Friday, October 29, 2010

Tim Burton has lost it

I was once a Tim Burton fan. As a kid, I grew up watching Beetlejuice whenever it was on television. I knew every line to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and had my own set of Batman pajamas, complete with a cape.

As I got older, I watched his more serious films like Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood– films as touching as they were macabre. Between all the brooding and eyeliner there was a lot of heart in these films. Somewhere along the way, however, Burton lost it. The spark that all his movies carried was extinguished. What we are left with is a shell of an artist.

Pictured: Lost credibility.

The Nightmare Before Christmas premiered on Oct. 29, 1993. While Burton didn’t direct the film, his name is attached to it and it has become known as Burton’s holiday film. I didn’t know it then, but Nightmare Before Christmas would signal what was to become of my favorite director. He would go on to pander to the Hot Topic consumer, making movies that would look good on a t-shirt.

It’s the Tim Burton brand that is holding him back. His movies have always been recognizable, but there used to be a time when artistic integrity came before aesthetics. There was once a time when Burton made art; now, he just makes products. Searching Nightmare Before Christmas on Hot Topic's homepage yielded 95 pieces of merchandise. That includes Nightmare Before Christmas t-shirts, slap bracelets, necklaces, chairs, sketchbook, underwear, silly bands and an album featuring artist Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco (god I hate exclamation points). I grew up with this movie, please don't wear Jack Skellington's face over your cootch.

Damn you all for affecting my enjoyment of this classic.

Big Fish was his last great film. It’s a charming yarn about fathers, sons, and the importance of storytelling. Any director would be proud to hang their hat on it, and I hope one day it gets recognized as his masterpiece. Everything that has come after that, however, has been nothing but a disappointment. These disappointments are too wrapped up and self-satisfied with their own weirdness to care.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland are nothing more than repackaging with Burton’s name attached to it. These movies didn’t need to be made. The products themselves have been a mess made for no other reason than to sell shirts with Johnny Depp on them at the mall. Taking a previous property and making it weird does not constitute art. There is no message, theme, or anything to be taken from the films other than “Man, Johnny Depp sure can act strange.”

Corpse Bride was good, but in the end it was a retread to territory that Burton has already had success with in Nightmare Before Christmas. While it was a solid film, its backpedaling nature invalidates it. Sweeney Todd, for all its ambition, failed to have any real vision. While not a horrible movie, anything good about it could probably be found in the original stage production. Once you take that out, all you have left is Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in goth makeup.

Aren't they so kooky in his movies?

Depp and Bonham Carter are established and respected actors; nevertheless, Burton is using them to death. Seeing their constant inclusion in every film is distracting. Directors are allowed to keep a stable of actors, but the overuse of Depp and Bonham Carter has just become ridiculous. It’s at the point where they are no longer actors, just features in whatever product is being made.

I hope that Burton rediscovers himself soon, because his movies are a shallow reflection of how great he once was. Art takes talent to be great, not demented vision. Sadly, Burton may have lost talent. His next two planned films show no change in trend, being a remake of a vampire soap opera and a remake of one of his own short films.

To add insult to injury, there are even rumors that Disney is going to push for Alice in Wonderland to receive nominations for Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards. I pray that he does not get any award, for fear of losing the director I once admired. We cannot reward him for becoming the sell out that he has become.

Lets pretend the Plant of the Apes remake never existed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Richard Kelly, director of Donnie Darko, sucks

In my first blog post, I promised to explain my reasoning for not liking director Richard Kelly. Kelly made a name for himself is 2001 with his directorial and writing debut, Donnie Darko. Today, Oct. 26, is the ninth anniversary of that film. Donnie Darko is both ambitious and mind bending, forcing the viewer to figure out for themselves the story being told. This I have no problem with, films don't have to be easy to understand. Donnie Darko is a really cool film and I was a big fan of it when I first saw it in middle school. It would go on to become my defining film experience, showing me that movies can not only be entertaining but thought-provoking. I am even guilty of making friends borrow my DVD copy. I have since had to buy a replacement copy three separate times because my friends suck and keep losing it.

