Saturday, September 02, 2006

The 100 Best DVD Commentaries

Do you bother to sit through audio commentaries which accompany most DVDs? I happened to run across a list of the 100 very best and the very worst via Whedonesque this week.

The site offers readers the chance to submit their favorites and not only are the movies listed very impressive, I'll probably grab several of the commentaries mentioned to check them out. Done well, the extra information is fascinating. Done badly, it can make you hate a movie.

The current top ten is lead by Whedon's "Serenity" which has a great commentary, and is followed by several from directors David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam in the top ten. I'd also rank Cronenberg's commentary for "History of Violence" as especially good for anyone interested in the creative process of moviemaking, and a very funny commentary from Val Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr and Shane Black on "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang." Also ranking on the list is the commentary for "Monty Python's Holy Grail" and it's almost as funny as the movie. And yes, Bruce Campbell's comments for "Evil Dead" are most entertaining.

Some of the worst?

That list includes both the old and new versions of "Rollerball" and one of the worst I ever had the misfortune to tune into, "Resident Evil". Milla Jovavich is deeply self-absorbed and mighty dumb. Their current number one is for the commentary on "Superfly," from a film professor. Mel Brooks makes the Worst list for "Spaceballs" and "Blazing Saddles:, and I'm curious to catch those now, just to see how bad Mel can be.

What would you put on the list of best and worst? Or do you ever bother to check commentaries?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Camera Obscura - What Makes A Movie Star?

There have been some losses in the legends of American entertainment this week, and not just the deaths of Glenn Ford or Joe Stefano. Tom Cruise found out he was just another product, and the manufacturing studios can replace him like any widget can be replaced.

Not that I think Cruise is a legend - except in his own mind. Getting dumped by Paramount simply shows that the studio distributors and producers are and always have been the real Power. Some say that Paula Fortunato, wife of Paramount's chief Sumner Redstone told her hubby Cruise had to go.

And while I can think of some great performances in a Cruise movie - the performances weren't his. It was Paul Newman in "Color of Money" or Cuba Gooding Jr in "Jerry Maguire" -- a movie that had a prophetic tagline: "Everybody loved him ... Everybody disappeared."

For real honest-to-Pete stardom and acting chops and legendary films, a worthwhile movie fan has to explore the work of Glenn Ford. When I was growing up, the man was the epitome of a square, a blase character. But some years back, thanks to Turner Classic Movies, I discovered he was one of the early pioneers of a more naturalistic, non-glamorous acting approach. He had a rather plain style, and was often quoted as saying he was just being himself onscreen.

I'll just mention 3 of the best of his movies as a place to start if you know little of him. First, he battles crime and Lee Marvin in the film noir thriller "The Big Heat." With a tense direction from Fritz Lang, Ford navigates a murky moral world with an understated skill, small details of all the characters make for a big movie.

Riots literally erupted in theatres when the rock and roll high school apocalypse of the 1950s, "The Blackboard Jungle" was released. It was all blamed on the use of "Rock Around The Clock" on the soundtrack -- but it pulsed to life a new twist in the American Dream -- the kids didn't care for the world they had been given. In fact it was Ford's son, Peter, who had the Bill Haley record and Ford who told producers to use the tune. It was a perfect choice. Ford here plays a former vet, unhappily making his way as a high school teacher and challenging not only the hopelessness of the teens, but of the adults too. It's another performance where we see a character taking mental challenges and bringing them to life.

Ford made many excellent Westerns - odd in that he wasn't an imposing figure. But I think that's what he used to his advantage - being ordinary and refusing defeat. At random, just look for "3:10 To Yuma", written by Elmore Leonard and directed by Delmer Daves. Here, Ford is the bad guy, and the fact that he could play a villain, a hero, a romantic comedy lead - that's a real legend and a real actor. If all you know of him was that he was Pa Kent in the 1978 "Superman" - just think of how good he was in a very short amount of screen time.

As for Joe Stefano - he wrote the script for a movie that changed all the rules for the American horror film - "Psycho." With simple scenes and complex characters under the brilliant hand of Alfred Hitchcock, Stefano had a tough time competing with his own success. His other major achievement was as writer and producer for the original "Outer Limits" -- still some of the best sci-fi ever made for television.

