Sunday, January 27, 2008

Strategy guide for 'Cloverfield' (XBOX 360)

About the game: Cloverfield is a first-person adventure game where the player takes on the role of HUD (an obvious play on "Heads Up Display"), an everyday guy who gets caught up in a monster attack on Manhattan. The game begins at a going away party for one of HUD's friends, and progresses as HUD and his friends try to escape to safety, while also trying to unlock the secret of the monster's origin and possibly defeat it.

Weapons: There are only three weapons in the gme: digital camera, pipe and fusion cannon. The digital camera has unlimited recording capacity, and when pointed at someone allows you to talk to them and gain information. The pipe is available at certain locations in the game and is effective at swatting away Gnat Spiders and possibly killing them. The fusion cannon is only available if you decide not to save Beth at her apartment building and is located in a secret location (see the LEVEL 6 section for more information.

Gameplay: Most of the game is spent running through the streets of New York City, with occasional jumping challenges and attacks from Gnat Spiders. Occasionally, you will be attacked by the monster and will need to dodge its legs. Also, several areas will require you to talk to people on the streets to gain information for the next level.

Level walkthrough
Level 1: The Party
This is a fairly simple level designed to teach you the controls. At your friend Rob's going away party, you're tasked with getting seven video testimonials from guests. Aim the cursor at a guest's head to solicit a testimonial, and be sure to have your digital camera recording. You'll find that most of the guests won't be interested in giving a testimonial, the easy way to find the right guests is to look for those who are holding a martini glass. A few guests will offer you a drink -- if you accept, your movement will become slower, but it will also add to your Drunk Bonus at the end. After you record the seventh testimonial, follow Rob to the roof to see the monster cut scene.

'Cloverfield' gives the gamer first-person monster action!

Level 2: Streets of Manhattan
The hardest part of this level is right at the beginning when the Statue of Liberty's head comes flying through the street. The best strategy is to wait two seconds after the crowd starts screaming before jumping backwards. Too early and you'll land where wreckage from the building will crush you, too late and the head will squash you. After the head lands, talk to a few people and you'll eventually meet a crowd heading for Brooklyn. Before you leave, make sure to find the convenience store and stock up on your Slusho supply for later.

Level 3: Brooklyn Bridge
This is one of the hardest levels in the game, as you'll have to keep track of Rob and your other friends, or risk getting caught where the bridge will collapse. After a few minutes of walking, the bridge will start collapsing -- instead of running with the crowd, stay with your group of friends and jump to safety. There are a few tricky jumps so it might take you a few tries to get through. To get through the level, talk to a few people at the end to find which route to take to the subway.

Level 4: Monster Battle
After following Rob through the streets, you'll soon hear the monster coming. Dodging its giant footsteps is fairly easy, as you'll see the shadow indicating where they'll land. The monster will stomp six times before the army intervenes. Duck as soon as you hear gunshots (Y button) and stay down until you hear the tank approaching. Roll to the right (Y + R buttons) and watch the army battle the monster. If you rolled to the right, the entrance to the subway should be around the next corner. Find the pipe next to the subway entrance, you'll need it for the next level.

Level 5: Subway
By far the hardest level in the game, if only for how hard it is to see the Gnat Spiders. At first they will come one by one, but by the end of the level there will be packs of them. At first you'll be able to kill them by dealing a few blows by the pipe, but when more and more gang up on you, just give each of them one hit to slow their attacks. Remember, if any of your friends die the game is over so keep the Gnat Spiders away from Rob and Marlena. When you hear Marlena yell "This way!" that means the exit is up ahead, hit it with the pipe and the door should open and the level will end. Try to save your Slusho health power-ups because you'll get to recuperate in the next level.

Medical center crossroads
After Level 5 you'll get a chance to refill your health from the military doctors and also need to decide which path to take to the end of the game. If you choose to go to Beth's apartment building, you can save Beth and upgrade your Friends Bonus at the end of the game. I recommend taking the Central Park path, where you can find the Fusion Cannon and destroy the monster.