Richard Kelly making money off of my friend's irresponsibility.

So why is it now that I am so disenchanted with the filmmaker that created what was once my favorite film? It's because Kelly turned into a hack. The reason why Donnie Darko was so inexplicable is because Kelly doesn't know how to tell a story. This becomes apparent when Kelly tries to explain the meaning behind Donnie Darko. His explanation of the plot is a mess.

Vocabulary he made up, like tangent universes, artifacts, manipulated living and fourth dimensional constructs, are all pointless additions to what should be a lot simpler of a film. While the film might briefly touch on this vocabulary, the only way to understand anything in the above sentence is to read the director notes. I'm all for stretching a film across different mediums, but to hinge the director's whole point on a separate, fictional pseudo-science book is inane. It's like he was daydreaming one day and thought of all these rad concepts. So he decides to shoehorn them into a script idea he had. He should of dropped these concepts a long time ago when they became irrelevant to the plot. I use to think Donnie Darko was cool because everybody came out of the film with a different understanding. Now I know this is because nobody on Earth, not even Kelly, has a full understanding. It's impossible because Kelly didn't have a straightforward idea to begin with.

Donnie Darko would go on to become a huge cult hit and have massive DVD sales, bolstered by pseudo-intellectual teenagers (such as myself) who went crazy over the film. A director's cut was even released, allowing Kelly to take a semi-comprehensible film and making it even more muddled. His license to re-edit the film as he saw fit made it even more over-bloated and pseudo-intellectual. While I can still stand the theatrical cut, which thankfully had people other than Kelly editing it, the director's cut did nothing but infuriate me. It just proved how much of the movie's awesomeness was an accident.

Reading more about Kelly, I discovered the fact that he was originally hired to write a script to Holes. Holes was a kids books written by Louis Sachar, and a favorite for many people my age. It's a story about a boy who is wrongfully sent to a camp where boy delinquents are forced to dig holes all day. Although there are flashbacks to frontier times, the story mainly takes place in modern day. Kelly decided to use his genius to take a perfectly good story that kids already enjoyed and destroying any semblance to it. Kelly's tale is a dark allegory about futuristic freedom fighters and nuclear war. For those that loved the book as a kid, there is nothing in the story that even hint to futuristic freedom fighters. To make the connection between the two is horrible and the writer who made the abomination in script form is a horrible person. Yes, they deserve to die. I hope they burn in hell. Thankfully the original author decided to write the screenplay and Kelly was fired.

This book was the best.

Kelly's followup to Donnie Darko was 2007's Southland Tales. Now with enough artistic freedom to put whatever crazy things he wanted on film, Southland Tales became an overwrought, over-thought disaster. It stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as an action star with amnesia who sets out to save the world from some jabroni who creates a new form of energy. There's something else about Sarah Michelle Geller being a porn star and Sean William Scott playing twins but you never really get a handle on any of the characters. Each person is nothing more than a voice to dispense Kelly's half-baked thoughts. There is no more depth than that. Oh yeah, Mandy Moore and Justin Timberlake are somewhere in it too. The cast list looks like some crappy imdb message board post from 2000. Fans of the film say that its all one big satire that demands repeat viewings, however the first viewing was hard enough to sit through. It made for a film striving to say something deep but instead turns into pointless drivel that isn't sure what it's trying to say. There is no direction. It's not that I don't get it, there is nothing to get. The worst part is that I was actually excited for this when it first came out.

Stay away from this movie.

Next came The Box in 2009 which, to be honest, I haven't seen. The reviews were really bad though and I believe them. If The Box signaled an end to Kelly's career I would be fine with that. He not only had one chance but many chances. He was lucky enough to have his big break early in his career and let his "genius" get in the way of making an actually good film. This anger towards Kelly does not stem from anything other than his inability to create a film. It is not resentment or jealousy at him for becoming such a young director. I gave up any aspirations I had of becoming a filmmaker when my stop-motion Lord of the Rings remake fell through in middle school. My friend's brother wouldn't let us play with his toys anymore and that swiftly ended production.

