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Judge Brett Cullum's Blog
• Location: Houston, TX
HERBIE FULLY LOADED - the GBA game from Disney!
Over at Verdict's Chicago headquarters we got a GBA game to review. Being a handheld videogame junkie myself, I thought it would fun to take a look at. The title we got was a movie tie-in (naturally), and it is Disney's Herbie Fully Loaded. Now there are two things to bear in mind with GBA games versus your normal console epics: 1. They are usually shorter and easier, designed to be played on the fly in transit or by young video gamers and 2. The graphics are limited by the format's hardware. For a GBA game the graphics on this Herbie game are fine and dandy - we get to see Herbie fully realized as a video game character (sadly no Lindsay Lohan except in cut scenes between game levels). It's a ... surprise!... racing game where you control Herbie through a circuit of 3-D racing environments laced with special power-ups (stars) that give everyone's favorite Love Bug temporary powers (like super speed, shooting tires, or jumps). The game is made for ages six and up, so the controls are easy enough to learn - "A" button is gas, "B" button is brake, control pad is steering, and the shoulder triggers launch the special powers when you get them. It's fun, it's easy, and it's Herbie. Nothing too elaborate or taxing for serious gamers who will find it just a racing game based on a Disney character. Kids will eat it up, as will older gamers who like things simple and straight-forward (like me). Teenage girls may also find it fun to pretend they are Lindsay driving Herbie.
There are several game modes including story where you have to finish first in a race to continue, free racing where you can practice on tracks you unlock in story mode, and finally championship mode which can only be unlocked by advancing four levels in story mode. The game manual says you can program in cheat codes, but I found no need to. Herbie is an easy car to drive, and the tracks are pretty simple to navigate. The scenery is nice, it changes slightly with each new level. The power-ups get more and more crucial as you advance, but as long as you keep the pedal or "A" button down the entire race -- odds are you'll come out on top. Great game for a movie tie-in, and perfect for novices.
Pamela Anderson wrote a BOOK?!? Blog review for STAR!
In addition to DVDs we got a couple of books from the gracious publishing house of Simon and Schuster who thought we might like some literary diversion. So what would they send us? The latest collection of critical essays on the films of Bergman? Nah! They sent us Pam Anderson's first venture into storytelling, the fictional (but only slightly) STAR. I actually like the former Baywatch babe who had more success with her sex video than with her feature film debut Barb Wire. Question in my mind was "Can she write?". Well, the answer is... um... sort of.
What Star is comprised of is Pam telling her life story to her "ghostwriter" (Eric Shaw), and him turning her factual life into a fictional story about a young cosmetologist named Esther. Our heroine somehow ends up in Playboy, on a popular sitcom called Hammertime, and then lands a leading role in a show called Lifeguards, Inc.. By the end of her trials and tribulations of going from a brunette Tomboy turned into an A-list D-cup celebrity, Esther is on the verge of dating a rock star who has her name tattooed on his pelvis. Hmmmm! They've taken Pam's life, changed all the names, and then given us a tell-all tale without having to worry about claims of slander because nobody is named. It's a quick, easy, salacious read that would make the perfect companion on a beach or on an airplane. It's a lot like Pam - spirited, funny, and lighter than air. It's kind of like if Jacqueline Susann decided to write an entry for the teenage favorite Sweet Valley High series.
If you're curious about how Pamela Anderson made it in Hollywood, then this is the place to go. To me she's our modern version of Marilyn Monroe - just with a lot more silicone and a habit of dating rockstars rather than Presidents or literary giants. She's an icon, and not half as dumb as most people think. Sure she's made mistakes along the way, but her good nature and adventurous spirit have landed her on top everytime (well... mostly). Star is not going to win the lady any literary awards, but it should keep you entertained. I wish they would mention it on her new sitcom Stacked - that show nobody watches but me about Pam working in a bookstore. It's a fascinating look at life in the fast lane! A great way to kill a few hours. Why not? Like anyone could say no to a big-breasted bombshell that has become ironically the "Queen of All Media" by adding co-author to her impressive resume. You go, girl!
