Wednesday, September 30, 2009


James Cameron directed the blockbuster Titanic, which was released on December 19, 1997 (same day as the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies and a week before Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown). Titanic became the biggest movie of all time and is unlikely to be toppled from its perch any time soon (If The Dark Knight couldn't do it...). Cameron disappeared for the next 12 years, releasing a couple of documentaries, creating Dark Angel and making a cameo in Entourage. Cameron's next feature is Avatar, which is being released as close to Titanic's 12th anniversary as possible, December 18. Avatar has also become the most expensive movie ever made, with a pre-release tab of $200+ million and with marketing costs included, could break $300 million.

Just from seeing a two minute preview, I already know I don't have to rush right out to see Avatar. It started with some impressive visuals of an alien world and sympathy-generating scenes of a wheelchair-bound hero-type. We see preparations to implant the hero's consciousness into an alien. He then wakes up inside the alien and we see...


As I see upwards of 100 movies a year, I may go see Avatar eventually but all I have to say is - borrowing from Cameron's 1986 classic Aliens - it better not be a bug hunt.

Inglourious Basterds

In a nod to Johnny Dangerously, I shall henceforth refer to Inglorious Basterds as Inglourious Bastages. It opened in August but I didn't see it the first time until September 7 due to poor cineplectic scheduling and the fear of a 2.5 hour movie. I saw it again on September 30 and I think I've digested it enough to form an opinion.

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Bastages is a Movie with a capital M. The movie-watching center of your brain will be fully engaged for every moment of the two hour and twenty-nine minute run time. Tarantino breaks rules, panders, teases and bodyslams reason to make a comprehensively entertaining movie. Heck, he even threw in the Wilhelm. Twice.

Bastages consists of five chapters that are related but not directly connected. The main characters are: Lt Aldo Rayne (Brad Pitt), leader of a brutal troop of Jewish-American soldiers (the titular "Bastages") operating as a guerrilla unit in occupied France; SS Maj Landa (Christph Waltz), "the Jew Hunter," a charming psychopath who turns up at the most inconvenient times; and Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent. I never heard of her, either), a young French Jew hiding in plain site operating a theater in Paris. There are dozens of other characters, all important, but those are the big three. I would expect all three to get Academy Award nominations next January, as well as a boatload for the movie as a whole.

The thing with a Tarantino Movie in general and Bastages in particular is that the story is told on a higher level than most movies. A conversation isn't just a conversation, it's a power struggle, a domination or a death sentence. A woman leaning against a wall becomes a sensuous mural. In every Tarantino Movie, there has been at least one scene where I found myself thinking that no one else watching the movie would ever understand the scene. Of course, everyone else does understand the scenes but that it would affect my brain in such a personal way when the Movie is images on a screen and noise from a loudspeaker just like every other movie that didn't affect me that way is astounding. If you love movies, no matter what genre is your favorite, you have to see Inglourious Bastages. And twice to get the whole effect.

It sounds like I'm in the Quentin Tarantino fan club but no. I don't care for the guy's bold, brash, egotistical public persona and if I met him in person, I'd probably find him annoying, but the guy makes great movies. Movies with a capital M. Other people make great movies, too, but no one else makes them like Tarantino.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Whiteout, Part 3

I went to see Whiteout again last night. Kate Beckinsale's eyes in the poster were still quite blue; in the movie, they were still dark brown. Kids these days.

I don't know what drew me back to Whiteout. It's a decent story, even a complex one, and told pretty well. It probably won't find its way into my DVD collection either, but I guess when I used to joke that I would "buy a ticket to watch Kate Beckinsale read the phone book," it wasn't so much of a joke.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I have a bit of a problem with the previews for the movie 2012, an Irwin Allenesque disaster thriller due out this Fall. The preview starts with narration stating that the world's oldest civilization, the Maya, predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012.

Time flipping out!

It is well documented that the Mayan calendar stops at the end of December 21, 2012, but reasonable people will deduce that it has more to do with a primitive counting system that can't go any farther, like the way Excel can only display 65,535 rows. The world will not end if I have 65,536 or more rows of data, nor will it end in 2012 because the Maya never mastered base-10. But to be on the safe side, I'm not shopping for a birthday present for my niece JJ that year until the day OF her birthday, December 22.

Next, since when are the Maya the world's oldest civilization? Not even close. The Maya rose in Central America about 300 CE. Several other civilizations in Central and South America had risen and fallen starting well over 2000 years earlier. In other parts of the world, the Sumerians, Egyptians and others had runs of several thousand years each before falling prior to the rise of the Maya. So let's not give the numerically challenged Maya too much credit, especially since they're going to cause the end of the world and all. I personally like the theory that a really ancient, completely forgotten civilization carved the Sphinx about 12,000 years ago. That would make the Maya relative pikers by comparison.