It would of been awesome.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Saw film series in retrospect

In what's being advertised as the final chapter, Saw 3-D will be released Oct. 29.

The Saw franchise has only been around for six years, but in that six years there has been seven films, two video games, a comic book, and even a roller coaster. Not bad Saw, not bad at all. Well done.

Saw popularized the torture-porn sub-genre of horror. Now, instead of horror being about scantly-clad women running from an axe murderer (there is a 65 percent chance of seeing boobies in any horror film) the horror is in the situation. The victim is already caught, and it's the escape that keeps us entertained. How will the victim (notice how I didn't say hero) escape from each trap without dying or getting tetanus?

To be honest, I doubt any of us want to see the victim escape. These films make money on account of each viewer's blood lust. The Rube Goldberg death machines are spring loaded for our entertainment and dammit, someone better be ripped to shreds by it. Many horror films put us in the place of the victim, trying to escape the masked killer. Instead, with Saw, we are the observer. We are the accomplice in all of this, watching the poor soul fighting to survive. Every Saw film is devoid of any kind of hope.


Seven theatrical films are a lot for any franchise. It seems only horror films ever reach that number. Getting there as quickly as the Saw films is unheard of. What it comes down to is the assembly line production of the series. Really, there isn't much to the writing. It doesn't come down to much more than thinking up different death-devices. And the demand for such entertainment is there. Some people may be exhausted by the franchise, the dip in box office is evidence of this, however there is still want for these simple yet effective flicks.

The first Saw film had a budget of $1.2 million. It would go on to earn $55 million dollars domestically, and the worldwide gross puts it at a total of $103 million. Saw II, made for $4 million, ended up making $147 million worldwide. You cannot blame the studios for milking Saw for all it's worth every Halloween with numbers like these. It's the greatest short-con ever. Make a simple film for relatively no money whatsoever and make 100x profit off it.

As previously stated, the public at large did become tired of the movies every year. As filming became more expensive, with each movie's traps trying to top the previous by becoming more ridiculous, the box office began to dwindle. Saw hit its peak with Saw II, every year after that the films made less money. Saw VI has made the least amount of money so far, only grossing $27 million domestically.

They see me rollin' they hatin'

Now, in what could be the final chapter, the filmmakers decided to embrace the recent 3-D gimmick. What will surely follow is the most blatant abuse of three dimensions since Piranha 3-D. That's not to say the movie will be bad. Hell, it will probably make it more enjoyable than all the others. It's just important to recognize the gimmick for what it is.

You do have to give the Saw filmmakers some credit. Although it is preposterous to continue the series four films after the main character died (because aside from Jigsaw, what other honest-to-goodness character is in the movies? There is no humanity shown in the films except for the serial killer. Everyone else is just a body to be mutilated), it is a godsend that Jigsaw has not been resurrected in some cheap manner. They could of taken the easy route by resurrecting Jigsaw somehow, like we see in every other horror film out there. Instead they respected the audience enough to leave the dead buried.

Although Saw 3-D is set to be the last film, I doubt it'll be the last we see of the franchise. It's too viable of a brand. It probably won't be long until we get more sequels or, god forbid, even a remake. Years from now there will be movie marathon nights devoted entirely to Saw. They are simple films (Don't let the whole "embrace life through near death" theme get to you. It's just an excuse to see blood) but they are also genius in that simplicity. Goodbye Saw, for now.

I hear every time you play with your own action figure, God kills a kitten.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Halloween and the ballad of take one bowls

I was never a big fan of Halloween. I think it was the dressing up that did me in. I was never of fan of it. I didn't like looking goofy. This may sound weird coming from a kid whose favorite childhood sweater involved Velcro spacemen, but I didn't like dressing up. Masks were never fun. Even as a kid I'd feel claustrophobic with something plastic covering my face. Make-up wasn't fun either. Just the idea of having stuff on my face made me want to run to this sink. In short, I was the least fun, lamest kid ever when it came to Halloween. The best I could do was put on a lab coat, spike my already crazy hair and call myself a mad scientist. I thought I was so cool.


