Friday, February 27, 2009

Bad DVD Alert: Howard the Duck

Ever since the entertainment industry made the big switch from VHS to DVD, film fanatics and movie geeks (and yes, there is a difference) have been forced to play a tortuously drawn out game of wait-and-see. Because of the vast libraries of past films just waitig to be converted to DVD, studios have been either unable or unwilling to simply flood the market with every film ever made in one fell swoop.

While this is completely understandable, the end result is that a lot of us have been left waiting years (soon to be decades) for our favorite childhood films to be get their own Special Anniversary Edition DVD release. This is even more true for Bad Movie Lovers, as their minority spending dollar isn't quite motivation enough for studios to foot the bill for remastering and printing yet another copy of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. Of course, they did release it on DVD, which just makes you wonder what their criteria for DVD worthy movies actually is.

This can be truly frustrating. I personally have been waiting for a DVD release of the incomparable Robby Benson's cold-war-suspense-thriller-romantic-comedy Die Laughing, and I still can't conceive as to what the hold up could be on the re-release of the classic Michael Keaton/Rae Dong Chong action-comedy The Squeeze. Yet a barely-released film based on a trading card series parodying an almost forgotten fad doll gets the red carpet treatment.

There is one group of fans that can stop waiting. This March, Howard the Duck is finally getting the DVD treatment. Starring a fresh out of Space Camp Lea Thompson, Howard was a highly anticipated summer release that opened on August 1, 1986. It quickly proved that not everything George Lucas touches turns to gold, and went on to to rake in a decidedly un-gold-ly $16 Million before giving up the ghost.

Few people, it seems, were ready for a sci-fi adventure comedy featuring a talking duck. Neither, so it seems, were they ready for a talking duck who could play the guitar, or a Lea Thompson that could sing. Even fewer were ready for a talking duck making sexual advances towards a singing Lea Thompson. Nobody was ready for Tim Robbins as a Jerry Lewis wannabe geek turned hero. Jeffrey Jones was the only one who didn't seem out of place, which says more about his acting career than it does the movie. (For the record, we are huge fans of Jeffrey Jones)

Howard the Duck bombed. Big time. Frank Price, head of Universal Pictures at the time, ended up resigning his position after the debacle. George Lucas, who had been counting on his duck movie to pull him out of financial ruins, was dragged down even deeper by the failure, and ended up selling Steve Jobs the CGI animation division that would later become Pixar. Lucas would then solve all of his money problems by reselling the same three Star Wars films sixteen times each.

Just as Howard's sudden appearance in a world he never made held dire consequences for the human race, Howard's movie was so mind-numbingly bad that it actually changed the course of history. Now, twenty three years later, Howard the Duck is finally available on DVD, ready to find a whole new audience. Drink deep, bad movie fans, you don't get releases like this to often.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen? We Do! We Do!

As a lifelong comic book fanboy in his mid-thirties, the only thing more exciting to me than Zack Snyder's film adaptation of The Watchmen making it to the big screen is seeing a new generation discovering this classic work for the first time.

Teenagers across the country are plunging themselves into The Watchmen. Recent superhero franchises like the X-Men and new Batman series have helped path the way for introducing what is still one of the darkest and most philosophical comic books ever.

You can always tell when something captures the imagination of young artists, as they begin producing art like this for their own amusement...

A new generation of intelligent, creative, and introspective teenagers is now being introduced to the comic world's most influential stories ever.

Alan Moore might also see it this way, if he wasn't so busy being a complete asshat.

Bad Movie Alert: The Mutant Chronicles

Sometimes, you don't need to go farther than the trailer to identify a bad movie. Case in point?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Box Office Blight - 2/20 - 2/22 Weekend

1 N Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail LGF $41,030,947
2 5 Coraline Focus $11,432,124
3 3 Taken Fox $11,281,262
4 2 He's Just Not That Into You WB (NL) $8,558,225
5 9 Slumdog Millionaire FoxS $8,384,680
6 1 Friday the 13th (2009) WB (NL) $7,942,472
7 6 Paul Blart: Mall Cop Sony $6,821,377
8 4 Confessions of a Shopaholic BV $6,742,778
9 N Fired Up SGem $5,483,778
10 7 The International Sony $4,463,916

I must say, there's nothing like a mid-February weekend theatrical opening lineup to make you feel like gargling broken glass with a peroxide chaser. Dismal doesn't even begin to capture the prospects for people foolish enough to venture out to the local Octoplex for a two-hour reality break.