Level 6: Central Park
During this level you'll be dodging the monster's footsteps until you find the Fusion Cannon and blow up the bug. The Fusion Cannon is located on top of the J.J. Abrams statue at the center of the park, and the only way to get to it is to push the hot dog cart at the beginning of the level and jump from the top of it. Once you have the Fusion Cannon, there's just one shot to kill the monster or the game is over. The best way to connect with the Fusion Cannon is wait until the F-22s distracts the monster, then aim for its head. Bonus: before you head to the evacuation helicopter and finish the game, go to the electronics store across the street and click the cursor on one of the televisions, the news report on the TV will explain the monster's origin.

Friday, January 25, 2008


To explore Paul Clark's blog Silly Hats Only, is to discover he's responsible for roughly 15 percent of all movie-related writings on the Internet (with Edward Copeland and Kim Morgan filling in much of the rest). In addition to his regular blog, Paul is the curator of The Muriel Awards, an online alternative to mainstream film awards now in its second year. And all those wonderful, exhaustive movie lists at The Screengrab? Paul is part of the creative team behind them (The Most Unnecessary Sequels of All Time is my favorite, a nose ahead of The Most Important Nude Scenes of All Time). If you still have time after reading Paul's Top 100 List, Top Films by Year, what movies he hasn't seen and his personal movie awards -- then check out his contributions at Listology and his blog dedicated to new screenings. Like I said, he's been known to write a few words about film.

YOUR EARLIEST MOVIE MEMORY: 'My early memories of going to the movies are kind of amorphous- I remember that I went, and I remember the theatres, but the movies themselves all blend together in my mind. The first one I remember sure was when they rereleased Fantasia when I was 4 or 5. Even then I loved going to the movies, but I remember that as I watched this movie, I started sinking in my seat for a very strange reason- I didn't like it. This was an odd feeling for me, and when I was leaving I felt a little unsure of whether to tell my parents this because I thought I might get in trouble. Then on the way home I overheard them talking about how it wasn't the sort of movie they thought it would be, and I took that opportunity to chime in about my feelings. So seeing a movie at this age actually became an invaluable experience for me, teaching me that not only are some movies better than others, but also that it's OK to dislike a movie. The rest, as they say, is history. As for Fantasia, I'm guessing it would play better for me now, but I'm always a tad uneasy about watching it again. It's got a lot to overcome, after all.'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT-- ' I finally bit the bullet and bought the Back to the Future trilogy, which as it turns out is another key movie from my childhood. I've always loved the original, but I like to think my DVD collection is "all killer, no filler," which is why I wasn't so sure I wanted to pick up a box set that also included parts II and III. I suppose I was just holding out in the hope Universal would release them separately, but eventually I just got tired of waiting. Plus the price was right, which didn't hurt.'

FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT -- 'I'm sure this is a cliché answer, but for me it doesn't get any better than the scene near the end of Cronenberg's remake of The Fly, when Jeff Goldblum vomits acid on John Getz. It's disgusting as hell, but it's not just about the ick factor. I love that while the film makes Getz's character such a rat, by the time this happens in the story our urge for him to get his comeuppance is swept aside by our pity and revulsion for what Goldblum, playing a character we used to like, has brought upon himself. And yeah, seeing someone's flesh and bones dissolve before our eyes is a pretty awesome sight.'

A MOVIE YOU'RE ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE? -- 'I'm not really ashamed of anything I haven't seen, to be honest. But to answer your question, I could pick something highbrow and nerdy here, but I would say that the most glaring omission in my moviegoing history would be how little of the Shaw brothers' output I've seen. Oh sure, I've seen a handful of classics- Come Drink With Me, Infra-Man, 36th Chamber of Shaolin- but other than that I'm woefully underversed. No Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, no A Touch of Zen, not even Five Deadly Venoms. Which means that whenever someone says "Toad Style is immensely strong and immune to nearly any weapon," all I can think of is the Wu-Tang Clan song. I guess my excuse is that I was kind of a latecomer to serious movie-watching. I didn't start watching movies regularly until I got to college, and I got so wrapped up in watching the canonical classics I missed out on a lot of the great genre offering.'

