is what’s necessary to bring Mulder and Skully together and to bring back their old dynamic. In working through the case, a deeply personal story is told of belief and disbelief. The X-Files: I Want To Believe is simply that at its core, an allegorical tale of belief and how wanting to believe can lead to the light or the dark.

For viewers looking for a huge summer event movie, look elsewhere. The X-Files: I Want To Believe is cold, creepy and deeply touching for those who know the characters of Mulder and Skully.

Four out of Five pencils stuck in the ceiling

How to start a DVD collection on the cheap and not feel (as) guilty

July 9, 2008

Hi friends! If you are doubting the promise of the title above, leave this page now.

Ha ha, I’m only kidding. But did you consider hitting that little “back” button for just a moment? Well, considering you’re still reading that means you have commitment. And no fellows, I’m not talking about the big “c”-word in the sense that the ladies use. Ha ha! (And just to clarify, the “c”-word is commitment, not that OTHER “c”-word).

I mean commitment to a collection, a group of things that are similar and that can be placed together for viewing and occasional use. In this sense we’re talking about DVD collections. Now I hear you saying “But Barry, DVDs cost up to $30 each! AND that’s just the single disc editions!” Don’t fret, because there are ways around this pesky pricing problem, and here they are!

Step 1 “What do you like?”

The first step in starting an inexpensive DVD collection is to ask yourself what you like in film and television. Are there particular genres you find yourself drawn to? If you love “The X-FIles”, “Close Encounters” and that documentary “Trekkies” you just may be a redneck. Ha ha! No, joking, you actually may be a sci-fi nerd (which is almost as bad as being a redneck).

Step 2 “Is it worth a ‘3-peat’?”

Once you have a handful of genres that you like, start to list all the movies within these genres that are either notable or personal favorites. Then ask yourself, “Is it worth a ‘3-peat’?” meaning you’ve seen it once (hence you like it), if you owned it you’d see it again AND you’d definitely see it a third time. If this is the case, you should probably buy it. If this isn’t the case, it’s probably easier to rent as you’ll only watch it once more then let it collect dust. Also, the price of two rentals is almost equal to buying the movie.

Step 3 THE HUNT

Now that you have a vision of your inexpensive DVD collection, you gotta buy the suckers! AT this point you have to ask yourself if you’re comfortable with owning a used DVD. If you aren’t, you’d better change your attitude. Used DVD’s are the secret to a stellar DVD collection. I’m not saying buying new is a bad thing, in fact I’d prefer it! But unfortunatly as stated above it gets expensive.

Tips for buying NEW

  • Read up on sales. Vendors often offer online weekly ads, so you can skip picking up a newspaper (do they still make those?? Ha! ha!) Best Buy, Target and Circuit City are prime examples for dirt cheap DVDs, often going for $5-10 each.
  • Buy 2, get one free. While you may be buying two DVDs at a high price (roughly $15), you pay less (roughly $10) when you take advantage of these deals. Do the math on your cellphone calculator in store to see your savings.
  • Coupons! Ah yes, the OTHER “C”-word. Few stores offer DVD specific coupons, but snatch these up when you see them. More often you’ll find 10%-30% off one item coupons, Borders is an excellent example. Keep an eye out for their occasional 40% off DVD boxed set coupon.

Tips for buying USED – Here is where you strike GOLD!

  • Scour record stores. Many record stores buy and sell used DVDs. Since people are usually there for the music, they skip the movies. I’ve found many gems at record stores, and prices are right for the most part.
  • Shop independent rental stores. New releases are bought in bulk and boxes are kept in the back while the discs are rented out. Once the release is considered old, the leftover discs (except one which the store retains for renting) are sold in new boxes at used prices.
  • Avoid Hollywood Video and Blockbuster. Rental stores will usually put the used DVDs in an ugly rental box. The funky looking box, rough surface, rental stickers and missing inserts aren’t worth the $9.99. If you could care less about the case, then go for it. But your library at home will suffer.
  • Go to FYE and Suncoast. The amount of used DVDs nearly rival the new, and many rarities can be found. Prices are usually reasonable and the case and inserts are often intact.
  • Try ebay. $1 DVD auctions abound. Don’t get caught up in bidding, give yourself a stopping price (I aim for under $8 total including shipping). Read condition notes carefully and check seller ratings.

And there you have it, a DVD collection on the cheap! Sorry to drop the kooky salesman speak halfway through, but that was the important stuff. Ha ha! Now that you know the secrets, get out there and start buying (responsibly). Ha! ha!