Enough of what was -- let's look at some potential greatness headed to theatres. Director Brian DePalma has taken the blood-curdling murder mystery known as the Black Dahlia, based on crime writer James Ellroy's book, and it looks fantastic. "The Black Dahlia", based on a real-life murder mystery from 194, hits the screen in mid-September.

Putting together DePalma, Ellroy and performers like Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Josh Hartnett -- that's a hefty amount of creative talent. DePalma and Ellroy should go together very, very well. Although the movie was oddly made in Bulgaria and not Hollywood, DePalma says in news reports his goal was just to capture the story and the style of Ellroy. That should work well. Ellroy's books are must reads. "The Big Nowhere" for example, is a sprawling masterpiece of crime fiction and helped launch his career.

I received an email this week about what may be one of the worst movies ever made, though there are some who love the Halloween made-for-TV movie called "The Worst Witch." One writer in particular can't stop hating the movie. But don't just take his word for it. Check out this video from the movie, with Tim Curry who has an evil tambourine he can't seem to find. Has anybody seen his tambourine???

Truly, truly awful stuff -- looks like it was made for a twelve cents on someone's camcorder in someone's basement ....but I'd bet Tim Curry can still get a movie made at Paramount if he wants.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


I've had a few random thoughts about this most indefinable forum of expression which has the name of Blog. For some who make them, it is a sort of daily diary with some consistency, for some it is a personal soapbox to slop out their half (and sometimes fully) baked theories of politics.

Mine here, fer instance, has veered from topic to topic, some local and some national or international, and the consistency issue is ... well, it's an issue.

Profundity, creativity and depravity are possible --- each dependent on the writer. After more than a year of writing for this one and over 40,000 reader viewings, I only know that this particular forum is not one I could or even want to limit to a singular style.

This blog, like the mind that directs these fingers fumbling at the keyboard, has a multitude of ideas, and at best, the lack of consistency is something of a constant. This post is just such an example.

These Blogs and their creators are too nebulous, too multi-faceted to nail down.

There is a single truth about these blogs which I truly and deeply appreciate - they provide the chance to hear and read and experience the worldviews and thoughts of hundreds of thousands of people without the restrictive censorship of an editor, a publisher, a broadcaster. Just about anyone can take the software and use it as they wish. True, some countries block access, and yet within such locations, many share the ways to circumvent the censorship.

And while it's on my mind - Blog --- sounds like one of those radioactive-insectoid-mad science horror movies from the early 1960s. There could be the original - "Blog!!!!" and then "Attack of the 50 Foot Blog!!!" or "Son of Blog!!!" or ... well, you get the idea.

And yes, there is one thing I do on a regular basis, and that is write about movies old and new, always on a Friday -- or sometimes a Saturday or a Wednesday. But usually once or maybe twice a week. (see what I mean about the consistency deal?)

Personal blogs, personal videos, and such have meant I spend less time finding a book to read - I have an entire world of creator-controlled content to peruse. And the magazines or newspapers I might have to seek out at a library I can find here on the World Wide Web. I've also found many thousands of books I could never find in a library here on the Web to read for free and whenever I wish to read it.

I just saw today that Google is offering a new such book service. But type in the title of most any book or screenplay or type of music and you can likely find it to read for free.

When I sometimes cynically ponder on the nature of humans and their precarious and unknowable future, I attempt to find an expression for it here. When I sometimes celebrate the utter silliness and joy of humans, again, I can do the silly dance right here.

My mother says I ramble too much here, and sometimes make these posts too long.

I disagree. Each post is a long or as short as it needs to be.

Here, in conclusion, are a few things I saw in the last day or so I enjoyed:

Tennessee Jed helps keep the lights on the Henley St. Bridge bright.

Brittney at NiT made me laugh silly with this captured pic.

I had fun debating the usefulness and nature of the Minutemen Border Patrol at Atomic Tumor.

I just found sci-fi writer/mathematician Rudy Rucker has a great online magazine called Flurb.

To this and to all I say - "Blog!!!"

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Is There Still A Terrorist Threat?