Death Wish- 'Been ages since I last saw this, but I've always found the Death Wish films to have been a mixed blessing for Charles Bronson's career, since while they were his bread and butter, they limited him as an actor. He's best known for movies like this, but he could be a sublime character actor- not just in his sixties work but also in his final role in Sean Penn's The Indian Runner- and I wish we could've seen more of that side of him onscreen.'
Sleeping Beauty-

Turner Classic Movies recently wrapped up a month of guest programming, if you were a guest programmer on TCM what three films would you pick to best represent your tastes, or a favorite genre or theme?: 'I'd want to do a program called "When Fantasy Intrudes on Reality," featuring in no particular order, Cocteau's Orpheus, Belle de Jour (my favorite film), and either The Red Shoes or the original miniseries version of The Singing Detective. Mostly this would be an excuse to program some of my favorite movies, but if we match them up by theme then so much the better.'

What kind of movie do I enjoy reviewing?: 'A good one! More specifically, a movie that takes me somewhere I've never been before cinematically. Perhaps the best feeling one can have as a serious moviegoer is that ecstatic kind of surprise that's only possible when you didn't see a movie coming. Whenever this happens, I'm able to not only delve into my feelings about the film itself, but the strange effect it has on me as well. The best recent example of this is Gone Baby Gone, which was so much better than I was expecting out of a movie directed by Ben Affleck.'

LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN: 'This was when I was 11, and my parents took me and my little brother to see Major League. As Cleveland Indians fans, we pretty much made them take us.'

IS THERE AN ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE OBSESSED WITH?: 'I love that era in movies
between the advent of widescreen and the fall of black and white as a commercial format. More specifically, I adore black and white 'Scope movies. If I ever owned a rep theatre, I would book as many BW 'Scope movies as possible, that's how much I love them. So many great examples of this from the period- The 400 Blows, The Apartment, Last Year at Marienbad, Lola, Yojimbo, Advise and Consent, The Innocents, Branded to Kill, In Cold Blood, and my personal favorite, The Hustler. Plus more recent examples like Manhattan, The Elephant Man, even this year's Control. If I was a director, I'd fight tooth and nail to make at least one movie in black and white 'Scope.

I WILL 'BREAK' YOU: 'I'm generally a pretty easygoing guy, and most of my friends are as well, so when we don't see eye to eye on movies, the conversation almost gets heated. However, I recently posted a debate between me and my colleague Scott Renshaw over at Screengrab about the final shot of Breaking the Waves. Simply put, he thinks it takes the film to another level, while I think it's the only thing holding it back from being a masterpiece. We were pretty civil about it, and it became more a debate about ideas than opinions, which is what any fruitful debate between movie lovers is really about.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'Honestly, I haven't read too many of them, and even fewer cover-to-cover. So I hope you'll forgive me if I choose an obvious one- Hitchcock/Truffaut. I especially love the tone of the interviews, less subject/interviewer than master/student. And Truffaut brings so much knowledge to the table that the interviews never become one-sided or fawning.'

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM VIEWINGS: 'An average of one a day, more on weekends. But a strange thing happened when I started writing for Screengrab, in that I started watching fewer movies for the first time than I did before. Most of my columns are about classic films, and I like to watch a movie again before writing about it, in order to refresh my memory. Sadly, between re-watching movies, writing about them, and working at my day job, I don't have as much time as once did for catching up with unseen classics while still keeping up with new movies that interest me. But now I'm getting paid to write, which eases the pain a little.'

THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM MOVIES: (a) French actresses are invariably more comfortable in their sexuality than American actresses, which gives them a distinct advantage in the hotness department. (b) "Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall, there was this one: ‘Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.’ Master Ittei commented, ‘Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.’” (originally from Hagakure, by way of Ghost Dog). (c) When someone asks you if you're a god, say yes

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

DVD notes

--Uh, best cover art ... ever? Wow. Maybe with DVD sales leveling off, this is the industry's new marketing tactic: fiendishly original design that describes the entire movie for you. Let's see what we can deduce about Zapped! from this cover art: two high school boys (and possibly one from junior high?) discover a magic rock that gives them telekinetic powers and possibly enormous proportions, they somehow use this power to acquire money (does that tie in with the camera?) and they meet a dog who's into Star Trek. I think that's it. I'm just slightly blown away that such a throw-away catalog title, on DVD for the first time Feb. 12, would get a first-class cover art treatment when so many other titles give us PhotoShopped heads or random images plucked from rejected heavy metal album cover designs.