Superhero Film #245: Iron Man

June 16, 2008

I remember waaaaaaay back in 1989 while riding in a cart through the local grocers seeing what at the time and probably to this day what was the BIGGEST cereal toy I have ever seen: the Batman bank. Shrink-wrapped to a box of Batman cereal, the free toy overshadowed the box! I had to have it, and having obtained the holy grail of kids cereal toys, I now HAD to see this Batman movie. I knew little of Batman at the time, being only five years old at the time. Much of my knowledge was based on the advertising that was coming out at the time. I knew Batman lived in a giant mansion with a butler named Alfred and that Batman loved Diet Coke and hated the Joker. Regarding the Joker, based on an action figure that I owned I knew that he could turn his white skin to pink when left in the freezer for ten minutes and back to white when placed in hot water.

While the Batman marketing machine greatly influenced my life in ’89, it wasn’t until the VHS release of Batman that I witnessed the film itself. I loved Batman! The film had every element that would later become the standard for telling a superhero movie. (A)The hero’s origin is told, (B)the hero and supporting cast do their thing, (C)the villain’s origin is depicted and an evil scheme is set in motion, (D)the hero faces the villain and the villain dies. Then, the final shot features the hero flying/climbing/leaping through the city as a voice-over states what they have learned, what they promise to do and they usually end with “I am (insert hero name here)!”. Roll credits. As time passed Spider-Man, The X-Men,The Punisher, Daredevil, Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Batman Begins and Superman Returns arrived and each of these films followed the Batman format. And as each film came, my excitement and wonder dwindled. Sure these are excellent films, but I’ve seen the format so many times that now I’ve come to expect A,B and C to occur to reach D. Sum everything up in an inner monologue. Roll credits.

Now here we are in 2008, dozens of superhero films later and “Iron Man” has come and I’ve seen it. And while A,B, C and D occur, there are surprisingly a lot of elements that go left when a usual superhero movie goes right. What follows are The Top Five Ways “Iron Man” Stands Out From The Rest

1: Location

While 95% of the superhero movies exist in New York or the East coast, Iron Man is set in Los Angeles, California. A smart move for the film’s creators, this change from the comic books original NYC setting gives the film a different look and feel. Sort of a glossy, stark look. And yes, that was an unintentional Tony Stark pun.

2: Time Period

“Iron Man” successfully places the story in the present day. While the film could very well have been a period piece set during the 1963, thankfully our country is now in a very similar military situation in another part of the world. Replace Vietnam with Western Asia, and voila – Iron Man circa 2008! Thank you terrorism.

3: Visual Effects

Iron Man is at the advantage in visual effects with a metal suit concealing all signs of humanity. The CG double seamlessly blends with the tangible Iron Man suit, something other spandex-clad heroes struggle with when jumping between live action and digital. See the noodly Peter Parker of “Spider-Man” for an example of digital double gone wrong.

4: Villain

Tony Stark fights “The Dude” in a giant robot suit. While not groundbreaking, Jeff Bridges is the goofiest actor to play a bad guy since Willem Dafoe.

5: Final Scene

In the final moment of the film, Tony is asked who REALLY is the man inside Iron Man. Tony admission of “I’m Iron Man.” assures us that the sequel will avoid the secret identity plot which at this point is gasping for originality in the superhero film genre.

When it all comes down to it, is “Iron Man” a truly great superhero film?
No, it’s not great. In a genre of film that has become heavily saturated in the last twenty years, “Iron Man” goes in the good pile but doesn’t impact the genre enough enough to join the ranks of “Superman” (1978), “Batman” (1989) and “Spider-Man” (2002). If you see one superhero film this summer (that isn’t a sequel) see “Iron Man”, if you want a superhero film that could reinvent the genre see “The Dark Knight”.

It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.

May 8, 2008

Two weeks until Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hits theaters! My excitement for this film has doubled every day since the release of the first trailer, and I’m assured to love it. In discussing Indy’s upcoming adventure with friends and colleagues I’ve found that a lot of people aren’t too excited. A common thought is that Harrison Ford is just too old to play Indiana again, and I can understand this coming from people who only know Indiana Jones as the hero of the 80’s film trilogy. With one’s perceptions of the character only based on his life in the 1930’s as a rugged adventurer in his mid-30’s, a professor in his late 50’s isn’t the Indy who knew and loved.

