28 August 2012

Remembering Jerry Nelson: Robin the Frog Sings “Someone to Watch over Me”

In the beginning, there were five. The original Muppeteers: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz. They were the puppeteer team that carried the famous characters of The Muppet Show and in the Henson projects that followed. And, very importantly, each one played a member of the five-person band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem: Dr. Teeth (Henson), Sgt. Floyd Pepper (Nelson), Janice (Hunt), Zoot (Goelz), and Animal (Oz).

As of this week, there are only two left of this Majestic 5. Jerry Nelson died at age 78 on August 23. Now only Frank Oz and Dave Goelz remain.

Jim Henson’s death was a sudden, shattering blow when it came in May 1990. I was a junior in high school at the time, and was part of the first generation to grow up with Henson’s magic. I recall exactly where I was the moment I heard that Henson died. It was, I think, the first time I felt the mortality of celebrity and artists. It was painful, and my mind yelled out, while my voice spoke a bit softer: “No, no. Jim Henson can’t be dead. He can’t be dead.”

27 August 2012

Solomon Kane Coming to U.S. Theaters in September

Next month, we colonials will finally have the chance to view Solomon Kane, the film version of Robert E. Howard’s famous puritanical hero, in movie theaters. It has been a long sea voyage over the Atlantic: the movie, directed by Michael J. Bassett and starring James Purefoy in the title role, and co-starring Max von Sydow, Rachel Hurd-Wood, and the late Pete Postelthwaite, was released in England and other territories in 2009, but lacked a U.S. distributor. I almost gave up on the movie getting any kind of theatrical release, and expected it would one day find its way to the straight-to-DVD/Blu-ray market.

However, last week, Michael J. Bassett announced on his blog that the Weinstein Company’s new division, Radius Films, had acquired Solomon Kane and would release it first on premium video-on-demand (already available if you want to spring for it) and then give it a theatrical release on September 28th. So mark the date and sharpen your rapier, people of the New World.

No word yet on how wide a release this will be, but I expect it will be “limited”: select theaters in major US cities. As a Los Angeles resident, I’d confident I’ll have it within easy driving range (I live in one of the most heavily theater-populated places in the city, and I can even guess right now which theater it will show at.)

21 August 2012

I Go to the Summer Movies: The Expendables 2

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Two years ago I walked out of a theater showing The Expendables shaking my head in mild bewilderment. I don’t just have a high tolerance for ‘80s action cheese; I actively embrace it. I was nearly as excited about the release on Blu-ray last week of Death Wish 3 as I was about Jaws’s simultaneous hi-def debut. (Well, not really, but that’s my way of drawing your attention to what an over-the-top great/stupid movie we have in Death Wish 3.) But 2010’s The Expendables pushed none of my buttons: it was dull, the action flat, and Stallone seemed to think audiences would care about the tangled romantic lives of he and Jason Statham’s characters at the expense of the rest of the cast. Stallone also seemed ignorant of the premise’s goofy appeal and played too much of it straight. The film ended up wasting most of the names on the marquee and couldn’t live up to its modest goals. It was also badly tarted-up with occasional post-production blood to get an R rating after it was shot for PG-13. It was a misfire for what looked like a simple shot.

Yet it made enough money for them to take a second shot, and when I left the theater after seeing Expendables 2, I felt they hit the target. I won’t go so far as to say “they got it right,” because “right” isn’t something a movie like The Expendables 2 would even know how to define, but the folks aboard this go-round sure “got it better.” It’s the best dumb fun movie of the summer for fans of the old-school testosterone actions pics.

13 August 2012

I Go to the Summer Movies: The Bourne Legacy

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

The Bourne Legacy, Paramount’s attempt to extend their successful Jason Bourne franchise—based very loosely on the novels of Robert Ludlum—does give the impression of the first film of a trilogy. It feels like The Bourne Identity (2002), the inaugural movie of the Matt Damon trilogy: it’s a starting point with some excellent sections, but also the nagging sense that all the finest moments are yet to come. Overall, there is something slight about the enterprise, making it a minor disappointment for a film I hoped would salvage August. Will Expendables 2 be this year’s “August Surprise”? I never thought that might be a possibility at the beginning of the season.

Doug Liman directed The Bourne Identity, but it was Paul Greengrass sitting in the folding green chair for the next two films, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and it was his work that shoved the series into the high octane world of dazzling foot pursuits, close-quarter pummelings, shaky-cam car chases, and earnest people trying to get control of the world by walking fast while talking on cell phones. And audiences loved it. Those two films are the defining spy movies of the decade, easily besting the re-boot of James Bond (in the Jason Bourne mold, natch).

The Bourne Legacy, under the direction of Tony Gilroy, who wrote all three previous entries and made an impression as a director with Michael Clayton in 2007, collects the elements that made its predecessors work: whipcrack action with jittery cameras, raw global espionage, and top-level actors playing the gray-shaded manipulators attached to their phones and computer displays. What it doesn’t have is a compelling enough character story at the center to hold it together, or a resolution that satisfies beyond the need to signal a sequel.

07 August 2012

I Go to the Summer Movies: Total Recall (2012)

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

In a charming case of movie irony, the new Total Recall has already been mostly forgotten, even though it only came out on Friday. The Dark Knight Rises, in its third week, handily crushed the Len Wiseman-directed remake. I’m writing this on Tuesday, and it already feels as if the movie was never even released: it was a dream implant that never took, and the original memory of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven-Arnold Schwarzenegger summer blockbuster has already taken back all the cerebral space. Nonetheless, I’ll still perform this brain autopsy on Total Recall ’12 to see why no one bothered to show up except for people writing reviews.

If you were to pick the right approach to remaking 1990’s Total Recall—aside from simply not remaking it at all—you would want to try it “straight,” focusing in on the everyman aspect of a protagonist in a cyberpunk future who discovers that his whole life is a false memory implant, and in truth he’s a dangerous double-, possibly triple-, secret agent. It is, after all, a nifty SF-noir concept, delivered courtesy of the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and refashioned into a feature film concept by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, who also created the original screenplay for Alien.

And this re-make of Total Recall does that: it plays the movie as a straightforward science-fiction adventure film done in the current style. But… it was handed to Len Wisemen to direct. And he turned out the same film he always turns out: broadly competent but utterly dull, slick and superficial, ultimately disposable. Producer Neil Moritz, responsible for the “Fast and Furious” franchise, should probably shoulder a good part of the blame as well, because the by-the-numbers execution here is what he does best unless he gets a director who clicks with the material.