--An interesting release next week that's flown under the radar a bit is the collector's edition of El Cid, Samuel Bronston's collossal 1961 widescreen road show. Telling a grand tale of Spanish history, Bronston rounded up Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, a handful of directors and a cast of thousands of extras to fill the 70mm lens. As usual, DVD Savant has the full scoop:
El Cid isn't as 'big' as the films that followed it, but the quality of its physical production far outdistances spectacles filmed in Culver City or North Hollywood. Even the costumes for the extras are authentic, and everything made of fine leather, carved wood or Toledo steel is the genuine article. In Europe Bronston found old world designers and craftspeople that made MGM's plaster and canvas approach look like the work of amateurs.
The 70mm production sounds perfect for DVD, and of course there's tons of extras on it. Interestingly, this Weinstein Brothers release is branded under "The Miriam Collection," named for their mother. I don't know if Ma Weinstein was a noted DVD producer, but it seems a little odd.

-- Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie have long had to make do with either their VHS copy or simply watching This Island Earth and adding their own snarky comments. Released early in the DVD age, MST3K:TM has been out of print for nearly a decade, with copies regularly selling for upwards of $200 on eBay. Well, it's finally getting a re-release on May 8. You can argue that there are better episodes of MST3K, but it's an interesting watch because This Island Earth is a fairly prominent and respected scifi tale. Also, Shout! Factory is taking over the MST3K DVD business, meaning the show's upcoming releases should only be better. Shout! Factory is perhaps the best in the business at producing television DVDs, so it should be interesting to see what they do with the property.

--Filed under the "tax return temptation" category is the Twilight Zone: The Complete Series collection, whose price keeps diving. Compared to the individual season sets, for $169 this is a steal. You get all five seasons, with every episode remastered, and lots of extras. Unfortunately, the excellent Twilight Zone Companion book, which was packed in with the early runs of the season sets, is not included.

--Shaping up to be one of Criterion's best releases of the year is Feb. 26's The Last Emperor, which will arrive on four overflowing discs. You get two versions of Bernardo Bertolucci's classic (both remastered) and leagues of extras, including multiple documentaries and commentaries. This will be the first proper DVD presentation of the movie.

--Speaking of Criterion, check out this inside-look at the process of designig one of their high quality covers. It's a good look at all the pains Criterion takes to put out the best discs.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My Dinner with Roger

Meme maestro Piper has unleashed his latest viral creation, and this one has a culinary twist:

My Dinner with [blank]:

1. Pick a single person past or present who works in the film industry you would like to have dinner with. And tell us why you chose this person.
2. Set the table for your dinner. What would you eat? Would it be in a home or at a restaurant? And what would you wear? Feel free to elaborate on the details.
3. List five thoughtful questions you would ask this person during dinner.
4. When all is said and done, select six bloggers to pass this Meme along to.
5. Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre, so people know the mastermind behind this Meme.

Piper set his table for a Michael Bay ambush, while Bob Turnbull (who tagged yours truly) invited a few notable guests.

I was having trouble coming up with my dinner guest, but a few things I read on Friday sealed it for me. In case you haven't noticed, Roger Ebert is indeed back -- as evidenced by a few recent reviews that qualify as Elite Ebert, reviews you find yourself going back to and reading again. His burying of The Bucket List was especially pleasing after being repeatedly assaulted by "are you going to drive it or buy it a dress?" on its awful trailer. Ebert's harsh reviews are often more entertaining than movie reviews should be, especially since his shots are factual and pretty honest. A rarer breed of Ebert review is when he goes outside the box for a by-the-numbers movie. Perhaps the most famous of this is his Milk Money review, and he recently went that route again with his take on Mad Money. I'm an unabashed Ebert fan boy, and I've been reading his reviews practically since the first day I had Internet access.

The setting: Food Network has taught me that Chicagoans enjoy their deep dish pizza and hot dogs. I'm sure Roger is no different, so I wouldn't want to compromise his usual diet. With that said, Roger and I are heading to Uno's Pizza.

Adam: I picked Uno's so I could get an authentic "slice" of the real Chicago.

Roger: Actually, deep dish meat lover's pizza isn't the best thing for someone who's recovering from salivary gland cancerous surgery.

Adam: Don't worry, I had the foresight to order a large Hawaiian as well. Now, your wife's name is "Chaz," that sounds like a movie character's name.