But for those, myself included, who have followed “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” television series of the mid 1990s (later retitled “The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones”), it is known that there is so much more to Indy. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. was a baby who managed to climb to the roof of his house (rescued by a young Henry Jones Sr.), he was a young boy who was privileged enough to travel and learn of the world for a year with his mother and father, and he was a teenager who fought in the first World War and later attended the University of Chicago

Having seen Indy as a child, a teenager and an adult, it’s only logical to see him in his old age. Riding off into the sunset at the ending of “The Last Crusade” wasn’t the end of the series, it was the end of that chapter of his life. Having forgiven his father and having tested his inner faith, Indiana had grown. Now “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” introduces an older and wiser Indy for the generation that grew with him as well as a whole new generation. A line from the upcoming film puts it well:

“When you’re young you spend all your time thinking, ‘who will I be?’ And then for years you’re shouting at the world ‘This is who I am!’ But lately I’ve been wondering – after I’m gone – who will they say I was?”

I Believe in Harvey Dent

April 19, 2008

As the presidential primary and a number of local primaries come to a head in Pennsylvania, voters have been asked from every media outlet for candidate’s support. Over the past week I’ve received a sizable collection of postcards, a few e-mails and almost a dozen pre-recorded phone calls. The mailings and emails I can handle, but the phone calls have become my make-or-break for candidates. You call me, you lose my vote. Well, not really. I’ll still vote for the candidates I support, but three calls in a row during the last hour of work on a Friday is a bit much. So, is it wrong that the one candidate I leave my desk for to listen to their complete pre-recorded plea AND take a 2 minute survey for is the Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent?

For those not in the know: The Dark Knight is the upcoming sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins, a gritty re-imagining of Batman. Hitting theaters July 18th, The Dark Knight is looking to be the Batman film audiences wished the previous film was. While Batman Begins villains Ra’s al Ghul and the Scarecrow were entertaining, the average person has no clue who these guys are. Thankfully The Dark Knight is giving us Harvey Dent aka Two Face and (sound of trumpet fanfare) THE JOKER! While these two alone are enough to put butts in the seats, Warner Brothers have really taken the film’s publicity to a whole new level.

Utilizing viral marketing (marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to increase brand awareness), Warner Brothers has created almost a dozen websites dedicated to fighting the Joker’s rise in crime, assisting the Joker in rising in crime and praising or defacing (no pun intended) Harvey Dent. ibelieveinharveydent.com is a near-perfect spoof of the Obama/Clinton campaign sites, including an updating map of Gotham showing the rise in support for Dent, endorsement videos and printable campaign support kits. The largest move the faux campaign has made so far is a nationwide tour of Dentmobiles, campaign support vans which show up in major cities to crowds of fans sporting homemade campaign gear chanting “Dent! Dent! Dent!”

On the reverse, a series of defacing sites have appeared as well as whysoserious.com a site dedicated to the Joker. Since the death of Heath Ledger the site has become a memorial, depicting a black ribbon atop a viral game. About a month after Ledger’s death, new Joker sites have cropped up. The latest being clowntravelagency.com. As with the previous Joker sites, Joker fans are asked to perform real-world tasks in order to obtain prizes. whysoserious.com awarded the first image of Ledger’s Joker to those who emailed the site, slowly revealing a photo as more emails came in. Another game asked fans to head to the streets taking photos of signage based on clues on the site. As the photos were sent in, select letters of the signs were placed on a page resembling a kidnapper’s clip-and-paste note revealing what is now the eerily fitting message on Ledger’s memorial site; “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”

While the 2008 primary and eventual election envelops our lives, its rather funny that the best way to escape the election is to follow and participate in a mock-election for a man who was once played by an over-the-top Tommy Lee Jones. Some may say that fictional pop-culture has superceded interest in the real world, but I believe that people are still very committed to the electoral process. Ah, never mind. Why so serious? I believe in Harvey Dent.

Transplanted – pencil animated short film

March 11, 2008

My Top Ten Quality Films List

February 15, 2008

I love films so much that I can find enjoyment in ANY aspect of the film; maybe the script is awful but the lighting is beautiful, that backdrop looks completely fake but look at the effort they put into the animatronic dinosaur. I could enjoy “Citizen Kane” just as much as I can enjoy “Child’s Play 3”. So when it comes to making a top ten list of films I find it difficult to keep a critically acclaimed film while “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” gets the axe. My solution, a list of not favorite films (that could go into the hundreds) but rather quality films. Quality means that every aspect of production was in top form, each contributing to another to create a fully engrossing film which allows oneself to be entertained and invested in the film until the very end. I believe the following ten films, in no order, succeed in this.

1. American Beauty 1999
2. The Royal Tenenbaums 2001
3. The Shawshank Redemption 1994
4. Spirited Away 2001
5. Psycho 1960
6. Pulp Fiction 1994
7. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade 1989
8. Babel 2006
9. Babe: Pig in the City 1998
10. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back 1980