"State Of Play"
This BBC-produced miniseries is a taut, intelligent political thriller with fine acting contributions, notably from the venerable Bill Nighy, who plays an arch, politically savvy newspaper editor. A series of seemingly random killings appear to be linked by ties to a multinational oil conglomerate... and our heroes have to discover the truth of what happened, lest more lives be lost. If you like modern thrillers that aren't packed with overly-recognizable A-list Hollywood types, then this one's for you!
"Honey West: The Complete Series"
(20th Century Fox, 1965)
The 1965 detective-action series, "Honey West," starring Anne Francis, is an iconic pop culture touchstone for many retro enthusiasts, hipsters, and fans of old classic TV (including many viewers who were around to see these shows when they were first broadcast...) The series is stylish and lighthearted, features a fair amount of buxom T&A (generally accompanied by great Mod-era clothing) but it also packs enough of a punch to qualify as a legitimate action show. One of Aaron Spelling's earliest productions, and has an interesting relationship with his later hits, particularly "Charlie's Angels," which also featured vivacious female crime-fighters. Unlike "Charlie's Angels," however, "Honey West" didn't hinge solely on the perceived glamor of its female lead -- the stories are generally straight crime dramas, and the series' noirish feel is greatly enhanced by the black-and-white cinematography. It's not the greatest TV show ever, but it's fun and a great time capsule of 1960s pop culture. If you enjoy "Mannix," "The Avengers" or "Perry Mason," you might want to give this a spin as well.
(20th Century Fox, 1948)
A frantic film noir. Although Cornel Wilde had top billing, Richard Widmark steals the show as a twisted man driven mad with jealousy -- so mad that he frames his best friend in order to keep him from getting away with "the girl". She, of course, is an ice-cool Ida Lupino, in one of her best acting roles as Lily Stevens, a world-weary nightclub singer who comes between two friends, even though she initially resists both their advances. Although the film moves slowly, it has plenty of atmosphere and some tart dialogue, made even better by the laconic, offhand delivery. Lupino's character, especially, is one of the best cynics ever onscreen -- and she sings a lot, too! This was only Widmark's third feature film, and he's the one to watch, as he works his way up to some serious scenery chewing at the end. Although he became a familiar, frequently typecast character actor in the 1950s, it's fun to see him here in his fresh-faced youth. Both he and Lupino had a remarkable modernity to their work; in this film he reminded me quite a bit of Steve Buscemi, while Lupino is in a league all her own. Definitely worth checking out, particularly if you're an Ida Lupino fan.
"Play With Me Sesame: Furry Fun And Healthy Too"
(Genius Productions, 2008)
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it... We popped this exercise-oriented Sesame Street collection in, and my little girl (who still likes to say "hi" back when video characters say hello to her) jumped out of her chair when Bert and Grover asked her to do some calisthenics... "Look at me jump!" she chirped. The next day, after a swim class, she showed me how to do the breast stroke: "Ernie showed me how to do this on the Sesame Street video!" I kid you not. So, this educational DVD was a success, at least in this neck of the woods. I still have a hard time with the new voice for Ernie... but there was only one Jim Henson, so what are you gonna do? If you're looking for a fun kid's video that promotes good health, diet and exercise choices, this is a mighty fine option.
"Star Trek: The Original Series - The Complete Second Season (Remastered)"
So, the original 1960s Star Trek has been given the George Lucas treatment and had new special effects digitized in to make it look more modern and "realistic." The stars look starrier and there are more of them, the exterior shots show a more detailed model of the Enterprise, planets look more realistic as the starships circle them (with clouds and layered atmospheres) And, perhaps, if my eyes don't fail me, the non-special effects interior shots look like they may have had their color and contrast punched up a little (although I could be wrong about that...) Personally, I don't see the point -- if you're going to be a true, red-blooded Trekkie, you should fully enjoy the robust kitschiness of the original series, including loving how fake the space stuff looked (or rather, how much "of its time" it was: if that's what Rodenberry and Company actually created in the late '60s, then embrace it, enjoy it, celebrate it and appreciate it for the TV time capsule it is. It's wowed fans for over forty years, so why fix what ain't broken?) Also, the alterations are relatively minor: most of the action takes place in interior locations, or on outside lots, so the opportunities to goose up the special effects only take up a little screen time. (One exception is the extensive remake of the "Doomsday Machine" episode, which looks pretty cool. Also, they re-recorded the intro theme, doing away with that super-shrill female chorus -- an alteration that, again, I find a little questionable...)