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - random thoughts
Saturday night I ended up at a very strange screening for the latest Tim Burton epic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Strange because it was completely sold to the rafters, and the audience was this twisted mix of suburban parents with their kids (most of whom could have been in the movie as Augustus Gloop, Violet, Veruca, or Mike TeaVee) and hardcore Burton fans (odd mix of Goth clothes and NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS accessories courtesy of the nearest Hot Topic). Thankfully the movie started, and most of them were pretty quiet throughout the whole thing.
I began to think about the old version which was not faithful to the book at all, but had definitely left its imprint. 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was not a huge hit when it was released originally. It was only after endless years of being a staple on television did the under-achiever at the box office become a cult classic and childhood favorite. The original author Dahl had submitted a screenplay for the movie, but it was rewritten by quite a few hands. Sammy Davis Jr. had been tapped to play the man in the candy store who sang "The Candy Man" song, but at the last minute producers thought it was too corny and they replaced him. I've heard the author of the book was quite upset by many of the changes, and heard that Burton sought to rectify this with his remake.
Burton does play it close to the source novel, even going so far as to keep the lyrics to the Oompa-Loompa songs as direct quotes from the book. But he certainly adds his own touches, and even a few subplots of his own including an origin story for Wonka complete with creepy dentist father played by the required actor of EVERY Summer blockbuster - Christopher Lee. We are also treated to the "Burton's current woman MUST appear in the movie" with Helena Bonham Carter showing up as Charlie's dentally challenged mum. And of course the entire movie looks like it sprang straight out of Burton's head. Impressive set design and gorgeous cinematography are de rigeur for his films, although I noticed the creepy inhuman bleaching he seems to do to keep people's faces looking surreal. This is Burton's movie and he writes the rules - methinks maybe he has more than a little in common with a Mr. Willy Wonka than he would care to admit.
Johnny Depp plays the role very well - ignore Roger Ebert's poo-pooing his take on the character. He's wrong! Depp is wonky and wonderful even if he does remind everyone of Michael Jackson. I'm not buying this whole "it was accidental" line. Oh yeah, I wore gloves, adopted a feminine voice, bleached out my skin tone, and invited children into a child's fantasy built by an adult... and Jackson never crossed my mind. Right! But no matter because he infuses a healthy dose of Howard Hughes and '70s Glam Rock icons in there to mix it all up. I liked him, and I thought all this back and forth with him and Gene Wilder was all for nothing. The two have nothing in common, and the tones are 180 degrees from each other. Polar opposites if you will! They could not be more different.
The movie itself is eye candy of the highest order. Quirky and kooky even when we're not in the infamous chocolate factory of the title. It's definitely worth seeing on the big screen (IMAX if you can find it!). Basically the bigger the better because this one's all about the visuals. Emotionally I don't think it quite matched the original movie's dramatics even with the positive changes like making Charlie and Gramps not do anything "bad" like when they drank the "Fizzy Lift" soda. It seems a little too cool, a little too cynical to be as emotional. But that is part of Burton's allure as a filmmaker. He makes the world his own, and he pushes aside anything he can't handle. He's a visual savant, not a master of the dramatic (though Edward Scissorhands has one of the most beautiful emotionally rich centers in it). Ironically this one's all about the candy. It's the dark chocolate edition as compared with the 70s more milky one.
"What are you?" ... "I'm Batman!" ... in defense of Burton
I saw BATMAN BEGINS last night at a sold out IMAX screening. It was gloriously dark and very well done. All around it was an excellent movie, and I was happy to see a new incarnation of the superhero 16 years after Burton's first effort at bringing the Caped Crusader to the screen. Nolan's vision of Batman is his own, and we have a brand new edition of an American myth updated for our times. But I keep seeing all these discussions about which movie is better - 1989's Batman or the newly conceived Batman Begins? The difference between the two is too great to even see them as competitors.
