I was looking for something to watch the other day, so I dropped by the local Hollywood Video store. I picked up disk 3 of the new Battlestar Galactica series (really good), a made for TV version of The Lost World (more about that later), and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. I had put my hand on 1984 but I realized that was just too dark of a movie. And Brazil is such a happy movie.

My wife thinks I’m insane.

So I dragged the wonderful wife off to the theater to see King Kong finally. We both liked the movie, and we understand why it is a box office hit. TPK says there are parts that seemed to drag, but I think she is crazy. I don’t know what part I would trim, but the bug scene certainly gave me the jibblies. So two thumbs up from both of us for the movie.

The movie experience gets thumbs down. Is it just me, or are more people talking in movies? I was tempted to turn around and say, “Would you please be quiet? If I wanted a movie commentary, I’d turn on the director’s audio track.” To make matters worse, there were three batches of wanna-be commentators seated around us. Now don’t get me wrong, I love talking back at the movies we watch. It’s a bad habit I picked up from Mystery Science Theater 3000. But I don’t do that in the theater. TPK says that if she must comment, she will whisper to me. I asked her how often I whisper stuff to her, and the quick answer is I don’t.

Why should I shell out money to go see a movie with Chatty Cathys, crying babies, and kids saying loudly, “Daddy, why is she dead?” I don’t mind seeing movie previews, but I object to commercials. And I really object when there are more commercials than previews. With TV and audio technology the way it is, I can get movie-quality entertainment at home without JuJuBes stuck to the floor and popcorn scattered around. And if someone is chatting loudly behind me, I can pause the show and tell TPK to take the phone into the other room.

Yes, there are some benefits of seeing a movie in a large theater with a bunch of people you know and like. But I have to ask myself if going to the theater is really worth it when I can rent as much as I want with the Hollywood MVP program (and Blockbusters still sucks).

I don’t think it will be too long before I skip the theater altogether and do just DVDs.

Well, it’s Oscar night, and the Hollywood glitterati will gather and swoon about their achievements. They’ll clap and applaud themselves in a multi-hour circle-jerk of self-aggrandizement. And I don’t care.

I love watching movies, but I have no desire to see any of the five nominated for Best Picture this year. In case you didn’t see these movies (most people haven’t) and have missed the gush in the news, here are the five nominees for the Best Picture category:

For a comparison, and to refresh your memories, here are the ten top grossing films released in 2005:

Gross Movie
$380,262,555 Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
$288,060,759 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
$287,153,504 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
$234,280,354 War of the Worlds (2005)
$216,326,425 King Kong (2005)
$209,218,368 Wedding Crashers (2005)
$206,456,431 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
$205,343,774 Batman Begins (2005)
$193,136,719 Madagascar (2005)
$186,336,103 Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)

Here we have two groups of movies: the first judged by the inner circle of Hollywood to be the best, and the second voted on by moviegoers as worth their money to the tune of almost 2.5 BILLION dollars. Intelligentsia vs. hoi polloi. And speaking as one of the hoi polloi, I have seen eight of these ten top-grossing movies. I will eventually see
King Kong, but I have no desire to see Wedding Crashers.

I also have no desire to watch the Oscars tonight. I’m surprised I cared enough even to write this much about them.

p.s. I will make one Oscar prediction: there will be no mention of Theo van Gogh–his life, his work or his untimely demise–just as there was no mention of him last year.

We watched Popeye, starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall, today. This Disney movie was released in 1980, and it wasn’t well received by the public. I first saw it over twenty years ago when I was babysitting the neighbor kids. They had a VCR player and both the Popeye and Pete’s Dragon tapes. The kids watched these two movies over and over and over again.

Like other movies shot in the late ’70s (can anyone say Heaven’s Gate?), this movie suffers from interminal-itis. Popeye clocks in at under two hours, but it feels longer because of its pacing, unlike Heaven’s Gate which actually is long at over 3 and a half hours running time. I like how Williams is constantly muttering stuff under his breath, just like in the cartoons, and Duvall is the epitome of Olive Oyl made real.

It will probably be another 20 years before I watch it again.

OK, so I finished watching the last episode of “24″ just now, and it was good! But as much as I liked it, I’m glad I didn’t follow this on TV. I don’t like dictating my life based on when a show appears on TV, so watching 1-3 episodes when I feel like it appeals to me.

