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By Christopher Stipp November 25, 2005

The Internet: Now Available in More Than One Country, Eh

First let me give a warm salutation to my peeps north of the border and who reminded me that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving like us Yanks.

No, just like the crazy Canucks you are, your government decided that the second MONDAY of October was good enough to celebrate this most holy of holies with regard to mass consumption. Hey, our public servants decided Thursday was good enough to be a holiday but, in so doing, made it possible for people to take an extended holiday on Friday, thus making it a three-day work week. Bureaucracy never worked so well if you ask me.

That said, though, I think it’s our northern neighbors who ought to be commended on producing one of the most gregarious comedic talents who managed to give us in the US the film PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES. For as long as I live here in this space you will always hear me extolling this film as the end all, be all, of all Thanksgiving films. John Candy, coming out of SCTV, can’t do anything right for the first two-thirds of this movie but it’s the last third that really makes this a perennial. classic to be watched around this time of year. I can’t speak any higher of this movie, I wish I could be objective about it’s shortcomings, but it is above reproach in my estimation and for good reason. When you have a scene that has Steve Martin employing multiple variations of the word “fuck,” and is directing his vehemence at Edie McClurg, you’ve got something warm and special. By the time this goes to e-print I will hopefully will have indulged my PLANES fix with more than a few viewings.

Along the same lines, and in the same funny vein, I have to offer my first gift suggestion for the holiday season: The Kids In The Hall Season 3 DVD set. Just released on the market, this set not only contains all the uncensored episodes from this season but also includes bonus material that makes me long for the days when these guys were causing ripples in the comedic landscape. Five years this show was on. They were creating original, fresh and oddly wonderful sketch comedy and they had all the promise to continue their dominance for as long as they damn well wanted. The solace I take in watching all these episodes again is knowing that Scott Thompson went on to great things in The Larry Sanders Show, Mark McKinney joined Saturday Night Live for a bit, Kevin McDonald supplied voice talent for Disney’s LILO AND STITCH and Invader Zim, Bruce McCulloch has popped up in solid comedies like DICK and STEALING HARVARD (Alright, STEALING HARVARD isn’t the best example…) and Dave Foley has just dominated with his successful stints on Newsradio and has also done work for the more successful ex-Disney property, Pixar, in his portrayal of Flick the ant in A BUG’S LIFE. What I think is important to stress here is that the KITH really represent what Monty Python meant to those who came before us as television viewers. The slam that KITH is simply a poor man’s Monty is not only false it borders on ignorance. The whole host of characters that were created through their imaginations and the supposition that comedy can be smart, scatological and absurd at the same time made for laughs that were earned, not pandered for. I can only imagine what path my own warped sense of comedy would’ve taken had I not made it a point to record every single KITH episode on tape, back when TiVo wasn’t a glorious option, and watched every one with the fervent delight that there was always something laugh-out-loud funny about every episode. Broadway Video was kind enough to send me a copy of this set and I can tell you that nostalgia wafted through the air the entire time I was glued to my chair re-watching these episodes. Make a fan happy this holiday season and get a television box set someone can actually get replay value out of. Screw Seinfeld and indulge in some laughs that could only come out of the Kids.

MUNICH (2005) Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, Mathieu Kassovitz, Hanns Zischler, Ciar án Hinds
Release: December 23, 2005
Synopsis: MUNICH recounts the dramatic story of the secret Israeli squad assigned to track down and assassinate 11 Palestinians believed to have planned the 1972 Munich massacre — and the personal toll this mission of revenge takes on the team and the man who led it. Eric Bana stars as the Mossad agent charged with leading the band of specialists brought together for this operation. Inspired by actual events, the narrative is based on a number of sources, including the recollections of some who participated in the events themselves.
View Trailer:
* Medium (QuickTime)

Prognosis: Border line positive. I think this is a weak way to open the movie.

One of the things which I took away from watching ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER, a beautifully shot documentary about the real events which transpired in Germany, was a real sense of understanding. Up until the documentary came out I was only casually knowledgeable of the terrorist action which took the lives of a select few athletes, chosen soley because of their nationality, and why these things happened.

To be sure, growing up, I don’t think I was really taught the real reasons these kinds of events happened in the world, systematic tit for tat, xenophobia masking the war between peoples who true aim is the extermination of the other, but I think ONE DAY distilled all these things in a way that was informative, poignant and riveting.