I was more in it for the candy. I was a miser for the treats and would even resort to brown-nosing in order to get more treats. I would put on my Eddie Haskell act and try my damnest to get one more fun-sized. I would shamelessly complimented on their decorations in hopes of another Snickers. I can't remember but I think it worked.

Halloween was fun with parents but even better with friends. My group of friends and I would have a whole strategy ready for optimal candy appropriation. We were older and smarter and all the candy was for the taking. We knew the rich neighborhoods with the full sized bars and which houses would give out dollar bills instead of chocolate. We had a whole route planned out before the excursion. The most sought after thing by candy seekers however, is the "take one bowl."

Tootsie Rolls and Dots? Seriously?

There is no honor on Halloween, so don't expect children to do the right thing. We scoured the neighborhood looking for a house with a bowl in front. I understand that they are probably out with their kids and they put the bowl out in good faith, but let's be honest here. That candy is a sitting duck for greedy kids. Believe it or not, according to Halloween etiquette, the proper amount of candy bars to take from a bowl is five or more, depending on how many you can grab at once.

For me, the best part of getting candy was the after-treating trading. Kids trading candy are more ruthless than any stock investor on Wall Street. You might not like Almond Joys but your sister does, so bleed her out of all the Reese's you can. My personal favorite was to corner the market on Bottle Caps. I was the only one that didn't mind the despised candy so I usually ended up with all of them. They were good because they never went bad and two months later when all the other candy was eaten you'd still have some packs of them left over.

The brown flavored ones sucked.

When we got older and lazier we skipped trick or treating all together and just went for houses that we knew had honor bowls. It didn't matter how many the sign dictates we should take, we were taking all of it and maybe even the bowl. We were badass twelve year olds on Halloween, we didn't care about anybody we just wanted candy. We were getting to be too old to trick or treat yet not old enough to realize candy was nothing special.

How old is too old for trick or treating? The moment you realize that you can just buy your own bag of funsized candy is probably the time you lose faith in the holiday. After that there is nothing left to do but get drunk and wait to have kids. Only then is it okay enough to trick or treat again. Until then there is nothing else to do but look for that forgotten, long lost bag of candy you hid from your brother.

Friday, October 15, 2010

World Series of Poker sells out

I've lost a lot of money playing poker. Back in the day I was a part of a real poker group, although in hindsight I think they just kept me around for the extra $20 in the pot. We played often and we played hard. Often I found myself exhausted of chips early on and would be forced to watch the others at work. Our table had it all: the trash-talkers, the cheapskates, the hot-heads and the silent ones. We had a few kids that would bring little good luck charms like an old lady on bingo night. Some kids would think they were hustlers, wearing shades and spinning chips across their knuckles, like the dexterity alone would help them with cards. One day you're losing the money your mom gave you to buy bread, the next you almost won your friend's favorite shirt off his back. Really, what I'm trying to say, is that I didn't mind losing my money. Watching their reaction to every flop and river was worth it. Only in poker could being called lucky be a bad thing.

What I'm getting at is, poker can be a spectator sport. There is legitimate drama to be had on the felt of a poker table. The poker community, however, has lost its roots. The backroom game and playing poker with buddies has little in common with what goes on in the World Series of Poker.

The evil empire of poker.

In 2002 the World Series of Poker introduced the pocket-cam. With the inclusion of the pocket-cam, the viewers at home were able to see what every player on the table had. This new sense of drama added to the viewership and made tools across the nation think that they could be poker champions. These people didn't realize that it's easy to know what to do if you can see everyone's cards. And thus, the poker-boom was created.

Before, poker was a man's game. Unless you had a casino near you you were forced to make friends and have an actually poker group. These games were more social, an excuse to drink Yuengling and smoke cigars. A celebration of manhood and friendship. The serious poker players were relegated to backroom games or living in a casino town.

