Sunday, April 30, 2017

Clerks (2000–2001)

It took me a while to see the original Clerks, but I did watch it and I liked it very much.  While looking through DVD sets of TV series, I came across the animated series, which I missed when it first aired.  It’s no wonder considering that there were only six episodes.  Since it was under $10, I decided to buy it.

For those that never saw the movie, it was about two clerks.  (One works at a convenience store and the other at a video store next door.)  They have to deal with a stream of annoying customers.  The primary difference is the format.  The original was a live-action black-and-white movie.  Here, it’s animated, but in color.  The style is thick lines to differentiate the characters and solid colors within.

All of the main characters return.  You have Dante running the Quick Stop, Randal running the video store and Jay and Silent Bob popping in to bother them.  Most episodes start with Dante being called in to open the store, much like in the movie.

Each episode has something different.  In the first, Dante and Randal have to worry about a super store (The Quicker Stop) opening across the street.  They have to take it out to save their jobs.  The second seems to poke fun at clip episodes, considering that it only references itself and the previous episode.

Each episode also has an introduction by Jay and Silent Bob from their palatial estates that they bought with the proceeds from the Clerks movie.  You also get a “previous” and “next time” clip that’s really just a quick joke.  (In one instance, it’s just simple test patterns.)

Each episode is about 21 minutes.  The episodes seem a bit rushed at times, especially the fifth episode, which parodies The Last Starfighter, The Bad News Bears and a few other things.  It tries to put too much into one episode and jumps around a lot.

Also, the movie had a lot more leeway in terms of material and style.  Jay and Silent Bob go from dealing drugs to dealing fireworks.  Also, the characters aren’t allowed to curse.  (Jay and Silent Bob use one of the episode’s introductions to vent.)  They do try to push the envelope (or push buttons) on several occasions.  In one episode, they have lesbians, all voiced by men.  The movie was toned down in certain areas, but tried to make up for it in other areas.  It wasn’t really as funny.

I don’t usually go for the special features, especially considering that there was a DVD-ROM section to the discs.  (I don’t like installing stuff on my computer.)  The one thing I did check out briefly was the animatics, which are just sketches based on the episodes  It wasn’t that interesting since I had just watched the episode.

I also don’t recommend watching the episodes to the end of the credits.  When I did on the first episode, my DVD player froze.  I had to turn off the DVD player and turn it back on to get the DVD back out.  When I tried to watch all of the episodes on the second disc, the same thing happened at the end of the fourth episode.  I don’t know if this had to do with the DVD-ROM or if it was just some sort of fluke.

A lot of people seemed to like the TV series from what I can see, but I really didn’t like it so much.  I wouldn’t recommend buying it.  Renting it, maybe.  If you can catch the episodes on TV, you might want to try catching it.  You might not get the benefit of the introductions, but if you can catch one episode, you can see if it’s worth renting. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

La flûte à six schtroumpfs/The Smurfs and the Magic Flute (1976)

Note:  There are two English dubs.  The most notable difference is that in one, Peewit is called William and McCreep is called Oily Creep.

Many years ago, there was a man named Pierre ’Peyo’ Culliford.  In 1952, Peyo introduced the world to Johan and Peewit.  Six years later, The Smurfs made their debut.  Long before the Smurfs got their current CGI/live-action movie franchise, there was an animated film called The Smurfs and the Magic Flute.  First released in 1976, it was based on the comic stories of Johan, Peewit and The Smurfs.

It starts with Johan winning a competition and Peewit subsequently demonstrating what a horrible musician he is.  When a traveling merchant shows up with his wares, the king immediately sends the merchant away.  It isn’t until a few minutes later that he and Johan realize that a six-holed flute has been left behind.  The king tries to destroy it, but ends up attracting Peewit’s attention.  He discovers the flute, which he washes off and starts playing.  It’s soon discovered that the flute can make people dance until they collapse of exhaustion.