Of course, that never stops at least one film from being number one, and this week the winner was Madea Goes to Jail. The losers, sadly, are too numerous to name individually. Tyler Perry has been doing his best to cash in on a cross between Eddie Murphy's Nutty Professor and Flip Wilson's Geraldine, and there were apparently enough enablers with pocket change around to give him a $41 million dollar opening weekend.

I guess the film's success makes sense, based on humor and originality. It seems like ages since audiences have been treated to the sight of a black male comedian playing a woman in a fat suit. And what could be funnier than an elderly black woman being sentenced to prison? Well, I guess every generation needs it's own Geraldine. Actually, I take that back. They don't. Please stop.

The only other major release, Fired Up, ended up at the other end of the charts, earning a measly $6 million and ninth place. A complete surprise, as you would think the plot device of two high school football players going to Cheerleader Camp as an excuse to meet hot girls would be instant box office gold. After all, everybody knows that attractive and popular jocks have to jump through all sorts of wacky hoops in order to meet girls.

Sadly, even a clever movie poster gleefully pointing out that the film's initials were also an abbreviation for naughty words wasn't able to drag a large crowd to witness this comedic genius. Those who actually bought tickets probably did so based on the title alone, only to be disappointed when they realized the film had nothing to do with either Potheads or Arsonists. Now there's a movie I'd drop ten bucks to see.

The rest of the returning lineup is too depressing to go into. A Nightmare Before Christmas The Corpse Bride Coraline jumped up to third place just to be annoying, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop continues to rub lemon juice in America's wounded pride by hanging in the top ten for another week and upping it's total to $120 million.

Honestly, I shouldn't have to be talked down off the roof every time the weekend totals come out. You can't blame the audiences too much, I suppose. There's probably only so many times you can go see Taken before you decide to gamble on another film. Let's just hope next weekend is a little better.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Weekend Box Office Estimates 2/06-2/08

Much as everyone expected, He's Just Not That Into You came in on top this past weekend, proving that the best kind of date movie is a movie about dating. Don't ask me why, but films that exploit social confusion, poor communication within relationships, and the natural human tendency towards self-doubt and paranoia seem to always draw the biggest crowds.

Of course, considering that the film is based on a book co-written by one of the writers of Sex & the City, the movie was bound to draw at least a portion of that hit show and film's faithful audience. I will admit, however, that I'm just happy to see Ben Affleck in a hit film again, even though he was overshadowed in almost all of the promotional materials by Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore and Justin Long. Then again, it's a long, painful road from Jersey Girl and Gigli.

Liam Neeson is kicking major ass in more than just the Luc Besson scripted Taken. Coming in second in its second week with only a 17% drop at the box office, it is obvious that strong word of mouth is drawing more people to watch Liam beat the snot out of bad guys.

Coraline, while not doing to shabby at third place, didn't really get the opening weekend you would want for a 35$ Million dollar kid's film. It looks like there are enough people out there like me who are tired of seeing Tim Burton rehash The Nightmare Before Christmas over and over again.

I could take comfort in that idea if Paul Blart: Mall Cop wasn't a breath away from taking in 100$ Million at the box office. Let's see how long it takes Kevin James to become the next Rob Schneider.

1 He's Just Not That Into You WB (NL) $27,785,487
2 Taken Fox $20,547,346
3 Coraline Focus $16,849,640
4 The Pink Panther 2 Sony $11,588,150
5 Paul Blart: Mall Cop Sony $10,884,825
6 Push Sum. $10,079,109
7 Slumdog Millionaire FoxS $7,177,270
8 Gran Torino WB $7,155,339
9 The Uninvited P/DW $6,262,651
10 Hotel for Dogs P/DW $5,711,229

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bad TV: Remember AUTOMAN?

Growing up in the 80's invariably meant watching a lot of television. This was a time when VCR's and Cable Television were still fairly new and nowhere close as competitive with broadcast TV as they are now. Prime Time television was still king, and this meant that the fight for the hearts and minds of America's young viewers was still going strong.

The big difference between then and now, of course, is that Prime Time in the 80's was usually geared towards kids. While TV shows at 8:00 these days are either game shows or reality shows that do their best to keep the adult material down to a minimum, the eighties Prime Time was at least fifty percent kid's shows disguised as hard-hitting action or mystery series.

A perfect example of this? AUTOMAN!

I remember watching Automan as a kid, and yes, I remember loving the Hell out of it. With computer technology slowly emerging as the dominant talking point of the time period, it was becoming more and more popular for films and tv shows to play on the country's love (or paranoia - this was the same year that WarGames hit the big screen) of everything computer related.

