Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Think of the structure of a typical “a guy walks into a bar” joke. The joke teller begins with that first line. Then he tells a short story, through which the audience, be it one person or a roomful, sits stone-faced. Eventually, the story leads to a punchline, and if the joke teller is skilled enough, the audience will erupt into laughter. Even though we didn’t laugh from the first moment he opened his mouth, it’s commonly acknowledged that everything that came out of his mouth was part of the joke. This all seems obvious I’m sure, but in trying to find a new way to talk about Louie, it hit me: These episodes are often structured like a joke – albeit a 20 minute one – with the punchline in the final moments. While those first 19 minutes might not be traditionally funny, they’re anything but tedious, and often run the gamut of emotions.
There’s never been a comedy show like Louie, and given how cannibalistic television is, it continues to boggle my mind that Louis C.K. gets away with such shocking displays of originality on a weekly basis. The show’s written and directed by and starring the same guy; has there ever been a scripted series that’s so clearly the all-around vision of just one person? Allegedly, even the suits and execs at FX leave him alone. Armed with a solid first season under his belt, and no doubt the confidence that comes with that, the comedian’s comedian sets out to dig even deeper into his psyche for the second block, and the results are painfully hilarious, with an emphasis on the pain.
Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
[Note: All screengrabs in this piece are taken from the old Paramount DVD release of Harold and Maude and are by no means indicative of the video quality of this Blu-ray.]
Trying to find something profound or insightful to say about Harold and Maude feels like an exercise in futility; anything I’ve got, the film already says about 20 times more eloquently, yet let’s give it a whirl, but be warned, because you’re gonna get tons of “me, me, me” in this piece. I can’t write about the movie any other way. It’s too personal. Nor do I wish to offer up some kind of plot summary, which would be pointless. If you’ve not already seen this movie, then just go buy this disc, you poor bastard, and if you don’t like it, I don’t want to know you. There are few movies that grab me emotionally the way this one does; some of the others that do, like Shampoo, are also directed by Hal Ashby, who was one of the most gifted visual storytellers that ever lived. The guy had a knack for finding truth in the most unlikely of places; he made a career out of it. This ability of his was never more obvious than in Harold and Maude, the story of the awkward, depressed young man (Bud Cort) who falls for a free-spirited lover of life (Ruth Gordon) that’s four times his age.
Remember those people who were diagnosed with a sort of depression after seeing Avatar, because they were so affected by the movie that they wanted to live in that world, but couldn’t? Harold and Maude is my Avatar. It guts me. I have to be careful about the frame of mind I’m in when I watch it, otherwise it’s liable to send me spiraling into a state of melancholy, much like yesterday’s viewing of this Blu-ray did. This is an odd reaction to such a life-affirming movie, but I think the reason I respond like this is because it’s a reminder that I’m not living my life as fully and with as much joy as I should.
It’s so easy to be pessimistic in this day and age, because our culture is drenched in cynicism. How do you fight against what’s in front of you at every turn? Further complicating the issue is that there’s a potential price to pay for not joining in on the group skepticism and that’s that you may not be taken seriously. You may even, heaven forbid, be labeled naïve. Most everything we are as a culture today is the exact opposite of what Harold and Maude is (was?) about. If I could, I’d sit the entire country down, pass around joints, bongs and baked goods, and make everyone watch Harold and Maude simultaneously. If it made a dent for just one day, it’d be worth it.
One of my favorite lines, depending on which day I’m talking about the movie, is Maude’s, when she’s dealing with an angry police officer (played by an uncredited Tom Skerritt): “Don't get officious. You're not yourself when you're officious. That is the curse of a government job.” Harold and Maude is all about challenging authority, and it was part of a whole wave of films that were doing just that, although few of them managed to do it as sweetly as this one. It was made in era when film really took authority to task in a way it doesn’t today. Maybe it reflected the times. Back then people thought they could make a difference and cause change. They felt their opinions carried some weight and that authority figures like politicians had some decency buried deep inside them that was just waiting to be dragged to the surface. Nixon probably changed a lot of that, but certainly today – and this goes back to the rampant cynicism – too many people believe less in challenging authority than they do in dismantling it altogether.