While the World Series of Poker was founded in 1970, it didn't have the following it does today. Back then poker was ESPN 2 kind of entertainment, broadcast between Scrabble tournaments and spelling bees. Poker did gain popularity after Rounders was released in 1998 but even the star power of Edward Norton and Matt Damon joining the event wasn't enough to put it over the top. Rounders is an amazing movie though. If you are playing poker with friends and not one of them quotes Rounders, you need new poker buddies. A true poker player should be able to recite this movie line-for-line.

"Pay the man his money..."

The poker craze started by the pocket-cams and the celebrity tournaments is over though. Whatever momentum poker had is spent and now it's just sailing off the wake of the splash. What was once a noble game is now a corporation. Players that use to play for the honor of wearing the bracelets are now decked out like some NASCAR driver.


Poker is a great game but now it's a business. This is gambling, there shouldn't be corporate sponsors. Now every major poker player has an online poker site backing it. Online gambling is rigged anyway. Every chump in the real money games dream of cashing in checks without leaving their computer but it never works. Casinos try and keep you in the building so you can lose all your money to them. Now all somebody has to do to take your money is to keep you in your computer chair. There are two constants in poker: you will lose money on bad beats and Phil Hellmuth will always be a baby.

Such a pansy.

Poker is a great game, nay, a great sport. Anybody who tells you that it doesn't take any skill doesn't know what they are talking about. To quote Rounders, "Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker every year? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?" With that being said, the World Series of Poker has lost it's heart. It sold its soul for a block on ESPN and a book deal for any pro who thinks they have enough tips to fill 300 pages. People need to remember the poker roots and realize not everyone can be an online champion and become a pro like Chris Moneymaker. He is the exception, not the rule. With a name like Moneymaker you know he was born to make it rain.

Dollar, dollar, bills ya'll.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My childhood crush on Alanna Ubach

I grew up with a crush on Alanna Ubach. She was a child actress during the 90s. Her teenage years were spent in front of the camera and I would spend my childhood watching her movies. Not that she was a big actress or anything or I searched for her movies, she just happened to be in some of my favorite movies growing up. She wasn't so much the girl the guy went for, she was more the funny friend of the girl the guy went for. She was funny though and had a lot of energy and I think that's why I liked her.

I first saw her when she use to be on Beakman's World. Beakman's World was kind of like Bill Nye the Science Guy on crack. A scientist that sounds like Steve Martin in My Blue Heaven does experiments for kids with the help of a man in a rat suit and a girl assistant. The show is like something you catch on Telemundo except in English. Anyway, Ubach was an assistant on the show and it was there I first developed a crush on her.

Beakman's World (Ubach is at 00:53)

After Beakman's World I saw her in three other movies. Each movie I saw her in, I liked her even more.

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
Still can't believe Maggie Smith made the mistake of being in a Whoopi movie twice.

To be fair, Ubach was just one of many child stars in this film. Whoopi Goldberg, returns in this unnecessary sequel which, to be honest, I liked more than the original. Goldberg teaches an inner city school how to become choir singers whose singing ends up saving the school from closing down. Her students include Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lauryn Hill before she went crazy and Ryan Toby, whose rap group would have one hit that has been stuck in my head for the past nine years. It was a school filled with the 90s idea of troubled city kids and only Whoopi can set them straight with her patented Whoopi attitude.

I always thought the red-headed nun was kinda hot.

Ubach played one of the students and of course, I recognized her right away. She's a peculiar looking girl and hard to miss. She wasn't a big part of the movie but now and then she always popped in with a nice one-liner. She wasn't Jennifer Love Hewitt or Lauryn Hill but she was adorable in her quirky way.

This movie screams out XTREME.

The 90s were simpler times. Kids were just misunderstood and every awesome action sequence involved some sort of guitar-feedback soundtrack. Airborne was a fish out-of-water tale involving a super-cool and chill California dude (this guy was the ultimate dude) who moves in with his Aunt and Uncle in Cincinnati. There he befriends bullies who started out hating him and finds the girl of his dreams. Somehow he is involved in a super rad rollerblading race through the city against the rich kids (think like The Outsiders except with XTREME inline skating). What follows is a twenty minute racing sequence that, if any kid every tried to duplicate, would kill anybody on the spot.