Also, the preview for 2012 is chock full of destruction-porn, with the White House, the Vatican, the Christ statue in Rio and a gazillion other landmarks getting blowed up real good. The plot - after the dust clears - is apparently Noah's Arc for the 21st century, with spaceships instead of boats (Hey, what's a cubit?). Waitaminute. A few thousand people in spaceships heading out to the stars. What are the odds that me or anyone I know will survive long enough to get on a space arc? Not much, so do I want to get enthused about seeing a movie that is predicting my own personal destruction? I'm not so sure.

Finally, 2012 was directed by Roland Emmerich, who directed Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. In both of those movies, I would have been among the billions of dearly departed. How many times am I gonna let this guy kill me? Maybe it is time to stand up to him! If not now, maybe in three years!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Whiteout, Part 1

I've been a fan of Kate Beckinsale since May 20, 1998 (Shooting Fish, if you must know, and recommended), and will seek out pretty much any movie she's in. I'm afraid Whiteout is pretty much any movie.

Kate plays the only US Marshal on Antarctica and finds herself investigating the first murder on the continent only days before she is scheduled to be rotated out. The plot unfurls nicely, the action is good and the movie never drags, but it never reeled me in, either. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination but it just never grabbed me. I'll recommend it for a home viewing sometime but there's no reason to seek it out in the theater.

And few people have. Whiteout opened yesterday. I watched it Saturday at noon. There were seven other people in the theater with me. That's not a sign of impending financial success. My guess is that Whiteout will disappear after two weeks.


Whiteout, Part 2

I have railed on about cynical marketing before, in person and in print, but I found a new low, at least on my personal scale. The poster for today's movie, Whiteout, features the lovely Kate Beckinsale amid a flurry of snow. Appropriate, as the movie is set in Antarctica. Notice the eyes. They're crystal blue.

Now take a glance at the second picture, Kate Beckinsale in a normal visage. With some movie stars, normal and glamorous are not mutually exclusive, but I digress. Notice the eyes. Those beautiful brown eyes. They stayed brown the entire movie. False advertising!

I could go on and on about the sociology of cultures around the world valuing light over dark in humans being since the dawn of civilization, and the implicit blue-eyed bias of Whiteout's marketing team, but instead, a rant about marketing.

Every movie gets a lobby poster and every poster is designed to help sell the movie, but most viewing decisions are made long before an audience member stands in the lobby and chooses a movie. Whiteout is an Antarctic thriller. Its target audience is 16-26 year-old males. And 16-26 year-old males aren't going to be swayed by the color of an actresses eyes in a poster. They will be swayed by the knowledge that she has breasts. Cynical of me to say, but true. And irony of ironies, Whiteout, a movie set in the coldest place on earth, gives us one scene with Kate Beckinsale in her underwear. Why didn't they put that on the poster?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dollhouse Indoctrination

I love the TV series Dollhouse. It had a twelve episode run on Fox from Febuary - May 2009 and will begin its second season on September 25. Its ratings weren't great so I'm trying to drum up new viewers in order to keep the show on the air. Toward that end, I've prepared three posts below that will help bring you aboard. Please read only the one that applies to you - there are spoilers galore and the last thing I want to do is reduce your enjoyment of the program.

Why Dollhouse? Well, it is a well-done science fiction program. As with much great science fiction, it's heavy on the story and light on the science. Great action, great intrigue, great eye candy. Then, there's Joss Whedon.

Joss Whedon is a TV writer and script doctor best known for the movies Toy Story and Alien Resurrection, in addition to the TV shows he created, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. I've already written extensively about Firefly and its feature offshoot, Serenity. I hold Buffy and Angel in high esteem, especially the latter season episodes. Whedon took these TV dramas where no TV show had ever gone, including perfecting the "Big Bad" story arc. The Big Bad is where a larger story is told over the course of a season, while the individual episodes still stand alone, for the most part. If Angel and Buffy had gotten yanked early in their runs, we would have missed out on some great stories.

I hope to avoid that fate for Dollhouse. Like many, I found Buffy and Angel after they had ended their network runs. I seriously want to see where Whedon will take Echo and the others with Dollhouse. It barely got renewed for a second season, getting just a 13 episode order and a big budget cut. By drumming up more support, maybe we can get a full 22-episode season and, dare to dream, a third season ("And beyond!" Toy Story joke). Therefore, I have created the indoctrination sessions you see below. Find the one that applies to you and it will help get you in front of the TV for the second season of Dollhouse.

Never Seen Dollhouse? Have Access to the Season One Discs?

Watch them. The new season begins September 25. There are only 12 episodes in season one so getting through them in the next two weeks shouldn't be too hard. The DVDs contain a bunch of special features, including an unaired pilot and an unaired 13th episode, but you can skip the unaired episodes. The original pilot was chopped up and incorporated into the first four aired eps, and ep 13 was never intended to air so the producers got a little wild with it. Neither one fits into the arc of the stories so if you're pressed for time, just watch the 12 aired episodes.