So why on God’s green earth was this movie necessary? Is it too much to have Hollywood leave their grubby hands off of properties like this, I am also referring to the uncontrollable urges by one studio to spooge all over the already-perfect DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS, or historical testaments to the actual human condition which was represented just fine, thank you very much, in documentary form? No, it’s not too much at all.

I think that’s why I was a little torqued by the lazy construction of the trailer for this movie by setting things up with actual file footage. I get it, though, about why you’d want to do this, though. It adds immediacy to the movie, gives it a little movie-of-the-week, torn from the headlines, feel. People love that “Based on a True Story” jazz and it’s being played just as coolly, man.

The first hint of Speilberg’s flick comes in as some unnamed woman, an older woman of obvious and deep philosophical leanings as she quizzically states that every civilization feels the need to negotiate its own compromises…blah blah blah. I tell you what, the moment is drenched in falsity and I don’t believe the old bird for a moment.

And this is when Eric Banna comes in and I start to listen. Even though, for a first run through the trailer, you’re wondering exactly what side Banna is on, he’s some sort of assassin who’s gonna take out some of the instrumental planners of the Munich kidnapping, but the whole beginning of this trailer is about the moment when it happens, the kidnapping. Does Banna’s story happen after the kidnapping, during the kidnapping, before it’s supposed to take place? I shouldn’t be confused about these things as a viewer and I am shocked this trailer is bumpier than a Thai hooker with a…nevermind.

Adding to this mess is the inclusion of three other dudes who are there to, and I am not kidding, help Banna kill the bad dudes because these three other guys possess skillz Eric doesn’t have. You’ve got the crafty driver, the demolitions man, etc… In case you want to visualize this I would have to say this is MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE meets Dateline NBC.

Now, there are some sweet explosions happening and the story looks pretty damn riveting if I just knew what the angle was. I think as we go along in this trailer I am just getting more and more lost with where my sympathies are allied. Is this movie trying to show one Jewish man’s quest to right the wrong like a latter day Hebrew Hammer, a Palestinian turncoat who is trying to right the wrongs in a Shaft kind of way? I dunno and as I try to figure this out as I watch this I can’t really be sure.

What I do know, though, is that Spielberg has a deadline steadily approaching, quickly approaching, and he may have to think quickly about what details need to be left in, what needs to be jettisioned, in order to create a movie that honors those involved at Munich and one that can resonate just as loudly as the documentary which this movie has to live up to.

KING KONG (2005) Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Colin Hanks, Thomas Kretschmann, Kyle Chandler
Release: December 13, 2005
Synopsis: A remake of the 1933 classic in which an expedition exploring a remote island capture a gigantic ape and bring it back to New York for exhibition. A beautiful actress who accompanies them is menaced when the monster’s love for her causes him to break out.
View Trailer:
* Medium (QuickTime)

Prognosis: Negative. I like this one so nice I had to review it twice. Now, I’m not as cum in my pants complimentary as some people have been when this trailer hit “KONG! CLICK HERE!”, “oMfg! This is teh haxxors!”, “THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR ALL MY LIFE ON THE INTERNETS FOR!” but I will point some things out that were first evident in the teaser trailer.

I do want to state that I did like the first teaser trailer that was released. I did, and still do, have issues with the soundstage look of the opening sequence. I didn’t believe that Jack Black, Naomi Watts, and that guy from the Coke commercials, what’s his name, Brody, were at all getting on that ship. I had issues of Watts’ captivity when she is splayed out in a position that was reminiscent of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM when Willie is about to get roasted and I did take umbrage with the dinosaur sequence because it looked ripped from JURASSIC PARK.

These things said, though, I have to admit and be honest when I say that this trailer makes me feel all sorts of tingly.

The opening is pretty sweet looking. New York City, demolished by Kong’s rampaging, Naomi looking 18 kinds of hawt in that shimmering white dress and the moment these two creatures have with one another is quite believable. Jack Black’s ham-fisted voiceover is a little distracting but it really is about what’s happening here. There’s a connection and you can sense that. However, there is snow on the ground and Watts isn’t showing any indication that the turkey’s done; I’m calling shenanigans on that one.