So I guess Harold and Maude takes me to a time that I never got to experience (having been born about a month before the film’s release), and it does it in a way that’s not even remotely preachy or maudlin or nostalgic (or maybe it’s all of those things?). It’s a story of two people who’ve experienced tragedy and hurt and pain, and how one of them overcame it long ago, and is now intent on helping the other through the rough times, so they can both get to a better place. Folks have often placed an emphasis on the romance between the two leads, but that’s the last thing I think about when it comes to Harold and Maude, because it’s about so much more than that. There are a million romance flicks out there - many of them with pairings far stranger than this one - but there is only one Harold and Maude.
Having dealt with Harold and Maude for years now through Paramount’s DVD release (and before that on Paramount’s laserdisc), it’s never really occurred to me how much of an overhaul this movie might need, but the difference between that disc and this Criterion Blu-ray is pretty revelatory in terms of picture quality. Whereas before the movie was mired in muddy dark browns and greens, on this Blu-ray it’s now covered in eye-popping dark browns and greens, not to mention a whole other palette of surprising colors that I was never able to notice before. I often wonder with Criterion discs if some of these old movies look better than they did upon release. This one certainly looks better than I’ve seen it before, and in fact when I went back and looked at the Paramount DVD for screengrab purposes, I was rather stunned by how bad it looked. Also, in addition to the original uncompressed mono soundtrack, this edition offers up a newly remastered stereo track. The music of Cat Stevens has never sounded so good in a feature film.
Hey Criterion! More Hal Ashby on Blu-ray! Shampoo, pretty please!?!? You did that one many years ago on laserdisc and it’s time to go back to the well.
|Director Hal Ashby's Hitchcock cameo|
Blu-ray Extras: In a perfect world, the special features here would be considerably more extensive, or at the very least there’d be interviews or commentaries with Bud Cort and/or Vivian Pickles, but alas, ‘tis not to be. Perhaps it was the lovely little 2011 interview with Yusef/Cat Stevens that made me want more? Yes, that must have been it. Because before this Criterion disc came along, I was satisfied with the content of the nearly bare bones Paramount DVD I’ve had for years. In addition to talking with Cat, there are vintage audio pieces (that play over montages) with both Hal Ashby and screenwriter Colin Higgins from ’72 and ’79 respectively, taken from Harold Lloyd Masters Seminars. An informative commentary track alternating between Ashby biographer Nick Dawson and the film’s producer Charles B. Mulvehill rounds out the disc’s bonus features. (The two theatrical trailers on the
have not made the leap, I’m afraid to report.)
Additionally, the Blu-ray includes one of those fine inner booklets that Criterion does so well. This one spans 36 pages and is full of cute little Harold and Maude illustrations in the same vein as the cover art. It features: A new essay entitled “Life and How to Live It,” by one of the most insightful, not to mention dangerous, living movie/TV critics, Matt Zoller Seitz (whom, it must be said, I also call a friend); a reprint of a 1971 New York Times article/interview with Ruth Gordon by Leticia Kent entitled “A Boy of Twenty and a Woman of Eighty”; a transcript of a 1997 conversation between Bud Cort, cinematographer John Alonzo, and James Rogers of the Colin Higgins Trust; lastly, there’s a short 2001 interview conducted by Rogers with the film’s executive producer, Mildred Lewis, and her family, entitled “Meeting Colin Higgins.”
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death, Resurrection of the Daleks, and Carnival of Monsters Special Edition DVD reviews
|David Tennant hosts "Come in Number Five"|
Back in March I did a big piece on the three classic Doctor Who Special Edition DVD sets released that month, and outlined my feelings about the SEs in general. April saw the debut of another such set, “Carnival of Monsters,” and now June sees two more, with “Resurrection of the Daleks” and “The Seeds of Death.” Together, these three titles made up the “Revisitations 2” box set in the
previous double dips such as “The Caves of Androzani,” “The Robots of Death,”
or even “The Three Doctors” (which, despite being a story of dubious quality,
is clearly worthy of its own SE on principle alone), these tales are, simply
put, not nearly as “classic.” U.K.