Enter Matthew McCreep, who has been looking for the flute.  He comes to the castle and soon manages to get the flute from Peewit.  You’d think that this would be a good thing, as Peewit is having fun making people dance.  The thing is that McCreep is a thief.   It’s McCreep’s intent to use the flute to steal people’s valuables.  They can’t resist if they’re sleeping.  Right?

The king sends Johan and Peewit off to find and recover the flute.  The problem is that when they do find the flute, McCreep is able to use it to foil them.  So, Johan and Peewit visit Homnibus, a wizard who is able to send them to the Smurf’s village.  Since the Smurfs built the flute, they may be able to find some way of counteracting its powers.  It turns out that there’s no way to negate the effects.  For this reason, they have also been looking for the flute.

The Smurfs can, however, build another flute with the same powers, so as to put Johan and Peewit on equal footing with McCreep.  The bad news is that Johan and Peewit are now on a schedule.  Word is that McCreep is going to fund an army to take over the king’s castle.  They manage to track him to an island, where McCreep and Peewit engage in a flute battle with Peewit just barely winning.

There’s a certain nostalgia factor in watching this movie.  The video quality of the version Netflix has isn’t particularly good.  (I don’t know if a good transfer even exists, as the film is from 1976.)  I remember the Smurfs primarily from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon in the 1980s.  I also remember having seen the movie.  I don’t recall how good the quality was back then, but I do remember having liked the movie.

The story is appropriate for younger children.  (It has a G rating.)  I don’t recall any violence onscreen.  (The worst would be the vendor being chased out of town.)  The story is simple and easy to follow.  It’s fairly entertaining for a child, although I don’t know if most children will put up with the animation.  There’s a pretty big disparity between what was available in 1976 and what’s available today.

The animated series ran for several years.  I’m not sure I’d watch it if it became available; it’s clearly meant for children without much regard for adults.  This is basically the kind of movie a parent of the 1980s would leave their child to watch for an hour and a half without worrying about it.  What vague memories I had of the TV series were the same.  It was a very basic plot meant for children.  I don’t know that it would hold much entertainment for me as an adult.  I’d probably get bored with it after the second or third episode.

As for today’s children, I think it’s going to be hit or miss.  If you can still get it streaming on Netflix, it’s worth a shot.  I don’t know that I’d recommend buying it on DVD, though.  I don’t know how many children will take well to it, as it has a very dated feel to it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sausage Party (2016)

The first time I heard the term ‘sausage party’ was a Law & Order episode.  A character was using it to refer to a party with an undesirably high ratio of men to women.  (It may take you a moment to get that.  I’ll wait.)  I don’t recall having heard the term much since then.  That’s why, when I came across Sausage Party, I was curious.  I had to wonder how far the writers had gone with the concept.  It looks like they went all out.

The self-aware food items at Shopwell’s grocery store all want to go to The Great Beyond.  A sausage named Frank has plans to unite with Brenda, a bun, in the next life, if only he can stay fresh long enough.  They revere customers as gods.  The gods have the power to take produce to a wonderful life where they’ll be treated well.  They have only a honey mustard squeeze bottle to tell them otherwise.  So convinced is the honey mustard that he commits suicide, imploring Frank to seek out a bottle of Firewater as his last act.

Brenda and Frank are accidentally ejected from their respective packages.  A douche is damaged, meaning he‘ll never be useful.  Brenda and Frank set out an adventure around the grocery store with Douche as the main antagonist.  The sausage and bun find that most of the other food items tend to behave like the stereotypes of their respective countries of origin.  (A German product wants to kill all the Juice, for instance.)  Frank and Brenda meet up with Sammy Bagel, Jr., who sounds like Woody Allen and speaks of his people being displaced.  There’s also a lavash called, I believe, Lavash.  He’s distinctly Arab and doesn’t do much to hide his contempt for Sammy.  (However, both Lavash and Sammy are friends with the hummus.)  Rounding out the party is Teresa del Taco, who is a lesbian.