And did I mention no commercials?

Bottom line: good series, but it is very tiring to watch. I think I’ll hold off a bit before doing the season 2 marathon.

I am a movie junkie. There have been too many Saturdays where I have watched 3-5 movies because I didn’t have anything better to do that day. Hmm… I hope the wife isn’t reading this. I’m sure she has some items on her Honey-Do list that I’ve successfully dodged so far.

I get all these movies from the local Hollywood Video store for a cheap monthly fee of $15. I break even if I only watch four videos in a month, and anything beyond that is gravy. These days, I am swimming in gravy. I have written about movies before here, here, and here. But this is going to be a bit different, because today I’m going to blather about TV.

I normally don’t watch TV. I would guess that I watch less than 3 hours of TV in a week, and that’s a high-usage week. But I have been watching a bunch of TV this last week. And I have been watching TV the best way — without commercials.

I finally succumbed to peer pressure and picked up the DVDs of the first season of 24. The next episode to watch covers 4pm-5pm. TPK says it is the most exhausting show to watch.

I agree.

(With apologies to Shrek)

Donkey: Cause I’m all alone.
There’s no one here beside me.
My problems have all gone,
There’s no one to deride me.
But you gotta watch movies…
Shrek: Stop singing! Why, it’s no wonder you don’t have any friends, if you mangle the lyrics like that.

So the wife has headed out to take advantage of some higher education, leaving me alone again. This means I get to visit the local movie rental store (not Blockbuster) to do some serious movie watching. I love movies, and I seem to get to watch them more when she is gone. In a wild burst of candor, she confessed that the idea of going out to see a movie is not something she is too wild about. But she admitted to enjoying the movies once I’ve succeeded in dragging her there. There is a simple lesson to learn in this — wives should listen to and obey their husbands! [thpbhpthpt. --ed.]

Hah! I’m two states away, so The Pirate King can’t use her trusty cutlass on me. I’m safe! SAFE, I tell you! Well, completely safe until she gets back here. But I think she’ll have forgotten all about this by the time she comes back home, and if she is reading this, I think I can distract her. Hey look! Shiny things! [ooo, shiny! --ed.]

Now that she’s off looking at Swarovski crystals, I can get around to my main point — movies! I picked up four DVDs to watch this weekend, and so far have viewed three. I’ll watch the final one in the next day or so. And so I present the three movies in the order I watched them.

*Spoiler Warning*
(or as the wife says, “Arr! Thar be spoilers ahead!”)

Ocean’s Twelve
Ocean’s Eleven was a successful movie in 2001, and with popularity comes sequels. And when you consider that Ocean’s Eleven is in turn a remake of a 1960 film, Ocean’s Twelve is a sequel of a remake. If Hollywood makes a remake of this sequel, then the circle will be complete. Most of the time, sequels suffer from a technical failing I have termed “sequelitis.” The sequel is never as good as the first movie. But there are a few rare exceptions to this movie malady — Shrek 2, Toy Story 2, and Highlander 2. OK, so the last one stank like last week’s fish. “Highlander 2 — there can be only one. Again.”

But I found I liked Ocean’s Twelve. It had the fun interaction of the players, and the same fast action heists. But I think the main reason I liked this movie was the European setting. Having spent some years in Europe, I’m familiar with the no-word traffic signs and narrow streets. The movie suffers from some jerky camera work in places; it must have been part of the director’s “vision.” I’d call it “bad editing,” but I’m not an Oscar-winning director. Of all the fun cut-scenes, I like the one of Amsterdam best.

I give Ocean’s Twelve 2 and 1/2 stars out of four and a Faberge Egg.

The Punisher
This was a guilty pleasure. Not only is it a movie about a Marvel comic, it is a movie made by Marvel. There was an earlier Punisher movie staring Dolph Lundgren, but I enjoyed the newer movie much more than the earlier, non-Marvel version. After all, in the new version the Punisher gets to kill off John Travolta! How cool is that?!? But this is precisely the type of movie I can’t take my wife to see because of its high “Guy Film” quotient. A movie scores high as a “Guy Film” if it contains the “Three Bs” — blood, bullets and boobs. And The Punisher delivers all three, but with only brief glimpses of the last, you pervert.