Every decade we reinvent the superheroes to mirror the times we live in. World War II saw a traditional brightly colored Superman emerging out of jingoistic pride, while Bob Kane planted Batman firmly in the roots and rules of noir. We had the campy trippy Batman of the '60s, who became more fun and funny in a time when we needed a few good chuckles. Superman took flight in the '70s just when America needed to regain its faith, and Christopher Reeves made us believe in what the country stood for again in a jaded era. Likewise, Wonder Woman resurfaced to usher in the triumph of the feminist movement and restore faith in America and declare victory in the battle of the sexes. Then at the end of the '80s came Batman again. He was reinvented as a troubled psyche navigating an overly stylized neo-noir world of Prince music and gigantic sets. Now we see Batman again rising from the ashes to fight terrorism in a newly defined world - just when America wants to understand its role in the war on terror. The Batman movies are reflections of what's happening in the world at the time they are released, so the latest one is always going to seem the most relevant and radical.
Batman Begins isn't better than Batman it's just more timely. Burton's vision now seems dated because it was a product of the time it was made. The '80s were all about excess and the personal politics of individualism and duality. Burton's movie was a triumph of style over substance, and his Batman was dealing with an over-the-top menace who represented the sins of the decade - selfish egomania and drug abuse (Joker's pushing of SMILE-EX mirrored cocaine and Ecstasy). Nolan's Batman Begins is about one man taking on the fear that random violence (terrorist attacks) produce. Bale is waging a war against fear, but it's really a war on uncertainty and a feeling that our cities are becoming targets for mass hysteria.
The two movies evoke completely different themes and stylistic approaches that fit with their times. Which is exactly what the comics did over the years. How often did Batman morph or have a newly tweaked origin? How many times did a team of artists and writers change his costumes and character? The two Batman movies are apples and oranges - both equally as faithful to Batman's spirit as the other. You almost can't compare the two. It would be like comparing the original comic to Frank Miller's graphic novels. Why bother? The time defined them more than they defined their eras. Superheroes are made to evolve and change. And it's wonderful to see Batman able to remain fresh and vital in the hands of talents in every decade.
Guess now it's Superman's turn. Let's see how the new world order changes him.
Hit me Baby, harder... no, please knock me out!
I actually watched ABC's Hit Me Baby One More Time last night. For those not in the know... it's where they take washed up bands from the 80s and 90s and put them back on stage in an American Idol type competition where the audience votes who still sounds okay. They do one of their hits and then a cover of a current song. Last night it was Loverboy, Flock of Seagulls, Tiffany, Cece Penniston, and Arrested Development (the band that sang "Tennessee" not the cast of the critical darling on Fox). The show itself is like American Idol in that it started off in Britain, and they decided to import it over here.
You just can't go home again. I grew up in the 80s, and Loverboy and Flock of Seagulls were big hits on my turntable (as in I had the vinyl albums!). In my living room last night they looked tragic. Mike Reno, lead singer of Loverboy looked like he ate Meatloaf (the singer not the dish). He had chins in the plural sense, and gray dingy hair. Those famous red leather pants from GET LUCKY? They wouldn't fit on his head now! He sang okay (little rough), but it was certainly not magical and I was resisting the urge to breakout the Greatest Hits CD to burn the memory out of my mind. Then Flock of Seagulls came on. Really should have just been called SEAGULL, because nobody from the original band was on stage other than their lead singer. Gone was the magic blonde gravity defying hair, and also gone was any semblence of singing. Bad! Bad seagull!
Tiffany and Cece Penniston shocked me by both sounding pretty good. Actually Tiffany sounded better than when she was singing in malls - her voice had matured, and suddenly that damn "I Think We're Alone Now" sounded rather dark and inviting sung by an adult. CeCe Penniston won for looking even better than when she was hot, and her voice is amazingly intact. Gospel good clean living helps! What shocked me was when they did their hits, it was fine... but the covers? Oooh, really sorta bad. Actually Loverboy doing "Hero" sounded the best (fat or not, Mike Reno can still belt a ballad).
But the audience favorite by far was Arrested Development - who used to be a whole gang of people, but was reduced to three last night. Two women and one guy went through "Tennessee", and it was just ... painful. But the audience voted, and they're in the competition sometime later. Sad, sad, sad. Why is television so intent on destroying any good memories I have from the '80s? If you're in an '80s band and you don't look or sound good anymore please stay home. Nostalgia doesn't kill people, it's seeing former idols and sex symbols looking like hell that kills people. Seriously! But I giggled wondering if Britney Spears is going to be playing fairs and malls, and hoping for a gig on a show like this so she can sing "HIT ME BABY ONE MORE TIME" when she's forty. That's when I'll be watching and smiling. But right now... I'm screaming in pain and asking if this is what Summer television is going to be like. Thank God for reruns of LOST and my DVD player.
