Friday, April 25, 2008

Ocular Optometrical - Lists 2: The Streets

Scene/Unseen - Topic: Baby Movies
My Pick:

Otesánek [Little Otik] (2000)
Jan Svankmajer is a unique visionary whose very distinct approach to stop-motion animation redefined the genre. The Czech animator's richly textured worlds full of animal bones, prosthetic eyeballs, and grotesquely appealing food, like Bosch paintings come to life, have been wowing film festival & arthouse theater goers for decades, and even if you've never seen one of his animated shorts or feature length movies, you've definitely seen work paying homage to it. As Svankmajer has shifted from his short pieces to making full movies, his approach to stop-motion has also shifted from being the focus of his films to being utilized primarily as special effects in live-action stories. The change has had mixed results. Although I prefer Svankmajer's more heavily animated work, his most successful marriage of the two mediums was 1996's Conspirators Of Pleasure, an extremely tactile film about human fetishes, with the actors themselves shifting from naturalistic performances to being simple marionettes for Svankmajer to drag across his stage. For 2000's Little Otik, Svankmajer used his animation much more sparingly and really only to bring the titular character, a tree-monster, to life. The story is about a married couple, unable to have children of their own. In order to ease his wife's grief, the husband cuts & varnishes a tree stump into the shape of a child for her to expend her nurturing energy on. Of course the tree-child comes to life and begins to exhibit an unholy appetite which the parents dutifully try to abide as it continues to grow out of control. Little Otik is a funny and absurd, little horror film that feels quite a bit like early Sam Raimi & Peter Jackson films, and perhaps my only real dissatisfaction with it is that it lacks the distinguished individuality of Svankmajer's earlier work. So I recommend Little Otik for this topic but I urge everyone to check out Alice, Jan Svankmajer's faithful but unique 1988 adaptation of Alice In Wonderland, or a collection of his short works to get the true flavor of this amazing animator.

Filmspotting - Topic: Top 5 Anticipated Summer Films
Honorable Mentions (AKA Stuff I'll see at some point):

Standard Operating Procedure May 29 2008
- I know everyone holds Errol Morris up as the quintessential documentarian, but I actually think he should bear a lot of blame for the tabloid news approach. He always approaches his films with strong biases, and sometimes his footage isn't even strong enough to support his agenda. Still, the fact that we're already 4 years beyond the Abu Ghraib scandals, and yet we have been exposed to so little of the facts, makes this a pretty important film.

Iron Man May 2 2008
- Iron Man didn't seem like a character that Hollywood could get right. It seemed like a huge excuse for a synergistic melding of CGI overkill and a bunch of next-big-thing teen actors. The trailers, leaking over the course of what seems like 2 years, really put those fears to rest. It looks like they nailed Iron Man, the armor and Tony Stark. Yet, the endless stream of promotion for this project has taken its toll and i'm not expecting to be surprised any more.

Mister Lonely April 30 2008 (limited)
- The new film from Harmony Korine (Kids, Julien Donkey Boy, Gummo). I've heard that this is a terrible mess, but that's almost what I expect from Mr. Korine. I expect it to be angsty and difficult for the sake of being difficult, but I expect to walk away with a big ball of ideas to play with for a while. The film, about a Michael Jackson lookalike who meets a Marilyn Monroe lookalike & spends time with a Charlie Chaplin lookalike and a Shirley Temple lookalike, sounds deliberately weird but also full of strange potential. At the very least, I doubt I'll be able to predict the ending.

Son Of Rambow May 2 2008 (limited)
- A long time ago I heard about a group of young kids that had remade Indiana Jones & The Raiders Of The Lost Ark shot for shot with a home video camera. Apparently it took them a really long time, and they sort of grew up during the process, despite also threatening to cut their lives precipitously short by reenacting all of the stunts themselves too. I've really wanted to see the movie ever since I heard about it, but it seems I'll have to settle for the fictionalized story of a bunch of kids remaking Rambo: First Blood instead. The buzz has been very good and it is a great premise that should deliver atleast a few Stand By Me moments.

Speed Racer May 9 2008
- This looks fantastic & terrible at the same time. The effects really look trippy and out there, and I think I'll probably drool on myself for minutes at a time while I take in all of the swirling camera shots & flashing lights. The Speed Racer story, even the slightly more complex, original Japanese plot, was pretty stupid and since this is a film aimed at the youngins, I'm not going to worry about caring about anything beyond the visuals.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull May 23 2008
- I grew up with the Indiana Jones movies and between all of the birthday parties that rotated Time Bandits & Raiders Of The Lost Ark I probably managed to see the 1st film, without exaggeration, 50 times, and loved it. But I can't say that the 2nd or 3rd films held up to much scrutiny and my estimation of Harrison Ford certainly hasn't been on the upswing. Like all of the terrible Star Wars prequels, this is prerequisite viewing, but I can't say I'm expecting a lot.

Hamlet 2 August 22 2008 (limited)
A snooty farce in the style-of but not by Christopher Guest in which a high school drama teacher creates a musical sequel to Shakespeare's masterpiece. Sure, why not, variety is the spice of life.

The Top 5:

5. Pinneapple Express August 8 2008
The Judd Apatow machine is on the march, and despite the rising backlash against films like Knocked-up & Superbad, it never seems to impact the next model he rolls out. I have to admit that I've enjoyed all of the films he's been involved in (40 Year Old Virgin probably the least), even the ones where he just gets associate producer or some other bullshit credit. With Seth Rogan writing and starring along with James Franco, it seems that this will be a reunion of sorts for Freaks & Geeks, Judd Apatow's short lived TV series that felt a lot like a Wonder Years for the 80's. On top of that, David Gordon Green is directing, and he earned himself a lifetime double-check ticket on all of his projects after he delivered the wonderful George Washington in 2000. It's amazing to me that I'm anticipating a comedy after spending at least a decade dreading the genre.