With everything going super-CGI for effects, it was very nice to see a down and dirty movie done with down and dirty effects. I think my favorite fight scene is with the Russian, but the best death comes at the end when John Travolta goes up in smoke. Did I mention that John Travolta dies in this movie? I did? Oh, so I did. I know that John Travolta played Terl in the craptastic Battlefield Earth movie, but I haven’t seen it. In the book Terl dies. Could either of you brave souls who watched Battlefield Earth let me know if John Travolta dies in that movie? This information might make it worth watching that polished turd.

I give The Punisher 2 and 1/2 stars and a Francis Ray Ottoman t-shirt.

House of Flying Daggers
This is the third Ziyi Zhang movie I have seen, the first two being Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you enjoyed either of these, you will like House of Flying Daggers, too. Set in ancient China, it is the story of two guard captains and their plan to infiltrate the rebels known as the Flying Daggers because of their skill with Chinese cooking. And if you believe that, I want to sell you your next car.

Like the other two movies with Ziyi, House of Flying Daggers is a very visual movie, and the colors are nicely done. This movie doesn’t have the same saturation of color as Hero does, but it still has some very impressive locations. My favorite location in the movie is the vibrant green bamboo forest, closely followed by the snowy end battle. Eighteen seconds of this film was snipped before it was shown in the United Kingdom. Three scenes of horses falling were removed to comply with animal cruelty laws in the UK, and they were enough to cause a very long IMDB thread on the subject of animal cruelty.

I give House of Flying Daggers 3 stars and a flying Ginsu knife that cuts both throats and ripe tomatoes paper thin!

I haven’t watched Osama yet, but I was intrigued after visiting the movie’s website. It’s the next movie to watch. Time to go make me some more popcorn. Mmm….

[And he can make it as garlicky as he likes, too. --ed.]

Addendum (4/26/2005): I see The Pirate King has been editing this article and putting her touches on it. :)

Ah! Living the life of a bachelor–well, at least for the rest of the week while the wife is off looking after her mother. This means being able to turn the radio up loud in the bathroom as I get ready for the day. This means calls from She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed while I’m in bed because she didn’t pay attention to the time zone difference. [THPBHPT. -TPK] This means eating whatever I want for dinner, like a yummy green curry with pork over fragrant jasmine rice. What? You thought it would be take-out and frozen pizzas? Hah! Just shows what you know about me. My brothers and I were well-taught by our mom, and we are all good cooks. If we went several days once on nothing but Orange Juliuses and popcorn, it was because we wanted to, not because it was the only thing we knew how to make. We did it because we were too busy playing Dungeons & Dragons to be bothered with making food. And the game is nothing like the Dungeons & Dragons movie, which brings me to the topic of this article–movies.

Since I’m all alone, I figured I’d write about the movies I have watched since the wife flew out: 50 First Dates, Hero, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, and I, Robot. This is your last warning if you don’t want the plots spoiled for you, so don’t come whining to me if I ruin the plots for you.

*Spoiler Warning*
(or as the wife says, “Arr! Thar be spoilers ahead!” She normally swings a cutlass around when she says that, so it’s not an idle warning.)

50 First Dates

This is a silly romance staring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, paring them up again as in the successful movie, The Wedding Singer. The hook in this movie is the way Barrymore’s character, Lucy, has short-term memory loss and can’t remember anything that has happened since her accident over a year before. Each day is Sunday and her Dad’s birthday for her, only to be forgotten again when she falls asleep that night. Enter Robbie, played by Sandler, who is smitten by her and has to win her over each day.

I wasn’t expecting too much from this movie, but I was pleasantly surprised and ended up liking it. Sure, it has more crude humor in it than I like, but there were some very funny and surprisingly touching scenes that made up for the coarser bits. And who knew that Rob Schneider could pull off playing a Hawaiian? However, I’m still not going to go out of my way to see a movie with Rob in it. Sorry, but Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo isn’t on my list of must-see movies.

I give 50 First Dates 2 1/2 stars out of four and a pineapple.

