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2005/03/18

Terror of the (Plastic Mannequin) Autons

The first installment of the new Doctor Who serial has leaked -- perhaps illicitly, perhaps as a marketing ploy -- to the file-sharing networks of the world. 350 megs of Whovian goodness in high-quality .avi.

The last appearance of the Doctor on TV was that wretched TV movie from the mid-90s. That was done for the Fox network, which at the time thought all Sci-Fi shows needed to be dark and moody like The X-Files. Thankfully the Beeb is having none of that; the first episode, "Rose", would fit right in with the original series. There's no reimagining the series, a la Battlestar Galactica, no attempts at hip, Whedonesque dialogue. Just the good ol' Doctor, a sonic screwdrive, the TARDIS, and a hot young thang battling the Monster of the Week -- old fashioned Autons.

Okay, so the special FX are a lot cooler -- though still preserving the series' inherent campiness -- the cameraman knows how to take the camera off the tripod, and the sets don't look like cardboard. The new TARDIS interior is particularly spectucular -- perhaps too much so; it feels like a high tech machine, not a contraption held together by bailing wire and putty.

But these changes are superficial; the storytelling is still classic Who, and the characters are every bit as fun as ever.

Every actor who takes up the part has to put his own spin on it while keeping to the basic character, and Ecclestone makes inspired choices. I had one moment of doubt when he first appeared, grabbing the titular Rose and telling her to run, and I thought, "Oh, great, he's going to play it gruff and tough like his character in 28 Days Later," but that quickly passes as starts making quips. His Doctor is as frenetic and irreverent as Tom Baker's, yet plays things as close to the chest as McCoy or Hartnell (though without their brusqueness or inability to suffer fools; this is the most fun the Doctor's been since Douglas Adams was script editor).

The oddest thing about the episode, at least for long-time viewers, is that it's told entirely from Rose's POV. Using her as the gatekeeper for introducing the Doctor to new viewers is a wise move, reminiscent of Ian and Barbara's role in "The Unearthly Child," but even so, I hope it doesn't become a regular part of the series. While Rose is an interesting Companion so far, watching her is no substitute for the Doctor outwitting everyone who crosses his path.

The 21st Century does seem to've changed one thing about the series: Rose isn't a damsel in distress who runs screaming at the first sight of a monster -- in fact, she's rather upset when her boyfriend goes knock-kneed after seeing the Auton controller. And on top of that, Rose is the one who saves the day at the end, putting her in the elite company of Ace and Leela as a Companion who can handle things for herself.

Too bad she has to be blonde.

2005/03/13

Holy Lego Cad Animation, Batman!

You know what's really sad? This is better than the last two real Batman films. (WARNING: Big Ass Quicktime file!)

2005/03/10

The WB - Sodomizing My Childhood One Character at a Time ... With Razor Blades

Have you heard about Loonatics, Warner Brothers new X-treme cartoon series? It promises Bugs Bunny -- I'm sorry, Buzz Bunny, like you've never seen him before, as a dark avenger fighting crime in a dark future world.




Yeah, I know, Teen Titans right.

Well anyways, go here for a sneak peak of the show.

Well, not really.

I'd watch the show if it was like that.

2005/03/08

O Captain! My Captain

Struck down by a bolt of lightning from the clear blue sky, Optimus Prime has died of prostate cancer.

Given that Prime was also killed in the mid-21st Century by Megatron, this raises serious metaphysical questions about the space-time continuum. Not to mention robot wee-wees.

2005/03/07

Welcome to the High Tech World of 1989

There's something geekily delicious about this site, the home for Galactic Trader, an old Elite clone. Now you can download a modern port of the game (a port of a clone?), or play via a Java applet, but the coolest option, in a totally retro way, is to play via telnet. It's like stepping into a timewarp to the days when websites all had battleship grey backgrounds and images took ten minutes to load. Hell, it's a timewarp to a time when websites were sfnal.

(Note that the original Elite is also available for download, but the only PC-native version is so old you actually have to underclock your system.)

2005/03/05

Katie Hepburn and the Big Cats

Whatever happened to the American funny movie? Where are the Keatons and Marxs of modern cinema. Hell, I'd settle for an Abbott and Costello. But instead we get Jason Biggs in soulless retreads of Porky's, and Ben Stiller, who must've sold his first-born to Satan, because, frankly, there's no way Meet the Fockers grossed $275 million without help from below. Even our surviving comic geniuses have been hit by the Brain Eater -- witness Eddie Murphy's recent career, or Kevin Smith's ever more desperate attempts at mainstream movie-making.

It's not like there aren't funny comedians out there -- David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, Dave Chapelle, Matt Stone and Trey Parker -- but they aren't making movies, or if they are, they're relegated to bit parts.

Even that supposed modern masterpiece, Office Space, barely rises to the level of amusing let alone funny.

All right, so there is Mike White, but one man can't make up for unfunniness of modern movies.