Frank eventually meets The Immortals, who are all nonperishable foods.  They invented the story of The Great Beyond to keep the other food from freaking out.  The Immortals tell Frank to go to the frozen section to find proof, which Frank eventually has to do alone.  It takes some time and some help, but Frank is able to get the other groceries to revolt against the humans.

The movie might be more appropriately titled Gods and Generalizations.  When you’re trying to play on that many stereotypes, it’s easy to have an epic misfire.  The same goes for the movie’s religious references.  The Great Beyond is little more than a way of placating the population of the grocery store.  I was wondering if a review would even be appropriate.  What would you expect from a movie called Sausage Party, anyway?  This is meant more as a warning to people who want some sort of confirmation.

I mean, you have an literal douche named Douche acting like a figurative douche.  He juices up by basically going down on a juice box.  The female characters don’t seem to hold back on the sex appeal, such as it is.  Oh, and if you were put off by the opening barrage of language, you are not going to want to sit through the final scene with your parents and/or children.  I’m a little hesitant to embed the red-band trailer here due to restrictions by AdSense, but you can easily find it by searching for “Sausage Party Red Band Trailer”.

Most people know what their tolerance is for offensive humor.  This movie will probably push that limit.  I was entertained, but I tend to have a somewhat high tolerance.  It was only the last scene that made me at all uncomfortable.  A few of the other references were unsettling.  I doubt very much that you will be seeing on a broadcast network.  Basic cable, maybe late at night.  This was not intended to be family friendly.  Do not take your children (or parents) to see this movie.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Gremlins (1984)

WARNING:  This movie gives away some details.  I don’t feel that they’ll ruin the movie-going experience, but not everyone might agree.

There was one scene I remember from Gremlins more than any other from that movie.  Kate Beringer (the love interest) is telling Billy about how her father died on Christmas.  She even goes into detail about how he was found a few days later, ruining the holiday for her.  Apparently, there was some controversy when the movie was first released, but it encapsulates the feel of the movie pretty well.  What can be joyous for many can be horrible for a few.  We’re not even talking alone for the holidays horrible.  Christmas is about to get very scary for one small town.

The movie starts with Randall Peltzer looking for the perfect gift for his son.  He finds it in a gift shop in Chinatown.  Alas, the furry little creature, called a mogwai, is not for sale.  Mr. Peltzer manages to get the shop owner’s grandson to sneak the mogwai out the back for a few bills.

There are three rules that the shop owner imparted to Randall.  First, no bright lights.  Sunlight can even kill them.  Second, don’t get them wet.  Third, do not, under any circumstances, feed them after midnight.  The mogwai comes to be known as Gizmo.

Billy is somewhat careful about the first rule.  Gizmo reacts to almost any light, so Billy is always being reminded to be careful.  It doesn’t take long before the second rule is broken.  Billy’s friend spills some water on Gizmo, causing Gizmo great pain.  A few second later, five hairballs pop off, with each forming a new mogwai.  If Gizmo is a well-behaved angel, the five new mogwai are those demon-spawn children you come across every so often.  They always want attention and are harassing Gizmo whenever the get a chance.  It isn’t long before they trick Billy into feeding them after midnight.

Billy’s mother is able to kill four of them, but the group’s leader, named Stripe, manages to escape.  Stripe manages to find his way to the local YMCA where he finds a pool filled with water.  Now, Stripe has an entire army of little troublemakers to help him wreak havoc on Kingston Falls.  They take over a bar, where they drink and smoke and make trouble for Billy’s girlfriend, Kate.  They eventually gather in a movie theater to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, thus leading (hopefully) to Billy’s endgame.  If you know anything about comedies or horror movies, you know it can’t be that simple.

There are several clichés in the movie, although I’m not sure if they were intentional or not.  The most obvious, of course, is the disregard for rules.  Given some of the dialogue, this is commentary on the human tendency to want to be defiant.  Tell someone not to do something, and they’ll have an uncontrollable urge to do it.  There’s also the tendency to have one of a group of antagonists escape and cause more trouble.  Stripe does this twice.  I’ll admit that there was a larger group of Gremlins the second time; it was impressive that Billy managed to get as many as he did.  Still, why always one?