Roger: Sometimes I kid her that she should be in one of those new teen movies where all the female characters have masculine names. .

Adam: Speaking of women, your lone screenwriting credit was for Russ Meyer's classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, have you ever considered getting back into the movie biz?

Roger: I had a lot of time on my hands during my extended hospital stay, at one point I had written the next great science fiction saga, about aliens trying to steal the world's energy supply -- it would be called Mars Needs Oil and end with a powerful message about the importance of hybrid vehicles.

Adam: Fascinating, what happened to it?

Roger: Hospital politics, I'll leave it at that.

Adam: You once said that video games "could not be art," do you still hold that opinion?

Roger: No. My idle hands at the hospital led me to a device called "Guitar Hero 2," and it changed my outlook on video games. While video games may not actually be art, the music of Black Sabbath unquestionably is. So when I'm able to rock away to War Pigs from the comfort of my bed, well -- I think calling that "art" would be an understatement.

Adam: Thank you, Roger. The balcony is closed.

Friday, January 18, 2008


As a member of the WGA, Annie Frisbie is on strike, but thankfully her words continue to appear online. When she's not adapting a novel for a Lifetime Network movie, or c0-producing the Kristen Stewart/Steve Zahn drama Speak, Annie often contributes her talents to The House Next Door, where she has written about the documentary Into Great Silence, Hannibal Rising and her personal wrap-ups for 2007 and 2006. The former editor of Zoom In Online, Annie currently maintains Reading is My Superpower -- a turbo charged book blog. Be sure and check out her How to Turn a Book Into a Movie post, with strong advice from someone who knows.

Favorite gross-out moment: 'It has to be prom night in Brian DePalma's Carrie. The entire sequence is one of my all-time favorites (no surprise, given my aforementioned predilection for hysteria). Within that sequence, there's one moment that I just go crazy for--and that's Nancy Allen licking her lips just before the bucket comes down. Thanks for that close-up, Mr. DePalma.'
Last time you were at a drive-in: 'We saw Grindhouse at the drive-in this past summer, and it was a perfect experience. I can't imagine enjoying it half as much in the movie theater.'

Earliest movie-watching memory: 'My father taking me to see Watership Down at the Rotunda Theater in Baltimore. It was the first movie I ever saw and I remember the experience vividly. I was only 3 or 4 years old and loved the movie so much that a book with stills from the film telling the story became one of my favorites. Recently a friend came over with her 3-year-old and he pulled out my VHS copy and started begging to watch the bunny movie. We put it on for him, and I was surprised at how dark it was--too dark for sensitive 21st Century children perhaps. But that won't deter me from sharing with my daughter in a few years.

Describe the frequency of your movie viewings: 'It's lessened somewhat in the last few years, thanks to the ever-degraded theater-going experience. And now that I've got a new baby, it might be a while before I get back to the cinema. I just don't enjoy movies as much on DVD, but maybe one day we'll get that flatscreen TV and never want to leave the house again. I guess the answer to the question is that my husband & I watch as many movies as possible, given time and budgetary constraints.'

That'll be tha day: 'My husband and I got into a very heated argument over Forrest Gump. I said he couldn't possibly think it was a good movie. He got very offended by that remark. Back when I worked at Kim's Underground, I used to have knockdown drag out fights about movies all the time. I once got so upset during a "discussion" of Lee Marvin that I threw a plastic soda bottle.'

Favorite book on the subject of film: 'I love Noel Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror--really anything by Noel Carroll or David Bordwell (they worked together on another great book called Making Meaning).'

Film era or genre you're a little obsessed with: 'I'm obsessed with melodrama, particularly classic Hollywood women's pictures like Imitation of Life, and also the gothic offshoots.'

Pick one of the following four movies to write two sentences about:
McClintock --
Sleeping Beauty--'There never has been and never will be a scarier dragon than Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, shooting tongues of green fire at a notably bland Prince in defense of a Barbie-beautiful Princess who was much lovelier when dressed in rags. Disney might be best at turning children into mindless consumers, but the classic movies sure could tell a good story, once upon a dream.'
Death Wish--
Withnail & I--

What movie are you ashamed to say you haven't seen, and what's your excuse?: 'I'm not sure I'm brave enough to admit to the gaps in my film education, having spent 4 years teaching film history and screenwriting to impressionable undergrads. I can't say that I've never discussed in class a film I've never seen, but I've never pretended to see a film I haven't. Oh, and I did doze off a few times during screenings while in grad school for Cinema Studies (True Heart Susie) but never during a truly important film. Okay, fine--I've never seen Gone with the Wind because I thought the book was BORING. '

Last DVD you bought: 'Stranger Than Paradise (Criterion), as a Christmas gift for my husband. Before that, I bought Revolution 9, a great film about a man's descent into schizophrenia, directed by Tim McCann and co-starring Adrienne Shelley.'