The moments that follow just reiterate my earlier issues with the soundstage quality of the moment. Is it supposed to look like these people are all boarding a big ship that’s landlocked in the soundstage that’s right off the 405 in Hollywood? Because it does. Ignoring that, though, the approach to the “spooky” island which inhabits our primordial ancestor is quite good. There is some real LORD OF THE RINGS type infusion into making this mythical land actually seem hospitable and real.

I do, though, wish they would have had someone else fill in for the part of stoic-voice-which-is-supposed-to-draw-you-in besides Jack Black. It may be just me but his style just evokes this anticipation that he’s just going to cut loose into a Tenacious D ditty that I can’t quite believe his schtick.

The group of misfits who want to use this island as their movie location are taken hostage by a band of mud people who seem better suited to be playing parts in a new Cirque de Soliel production than they are scary natives who are protectors of the titular beast. It’s rather campy and while it’s supposed to be played straight there is just no way I could help but laugh a little as everyone seems to be freaked out by these humanoid aberrations.

Now, this gets good with the introduction of Kong. Kong is the centerpiece and when Watts finds herself wandering, wet and all out of sorts in the Savage Land that is this island I enjoy it when the music stops for a mo’ and we’re entertained with an extended moment with a T-Rex and Kong standing face-to-face. No doubt there will be some dweeb, geek, or dweeby geek who will actually start postulating the reasons why a T-Rex would have no problem with eating through a simian of Kong’s magnitude. What is important here, though, is that it’s a fascinating image to just let sit there for a moment. Note bene: When Kong thumps on his chest, right before he engages the ‘Rex, listen real close to the sound; I swear that it is the sound of two toilet plungers.

After this we’re treated to a real Land of the Lost, resplendent with larger than life mutant bugs, more dinosaurs (raptors included, natch) and a whole host of bright, manufactured jungle scenes.

If there was one really sweet moment, eye-candy wise, I would have to peg it at the moment when Kong, after storming through the streets of New York in a drunken rage, makes his way to the Empire State Building and then proceeds to knock the crap out of a machine gun blazing biplane. When he knocks that wing off with his one hand after a great vertical leap you can’t help but feel this might actually be a really good film.

All nitpicking aside I will definitely make this one to see this December.

MONSTER HOUSE (2006) Director: Gil Kenan
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Nick Cannon, Matthew Fahey, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jon Heder, Kevin James, Jason Lee, Catherine O’Hara, Kathleen Turner, Fred Willard
Release: July 21, 2006
Synopsis: Three teens discover that their neighbor’s house is really a living, breathing, scary monster.
View Trailer:
* Large (QuickTime)

Prognosis: Negative. I really didn’t like CHICKEN LITTLE.


So what, a studio exec might say to this, because of the money it drew in but it was a crapily constructed, poorly executed, awfully told story which was confusing, incoherent and jumped from more storylines than your average Quentin Tarantino vehicle. Does Disney need Pixar? Yes, and it’s for the simple reason that I hope MONSTER HOUSE does a lot better than its poultry populated predecessor.

I think that what I like about this trailer is that this movie seems to only have one story to tell. Also, you have humans being the stars of this CGI adventure and you haven’t really seen that for films like this.

The opening is interesting when you understand that this comes to you executively produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. It just has “that” kind of tinge to it with the fall landscape blowing the almost bare trees clean. It evokes that kind of childhood enjoyment that fall brings.

The premise of the parents leaving for an extended period of time, having a hapless babysitter be in charge of things and a kid who seems genuinely dejected from life even before he sprouts pubes is just standard issue fare. The good stuff, though, comes when night falls.

Cheezy voiceover aside, and it is needlessly creepy, the standout here is the plot uses the premise of the strange house that every neighborhood seemed to have. The kids here skulking up to the darkened porch to ding-dong ditch, a pastime which I remember fondly, only to have the house come to life is interesting. The graphics may not be Pixar great but in a time when CARS, Pixar’s next flick, doesn’t blow up my skirt anything special, I am pleased with the vibe.

The kids might really be into this one because as soon as the house is established as the thing that is possessed and evil, everything else just pops and crackles with speed. The kids of this movie quickly establish themselves and even the speed with which the camera moves from one moment to another should be pleasantly accepted by our ADD addled youths watching this.