I’ve always found it odd that timing is always so precise.  You can’t feed a Gremlin after midnight.  What if your clock is off?  Am I supposed to take time zones into account?  If Mogwai predate modern timekeeping, how did people know exactly when to stop feeding them?  For that matter, when can you start feeding them again?  Isn’t it really always after midnight?

It’s also strange that they reproduce by getting water on them.  How did a species evolve like that?  For that matter, when a little fur ball pops off, how do we get the sudden increase in mass?  Where does the extra matter come from?  Also, are we to assume that the water is consumed?  When Stripe enters the pool, could we have ended up with an infinite number of Gremlins?

I suppose that might not have been a bad thing, plot wise.  The Gremlins are the main draw here. The humans are mostly caricatures.  You have the hopeless inventor for a father.  There’s the well-meaning kid.  There’s even the mean old lady who threatens to have Billy’s dog put down.

This is not a movie for young kids.  It was part of the first batch of movies to get a PG-13 rating because it was worse than PG, but not quite R territory.  Much of the proposed violence was taken out, but it’s still pretty scary.  I could see some of it giving small children nightmares.  (Consider the story I led with.)

The movie is a solid horror movie.  I imagine a few people, like myself, will watch it because it’s a classic.  If you haven’t seen it before, you might want to watch it anyway.  The effects are pretty good and the storyline, such as it is, works.  I don’t remember much of the sequel, but word is that a third installment is in the works.  It’s supposed to be a continuation of the same storyline rather than a reboot, so you might want to head over to Netflix while you can get streaming.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Skinwalkers (2006)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Sometimes, I start watching a movie knowing full well that it's a stinker.  Sometimes, I go in thinking that I have a winner.  Usually, though, it's the former.  In this case, I ordered the movie free on demand.  I knew that this was going to be a stinker.

There are several groups of werewolves.  Some try to be good and avoid eating human flesh whereas others get a rush off of the power that chewing on people brings them.  The good werewolves are hiding a child that could bring an end to all werewolves, but it's not clear how this is to happen.  Not even the main characters really know what the boy is supposed to do.  All anyone knows is that on his thirteenth birthday, he'll be able to do something that ends all of werewolfdom.

The movie was a big letdown, even for someone not really into werewolf movies.  I'd imagine that if you're a big fan, you're going to really regret the day you watched this.  The movie has nothing.  It starts with the bad werewolves capturing someone and pumping him for information on the boy.  They want him dead before his thirteenth birthday, which is in four days.  As you might expect, the bad guys figure out where the kid is hiding.  Gunfights ensue.  People get hurt and/or killed.  We end up with a big fight with one good guy taking on three or four bad guys.  Then, the movie ends with a whimper.

It's not that the movie is really hard to watch.  It's just that you're always expecting more.  Like, how did the werewolves originate?  It's implied that there are more of them, but it's not really shown how or where they live.  The boy and his mother seem incredibly unaware of what the boy is.  They're getting a lot of the major facts as the audience is.

The big fight scene at the end is also a big let down.  The mother and son are put in a cage as a means of protection.  It locks from the inside, therefore it must be safe.  It's so safe that one of the bad guys is able to jump through the roof and attack the mother, despite the fact that the boy, who's standing not ten feet away, is the main target.

When the werewolf finally decides to stop attacking the mother, the mother is given the opportunity to blast the werewolf with a shot gun that doesn't seem to need to be reloaded.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't shotguns normally need to be reloaded after only one or two shots?  The mother is able to get off something like four or five shots.  Even if she is reloading, I don't recall her getting any more ammo with the gun.

From the onset of the big final battle, you know that it's going to come down to the last minute.  The party enters this big warehouse and we're told that there's an hour until midnight.  At midnight, the child turns 13 and he'll be able to do whatever it is that he's able to do to get rid of all werewolves.  Conveniently, there's a clock tower nearby that lets everyone know that it's midnight.  The kid's now 13, but he's not doing anything.  Yes, his power is revealed, but in a very mundane way.  I was expecting some big light show or explosions or something.  Instead, it just happens.