Still, I suppose that all this is indicative of where this is all headed. It's a slippery slope, but doubtless some day all these old TV episodes will be completely overhauled and made into 3-D virtual reality adventures in which you can play any character you want (try not to be a red-shirt!) etc. etc. The march of technology will go on: Fred Astaire will dance with a vacuum cleaner, Han Solo won't shoot first, the Enterprise will no longer look like it was made of balsa wood. I suppose the real tipping point is whether or not The Powers That Be will still allow us to see and buy the original versions: I personally think that it's better to watch TV shows and movies the way they were originally released. Just because you can alter them, doesn't mean that you should. In this case, though, little harm is done. Kirk is still Kirk, Spock is still Spock, McCoy still says "He's dead, Jim!" in almost every episode. And the new planets do look cool. Beam me up, Scotty!
"The Bodyguard/Bodyguard 2"
Not to be confused with the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston schmaltzfest of the same name, this Thai action film is one one of countless gun-happy Asian action films that have come in the wake of John Woo's 1989 masterpiece, The Killer. But 2004's The Bodyguard, directed by Thai comedian Petchtai Wongkamlao, is a goofball gunfest that owes as much to teen parody flicks as to Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee. While the bullets fly, minor characters crack jokes and various assassins emerge as bullies and buffoons -- the film plays it straight for only a second or two, and the rapidly rising bodycount is only half the fun. In the first film, Bodyguard, Wongkamlao (an improbably nebbishy action hero) plays a personal bodyguard who fails to save the life of his billionaire employer, despite having annihilated the dozens of killers sent to attack. Disgraced, he is fired by the victim's son, a feckless playboy whose life is now in danger as bad guys try to take over his father's kazillion-dollar business empire. (Don't worry too much about the plot, though: it won't get in the way for long...) The comedy keeps getting more and more outrageous: in the first half of the film, Wongkamlao streaks naked through downtown Bangkok, shooting at his pursuers while holding a cereal bowl over his privates... and that's just the beginning of the film! In the 2007 sequel, we get the origins of the bodyguard character, in his younger role as a government secret agent uncovering corruption in the Thai record industry. (Again, don't worry too much about the plot...) Both films, in addition to being entertaining and goofy, give interesting glimpses into modern Thai society -- ornate temples and shiny skyscrapers set next to ramshackle slums and vast junkyards filled with bony, desperate rag-pickers. It's the kind of social commentary that works best because it isn't actually commentary at all -- it's just a simple presentation of life as it is in modern-day Southeast Asia. And meanwhile, the bullets fly, the bodies fall and the laughter rises...
"Project Runway - The Complete Second Season"
(Weinstein Company, 2005)
"Project Runway" is high-quality reality TV. This sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but it's true: this is a show where the results are based on talent, and on the contestant's ability to function in the real world of fashion. The demands made on them are extreme, but realistic, and winners rise or fall based on their actual ability, not on any of the flawed metrics of other reality shows (audience polls, political maneuvering by other contestants, etc.) It is a compelling, watchable show, packed with knowledgeable, helpful and unyielding judges, and a host of flawed, talented participants. Season Two finds the show's format being tinkered with and perfected -- the staging and editing are slicker, and some interesting twists are added to the strategic end of the elimination process. That being said, the pool of contestants is less compelling than in the rawer Season One, and their work is also less striking. Where the premiere season had several amazing designers with strong personal aesthetics, Season Two is marked by mundane, seat-of-the-pants design work. Other than the unlikeable, egotistical Santino Rice (who turns out to be more sympathetic towards the end) few of the designers seems to have a cohesive creative vision, and for weeks on end only a scarce handful of striking outfits appear. (This is pointed out by the show's major domo, Tim Gunn, when the talent pool is whittled down to six: he bluntly tells them that their work has been dull, and to kick it into gear.) On the other hand, the interpersonal dynamic between the designers, which takes a long time to gel, is ultimately fascinating. Most of the contestants are actually rather nice people, and other than in small, selfish moments, they are emotionally and materially supportive of each other, even helping a flustered friend finish some stitching when the clock starts to run out. This is something you don't often see in the back-biting world of "reality" games shows: humanity. And in many ways, it made the final elimination rounds much more poignant, since by and large, the most talented, most likable contestants were the ones left onscreen. While no Jay or Austin emerged from this season, it was still pretty fun. I'm hooked.
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