Hero

People have compared this film to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and while there are some similarities, Hero is a much more visual movie. Hero takes place in ancient China before it was unified. The hero in the movie is called Nameless and is ordered to come before the King of Qin because he was successful in defeating three assassins plotting against the king. Most of this movie is told as flashbacks as Nameless and the King talk about the three assassins. This movie is stunning in the use of red, blue, green, and white in the four flashbacks. Like CTHD, this film stars Zhang Ziyi, and it is a Wu Xia movie involving the same fantastic flying Chinese martial arts. In CTHD there was a visually arresting fight in the top of the trees, but Hero tops that scene with a fight over a mirror-smooth lake. No matter how much I trained, I’ve never danced on the water like they do. Nor could I run across it the way Chiun did in Remo Williams. He was incredible. “No, I am better than that!” Hush, Chiun. Besides, you’re Korean, and Hero is a Chinese movie.

I give Hero 3 stars and a *flip-ip-ip-ip-ip-ip* sound effect.

AVP: Alien vs. Predator

I had dreamed of a paring up of the Alien and Predator movies ever since the comic book cross-over came out. Oh, sorry. They are “graphic novels” now, I guess. I really liked Alien and Aliens, but the next two movies left me unimpressed. Predator is a great Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, but Predator 2 suffers from sequelitis. It did do a good job of foreshadowing AVP when the predator is tracked down to this ship, and the movie shows that hanging on the wall with the other victim skulls is an alien skull.

I liked the way they added this film into the Alien and Predator universe while still making it a working and worthwhile movie on its own. As plots go, this was a nicely done action flick, even if I did see the final gotcha coming long before it happened.

A good 2 1/2 stars and egg-opening willies.

I, Robot

Set in the near future, I, Robot tracks Will Smith as a cop who distrusts the robots that are everywhere. Based on the robot novels written by Isaac Asimov, this movie really feels like something written by the master storyteller. It has the themes of problem robots, human reactions to robots taking their place, and the nature of what makes an individual “human” that Asimov wove into his many robot-based short stories and novels. I, Robot works as a better translation from story to film than Bicentennial Man turned out to be, although that film also was pretty true to the feel of the short story from whence it came. Comparing the movie to the written word is like comparing, well, video to text. Both are successful in what they do best. I, Robot succeeds in presenting strong visual images, while the books have the depth and length that make reading so enjoyable for me.

Of all the movies, this was the one I was looking forward to seeing the most. As both a mystery and sci-fi movie, it succeeded well in both regards. At times like this I wish my honey were around to see the movie, so I could discuss it with her and see if she noticed the same things I did.

I, Robot racks up a solid 3 stars and a hankering for more from me.

In addition to watching these movies over the last few days, these four have another thing in common: I wanted to see them in theaters, but I never got around to dragging my cutie out to seeing them. I’ll have to drag her to a good movie when she gets back. But while she is gone, I still have Event Horizon, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and The Incredibles to be tossed into the DVD player.

Hmm… what to watch next?

Addendum (3/16/2005): Just finished watching Event Horizon. I got an email from TBPG, who summed up the movie in two words: “It blows.” And blow it did. I must admit that the worst part of the movie wasn’t the bad dialogue, or the bad plot, or the bad “hey, let’s gross ‘em out with gallons of blood” idea, but the really bad science.

Captain Midnight to Hollywood: Do not attempt to do a science fiction movie if you hear an inner voice telling you, “Increase the Flash Gordon noise and put more science stuff around!” It’s clear that you don’t have a clue.

Single case in point: they have to go into stasis because the ship will be doing 30 gravities. Since the trip was 57 days long and assuming constant acceleration of 30 gravities (g) for 57 days (1/2 speeding up, 1/2 slowing down), they would have traveled 1.1 trillion miles doing that sort of acceleration. To make this relevant to their trip to Neptune, a distance of 1.1 trillion miles would allow them to go to Neptune and back 200 times. Let’s scratch the 30g comment and assume that the ship can accelerate at a constant 1g. This puts Neptune 16-21 days away, depending on orbits. Bad science = bad movie! Argh! It’s enough to make me want to gouge out my eyes.

I like watching movies. If I could, I would go out and see a movie several times a week (assuming anything worth watching was in the theaters), or curl up under my blue blanket with a big bowl of garlic popcorn and pop in a DVD. My reading preference leans to science fiction with a nod to fantasy. About the only non-SF/F fiction reading I enjoy is Tom Clancy–I guess it is the military brat in me shining through. I bring up my reading preferences because I would like to see more well-thought-out science fiction movies make it to the big screen. In this day of fully computer-crafted movies like Shrek and Final Fantasy, it is possible to translate some of the classic sci-fi books into well-created movies.