Turner Classic Movies recently wrapped up a month of guest programming, if you were a guest programmer on TCM what three films would you pick to best represent your tastes, or a favorite genre or theme?: 'Black Narcissus, The Innocents and Seance on a Wet Afternoon. I adore gothic melodrama, and I'd program these films as companion pieces to Hitchcock's Rebecca and David Cronenberg's The Brood for a repressed sexuality Halloween marathon.'

Favorite kind of movie to review: 'I prefer reviewing older movies to new releases. I'm much more interested in re-examining a film after some time has passed and seeing what still works and what feels dated.'

Three things you've learned from watching movies: '1- Rosebud is a sled. 2- Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father. 3- It's Gwyneth Paltrow's head in the box.'

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New favorites from 2007

2007 was a career year for me as a movie watcher. I made some tweaks to my schedule that allowed me more time to take in films, and for the first time I committed to writing down all my viewings. The result was nearly 300 movies viewed, and many new favorites experienced for the first time. Wrapping up the year a little late, here are my personal highlights of what I saw on DVD/DVR in 2007.

THE FURY (1978) -- Brian DePalma's marathon sprint of energy and desperation, as teens Gillian (the striking Amy Irving) and Robin (Andrew Stevens) come to terms with their raw psychic abilities and the government agency that seeks to control it. Kirk Douglas is a maniac from start to finish and John Williams' score perfectly fits the frenetic action. And of course, it all wraps up with the famously explosive climax.

GUN CRAZY (1950) -- Unique film noir crime adventure, where an impressionable lad is criminally influenced by a dangerous woman, hence the original title Dangerous is the Female. As the trick shooting character Annie Laurie Starr, Peggy Cummins carries the film and provides one of the sexiest moments of the genre in a surprising scene of gun shots and seduction.

THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN (1985) -- Not the first time I've seen it, but the only time since about 1989 that I've had the pleasure. They sure don't make 'em like this any more (for good and bad), and it's outdated in a pleasing way: the over-usage of Pat Benatar's "Invincible," a pre-Simpsons Yeardly Smith, youth across the country chanting the same cry for justice, Peter Coyote. Oh yeah, and one of those rad motor scooters that were the coolest things on earth for about 16 months plays a pivotal role.

VIDEODROME (1983) -- The Criterion version was a blind buy for me, after reading much about it over the past year. Cronenberg's tale of vacuum and cathode tube analog horror is unsettling -- and still relevant. While Brian Oblivion appears only on a television, today he would be a video blogger on YouTube.

DEMONS (1985) -- Maybe my favorite horror viewing of the year. Lamberto Bava brings terror to a zombified movie theater, where the monsters in the aisles are scarier than what's on screen. Way too much fun, especially when Bava adds in the Italian punks and the motorcycle.

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1966) -- A stunning journey through a revolution from the roots up. Each side is represented well, and neither looks pretty in this portrayal of the Algerian revolution in France.

PETULIA (1968) -- Richard Lester's odd, original look at the evolution of romance leading up to the Summer of Love is impossible to look away from. Archie (George C. Scott) is transfixed with the title character (Julie Christie, never more beautiful) but constantly befuddled by a world he increasingly can't recognize. Filled with odd 60s culture like a futuristic drive-up hotel and a castle of a modern California home.

HARD EIGHT (1996) -- Paul Thomas Anderson's breakthrough debut is filled with strong acting by Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow. A story of temptation and regret in Las Vegas, it's a low-key production that builds from the opening credits.

A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) -- It's not often you get to see Dick Miller in a lead role, but he's perfect as a plucky loser hoping to get in with the beatnik crowd -- no matter the cost. Directed by Roger Corman, the story of a man who becomes a ceramic artist by covering dead bodies in clay is consistently unsettling, and often hilarious.