Yes, that is a young Jack Black.

The above is the start of the last racing sequence. Don't worry about knowing the context of the race, there is none. The whole movie is just one set up for awesome inline skating through traffic so you might as well watch the best part of the movie. The love of my life, Alanna Ubach, plays the best friend of the romantic lead. Being the best friend of the hot girl she has such responsibilities as telling the girl its time to leave right before she kisses the hero and adding a few laughs on double date night. Ubach's love interest in this film is played by none other than Seth Green, perhaps you heard of him? Anyway its an awesome movie and Ubach has a big part in it. Plus it's XTREME.

Renaissance Man
Get it? He's short!

Similar to Sister Act 2, Renaissance Man is a about a gruff teacher thrown into a classroom with a bunch of rejects and a young Mark Wahlberg who have yet to find their potential. Instead of being about an inner city though it's set on a US army training base. Hilarity ensues as he tries to teach the lost causes about Shakespeare and, against all odds, gets through to them. Think like Dangerous Minds only instead of a Coolio song you have this:

For some reason all I could find is the German version. I'm ok with this.

Ubach plays Danny DeVito's estranged daughter who he reconnects with after he gets in touch with his humanity teaching the class.

She wasn't the most outstanding of girls in film when I was little but she was cute. She always stood out to me and she had personality. Not only that but I spotted her in three movies I grew up with as a child. These were movies I watched constant every time they were on television. I could probably still quote a lot of the lines. Since she was so adorable to me and in some important movies to me growing up, she will always hold a place in my heart. I wonder what happened to her?

Oh my....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New Medal of Honor game creates controversy

Jimmy Patterson will always be my hero.

Patterson once stole a top secret Nazi airplane, infiltrated the impenetrable Fort Schmerzen, destroyed the mighty railgun Greta, destroyed a V-2 rocket plant and stormed the beaches of Normandy. Patterson single-handedly won World War II. Why is it that you have never heard of him? It's because Patterson is a character in Medal of Honor and Medal of Honor: Frontline.

Do not mess with Lt. Jimmy Patterson.

The Medal of Honor series has always been a favorite of mine. Back when I was a kid I never had N64. So, instead of GoldenEye, all I had to play was Medal of Honor for my first-person-shooter fix. This was fine by me.

Medal of Honor was a favorite of mine growing up. I remember the first time my brother and I played it. It was intimidating, the idea of being surrounded by Nazis. I was already an Indiana Jones fan at this time so I knew how evil Nazis could be. Although WW2 video games are dime-a-dozen now, the original Medal of Honor was revolutionary. Shooters were still played only on computers and the move to consoles was still in it's beginning stages. Medal of Honor helped cement the idea of console shooters and allowing you to go against Nazi added a level of engagement. Who doesn't love to hate Nazis?

A new Medal of Honor game is coming out on Oct. 12. This game, however, is the first to leave the 1940s setting. Instead it's set in modern day with more contemporary enemies. In a deliberate move to copy the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games, Medal of Honor has left World War II. Medal of Honor, however, may lose its identity as it moves further away from its roots.

Guy looks homeless.

Call of Duty was originally a WW2 series. In this distinction it could be said that Call of Duty owes a debt to Medal of Honor. As consumers began to tire of shooting the SS in the face, Call of Duty moved it's setting to modern times. This idea and the creation of Modern Warfare would prove to be a success.

Shooters don't spend a lot of time in contemporary settings. A lot can be found in World War II or space, but the current atmosphere has always seemed off limits. Then came the release of Modern Warfare, and any body that has ever picked up a game controller can tell you how successful the title is. Modern Warfare was smart not to use actual terrorist organizations though. Medal of Honor did not have this foresight.