In a time when home computers were slowly becoming affordable for commercial sale, yet were still less widespread than home swimming pools, ABC decided that their younger audience members would jump on board if they could somehow turn the cold, impersonal world of electronic data into a handsome hero with a cute little sidekick. Automan was thus born.

The cast of Automan is pure 80's. You've got Desi Arnaz, Jr as the geeky computer expert who works for the police department and designs video games on the side.

His passion for crime fighting and DOS leads to the creation of Automan, played by the hunky Chuck Wagner, who spends most of the show acting naive and looking handsome in a glowing suit blatantly ripped off from Tron, which had taken over the box office the previous year.

Filling out the cast are Robert Lansing as the actual cop who tags along, Gerald S. O'Loughlin as the computer-hating Captain, and Heather McNair as the designated female sidekick/love interest.

Combined, the careers of these actors is a complete cross-section of 80's television. Name a TV show you remember from back then, and odds are one of them starred on an episode.

But they aren't why you remember Automan. You remember Automan as the quintessential 80's TV show with big-budget ideas yet no real money for special effects. Much like the original Battlestar Galactica in it's waning years, later episodes are almost always guaranteed to reuse special effects scenes from the pilot, which actually had a budget. Combined with off-screen happenings, the special effects ratio would invariably end up being one costly effect per show.

The concept might have been big-budget, but that doesn't necessarily mean high-concept. For example, look at the name of the show. Automan is supposed to be a reference to the Automated age of computers, yet for kids watching a show about a glowing guy driving around town in a cool car, the Auto just stands for Cool Car. I'm not saying Electroman would have been a better name, but maybe they could have tried a bit harder.

The show's hero, the Automated Man himself, is a perfect example of the world's view of computers back then. Bright and shiny, likable and desirable, he could have been the Dell Dude of his time. Created from a computer program years before the geeks of Weird Science, Automan was able to do everything that computers could do; talk to other computers, crunch huge amounts of data, and shoot lightening bolts out of his hands.

Automan's cute little sidekick, Cursor, followed him out of the computer world to give him a hand. Unlike the typical square dot you would normally see on your computer screen, Automan's Cursor was a pulsing star-shaped apparition that made cute noises, also blatantly ripped of from Tron. Like Automan, Cursor was able to do in the real world what he did in the computer realm; create vehicles out of thin air, scare strange women, and make audiences go "Awwwwwwwww".

Of course, Automan fell into the same trap that most of these shows did. Armed with a catchy gimmick and passable special effects, they now had to write original episodes that incorporated all of the gimmicks and special effects, and make them interesting enough to hold the viewers when the gimmicks lose their appeal.

Yes, I remember loving this show as a kid. But, as audiences tend to do, I soon became bored with the gimmick, and looked for the next shiny object that would temporarily captivate me during the Prime Time viewing hours.

That next wonderful distraction, of course, was Manimal!

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Christian Bale Goes Nuts On Shane Hurlbut

I find it amazing that this even leaked out.

Granted, audio of celebrities flipping out is always a big seller. Remember how long we had to listen to Alec Baldwin cursing out his daughter on her answering machine? Bill O'Reilly going mental on his producers back when he was still pretending to be a journalist also comes to mind, although it isn't really in the same category.

The speed with which this came out might be what surprises me. A month might seem like a long time, but not when you take the scope of a major film production into consideration. On-set explosions usually don't make it out this quick. The Lily Tomlin and David O' Russel screaming match on I Heart Huckabees, for example, didn't make it out until after the DVD release. Of course, an independent philosophical comedy that went over the heads of most audiences probably doesn't compare to the latest entry into one of the most popular modern science fiction franchises still running.

The reason it was recorded is actually a bit mundane. You can clearly hear Bale say that he would leave the film if Shane Hurlbut screwed up one more time. So, the recording was sent to the insurance company in case he made good on his promise. Completion Bonds are no laughing matter in Hollywood, especially when you are talking about a mega-budget summer release like T4.

As for why it was leaked to the media, odds are that someone in the production wanted to get back at Christian Bale for being a complete dick about the whole situation. If there's one thing that people have an increasingly low tolerance for, it is celebrities that don't play well with others.

Of course, what it all comes down to is the opening weekend Box Office totals. So, what you have to ask yourself is, would a YouTube video of Christian Bale crushing puppy skulls under his boot heels in between takes on the set of T4 deter you from buying a ticket?

Think hard.