It is a truly challenging question presented in Foreign Affairs magazine, which I located via The Daily Docket.

"But if it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are so demonically competent, why have they not done it? Why have they not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security experts, could so easily be exploited?

One reasonable explanation is that almost no terrorists exist in the United States and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad. But this explanation is rarely offered."

The entire article is here.

Given that political pundits, such as Newt Gingrich and many others have been clamoring for us to call the War On Terror "World War 3" and some say call it "World War 4", and that herds of terrified bloggers whine endlessly about the evil residents of America (aka a Democrat, or worse, a Liberal) who aren't harboring lusts for the destruction of all non-Americans are secretly planning for the demise of the nation itself, then the question asked in the magazine deserves consideration: Is There Still A Terrorist Threat?

Are these constant fretting folk simply maneuvering for legislative authority and power based on the amount of generalized Fear they can manufacture?

John Mueller's essay is a fascinating essay - and raises critical questions. Sadly, I read blogs and see news reports constantly which seem deeply content to forever live in an American society shaded by color-coded threat alerts and a willingness to view much of the world as the enemy.

In such a world, what will constitute victory?

As for me, I harbor no illusions my thoughts and questions on this topic will elicit much beyond ill will, or perhaps among those who do think and question our national attitude then some agreement may be expressed. The real changes must occur within the minds and hearts of those who create policy and strategy to realistically address the presence, or absence, of terrorist threats.

Knox Pez Toy Falls Short

The owner of apparently ultra-rare 1982 Knoxville World's Fair Pez Dispenser did not get his hoped-for price of $100,000 on eBay.

The winning bid was a mere $32,205.

That is, if you consider paying $32,000 bucks for a candy holder a "winning" act.

Maybe Knoxville should consider transforming the Sunsphere into a gigantic Pez dispenser, so that the li'l golden sphere on top tilts back and shoots out maybe some bright orange footballs. Maybe the city could get as much as 30 grand too!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Saddam Forced to Watch South Park

Matt Stone, one of the creators of "South Park", says that he has some credible info that Saddam Hussein was shown the movie "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut".

The story says:

The former Iraqi leader is portrayed in the movie as a homosexual who is in a relationship with the devil, and Stone claims the prisoner is being forced to watch it "repeatedly" as he is held by US Marines.

The South Park movie was banned on release in Iraq seven years ago.

Stone reveals: "I have it on pretty good information from the Marines on detail in Iraq that they showed him the movie. That's really adding insult to injury. I bet that made him really happy."

I wonder if there is any which might most irritate the administration in Washington? Oh yeah, Rumsfeld says the daily news, manipulated by terrorists, makes him heartsick.

Geography Is A Crime

I know Colorado is on the whipping post for the recent Karr debacle, but I was reading an account today of what happened to a 7th grade Geography teacher who dared to show his students the flags of various countries which they were studying.

He was placed on leave, stopped from teaching.

School officials were fearful he might be violating a new state law which prohibits the display of flags from other countries.

According to the report: (and a hat-tip to Salem's Lots for this story)

"Eric Hamlin, in his first year at Carmody, said he regularly displays flags from different countries, rotating them out based on countries being studied.

He said that the first six weeks of school are devoted to discussing the "fundamentals of geography" and that the flags were randomly selected.

District officials are citing Colorado Revised Statute 18-11- 205. It says: "Any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies or institutions upon any state, county, municipal or other public building or adjacent grounds within this state commits a class 1 petty offense."

It says an exception to that law is "the display of any flag ... that is part of a temporary display of any instructional or historical materials not permanently affixed or attached to any part of the buildings ... ."

Thank goodness the school administrators are working hard to keep the students ignorant, fearful, and have an awareness of nothing more than than a few centimeters beyond their fingertips. Ooops!! Did I say centimenters? I should be banned for using such a term. Next thing you know, I'll use words which originated in Latin or French some other commie-islamic-monarchy.

Bebop Day

Today is the birthday of one Charlie Parker, born in 1920. According to today's edition of The Writer's Almanac, though he is credited with a type of jazz called bebop, he did not like to use that word for his style -- Charlie said "Let's not call it bebop," he said. "Let's just call it music."