Also piquing my interest is the extended moment with the children who are going to be combating this monster house at the end of this trailer. Some po-po’s roll up to these kids, our girl of the group explaining that they have reason to believe the house inhabits a dangerous creature. I fully expect this to be a non-moment as the cops laugh at them and are about to drive off but, bickety-bam, the doors open, a rug juts out of the house, wraps around the squad car and quickly snaps the car whole into its lair before closing just as quick. The spinning hubcap is a nice touch.

Fan boy note: I should also mention that writing credits are going to Rob Schrab. Those who enjoyed fringe comic books in the early 90’s should know that name as the man who created Scud: The Disposable Assassin, one of THE best comic books in a time when foil-stamped, glossy variant covers for shit books was the norm.

FINAL DESTINATION 3 (2006) Director: James Wong
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman
Release: February 10, 2006
Synopsis: The third film follows high school student Wendy Christensen who fails to stop the fated roller coaster ride that she predicted would cause the deaths of several of her friends. She teams with schoolmate Kevin Fischer in a race against time to prevent death from revisiting the survivors of the accident.
View Trailer:
* Large (QuickTime)

Prognosis: I’d buy it for a dollar. My uncle died on American Airlines Flight 191 which crashed on May 25, 1979 in a field just beyond O’Hare. Short of 9/11 it is still one of the worst crashes to date. Recently, anyone who knows me today knows that I am terrified to fly. I don’t like it. I don’t know why I can’t handle it after 30 years of successful, thoughtless flights, but I can’t shake the feeling that every time I cross the threshold of an airliner that, upon takeoff, my bird will disintegrate in a wall of orange flame. Shows like Lost or even innocuous pieces of advertising only remind me of this.

That said, this is a great trailer. It really evokes, out of the gate, the very thing I’m terrified of. I wonder had I not been suffering with this recent affliction if the intro here of a plane being torn to shit would hit me the same way. I don’t think it would. Really, though, what I’m really impressed with is the fact that this trailer knows what it is and doesn’t presuppose anything else. That’s really nice to see in an age when you could see three different trailers on different networks and each one of them play to a different segment of the audience.

My own predilection for teensplotation flicks aside, I’m still having to defend to my family why I like BRING IT ON so much as a testament to this genre, I really do appreciate the angle this trailer is coming in at. Where once I would chastise a trailer for being lazy by just using snippets from older films in the series I gladly proclaim that this trick is executed in the proper manner.

The biggest point in this advertisement is that it wants to tell you, quickly, what the other two movies in this series were all about. Now, I haven’t seen a one of them as I think these flicks represent nothing more than a slam-bam-thank you ma’am one two cock punch to America’s youth who want to see filmic representations of themselves on the screen. That’s fine with me because I’m not judgmental, the world needs ditch diggers, and I like that we open this puppy with a dangerous plane ride where, I assume, some of our young, nubile protagonists escape certain death. Ooo…spooky! There is no voiceover, no crazy music in the background and I do have to commend the trailer makers for utilizing a nice scroll on the words that are chosen to communicate only the barest essentials about this movie. I’m genuinely affected by the sight of a plane jutting down to the ground.

I am a big fan of the lumber falling off the truck for part 2’s introduction. That whole set piece, resplendent with the wet asphalt look even though the skies are blue (Can anyone write in and explain to me why this is done? Why are streets always wet even in the best of weather? Hmm…I feel like Mr. Owl in those Tootsie Pop commercials), is good at explaining that, well, there is stuff that is out to get them.

Part 3’s premise? That a roller coaster is coming unhinged and is out to get them. I also loves me my roller coasters when I am able to head on over to Six Flags in Gurnee, Illinois and I know that I am always thinking about coming off the rails whenever I am about to go over that first, steep hill as the clicka-clicka-clicka stops. Now, like I said, I am not really familiar with the series so I can’t say for sure but, one by one, people are eating it like crazy. Some chick gets Kentucky Fried Chicken-ed on a tanning bed as some water spills on the coils, some more killer moments come to us courtesy of some dope having wooden stakes, many of them, dumped on their heads, some bottle rockets go haywire (Please, hasn’t this happened to anyone when a pack of dozen or so Whistling Wizards get into the wrong hands of someone who has had too much to drink) and other creative contrivances.