“The Seeds of Death” is the least successful of the trio, and I say that as a diehard Patrick Troughton fan. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s the worst of the surviving stories of his era (yes, I’d rather watch “The Dominators” than “The Seeds of Death,” but only by a slim margin). This is a six-parter featuring one of the series’ big bads, The Ice Warriors, and the viewer will feel every minute of it. It likely would’ve worked better at four episodes, and yet even that wouldn’t have helped the uninspired guest cast/characters and the often times shockingly naïve script. On the plus side, “Seeds” does offer a mildly interesting look at a potential Earth future, where the planet is completely dependent on a technology called T-Mat, which is basically teleportation. The Ice Warriors cripple the Earth by hijacking the tech from the moon, where exists the T-Mat relay station. Much wackiness ensues (well, not really). Since the breakdown of technology is a big issue for me personally, I find at least that aspect of “Seeds” rather fascinating, though as an idea it’s hardly sustained in any kind of engaging way across six episodes.
Speaking of technological screw ups, as I understand it, a mistake was made on the original DVD release, and the film sequences of the story were VidFIREd when they shouldn’t have been, hence part of the reason for the SE. As you can see from the screengrabs at the right, the differences in quality between the two releases is imperceptible (to my eyes anyway). Perhaps the SE film sequences are a tad brighter? Beyond that, the primary extras have been ported over from the original release, although “The Last Dalek” featurette has, for obvious reasons, been moved over to the “Resurrection of the Daleks” SE, and the New Zealand censor clips from “The Web of Fear” and “The Wheel in Space” have been removed as they exist on the “Lost in Time” box set (as does “The Last Dalek,” actually).
While there is no new commentary track, original to this SE is a 30-minute doc entitled “Lords of the Red Planet,” which the DVD cover claims is a history of the Ice Warriors. While it does contain some fascinating info on the origins of their creation, that’s not quite how I’d describe it, as it’s basically just a making of “Seeds.” Also new is a very short bit with director Michael Ferguson called “Monster Masterclass” and a neat interview featurette titled “Monsters Who Came Back for More!,” with Nicholas Briggs and Peter Ware discussing many of the monsters who made return appearances over the years, as well as the ones they’d like to see return on the new series. Lastly, there are Radio Times listings in PDF form and a coming soon trailer for “Death to the Daleks,” which comes out next month. While these few new extras are fun, “The Seeds of Death” SE remains difficult to recommend to folks who own the previous edition, and equally to those who’ve never even owned it at all.
1984’s “Resurrection of the Daleks,” from Peter Davison’s final season, I’m torn over, and even this new DVD hasn’t helped me to nail down my feelings on it, though to clear up any confusion beforehand, it is a quality story on most levels. A cameo in “The Five Doctors” aside, this was the first appearance of the Daleks in the series since 1979’s “Destiny of the Daleks,” and this more or less picks up where that one left off. From a production standpoint, this thing is the tits: Excellent location shooting, tight direction, above par effects work, and even some pretty good studio work. Terry Molloy plays Davros for the first time, successfully reinventing the character for the ‘80s, and he and Peter Davison are surrounded by a sprawling, believable guest cast.
The problem with “Resurrection” is that it’s so damn bleak and without any wit or humor (though there is one scene with Davros that gives me the giggles, yet I’m unsure if that was the intention). It supposedly has the highest onscreen body count of any Doctor Who story, but the violence itself isn’t really the issue. It’s the tone of the whole thing, which just feels so un-Who-like; this is more like Blake’s 7 (specifically the final episode of that show). Now, I’ve got nothing against bringing on the darkness from time to time, and Davison’s final season as well as Colin Baker’s first are frequently loaded with grittiness, but there’s something about the balance in this particular story that simply feels off; it’s just too much. Obviously, your mileage may vary. Also, this is Tegan’s (Janet Fielding) final story, and though she has a beautiful and heartrending exit scene, she’s given barely anything to do in the 90 minutes prior to it. It just kills me that Janet Fielding didn’t get a better send-off, as Turlough (Mark Strickson) did in “Planet of Fire,” which immediately follows this tale.
One big reason “Resurrection of the Daleks” was given a double dip is because when it was originally broadcast on the BBC, it was shown as two, 45-minute episodes, even though it wasn’t produced to be shown as such. Disc One of this set for the first time on home video presents it as it aired in ‘84. The 2002 DVD release (as well as the VHS release before it) presented it as four, 23-minute episodes, which is duplicated here on Disc Two. So now you can “have it your way,” although ultimately it doesn’t make a huge difference which way you watch it, to my mind. Aside from the “Who’s Who” text feature, all the extras from the 2002 disc have been ported over, in addition to all the new features.