There's a reason that free movies don't cost anything.  We have no character development.  There are no real plot twists to speak of.  We have a gun fight where one person gets shot.  It's not even really clear where the name skinwalker comes from.  It sounds like some bad fetish porn movie.

Also, I find it hard to believe that in the entire history of werewolves that this is the first kid to come along and pose a threat.  The child's ability to affect werewolves seems to come from the fact that he's half human.  You're telling me that no werewolf in the history of werewolves had a kid with a human until now?  Again, we're not really presented with much back story here.

If you're looking for a way to waste a few hours, this is your movie.  Otherwise, don't waste your time.  There are many other, better movies out there.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Stranger Things (Season 1)

There’s always going to be a market for nostalgia.  With Netflix, I have access to all manner of TV shows and movies that I watched as a child.  In fact, I just watched The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, a movie almost as old as I am, thanks to the fact that I could stream it through their service.  That’s another story, though.

Netflix has been producing original content for the past few years and one of their original shows takes place in the early 80s, back when Atari was still new and  Dungeons & Dragons still had a non-advanced version in production.  Stranger Things revolves around a group of four boys:  Dustin Henderson, Lucas Sinclair, Will Byers and Mike Wheeler.  They’re normal 12-year-old kids going to school during the week and playing D&D on the weekend.

The town of Hawkins, Indiana, is your normal, albeit fictional, small town.  They only notable exception is a secret-research facility that you might find in an episode of The X-Files or The Twilight Zone.  The town doesn’t know much about what goes on there.  That’s about to change.  First, Will goes missing.  When I say missing, I mean he actually disappears.  Around the same time, a girl escapes from the secret facility and makes her way to a local diner where the owner tries to help her.

The girl manages to find her way to Will’s three friends, who take to calling her Eleven from a tattoo on her arm.  Meanwhile, Will’s mother, Joyce, is distraught to the point of thinking that Will is trying to contact her from the other side.  I don’t know what you may have seen in coming attractions, but Joyce’s actions may seem like those of someone who doesn’t handle stress well.  Who can blame her?  Her son is missing and she can’t do anything about it.  I doubt I’d be able to remain calm.

The local police chief, Jim Hopper, tries to help her deal with her loss as best he can.  He tells Joyce to take some time to accept and deal with her grief.  The chief has enough to worry about.  Over the course of his investigation, he comes to realize that she might not be far off about what happened to Will.  He was willing to take the evidence at face value, but begins to wonder when he starts to dig deeper.

Chief Hopper also tells Will’s friends not to try and investigate.  (As if that ever worked.)  Dustin, Lucas, Mike and Eleven find that Will is trapped in some sort of alternate dimension, which Eleven calls The Upside Down.  The boys are out of their element, but Eleven was part of some strange experiments and at least knows what they’re up against.

One of the difficulty of dealing with a story like this is balance.  You’re probably wondering if this is full-on out there.  It’s very easy to have Joyce be this over-the-top grieving mother, but she’s not.  Winona Ryder is able to keep it to a believable level.  (After all, you’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you.  Right?)  There’s also a temptation to go overboard with the 80s stuff.  The series is reminiscent of a lot of things, but doesn’t try to cram all manner of references into each episode.  (The one big product placement seems to be D&D)

It doesn’t look like Netflix is one to release its original content on DVD.  My understand is that it commissions content in hopes of driving subscriptions.  This may not be a bad thing, given the cost of DVD season sets compared to the price of a month of Netflix.  You might be better getting Netflix, especially if you’re not one to rewatch TV shows constantly.

Netflix does have a lot of original content, which makes paying for a month or two worth it.  (If I’m not mistaken, they’re currently offering a free month.  Check the Web site for details.)  This is definitely one of the series I’d recommend checking out if you’re in to shows like The X-Files and Twin Peaks.  It definitely has a similar feel to it.