Which is why I'm ecstatic over Warner's release (fuckin' finally!) of Bringing up Baby, my second favorite comedy of all time, just slightly behind Doctor Strangelove. Cary Grant in a frilly negligee ("Because I just went gay all of a sudden!"), Katharine Hepburn as a vapid ditz ("'He's three years old, gentle as a kitten, and likes dogs.' I wonder whether Mark means that he eats dogs or is fond of them? Mark can be so vague sometimes."), and not one but two leopards ("There is a leopard on your roof and it's my leopard and I have to get it and to get it I have to sing.") -- comic gold!

People often think old films are slow and plodding, but Baby is more frenetic than Robin Williams on coke and twice as funny. The plot centers on stuffed-shirt paleontologist David Huxley (Grant) and Susan Vance (Hepburn), a heiress with way too much time on her hands. They meet one day on a golf-course while Huxley's trying to finagle a million dollar grant from a lawyer named Peabody. Huxley and Susan get their balls mixed up and wackiness ensues. And ensues. And continues ensuing until Huxley, much to his own confusion, finds himself helping Susan take a leopard to her Aunt Elizabeth in Connecticut.

And then things kick into overdrive. Not to give too much away, but there's cross-dressing, mistaken identities, a stolen dinosaur bone, and a second, man-hungry leopard improbably loose in the New England woods.

The strength of the film isn't the plot, which is convoluted and relies too much on coincidence, but rather the performances. Grant plays Huxley so straight that you'd think Euclid had seen this movie when he defined the line. (Reportedly, Christopher Reeves based his Clark Kent on Huxley.) Although he's the straightman in the film, he gets many of the best laughs as he's put in ever more humiliating situations. Perhaps the biggest flaw of the film is that he never really snaps -- his character really needs catharsis, but the closest he gets is the last scene when he tells Susan how he feels about her.

Hepburn's Susan, however, is the lynchpin of the movie. She's airheaded without being stupid, conniving without malice, and never so exacerbating that the audience loses sympathy for her. Katie's performance is so perfectly balanced that it's hard to imagine anyone else pulling it off.

And certainly no actress in the history of cinema can equal her laugh when she finds out Huxley's engaged.

For inexplicable reasons, this is the first DVD release of the film. Warners did a great job with the film itself -- the sound is about as good as you can get with a 67 year old mono recording, and the picture is awe-inspiring if not quite perfect -- there was at least one moment when it looked like a couple frames were missing.

The extras are a little disappointing. On the first disc we get a commentary from Peter Bogdanovich, who at times seems ill-prepared. He has notes from interviews he conducted with director Howard Hawks, most of which is interesting, but that only fills a small portion of the movie. Most of the track sounds like something off a Simpsons DVD, with Bogdanovich pointing out his favorite jokes and laughing at them, even while missing interesting tidbits.

For example, in one scene Susan tells a police officer that Huxley's a gangster named "Jerry the Nipper" -- which happens to be the nickname of Grant's character in The Awful Truth. Huxley responds,

    Officer, she's making it up from motion pictures she's seen!
Now this is precisely the sort of in-joke that commentaries are for. So what does Bogdanovich say about it? He points out that "motion pictures" is funnier than "movies".

The second disc is perfectly fine, except for the fact that none of the features are specific to the film. We get two docus, one on Grant and one on Hawks, both of which are career retrospectives that spend no more time on Baby than any other movie -- in fact, the Hawks docu barely mentions it. Again, there's nothing wrong with either documentary, but they could just as easily go with Monkey Business or I Was a Male War Bride.

We also get two period shorts of the sort that might've played with Baby on its initial run. One is a Loony Tunes cartoon, "A Star is Hatched". This is much better than the modern "Carrotblanca" on the Casablanca DVD, but apart from the main character doing a Katie Hepburn impression at one point, Warners could've picked any other cartoon from that year. The second short is likewise unrelated to the film, but I will give the DVD producers credit for picking something so delightfully absurd as "Campus Cinderella".

It's the story of Darford, a small liberal arts college with a suck-ass basketball team. After the team loses to their arch-rivals one time too many, the Board of Regents threatens to fire the Dean unless he can recruit a promising young high school player (played by an actor in his late twenties -- apparently the film was produced by a young Aaron Spelling).

Luckily for the Dean, a gay trumpet player happened to overhear the whole conversation and hatches a scheme to get the kid to enroll at the college. See, the trumpet-player is being hounded by this annoying fag-hag, so he convinces her this high school kid is raging gay. She falls for it, and a couple BJs later the kid's ready to enroll at Darford. But the kid's dad is upset that he's not getting a hummer out of it, so he sends his son to arch rival Lorimer. Well, a lap-dance from the fag-hag convinces the kid to ignore his father and pay his own way through school as a male prostitute, much to the delight of Our Hero, the trumpet player.

But then comes the big game between Lorimer and Darford, and the kid's dad, who's been out of the country and doesn't know which school his son's going to, shows up to watch. Fearing this'll ruin the game, the trumpet player traps the dad in a broom-closet and violently sodomizes him until he starts shouting, "Darford yeah!"

The game ends in victory for Darford, and the whole school goes off to have an orgy on the Commons.

Okay, maybe that's not a literal summary, but I swear the subtext is there.