Look, the film looks like oatmeal, no question about it. It looks awfully awful and I would never even consider renting this thing on home video but, for the audience this trailer is intended to reach, it does a wonderful job so I must give it some begrudging recognition.

THE FOUNTAIN (2006) Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Gullette
Release: TBA (What a shocker.)
Synopsis: The Fountain is an odyssey about one man’s thousand-year struggle to save the woman he loves. As a 16th century Conquistador, a modern-day scientist, and a 26th century astronaut, he searches for the secret to eternal life.
View Trailer:
* Large (QuickTime)

Prognosis: Dear Lord Yes… I can’t say, like other, higher level, Internets writers, that I’ve visited the set of THE FOUNTAIN; my invitation obviously got lost in the e-mail. I can’t claim to have had wonderful, introspective chats with Darren Aronofsky as he’s editing the movie, either. I can only lay claim to have been in the room with other Internets writers as we all vied for his fatherly attention at the Comic-Con. The simple fact is, I’m jealous of all those other people who have had close contact with the man over this movie because there is no way you could be gestating this kind of movie, for as long as he has, without getting some great insight into what he’s been doing with this movie; I haven’t seen any of that with the other people he’s talked to but maybe I’ll get the chance before all is said and done. If this trailer is any indication of what Herr Aronofsky has been doing for the past few centuries I am officially on the PR bandwagon.

Not knowing what to expect from this movie, just roughly having an idea of what it’s about, I heard that the footage that was screened at the Con this year was confusing; it didn’t give people a solid grasp on things. The trailer here opens with basics. That’s what’s, initially, so good about this.

“1 MAN”

Okay, what this trailer needs you to do is think and process things a little. Yes, the gasps can be heard all the way back to the cheap seats of the 10:30 pm showing of VENOM but it’s fairly intuitive that what when this graphic comes up the one man in question is Hugh Jackman. I’m not going to break too bad on the lettering but, even in the post-modern sense, it’s not really demonstrative in the way that the teaser poster is. It’s pretty much a New Times Roman font and while it doesn’t necessarily take away from the really, really engaging visuals it is fairly disappointing.

That said, the first few clips of Hugh are really insatiable. In the first clip, with his haggard old school beard, the second, his coif perfectly intact but looking equal parts despondent and angry, and the last, and most curious, Bald Hugh with golden twinkling somethings dripping behind him.

You get no words here but that’s fine.

“1 LOVE”

Rachel Weisz. You get her in all sorts of good-looking-ness. It should be enough to state that her part here is obviously to be Hugh’s love interest but even without seeing them together you just feel the attraction between the two of them. It pulsates through the screen.


Hugh is on the move in all three scenes, I particularly like Monkey Hugh as he climbs a very bright, Waiting For Godot type tree. I haven’t a clue what any of these things mean but rather than being bothersome it’s evokes interest in me.

“1000 YEARS”

I love this bit of the trailer. The beats of the tribal drum, kind of reminds me of The Drummers of Burundi, a wicked African troupe, mixed in with old Hugh as he races on his old horse towards a bright city and, as the camera twists angles in a smooth circular motion, modern Hugh racing towards a city in his car is just compelling to look at. There is a real sense of immediacy which, if you’re in tune with it, you just feel something’s wrong.

The ending, where future Hugh gets stripped of his clothing in a blinding white light, and where he walks slowly though shallow water towards a spindly, leafless tree, evokes the most questions but I think it’s fairly obvious of what all this is supposed to mean. It’s almost enough to make one go mad that this movie isn’t here yet.

I do hope the movie is as good as this trailer. From what I see here the wait between pictures from Darren may well be worth all the centuries I’ve had to wait.

Special props go out this week to a one Nick Ferrara who managed to deliver the impossible. He celebrated the marriage of his daughter, my friend, Nicole and her husband, Chris, in what can only be described as a Dean Martin, three-martini toast that managed not only to rival anything I’ve ever heard from a public speaker in this kind of situation (You usually get some sentimentalist garbage that excludes everyone else in the room) but genuinely made the entire room laugh till it hurt. I can only imagine what it took this dad to keep from getting misty but I swore I was going to make public note of his accomplishment. If there is one thing I am thankful for this year it is that I was present to hear a comedic act that I wish would’ve been captured on CD. Well wishes go out to the newlyweds from this lowly part of the Internet.


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