3 WOMEN (1977) -- Robert Altman's interesting spiral into the mystery of the female psyche was one of my 5 favorite movies I watched this year. The odd dynamics that form between two troubled roommates (Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall) takes stranger and stranger turns, and becomes a perfect circle when they enter the life of a third woman. Filled with provoking looks into identity and memory, I'd like to see it a few more times.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1983) -- One of the most unheralded of Mel Brooks' comedies, this is undoubtedly one of his best (and funniest). Taking a sensitive subject, the Nazi occupation of Poland, Brooks presents a wonderfully-paced slapstick comedy that peaks with one of the funniest scenes of any Brooks comedy (Bronski trying to imitate Col. Ehrhardt).

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973) -- From my pick for the best DVD of 2007 (more on that in a forthcoming post), Alejandro Jodorowsky's films had been out of the public view for decades before this year. The Holy Mountain is one of the most visually captivating movies you'll ever see, from its beautiful bewildered opening credits, through a ridiculous battle between toads in a miniature Mexico City, to the unpredictable ending. It's often disturbing and challenging, but never like anything else you've seen.

PRETTY POISON (1968) -- One of my favorite surprises of the year, Pretty Poison is one of those rare movies that manages to deliver suspense, quick wit and disturbing humor in a wonderful package. With a sharp script, Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins are memorable as an unlikely couple brought together by paranoia and lost youth. Weld's character may be one of my all time faves, as a seemingly innocent glassy-eyed girl who becomes more devilish as she gains more confidence.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) -- The best kind of sci-fi movie, where the genre is used to serve up a powerful message -- in this case, a straight-faced existential musing. Amazing special effects and a bold, perfectly-executed ending.

SUNRISE (1926) -- This is probably atop my list of silent movies, with genuine emotions of hope and despair throughout. Beyond the great story, it is also filled with some of the best visuals of the era.

DON'T LOOK NOW (1973) -- I had read numerous glowing reports of this Donald Sutherland/Julie Christie chiller, and they were all richly deserved. I love the atmosphere of looming terror created by Nicolas Roeg, and the infamous ending lived up to the hype.

PLAYTIME (1967) -- I had passed over viewing this a few times, but after reading it was Andy Horbal's favorite movie, it moved to the top of my queue. Wow. Definitely my best viewing of the year, Playtime is literally like nothing else, with Jacque Tati creating his own world of comedy and human observation where every scene is a virtual mosaic of characters, setpieces and emotions. This is one of those movies you watch repeatedly to find something new with each viewing, and you find it more rewarding each time. Also, I can't imagine another movie with more potential from a Blu-Ray remastering.

THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND (1936) -- This sensationally-titled tale of the doctor who was wrongly implicated in Abraham Lincoln's assassination was one of John Ford's early Fox films. While the facts get skewed to present a more favorable story, it's a wild adventure told passionately by Ford.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Catching up on a few things

So it turns out the first few days after bringing a baby home are pretty stressful – and that’s not even counting the hours it took to get him out of the meteor-like interplanetary vessel we found him in. There’s been a lot of general craziness, and plenty of instances where the “yeah, I’m gonna go blog, k?” line would have been even more lacking in tact than usual. Luckily, Aiden is proving to be a champion sleeper – like Steven Seagal in Hard to Kill in a coma for seven years kind of sleeper – so the death of this blog has been mostly exaggerated. And in this eye of the storm between feedings, allow me to touch on a few issues from the past couple weeks:

Juno – Let me get this asshole child of the 80s gripe out first: “Thundercats are go!”?? Are you kidding me? Sorry Ms. Cody, Liono never said that. His catchphrase was “Thundercats HOOOOO!!” and it was extremely effective. Were you thinking of “Thunderbirds are go!”? Or was that misstep intentional, to show that Juno isn’t quite as clever as she’d like to be, gleaming most of her 70s and 80s cultural tidbits from VH1 marathons? Seeing Juno next to my 9-months pregnant wife gave me a little different perspective than most, and while I wasn’t too annoyed by the overly witty dialogue and snark, what really bothered me was how the movie treated Michael Cera’s Bleeker character. Juno goes to great lengths in the beginning to set up a grand announcement about his pending fatherhood, but what happens to him after that scene? I know that if I was an expectant father at 16 (with the mother being one of my best friends), I would need a lot more than Tic Tacs to deal with it. Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody unfairly keeps him in the background for most of the movie, with only occasional appearances so he can set up more of Juno’s would-be dramatic punches. We see how Juno’s parents react to the matter, what about Bleeker’s mom? Is Bleeker interested in who will be raising his child? I enjoyed the sweet ending, but it was impossible for me to invest much emotion in the movie after how little Bleeker figured into the story.