The original plan for the new Medal of Honor was to play as the Taliban in multiplayer matches. While team names in multiplayer have never amounted to more than "I'm blue team, shoot red team," this addition would obviously get some people upset. Modern Warfare was smart enough to know that a video game involving real, current examples would cause controversy. That's why they went to the trouble of creating a fictional enemy.

Modern Warfare did meet controversy with their last game, which involved a soldier shooting innocent bystanders in an airport. This scene, while creating controversy, also met with praise for its bravery. This is an example of good controversy that creates a debate. Medal of Honor, in it's ballsy move to set it's shooter in Afghanistan, has created negative controversy. The kind that gets it outright banned.

The Medal of Honor series use to have class. Now the series is just trying too hard against today's market. Don't use the Medal of Honor name if you want to make the antithesis of the series. Whether it makes for a good game or not isn't relevant. Even if the gameplay proves to excellent, the game is still a hollow, shallow shell of the brand.

In the end I guess I'm just selfish. I miss heroes like Jimmy Patterson.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Similar 90s movie showdown

Sometimes, two movies with the same basic plot come out within the same year. Whether one ripped off the other is uncertain, but it makes for interesting comparison. What lead me to this discovery was seeing Volcano in heavy rotation on AMC lately. It took me a few minutes to realize that it wasn't Dante's Peak (once I realized that Tommy Lee Jones looks nothing like Pierce Brosnan it became easy). Searching through Wikipedia I found three pairs of movies that were released within in the same year as its doppelganger. Using my movie-watching ability I hope to settle, once and for all, which of these films is better.

1999: The Haunting versus House on Haunted Hill

Strangely enough, both of these were remakes of older horror films. While the original films weren't competition for each other, these two remakes were released within the same year. Both films are about a group of people that stay within the walls of a haunted house (ironically the house in The Haunting was named Hill House). Each respective group try their best to deal with the houses and fall victim to them. However, while The Haunting was made as a serious thriller, House on Haunted Hill is more of a fun house. This leads to a much more enjoyable adventure than the too serious Haunting. The actors themselves seem to be having more fun in Haunted Hill, including the always welcomed Geoffrey Rush. The Haunting was nowhere near as fun. Even with the badassery of Liam Neeson and hotness of Catherine Zeta-Jones (who just became a household name the previous year with The Mask of Zorro), The Haunting was dead in the water.

Zeta-Jones at her best in Zorro.

House on Haunted Hill had semi-decent special effects, but the pace made up for it. The Haunting relied too much on it's CGI for the ghost and because of this it failed. It almost seems as if The Haunting was made solely to show off CGI ghost. This is disappointing due to the fact that the original Haunting was famous for its minimal use of apparitions. The Haunting went the complete opposite direction as it's source material and its a shame because the original Haunting was a very good film.

The only redeeming part of The Haunting was the gruesome death of a relatively unknown Owen Wilson (this scene gets cut on television which is a shame because it's awesome). House on Haunted Hill with it's cheap thrills makes for a better film. If I was forced to compare the originals than The Haunting would win hands down but House on Haunted Hill is the better of the remakes.

1997: Dante's Peak versus Volcano

In 1996 Twister became a huge success. The following year two new disaster movies came out, both involving volcanoes. I've always wondered why they decided to have two volcano movies in one year. There are plenty of ways that nature kills people, isn't two volcano movies in one year a bit much?

Dante's Peak came first and was, according to Wikipedia, more scientifically accurate than Volcano. Dante's Peak takes place in the Pacific Northwest where a town was ballsy enough to name a dormant volcano after an author synonymous with hell. Just like Chekhov's gun the volcano was bound to go off. James Bond and Sarah Conner than spend the rest of the movie escaping the lava. One scene of note is when they are crossing a lake of acid. Their boat stalls and the old lady in tow, realizing that she has lived far too long in this movie, sacrifices herself by jumping in the water and pushing the boat along. What should be a heartbreaking moment comes off as moderately hilarious thanks to the inept film-making.

Volcano made more money and was preferred by critics. Tommy Lee Jones must save Los Angeles from a newly erupted volcano. Although scientifically inaccurate, Volcano made for a more enjoyable movie and had less old-lady-acid-victims than Dante's Peak, making it a better movie.