A new commentary track can be found on Disc One, featuring Terry Molloy, writer and script editor Eric Saward, visual effects designer Peter Wragg, and moderated by Nicholas Pegg. It’s a dry affair, but very informative nonetheless. The star attraction here should be the nearly hour-long documentary entitled “Come in Number Five,” a retrospective of the Davison era, hosted by Davison’s son-in-law, David Tennant (though Tennant hadn’t yet married Georgia when this was recorded); “should” be because I was pretty let down by this doc that I’d been looking forward to seeing since it came out in the U.K. over a year ago. One of the most refreshing aspects of the classic Who DVDs is that the participants in the bonus features are very often brutally candid about their times on the show and the quality of the stories. Like I said, this is refreshing when so many DVD bonus features of TV shows and movies exclusively showcase talent from both in front of and behind the camera insisting that everyone and everything is brilliant. That gets old.
Unfortunately, the reverse of that attitude can also be the enemy of the classic Who DVD range, as is the case here. I wanted a pleasant, nostalgic look back at Davison’s three years on the show – an era which I, and most hardcore fans, consider to be of generally high quality. Instead, this doc amounts to little more than a one-hour bitchfest about how many things went wrong, and how John Nathan-Turner fucked things up right and left – an attitude I can do without, thank you very much, especially since he’s no longer with us to defend himself. I think there must be a ten minute exchange devoted to what a bad idea it was to create a companion that was supposed to kill the Doctor, and how the idea ruined Season 20, when most fans will agree that it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, and it didn’t actually ruin Season 20. (For further commentary on this issue, check out the DVD review of “The Black Guardian Trilogy.”) None of this is Tennant’s fault, mind you. I’m sure his linking bits - which tonally are more along the lines of what I expected from this - were recorded after all of these interviews were done. If I’d seen this doc without ever having seen the Davison era, I probably wouldn’t be interested in ever checking out his Doctor, such is the excessive negativity here.
On the flip side of this is a lovely 30-minute piece called “Casting Far and Wide,” featuring Toby Hadoke interviewing five guest actors from “Resurrection” about their careers, with varying reactions and answers. It doesn’t always have a whole lot to do with Doctor Who, but it’s a nice, warm piece nonetheless. While I’m at it, let me just say that Toby Hadoke is the best thing to happen to the classic DVD range in the past year. His contributions and levels of interest and knowledge are ideally suited to exploring this series. Kudos to you, sir, if you are out there reading. “Tomorrow’s Times – The Fifth Doctor” is another entry in the ongoing exploration of the press reaction to the show. There’s also a short bit called “Walrus” with a woman and a Dalek, Radio Times listings in PDF form, as previously mentioned, “The Last Dalek” featurette, and the coming soon trailer for “Death to the Daleks.”
Finally we come to “Carnival of Monsters,” which is arguably the best of these stories, even if it’s something of an odd duck. Written by Robert Holmes with a generous amount of charm, and directed by Barry Letts with an equal amount of flair, “Carnival” is a story that’s grown on me over the years, particularly through this new edition. Part social commentary and part adventure, this was the Third Doctor’s (Jon Pertwee) first adventure after having had his ability to pilot the TARDIS restored by the Time Lords at the close of “The Three Doctors.” It appears the TARDIS has landed on a cargo ship in the 1920’s, though the Doctor is certain that can’t be the case. Meanwhile, on a distant, alien planet with class system issues, a couple of carnies have arrived with their money-making gimmick known as the Miniscope, through which spectators can view all manner of alien life.