The dark side is strong with this one...
I've been struggling to figure out how I feel about REVENGE OF THE SITH. It's of course "review-proof" because it is more event than movie, and as an event it was exciting and as a movie it was... well... flawed. It was like RETURN OF THE JEDI - half brilliant swashbuckling adventure and half kid friendly crap that made me wince and giggle in all the wrong spots. And before any of you decide to go off on me for being a spoilsport let me preface this with I went in with an open mind, and I am as much a STAR WARS fan as most people who grew up on the movies and books.
So what bugged me?
So what was good?
So I am ultimately torn. Half brilliant and half hackneyed. Revenge of the Sith was a great mind blowing event that finally lived up to the promise of more of this dazzling universe, but it's still a notch below those first three movies that had all the visual dazzle and some characters that were fully realized. The dark power of my imagination of who and what Darth Vader is was always stronger than what I saw on the screen.
Exorcist Prqeuel 2 - Electric Pazuzoolu or Do Demons Dream of Demonic Sheep?
Just got back from a screening of the Schrader version of the Exorcist prequel - now called Dominion. Sorry, but I stayed far away from the Harlin film so I can offer no comparisons, but my friend who went with me did see it and says they are wildly different. Dominion is a very sparse thinking man's horror film that seems to be shot and paced as if it were straight out of the '70s -- when movies unfolded at a slower pace to reveal more character. It's two hours of Schrader and his cast meditating on goodness and faith, so Morgan Creek was probably right in assuming young people wouldn't flock to this version. The only problem I saw were some obviously inserted "last minute" CGI effects that really needed to be polished more. Other than that it's still going to disappoint many people who want a scary movie. It's more talky than any Exorcist movie ever made (with the possible exception of 2). And the demons are nowhere near as impressive as they were in the pea-soup flying original. Infact, it's more a meditation on if Satan or man are inseperable.
I wish it hadn't had that EXORCIST franchise label. It's really not very well connected to the first movie other than it shows Father Merrin in a crisis of faith. After some atrocities in World War II he buries himself in archeologist projects rather than religion, and stumbles across a buried church. When they begin to dig it up strange things start to happen, but these are strange events where people ACT strange -- no flying locusts or supernatural spookies. The villagers and the British soldiers begin to fight, and a strange crippled boy who is "cursed" comes out of the sandy landscape. Hyenas seem to hang around the camp, and soon people are acting ... well... un-Christian. The crippled boy is miraculously healed, but during his baptism he becomes demonic and hurls a young priest into a statue. It's up to Merrin to exorcise the boy, but first he has to exorcise his own demons of faith.
It's a solid thought-provoking movie, but it is low on jump scares or anything freaky. Dominion relies only on mood and psychology to get its evil mojo flowing. It has some very timely thoughts on the military, Christianity, and evil that all could be applied to the world today without ever devolving into a "let's bash anyone" mode. It's a good movie, but I still doubt it will be a big hit with people who were thrilled by the tale of a little girl who was possessed by a devil.
I'm beginning to wonder - are prequels pointless? No movie will ever fill in the blanks of Merrin for me as effectively as my imagination. They say in the first movie this African episode "almost killed him". Well... it doesn't. And I imagine a more horrific episode, and not some meditation on evil. It doesn't take away from Dominion to admit that it doesn't feel like a part of that first movie since really NONE of the sequels ever lived up to the scares and horrors of the first. We don't need some mysteries solved. Merrin showed up in the last 20 minutes of The Exorcist. We knew nothing about him except that he had seen this thing before, and he was ready to take it on again. Do we need to know more?
BLOG REVIEW - Straight Men and the Men Who Love Them
This is a review of Straight Men and The Men Who Love Them.