1998: Deep Impact versus Armageddon

One was an interesting flick, the other was a phenomenon. Armageddon basically dwarfed Deep Impact in every way imaginable. Deep Impact may have been more accurate and predicted the arrival of a black president (enough has been said of Morgan Freeman's excellence) but Armageddon was the entertaining option. The problem with Deep Impact is that it wasn't about mankind kicking meteor ass but instead man's reaction to an end-of-the-world event. Nobody wants to watch people accepting death, they want to see America do what they do best: blow stuff up. That and the two romantic leads were a young Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski. The studios should of realized that nobody wants to watch two teenagers profess their love to each other while the world is ending.

Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler on the other hand? Audiences ate up Armageddon because it was what they wanted. Armageddon offered destruction and man's battle back against the huge space rock. Is the idea of sending a bunch of oil riggers into space stupid? Yes, but I doubt any astronaut looks like or is as fun to watch as Steve Buscemi.

I stand corrected, I guess astronauts can be goofy looking.

Armageddon has Bruce Willis doing what he does best, kicking ass against all odds for mankind. There is nothing to cheer for in Deep Impact. Armageddon isn't as depressing, even as Willis sacrifices himself to blow up the meteor (Willis hasn't faced an enemy this awesome since Hans Gruber). That meteor blowing up is for America. Armageddon gave audiences what they wanted. Deep Impact didn't have an Aerosmith song to slow dance to and that is why it loses. Plus, you don't see Deep Impact with a Criterion Collection DVD.

I slow danced the hell out of this song in middle school.

In summation, scientific accuracy and realism be damned. When audiences have the choice between two similar movies they will pick the fun one. Artistic quality is one thing but, to quote Eddie Izzard, "You can't eat popcorn to that."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cathy comic strip ends on Sunday

I have previously mentioned my love for the comics page. The basic set-up and punchline routine that comedy has hinged on is perfectly illustrated in each strip. The fact that the writer could come up with something new each day would boggle my mind. I find it hard enough to come up with ideas for a blog, I can't imagine having a nationally syndicated strip. While some comics become pop culture icons (the well deserving Peanuts), others crash and burn under their own weight (For Better for Worse got hit with Boy Meets World Syndrome. What started out as a fun sitcom becomes over bloated with characters and their individual problems.)

Towards the end of its run the only funny character was the brother.

Cathy, which has been around since 1976, is a comic that is comfortable with its mediocrity. Like Dilbert, it panders to its limited audience, leaving the greater sum of the readers scratching their heads wondering what's so funny. While Dilbert's niche audience is cubicle workers and Drew Carey, Cathy finds itself speaking to self-conscious women everywhere. Why those women are seeking for answers on the comics page I have no idea. What I do know is, as I grew up and ate my Cinnamon Toast Crunch over the page I would always skip Cathy.

Best. Cereal. Ever.

Cathy was not fun to read. Cathy was desk decoration for secretaries. Maybe I'm too harsh on Cathy. A comic strip that has validated women all over America can't be so bad. I just can't believe it has run for this long. With women becoming more dominant and gender roles being blurred, Cathy just panders to the old world of womanhood. Cathy should of evolved as women all over the world did. Instead she just spent her time wearing sweatpants and debating whether to eat ice cream. After the millionth joke about eating ice cream you almost want her to quit whining and get as fat as Gilbert Grape's mom. At least then it will be interesting.

Such a sad movie.

With the final strip on Sunday, Oct. 3, is there a reason for anyone to care? This isn't Peanuts we're talking here. When Peanuts ended it was legitimately sad, never mind the fact that the last Peanuts strip was printed the day after Charles Schulz's death. Cathy has no such resonance. And newspapers are probably just going to run old Cathy strips in lieu of new strips. Cathy is going to be in syndication like Seinfeld and the fact that she has not matured at all in the past 34 years means you can just run a randomly chosen Cathy strip and none will be the wiser.

Sorry Cathy.