“Carnival of Monsters” isn’t as obviously exceptional as so many other Robert Holmes scripts, but it’s still a very entertaining one. Its most memorable monsters, the Drashigs, are a great example of a one-off Doctor Who creature, and the story is just so unlike anything else from this era of the show. It seems that the aim of “Carnival” was to do something different with the series than what it had been doing for the previous three seasons. It’s ambitious, maybe sometimes even to a fault, and it seems like the sort of script you’d read about in some Who reference book as having been “ultimately passed on” because it “didn’t quite fit the show.” But it wasn’t, and it did.
|Lis Sladen thinking about her old co-star and friend Ian Marter|
Seems all the bonus features from the 2003 DVD have been ported over in some form or fashion. The extended and deleted footage has been replaced by an additional longer edit of Episode Two, which also features that oddball, alternate arrangement of the theme tune which was a separate extra on the old disc. New to this SE is a commentary track featuring actors Peter Halliday, Cheryl Hall and Jenny McCracken, as well as special sounds creator Brian Hodgson. While “Destroy All Monsters!” is a lovely new making of, the standout extra may be “On Target with Ian Marter,” which explores the late actor’s contributions to the Target book range, as well as the man himself. Nicholas Courtney, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen (amongst a couple others) all chime in with their feelings about Ian Marter, but it’s Sladen’s emotions and choice of words that really move. When she talks of him passing at such a young age, she nearly breaks down into tears. This is made all the more poignant by her own passing at too young of an age last year. It’s anyone’s guess what was going through her mind during that interview, but the results are haunting and heartbreaking.
|Ian Marter pre-Harry Sullivan|
There’s also a featurette entitled “The A-Z of Gadgets and Gizmos” that’s title is pretty self-explanatory, and another called “Mary Celeste,” in which experts discuss various historical disappearances of ships and the like. Finally, there are Radio Times listings in PDF form, and a coming soon trailer for “Nightmare of Eden,” which was released last month.
Monday, June 04, 2012
By their eighth season, most shows – if they even last that long – exhibit major signs of wear, and it’s usually past time to close up shop. By some miracle of TV magic, Curb Your Enthusiasm bucks that trend on this go round by delivering one of its most sharply observant and gut-bustingly hilarious seasons to date, and at least one episode in this block vaults instantly to “classic” status. I’m a freak for this show, yet one who’ll admit when it’s stumbling, which in recent years has been known to happen from time to time. Season Eight I swear by; it’s that good.
“I’m yelling for society – for everybody! Not just me!”
Each year of Curb revolves around some sort of event which the season culminates in for the finale. Season Four featured Larry starring in The Producers on Broadway. Last season was built around the Seinfeld reunion. For the show’s eighth season, David plays looser, and there is no big event, although these episodes do revolve somewhat around Larry on the dating scene (he has four or five different girlfriends over the ten episodes), as well as an extended trip to New York in the second half of the block. Neither of these ideas, however, dominates the proceedings, and the season finale, “Larry vs. Michael J. Fox,” is considerably more standalone than Curb finales of years gone by. Having said that, there are several jokes that dot the Season Eight landscape that do eventually come back around and into play in the finale, so this material is still best viewed in order, from beginning to end.
Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.
Friday, June 01, 2012
Some years ago I kicked off a “Destiny of the Daleks” DVD review with, “You’d think that a season of Doctor Who script-edited by Douglas Adams would be a high mark in the show’s long history, but you’d be wrong. Season 17…was Who at its campiest and most goofy.” Since writing that piece, two other Season 17 stories – “The Creature from the Pit” and “The Horns of Nimon” – have been released on DVD, and on both occasions I gave the stories relatively high marks. I was surprised, as both of those tales sort of crushed their horrible reputations by being not nearly as bad as many had claimed over the years. Of course, none of these revelations really change my initial assertions. Season 17 is often campy and goofy, and, “City of
Death” aside, it isn’t
that said, I’ve a renewed appreciation for Season 17 these days…well, most of
it anyway. high point
Unfortunately, the story you’ve come here to read about – “Nightmare of Eden” - is almost the low point of the season. I say almost only because the derailed production of “Shada” sort of automatically wins it the lowest point status, on principle alone. At least “Nightmare of Eden” got made, though to hear the cast and crew talk about it, just barely. Two spacecraft – the Empress, a commercial airliner, and the Hecate, a smaller transport ship - collide, and are fused together. The Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 (David Brierly) arrive and attempt to help remedy the situation, only to discover that the accident was caused by the Empress’s co-pilot being high on a drug called Vraxoin.