Since I've convinced you to watch the DVDs, I will give you only the briefest of primers. Dollhouse is a serial. Although there are individual stories each week and one-time-only characters, part of each episode is used to push the series to the twelfth episode. The tension will build - trust me - until the final episode when all threads of the season come together for a heart-stopping finish. The premise sounds simple - a company rents out people with customized personalities to order. When they're not out on engagements, the "dolls" have their memories wiped clean. They become blank slates.

There are a lot of characters at first. Echo is the main one - she'll be easy to keep track of. Boyd is her handler. He's kind of like us - the external viewer, a skeptical outsider. Miss Dewitt runs the place and is as complicated as as a doll is simple - it will take a few episodes to get the hang of her character. Paul the FBI guy is the relentless pursuer. Keep an eye on him - he is the force that drives much of the ongoing activity in each of the episodes. The rest of them - the other dolls, the tech guy, the security chief, the neighbor, the doctor with scars will all come into focus after 4-5 episodes.

It will be a little odd at first to identify with a character who has no personality - in this case, wiped after each engagement, but Dollhouse is not the first show on TV to use personality-free characters. Think of Mission: Impossible where you never saw any of the spies outside of a mission. We knew nothing about them personally; they were on screen only to perform the mission and get out. How about the first few seasons of CSI? The characters had only the most perfunctory personalities. They existed only to investigate the crime scene or run lab tests. In Dollhouse, it's a little more complex, but a doll's initial function is to be imprinted with other people's personalities in order to do an engagement. The stories get good usually when something goes wrong.

If you read this post because you intend to watch season one, DO NOT READ THE POSTS BELOW. THEY CONTAIN SPOILERS. Big spoilers.

Caught Some or All of Season One but Aren't Hooked?

I feel bad for you. You tuned in but didn't like it or didn't catch on. Well, some shows aren't for everybody. I hope you start watching season two. If you only caught a few episodes, some things didn't make sense to you because Dollhouse is a serial. Every episode builds on the previous one.

I could probably write 1000 words on each episode to help you understand the show better but I think we'll take the easy way out. If you have questions on the show or any particular episode, send me a comment or stop me in the hall and I'll help you through it. I want you to get hooked - I want you to share my addiction and I'll do whatever I can to get you there.

Want to Catch the Dollhouse Wave but Can't or Won't Watch Season One?

The new season starts on September 25, which for some is coming very quickly. I'm going to help you by summarizing the first season. After reading this, you'll be able to watch season two and follow along reasonably well.


The Dollhouse is a business that sells a service. If you need a human being, for pretty much any reason, they will create a profile of a complete human being, skills, memories and all, and imprint that on to a person whose memories have been wiped (and stored - dolls are reconstituted at the end of their five-year term). Echo, Sierra and Victor are the three main dolls the series follows. The dollhouse is a luxurious place where the dolls live when they are wiped. It's calm and soothing.

Echo, the beautiful brunette doll, gets wiped at the end of every engagement, but we the viewers know that she retains knowledge from each personality after being wiped. There was also an episode where we learned part of Echo's real-life backstory - that's why some people know her as Caroline.

It takes a lot of people to support this business. There's Miss Dewitt, the glamorous, very British CEO; the annoying tech guy who has no inner-censor so he says everything on his mind; the tech assistant; and a timid doctor with scars on her face. There are also a bunch of people running around in the background, but you can think of them as people on Star Trek wearing red uniforms (The expendable ones who get killed first when Kirk beams to a new planet).

Erasing people's minds can't be legal, so there is an FBI agent tracking them down. Special Agent Paul Ballard is being fed disinformation by the dollhouse, but is also getting accurate info from someone in the dollhouse and a rogue doll known as Alpha. Ballard is actually getting played by all three but he nonetheless finds the dollhouse in episode 11. After pursuing the people who run the dollhouse as criminals, the tables turn and he is put into a position to protect the dolls in the end.

Dominick, the head of security for the dollhouse, turns out to be a spy for the NSA. Up until he was exposed, he played the part very well. It's never stated, but he is probably the person who fed info to Ballard. I have a problem with that twist - the NSA knew about the dollhouse but the FBI didn't? Never mind.

Boyd started out as Echo's handler. He is everyman, the skeptical observer, but deeply loyal to Echo. He gets promoted to chief of security near the end of the season but he never loses his bond with Echo. I consider him to be the inscrutable rock of the show.