File this one in the category of "gay people will buy almost anything with the right packaging and title". I've noticed recently some of my most popular reviews have been of box sets with names like Sexy Gay Favorites and Passionate Gay Classics. They're never quite what the title promises, and thankfully Straight Men and The Men Who Love Them is another example of a title just meant to sell a collection of odd shorts from around the world. Why "thankfully"? Because I hate the idea that "gay" men find "straight" men objects of desire to the point where they would "love" them. Hate to burst anyone's fantasy, but gay men are attracted to each other and rarely find classic traditional straight men much of a turn-on. Sure a straight guy can be attractive, but honestly a straight woman can be attractive to to many gay men. But when you get down to the nitty gritty business of love - straight men would never cut it. They don't take care of themselves mostly, and they don't have the potential to make a gay guy very happy... unless they are in truth gay men. Trust me on this... if you're really a straight guy, gay guys may think you're cute but you are inexperienced and would be a lousy target for them. You're probably not THAT attractive to make them want to "convert" you to the other side of the fence. Now they may want to redo your living space and force you to dress better, but that was covered by Bravo pretty damn well.
This disc contains 8 short flims and an odd trailer. Most of them were made overseas, and the only uniting theme is they usually deal with a man in the closet somehow. It would be more apt to call the collection "Closeted men and the men who force them out". The best short here is about a straight guy who meets a gay guy when he mistakenly thinks he's meeting a girl for a blind Internet date. They meet and talk, and discover they have a lot in common. They agree to be friends, and nothing more is made of it. That short is the only US entry on the disc and is called "Coffee Date". It's the best thing on here.
If you like Spanish boys or Italians, then the rest of the disc is for you. Mainly we get grainy short films from foreign countries that seem longer when you watch them than their average 12 minute length. They have plots that usually concern two men who fall for each other in some way, and must come to terms with their relationship. All have subtitles, and all seem substandard and hardly even up to the Boys Life collections that were so popular at gay film festivals. Really these aren't inspiring, and the only thing you may find is some nice eye candy once in a while. Pity, but it's just not that strong.
Apart from an intriguing title, it's a let down. Sound familiar?
The real EVIL empire - ENRON
I had to go see Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room this weekend because I live in Houston where it all went down and I had to wait this long for the lines to die down. While we all contemplate how they are going to make Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith, I got to snuggle up with some popcorn and watch how we created Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. Let me tell you this, it was more disturbing than cutting off some guy's legs and throwing him in a lava pit! If you get a chance see the film. It's very interesting, and actually pretty well done. What Enron did to America and its own workers is wild, and it's a wake-up call that comes too late. Michael Moore should be kicking himself right now, because he has been one-upped again. Course half the fun of seeing it in Houston is all the pageantry that accompanies this film. All the theatre workers are wearing Enron shirts, there were shredded documents hanging out of every trash can, and huge banners with the old tilted "E" hanging outside the theatre. But most chilling... when you walk out of the movie and look down the street... you can see the still empty twin towers the company built right before they went bust. The Death Star never looked quite as scary!
Dream the crow like dream...
I've loaded up my I-Pod with tons of my favorite songs from movies, and for some reason it seems to like THE CROW soundtracks (I'm working with the Shuffle model I always put into "random" mode because I am crazier than a bag of angel dust and love the chaos it creates). Made me wonder when that new Crow movie is ever going to get made - not likely considering how bad the franchise dwindled after the tragedy with the first one. But everytime I hear The Cure's "Burn" I float off on about 7 minutes of retro heaven picturing Brandon Lee and his stunt double jumping the rooftops. Put the original The Crow on my wishlist of a movie that deserves more special treatment than it got when it was first released. No deleted sequences, and we all know the "Skull Cowboy" stuff is out there somewhere. And I hated the PRODUCER'S commentary - what an insult. Give me the director and the cast any day over the guy who funded the project. Funny though -- that movie defined the 90s for me. Kinda dark and dirty with some great grunge soundtrack and constant rain. A tragic real story behind it, and plenty of heroin chic to go around with a "don't do drugs, just look like you do" message. It was the action version of My Own Private Idaho in a way. Okay, maybe not - but those two flicks together make my ultimate grunge '90s movie night -- The Crow and My Own Private Idaho.
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