For the first time in its long history, Doctor Who was suddenly tackling addiction and drugs. Does it do it in a noteworthy manner? Not really, and certainly not in any way that’s relevant to today. Although the Doctor claims that he’s seen whole planets destroyed by the drug, its effects boil down to making those high on it giggle and lose their concentration – basically about the same as smoking a joint, and hardly the scourge of the galaxy. There’s one fairly effective scene with a character jonesing for his Vrax threatens Romana, but beyond that, anyone looking for any kind of serious adult exploration of the topic won’t find it here, although credit should be given to producer Graham Williams and Douglas Adams for at least taking a chance and trying to see what might happen by going down such a road.
|Mandrels & Mandrells|
” is several
mysteries intertwined, chief among them, “Who’s smuggling the Vraxoin?” The
story’s monsters are called the Mandrels, who should by no means be confused
with the Mandrell Sisters. Like those great ladies of 70’s and 80’s pop country music,
however, they appear more cuddly than threatening. The guest cast is mostly
cardboard, although Lewis Fiander offers up a cartoonish, over the top performance
as the scientist Tryst, which at the very least makes him more interesting to watch than the
rest, even if it’s all terribly silly. After a passable first two
episodes, the events meander off into quite a bit of aimless running around,
and while Baker and Ward do a decent enough job of carrying the proceedings,
“Nightmare of Eden” is ultimately a pretty forgettable entry in the world’s
longest running sci-fi franchise. Eden
Yet there are two noteworthy things about “
Around the 15:30 minute mark of Episode One, Romana is looking through a window
made by the story’s gimmicky gadget, the Continuous Event Transmitter, which is
a most improbable piece of science fiction...but mildly clever nonetheless, especially
since it sort of drives the whole story. Anyway, for about 60 seconds the show
presents us with one of the most unnerving sequences ever created on classic Doctor
Who. It is, in fact, so well done in comparison to the rest of the
story, that one can only conclude it was an accident. I wonder who was
responsible for it - director Alan Bromley, who was fired partway through the
studio recording, or Graham Williams, who took over after the firing? Eden
|David Daker & Tom Baker|
Secondly, and this is more personal, and far less revelatory, but the Empress ship captain, Rigg, is played by David Daker – the same David Daker who had some years before played Irongron in “The Time Warrior” (which, incidentally, was Alan Bromley’s only other Who directorial effort). I’m sure some people reading this already know this bit o’ trivia, but for me it was a minor mindfuck, compounded by the further realization that Daker was also Kevin’s Father in Time Bandits! It was Daker’s unmistakable vocal inflections that led to me piecing all this together, and then heading to IMDB for confirmation. Daker does a pretty good job here, and is far and away the standout guest actor of the serial. He’s not Irongron great – there’s no way he could be given that the writer of “Eden,” Bob Baker, is no Robert Holmes – but he does about as good a job as he could have given what he had to work with.
May was a peculiar month for Who DVDs here at the Morgue. High marks were given to one Sylvester McCoy story, fair marks to another, and finally an expression of disappointment over a Tom Baker serial. Very strange month, indeed.
DVD Extras: With this being the final story featuring Lalla Ward to get a DVD release (“Shada” aside), it seems unlikely that we’ll ever get that long awaited Ward/Tom Baker commentary track. Here Ward is joined in various turns by actor Peter Craze, writer Bob Baker, effects designer Colin Mapson, makeup designer Joan Stribling – all moderated by Toby Hadoke. As always, Lalla’s a joy to listen to. As hinted at above, “
was a production fraught with problems, and so the making of, called “The
Nightmare of Television Centre,” really concentrates on only two things: the
dodgy videotaped special effects ship sequences, and the disastrous production
that led to the firing of Bromley; as such, its running time is only 13
minutes. “Going Solo” features Bob Baker talking about writing his only Who
story without writing partner Dave Martin. “The Doctors’s Strange Love” is yet
another entry in the series featuring Simon Guerrier, Joe Lidster and Josie
Long (would somebody please make her stop?!) chatting up
all things “ Eden .”
There’s also an 11-minute vintage interview with Lalla on a show called Ask
Aspel. Then there’s the usual
photo gallery, production notes subtitle option and Radio Times listings in PDF form. Finally, there’s a trailer for
“Dragonfire” and “The Happiness Patrol.” Eden