I would love to see several Robert Heinlein books turned into good movies. Time for the Stars would be a great film. In this story, two telepathic twins are used to bridge the distance between Earth and outwardly-exploring starships. One twin stays home and ages, while the other stays young due to the relativistic effects of traveling close to the speed of light. Farmer in the Sky, Tunnel in the Sky, and Have Space Suit – Will Travel would all make excellent movies. If you have not read them already, go and do so now!

Of all the Heinlein novels and stories, only a few have ever been made into movies. Destination Moon came out in 1950, and it was regarded as one of the very first realistic movies about space. I watched it for the first time a few months ago, and I was surprised at how well it has aged over 50 years. Granted, we know much more about space after the success of the Apollo missions, yet there is very little to nit-pick. Project Moonbase came out in 1953 and ran just over an hour long. Originally at 47 minutes to fit an hour timeslot for TV, it was extended to its current length without Heinlein’s knowledge or consent and was quickly disavowed by him.

The Brain Eaters was released in 1956. It was so obviously based on Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters, yet produced without his consent, that Heinlein received an out-of-court monetary settlement and was able to pull his intellectual property from the movie. In 1994 Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters was released, this time with permission from Heinlein’s estate. While the first half of the film closely followed the novel, it departed significantly in the second half. This is one novel that could not be anything but an adults-only movie if it were done properly. Since the novel deals with alien parasites controlling people, the only way the characters could really verify someone was not controlled was to remove all clothing that could hide the parasite. Complete nudity, such as that discussed in the book, could not be part of a film with anything less than an R rating, if not NC-17. I do not foresee this story being filmed “by the book” any time soon.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Red Planet was released in 1994 as a three-part cartoon miniseries. This series only loosely follows the novel and is not really recommended by or for any Heinlein fan. I am curious to see if this series handles the gravity on Mars correctly, or skips over it since animating low-gravity effects may be difficult do properly by artists who are unused to it. Any of the novels and stories that take place off Earth would probably be achieved easiest through animation, whether drawn by hand or computer-assisted.

Starship Troopers has been made into a film three times now — once in 1989 as a Japanese production called Uchu no senshi, again in 2000 as a collection of half-hour CGI episodes, and worst of all, a big-budget movie in 1997 directed by Paul Verhoeven of Robocop fame. I usually call it “The Abomination.” While Verhoeven’s version had some of the flavor of the novel in his action scenes, the movie completely failed to understand the purpose of the novel. What can you expect from someone who never read the book?

Do not bother to see Starship Troopers unless you can enjoy the cool CGI bugs without noticing the incredibly stupid plot holes. I knew this would be a bad movie that would not follow the book even before I went to see it, but I claim temporary insanity due to my wife being out of state at the time. I noticed that the movie had a Fascistic flavor that was not in the book, which must have come from Verhoeven’s influence. In the movie, the military had become stupid and outright sadistic. Again, this had to have come from Verhoeven’s mistaken “vision” of a book he had never read. Christopher Weuve does a great job of dissecting this movie while comparing it to the book. If you’re interested, I strongly suggest that you read his “Thoughts on Starship Troopers. I will point out one last thing from “The Abomination” that pretty much sums up Verhoeven’s sloppy direction. In one news scene, “Mormon extremists” were shown in their city, “Fort Joe Smith,” with a temple-like central structure topped by a trumpet-blowing angel. First, no Mormon would refer to the first latter-day Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “Joe.” He is always referred to as “Joseph Smith” or “Joseph Smith, Jr.” Second, while every LDS temple has a trumpet-blowing angel on top, he is not female. This poor attention to detail conveys as much respect for faith as would a movie referring to Pope John Paul II as “Johnny P.”

Several new films are coming out in 2004 that I hope will be good. Spider-Man 2 looks very good from the previews I have seen, but I have a hard time calling that a real sci-fi movie. Speaking of sci-fi movies, I, Robot is scheduled for a summer release, and is based on Issac Asimov’s robot stories. Also slated for a summer release is The Chronicles of Riddick. This is a sequel to the earlier film Pitch Black, and judging from the imagery in the preview, it looks to be visually stunning. But films have to be more than visually stunning. Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers was also visually stunning — stupid and uninformed, sure, but it looked good as it went nowhere.