The Bava Box, Vol. 2 – As someone with very little experience with Mario Bava’s works, I was excited to get this for Christmas. What a fantastic set, with eight of the director’s movies ranging from his trademark horror titles (Bay of Blood, Lisa and the Devil) to his work in other genres such as comedy (Four Times That Night) and even Western (Roy Colt and Winchester Jack), with extras including commentary tracks by noted Bava buff Tim Lucas and excellent anamorphic transfers. I’ve only watched a few of the movies so far, but I know it won’t be long before I make my way through all of them. Lisa and the Devil is a wonderful atmospheric chill fest, with strange occurrences that stem from Elke Summer’s encounter with an ancient painting of the devil and a stranger (Telly Savalas) who eerily resembles the figure. Even the supposed clunker of the bunch, Five Dolls for an August Moon, has enough beautiful skin and bizarre images to keep it entertaining. I still can’t believe I passed up buying the first volume when it was on sale at Amazon for $20, but this set will force me to track it down no matter the price.

Cloverfield – I can’t wait to see J.J. Abrams’ upcoming monster flick, but there’s something about the movie that still disappoints me: the title. It just doesn’t seem right, not on the previews, not on the posters, and not coming out of my mouth when I’m expecting to say the name of the best monster movie of 2008. I’m sure the name refers to some plot point, but did they have to get that cute with it? Why Cloverfield (which sounds like a neighboring community of Star’s Hollow), when Everybody Panic! or Squashed would have worked? I love the movie’s Blair Witch-like storytelling concept, and the viral marketing is perfect, so why not go all the way and give it a real monster movie title?

Blu-Ray – I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed by the news of Warner Bros. supporting Blu-Ray exclusively over HD-DVD. The news had been expected for quite some time, and Sony’s heightened Blu-Ray marketing blitz had pretty much buried HD-DVD leading up to Christmas, but it’s still a little sad that the format I chose to back is headed for the cemetery. Even though I never bit the bullet and upgraded to an HD format, I really felt strongly about HD-DVD, and I still do -- it's a great format that's easier and cheaper to manufacture than Blu-Ray. What this means for consumers (besides making the format decision easier), is that we'll see less and less of those 10 FREE BLU-RAY MOVIES! deals that pop up every now and then with the sale of a player. And if you're going to upgrade, please wait for one of those sales, BestBuy lets you pick any five Blu-Ray discs at the store under $34.99, that's an amazing deal.

Universal HD -- now worse than ever! As someone without a dish, I rely heavily on my cable provider's pitiful high definition offerings. Universal HD seemed promising at first, allowing me to watch The Pianist and even The Legend of Billie Jean in glorious HD. But it soon occurred to me that programming like that was the exception, as the channel (despite apparently having access to Universal's full catalog of films) is content to show movies like Twin Town, Heartbeeps, Radio Flyer and I.Q. multiple times a month -- and that's still in between repeat showings of 2-year-old skateboard competitions. Now it even gets worse: while taking up the channel on a viewing of the Don Johnson-John Frankenheimer oddity Dead-Bang, I found out that the mediocre movies are now filled with commercials! Seriously, why can't this be a great channel? Does Universal/NBC purposefully restrict its catalog choices to the very back pages?

Friday Screen Test -- We're still counting down to a Jan. 18 launchdate for the 2008 Friday Screen Test season, and I'm very excited about the participants lined up for the first two months. But there's still slots available -- if you're interested, email me and we'll take it from there.

Site upgrade -- The second best arrival over Christmas was a computer capable of glorious screengrabs, so if I want to ... say, post my favorite unintentionally homoerotic scene in film history (from Planet of the Apes), there's nothing to stop me:

Expect to see many more enlightening screengrabs like these in the future, and a few more custom logos too.