Tuesday, June 26, 2012



As a semi-serious fan of old school Hammer, I thought I'd seen all of their Mummy movies. Never my favorite franchise, but always better than average, the Hammer Mummy films were chock-full of half-naked Egyptians and a fair amount of suspense.

So it came as a complete surprise to me when I saw this movie, and the titular "mummy" ended up being a beautiful devil-woman with a severed hand. Yeah, apparently I'd never seen this one, because that didn't seem familiar at all. And it's a good thing, too, because it would've probably scared me away from the earlier, better films. Case-in-point: within the first five minutes, there's a sandstorm that somehow has the magical ability to slash people's throats. Why not!

Anyway, my viewing experience included a lot of getting up and down and pausing for bathroom breaks. A lot. So I don't feel comfortable writing anything lengthy about this film. I will say, though, that this is not one of Hammer's top-tier efforts. But at least they had enough money for their crawling-artificial-hand budget.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


The Polar Express is creepy. Like, waaaay creepy. It's the only movie that has ever been able to make Tom Hanks come across as a dead-eyed homeless pedophile (and I've seen Turner and Hooch). There are so many things wrong with the character design of that movie, and it all boils down to a technology that just wasn't quite ready to create humans.
I won't go on and on about the uncanny valley and whatnot, because those who've seen The Polar Express know what I mean. Everything looks almost normal, but there's just something really really wrong with the motion capture animation, so much so that not even a Hanksian tidal wave of charm can compensate for those dead, dead eyes.
So when Monster House reared it ugly head, complete with Robert Zemeckis as an executive producer and Image Movers as the production studio, I was not at all interested. I love animated movies, traditional and computer, but this wasn't either. It was something else. And I thought it would be ugly.
So years passed and I forgot about this movie. Beowulf came and went. Mars Needs Moms crashed and burned. And then a funny thing happened. I got really into Community, the NBC sitcom that has breathed new life into a dying television network. Community is currently my favorite show on television, and it's created by the inimitable Dan Harmon. The man's a genius, but from all accounts he's not the easiest guy to work with. (He's the only showrunner I've heard of to get kicked off of TWO shows that he co-created. Or something. I try not to follow Twitter nonsense.)
Anyway, Dan Harmon co-wrote Monster House, so that fun tidbit immediately piqued my interest. Would this little cartoon be as witty and meta as Community? Would its script outweight any motion capture creepiness? I had to find out.
So when I sat down to watch this movie, I was all prepared to focus in on the jokes and dialogue and plotting, which, admitted, were all pretty great. (There's a killer uvula joke about halfway through.) Most of the dialogue really lands, and the characters are never less-than-genuine. It's a fun, heartfelt movie.
But what I really took away from this viewing experience is that the animation works! Motion capture works! The characters are all cartoony enough that it doesn't come across as dead-faced robots and Heidi Klums lurching through the film. Like any good cartoon, these characters are like real people, except not. This one movie singlehandedly reignited my faith in motion capture technology.
Not only that, it actually turned me into a fan. I'd never seen so many beautiful, soaring camera angles on a cartoon before. The entire film is kinetic and cinematic and special. It really really soars. I don't know what this movie does differently from something like Beowulf and Polar Express. Maybe it comes down to having characters that don't try to look too human. Maybe it embraces the artificiality of the medium in a way that the others don't. Whatever it is, this is a gorgeous film. Who knew!
And that Chowder character.
That's basically every kid's first best friend.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Dear Syfy Channel,

We're been through a lot over the years, included an ill-advised name change to make you seem quote-unquote "hip" and "edgy" and "retarded". That's fine. You're well aware that we're in a love-hate relationship.

But I would just like to say that I am very proud of you this summer. Not only did you start the season off right by killing Joey Fatone in Jersey Shore Shark Attack (Why did it take so long for someone to think of that movie!), but you decided to continue the streak by airing Roger Corman-approved masterpieces like Piranhaconda.

You are certainly on a roll, Syfy Channel. Some people might gripe about how self-consciously bad you've gotten, some people might even say that it's not fun to watch something that TRIES to be bad, but you know what... SOME people can suck it. Because you, Syfy Channel, are a good kid.

Thank you for Piranhaconda. Please don't like anyone get you down.

Thanks for the memories,

Friday, June 8, 2012

COUNTDOWN: Hammer Dracula Films

Hammer Studios was pretty effing great. They brought red-blooded lusty, heaving raunch to classic horror stories. Rarely were there any gay characters, but the subtext of a lot of their movies has some bits of pink thrown in. Not only that, they were gory and lascivious... and somehow classy at the same time. I honestly can't describe what these movies meant to me when I was a kid watching them with my dad and older brother.
My fondest memories were probably with the Dracula films, which I saw more than Frankenstein or Mummy. I haven't seen them all (that kung fu one from 1974 holds no interest for me, because it would just make me sad). But I've seen most of them. Here are my top five:
5) The Brides of Dracula
(No Christopher Lee, but the titular brides were a step in the right direction after a significantly less sexy original. Great climax. Windmills are terrifying, and I say this as an avid mini-golfer.)

4) Dracula AD 1972
(It's ironic that the "modern" one is by far the most dated. But in a good way. Sometimes I watch this movie just to stare at the furniture and wall paper.)
3) Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
(Great use of forests. It simultaneously makes me want to visit England and stay as far away as possible.)
2) Taste the Blood of Dracula
(Not the most talkative of Christopher Lee performances, but the film is never dull, and man can Mr. Lee lurk!)
1) Dracula: Prince of Darkness
(Christopher Lee's big return, and the perfect Hammer combination of damsels, splashes of blood, creepy castles, and overacting villagers. If you haven't seen any of these films, start with this one.)