From episode one, a rogue doll named Alpha is mentioned. Before the series started, he went on a rampage and killed a bunch of people in the dollhouse, maimed the doctor and escaped. Ever since, he's been angling back for some reason, including feeding information to the FBI guy. In the final episode, we find out why. He's a psycho with good taste - he's got the hots for Echo. Alpha is psycho because he was accidentally programmed with over 40 imprints - Eve, with her three personalities or Sybil with her 16, have nothing on Alpha. He kidnaps Echo and programs her with 38 imprints so he'll have an equally psycho girlfriend. Echo, though, is stronger and fights back. The glitch that allows her to remember things after being wiped probably has something to do with it. Ballard ends up saving the day and, with his FBI career over, begins a voyage from within the belly of the beast.

Tune in on September 25 and every Friday thereafter.

If You're a Guy and Have No Interest in Watching Dollhouse


Not Interested in Dollhouse at All?

I just can't talk to you right now.

Coming to a Theater Near Me

I read in the Trib that there is an urban revitalization project under construction in St Louis Park that includes a theater. Always in the market for more theater choices, I decided to check it out.

The project is just off 394 at Xenia-Park Place. There is a brand-spanking-new Rainbow on the left (east) side. The theater is one block south and stands quite large above the retail shops at ground level. While the Rainbow is now open, the theater is still under construction. They are probably aiming for a Thanksgiving opening.

The theater is owned by Kerasotes, which operates in Minnesota under the Showplace name. I've been to the Showplace theater in Inver Grove Heights a few times. It's a nice place with a decent staff, but the price was a bit higher than average for my usual haunts.

The new theater is about 4.5 miles from my house. Weekend matinees won't be a problem, but getting there after work could be tough. It's only about 3-3.5 miles from the office but getting onto 394 can be difficult between 4-5:00, not to mention that Xenia-Park Place is always congested, so that could slow a person down as well. Willow Creek is still the best bet for after-work viewing, as it's only a brisk three-minute walk away. My current back-up theater is AMC in Maple Grove, a 12-minute weekend drive away. I never go there during the week.

The design of the new theater gives me pause. Being an urban theater, parking is in a ramp. I couldn't tell if the ramp is free or pay, but I'm not inclined to pay for parking without a good reason. A ramp also complicates how long it might take to get inside. As a just-in-time kinda guy, having to drive up a few levels looking for an open spot then hoofing it to the box office may induce lateness, which is a deal killer. Leave a little earlier, you say? Yeah, right.

Time will tell if the new theater gets much of my business. Willow Creek is still a decent primary theater, but they usually only carry the mass-market fare, while I like a good art-house or limited-run picture now and again. Willow Creek also cycles movies in and out a little faster than I like. It's sometimes difficult to get to a movie that only runs for a week or two, what with my busy schedule of procrastination and all.

I'll write a post about the new theater after it opens.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Gamer isn't going to win any awards but it's a fairly harmless way to spend 85 minutes. It's essentially a post-apocalyptic grit fest, with a prisoner - wrongly convicted, of course - being used as a pawn in a video game. Cross that with a "Sci Fi for Dummies" story about the corruption of business and the ethics of removing human free will and you've got the movie. It goes over the top - almost constantly - but moves so quickly you won't mind.

You may have noticed I use "-porn" as a suffix to describe a trait taken to excess for gratuitous purposes, such as explosion-porn, shootout-porn, car chase-porn and dismemberment-porn. Gamer is so gratuitous that I lost track of all the "-porn" adjectives I could use to describe the movie. The four above are just the primary ones. You want gratuitous? In one scene, the hero does one of those neck-breaking moves - putting the opponent into a headlock and twisting the head - twice! OK, the bad guy - a death row inmate - had survived a hanging once before so the hero had to be sure, but still.

Gamer liberally cribs from other movies, The Running Man much of the time, Death Race for a while, Road House even. I might have been a little less harsh on the film but near the end, the villain - yes, an overly talkative villain who could easily have killed the hero when he had the chance - does a musical routine to the tune of "I've Got You Under My Skin." Entirely surreal and inappropriate. Nonetheless, because of its brisk pacing, simple plot, and Gerard Butler finally suppressing his Scottish accent, Gamer gets a mild recommendation as a popcorn movie.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Extract is my kind of comedy. Nothing gross or scatological. It's a laugh-out-loud comedy exploiting human foibles.

A couple of problems, though.

-Mila Kunis gets second billing for what is essentially a small but pivotal role. I guess they wanted to capitalize on last year's hit, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Fine, but she's only in the movie a fraction of the time.

-The commercials and previews all stress that Extract is from the maker of Office Space. True enough, but it's not Office Space. Completely different animal. If you're expecting Office Space II, as the commercials imply, you will be disappointed. Extract is plenty good but in a completely different way. Haven't seen Office Space and don't know what I'm talking about? You're missing out. Rent it! Rent it now!

-Kristen Wiig is a comedic force of nature and incredibly versatile, as evidenced by Saturday Night Live and roles in Ghost Town, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up, but is mainly playing it straight here. She's good and all, but you might expect her to break out the wacky, which she only does near the end.