The Almanac also features the following poem by Louis McKee, called "Second Chance". It's a fine bit of writing. Enjoy!

Second Chance

In my dream I return
to the place I went

wrong, and given this
chance to change
things, I go on

down the way I went

before. Even in sleep

I know there is only one go—

and it went well

the first time. Where

it didn't- well, it will

be good to see her again.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Hip-Deep in Dumb

Some days I struggle mightily to restrain childish rants against the presence of The Stupid in our humble, warming globe. There are even times when The Stupid comforts me, reminding me that for all of humanity's achievements, Stupid is a great equalizer. Usually though, I get all self-important and gaze down my nose at creation, and that can't be good.

Sometimes the word Stupid really isn't the best descriptive term which applies to events and people. With that in mind, I'm trying to temper my confusion and outrage with Loving Kindness. (cough) So here is a collection of warm and fuzzy hugs of concern and acceptance for those events and people who do or have done something of ..... let's just call it"Questionable Worth."

In a contest between Barry Manilow and Stephen Colbert, the award goes to Manilow?? (Okay, that goes beyond "questionable" and straight to Stupid) The following moment from Colbert and Emmy winner Jon Stewart helps ... a little bit anyway.

Next - does President Bush sincerely believe a few stops and a few bland words to mark the anniversary of the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina will raise his standings? He might as well start calling these useless speeches and visits the "Help Is Still On The Way Tour 2006", so that all he'll have to change from visit to visit is the year in which help, not yet presented, will soon be presented. An ABC story on this current event ends with a paragraph which reveals the real reason he has made a trip to the South:

Bush was ending the day in New Orleans, at dinner with state and local officials. On Wednesday, he is to appear at political fundraisers in Arkansas and Tennessee, although officials will be keeping an eye on [Tropical Storm] Ernesto in case it requires presidential attention."

If you wonder what usually has the President's attention as a hurricane approaches, it's clearing brush at his Texas farm.

Next - some young people in Vermont have begun making a "social statement" by going semi or totally naked in public. Now I have never been to Vermont, but I'm betting that the number of days when the temperature is suitable for being nude would be a small number. This story would really not have garnered my attention if it were not for the "interactive poll" which went with the story as published by the Boston Globe. The question??

Here ya go -- "Do you think nudity is a basic human right?"

The responses to this ridiculous question are fairly entertaining, true. But allow me to add a very serious note to the Boston Globe -- Under the clothes of every human on the planet, they are totally naked.

Perhaps the razor-sharp minds at the Globe could offer us some other must-read polls, like "Hands - Should They Be On The Ends of Your Arms?" (and a big thank you to Tits McGee for this link, and check out her new blog design too! She just always has the best dang links on the internets.)

An engineer friend of mine used to say that certain people were a "bubble left of plumb". A fine phrase indeed. He also used to say that he had days when he was "hip-deep in dumb." Having said that, the ramblings of Katherine Harris, as noted in a Knox Views post, indicate that dumb may have risen far above the hips and sits level at her lips:

Harris told the journalists "we have to have the faithful in government" because that is God's will. Separating religion and politics is "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers," she said."

Or, as in the fiasco of election vote counts and recounts overseen by Harris in Florida in 2000, God needed the help of some hanging chads to accomplish His Will. Mysterious Ways indeed.

And last but certainly not least, how about the D.A.'s office in Colorado who solved the JonBenet case ... or, well, they didn't solve it, they ... well, they made a celebrity! Thankfully the new revised Cracked magazine got that John Mark Karr's confession. An unidentified member of the D.A.'s office remarked on the error, "Hey, he was using the whole 3-name deal, you know, like Lee Harvey Oswald, and all the bad ones use that t-name dealie." Here's an excerpt from the Cracked confession:

They did catch up with me in Bangkok and I was consulting with doctors about getting a sex change, so I think it’s pretty clear I’m crazy."

Lawsuit Looms for Corker

A lawsuit from 2003 against GOP Senate candidate Bob Corker is finally headed to review in court. Alice has more on the story here. The hilarious aspect is that Corker's political's lackeys claim that the pesky Harold Ford Jr. is to blame for the lawsuit taking place prior to an election.

Hey, if Ford Jr can plan his political strategy that far ahead, then maybe he deserves to go to Washington.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is It Remembrance or 9-11 Porn?

CNN has announced that on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9-11, they will replay their entire coverage of that day. Viewers and online folks can access it via the seldom-used CNN feature called Pipeline for free that day.

The story says:

NEW YORK - CNN will mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks by replaying on the Internet the cable network's coverage of that day's events.

Viewers can watch how events unfolded starting at 8:30 a.m., minutes before the first reports of an airplane hitting the World Trade Center. The feed will run in real time, as the network showed it five years ago, until midnight.

For the day, CNN will make its online video service, CNN Pipeline, available for free. Normally, viewers pay $2.95 a month or $24.95 a year for four separate video feeds.

Online viewers will be able to watch live reports of memorial services through one of the feeds. So that viewers won't accidentally stumble upon graphic footage from 2001, the replay feed will be covered with a notice instructing users to click only if they want to watch.

"Our users may choose to view the stream of coverage from Sept. 11, 2001, or live coverage of memorial services at Ground Zero, or they may click through the numerous interactive elements on the site," said David Payne, senior vice president and general manager of "They have the power to determine the best way for them to remember the anniversary."

So is this just shameless marketing of CNN's Pipeline services? Will they sell new ads to new customers?

Is this Remembrance or Tragedy as Porn?

Sushi and Snakes On A Plane

Deep satisfaction followed a fierce consumption of eels and then going to see "Snakes On A Plane" as I did last night. My thanks to The Editor for an early b-day present. The eels of course were part of a massive and delicious sushi feast. But they are kind of snake-ish critters, so I felt a movie about a planeful of snakes was a most appropriate combo.

In more than a few ways, Snakes On A Plane plays like one of the many Airplane Disaster movies so common in the mid to late 1970s and even has a touch of the comedy "Airplane!" on board too. All it lacked was some child on board who is enroute to a hospital for some transplant accompanied by a nun playing a guitar. I mean, when David Koechner (sportscaster Champ Kind of "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy") is the pilot, there is comedy afoot.

The movie is by far the finest Drive-In style movie I've seen in many a year. Forget about plot logic or other elements of realism. This is an unadulterated Fun Time. Sam Jackson is having a blast here leading the Heroic Effort Against The Snakes, and more comedy was added with actor Kenan Thomas of Saturday Night Live.

But I must say that even the most crude Drive-In fodder still contains fascinating subtexts, and SOAP does as well. We live in times when an airplane flight is a source of nightmares - the passengers and crew of this flight mirror much in the real world. Flying is a test of courage. When flight today is accompanied by terrorism fears, its no wonder there is much interest in SOAP.

And as with the cheapest of horror movies (or the most expensive varities) a very real desire to be able to identify and battle the Evil that would destroy Us is based on everyday experiences. The famous line spoken by Jackson gives voice to a common frustration -- we are all damn sick and tired of the threats focused on flying. And in SOAP, we get a truly cathartic experience - locate the nasty threat, work together as best we can to aid each other and relentlessly battle that threat.

Just as in movies past where average folk battled the animalistic terrors of radioactivity, SOAP offers characters the opportunity to battle the animalistic jihadists - passengers must improvise to create a defense as scientists on the ground assist in discovering the origins of the snakes and obtaining all the many anti-venoms necessary to combat the poision in the air.

These creatures hide out in places we assume are safe, and in negotiating a path to restore power to the plane, Jackson must distinguish between the normal chaos of wires and the abnormal chaos of mean, quick-moving snakes.

Such sub-texts aside, the bottom line for SOAP is that it delivers exactly what it promises in the gory glory of Drive-In Movies Past. I laughed, I jumped, and had a fantastic time. Keep your costumed super or not-so-super heroes. SOAP has a vigorous joy in celebrating the success of the frustrated fliers of today.

One more bonus for the movie - stay through the credits to watch the music video for the song "Snakes On A Plane (Bring It)" by a group called Cobra Starship. The video for this 70s/80s mega-theme is here.

It is truly and hilariously awful - in a good way.