4. Wall-E June 27 2008
I love Brad Bird, probably even more than the hype machine that attributes all of Pixar and the Simpsons's brilliance to the man, but before there was Brad Bird, Pixar's golden boy was Andrew Stanton. Stanton was the main architect for all of Pixar's early features including Toy Story, Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo..., the movies that built Pixar's reputation for funny films with an emotional maturity. I think I saw the teaser trailer for Wall-E over a year ago, but I still remember it being simple and brain-meltingly cute. The whole thing looks like Short Circuit meets ET, but luckily without Steve Gutenberg or Drew Barrymore. I trust Stanton & Pixar to do it with heart and simultaneously blow my mind with the visuals.

3. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army July 11 2008
I wrestled with putting this in my honorable mentions because even though Hellboy & its spin-off comic B.P.R.D. have been unwaveringly my favorite comics of the last 10 years, I was underwhelmed by the first movie. The film tried too hard to make Hellboy into a cape & tights superhero when the comics treated him more like Indiana Jones or Sherlock Holmes. It followed a lot of Hollywood conventions for blockbuster films and didn't trust in the beautifully paced graphic novels on which it was based. Everything points to this movie being more of the same with a bit of a "and-the-kitchen-sink" mentality thrown in, since the first movie was only mildly successful and there's certainly no promise of a Hellboy 3. There have been some promising rumblings though. Hellboy creator Mike Mignola has hinted that this film will feature more of the old folktales & mythology that Mignola often sources to create his comic. Director Guillermo del Toro has also been improving his craft exponentially and defining a style for himself that will match the Hellboy universe well. So even though I might not make it out on opening night, I'm definitely eager to see if this succeeds.

2. The Dark Knight July 18 2008
On the other hand, I'm really excited for the new Batman film. Something like 6 months ago, long before Heath Ledger's untimely death, somebody leaked 5 minutes of this film featuring Ledger as the Joker doing what the Joker does. It was awesome. It really delivered on the premise of a naturalistic Batman movie in which the world was real but haunted by larger-than-life heroes & villains. I enjoyed Batman Begins, more than I thought I would, but just those 5 minutes topped it in my estimation and I can't wait to see the rest.

1. Choke August 28 2008
Behind Survivor, Choke is my 2nd favorite Chuck Palahniuk novel, one in which his style and subject work well together and he delivers a compelling ending. The story is hard to sum up in a few sentences, but features a young, disillusioned man who finds peace by making himself a victim for others to save. It's as cynical and funny as Fight Club and should make for a great film. Sam Rockwell stars in the big screen adaptation helmed by actor turned 1st time director Clark Gregg.

Non-Summer movies on my radar:
Blindness September 26 2008
James Bond 22: Quantum Of Solace November 7th 2008
The Curious Case OF Benjamin Buttons December 19 2008
Vapors ? 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ocular Optometrical - Lists

I've decided to start keeping track of my own picks for movies according to the topics covered on some of my favorite movie review podcasts. I figure it will help give me more regular content than what records I've bought in the last 2 weeks.

Firstly, a big-up to the podcasts I'll be ripping off list topics from:
- Filmspotting -
- Scene/Unseen -
- Cue The Film -

Scene/Unseen - Topic: LA movies
my pick:

Repo Man (1984)
Emilio Estevez & Harry Dean Stanton are auto reposessors in Alex Cox's edgy, trippy, punk comedy, and they take their jobs very seriously. Grabbing cars from unsuspecting deadbeats and speeding around the concrete streets of LA embroils Estevez & Stanton in a metaphysical plot that could destroy the Earth. Cox's film perfectly marries its story with its tiny budget (incidently, the film was produced by The Monkees' Michael Nesmith) and romantically sums up the gritty wasteland of early 80's LA in Reagan's America.

Filmspotting - Topic: Top 5 vacation movies
I decided to try to pick films that each said something different about vacation, so films with redundant themes, some really awesome, ended up in my honorable mentions.
my picks:
honorable mentions:

L-R: Weekend (1967) / The Witches (1990) / Straw Dogs (1971) / Westworld (1973) / My Life As A Dog (1985)/ The Descent (2006) / Total Recall (1990) / Withnail And I (1987) / Tokyo Story (1953)

5. One Crazy Summer (1986)
One of my favorite screwball comedies as a kid. John Cusack goes on post-high school vacation to Nantucket where he joins a cast of misfits in a community run by preppy jocks & evil land developers. I think I really wanted to identify with Cusack's likeable but nervous animator who manages to steal the hot, preppy girl but knows enough to end up with the hot hippy Demi Moore. He also hangs out with a great group of oddballs like Bobcat Goldthwait, Joe Flaherty, Curtis Armstrong & Tom Villard. The whole thing culminates in a 80's cliche yacht race, but it sums up a summer vacation perfectly where you create your own challenges to become consumed with even though they may have little consequence in your life at home. Those are the challenges that end up transforming you.

4. Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
An early film from Jim Jarmusch that highlights his strength in capturing 3 dimensional characters on screen, even when the acting talent of John Lurie & Richard Edson might be more than a little rough around the edges. This film perfectly captures that adage that no matter how far you go, you can't escape yourself, as a trio of New Yorkers can't seem to rise above their dissatisfaction with themselves on a roadtrip to Miami.

3. Wolf Creek (2005)
It was a little bit of a toss-up between this & Straw Dogs for a vacation that ends up going terribly wrong. Often lumped into the "torture porn" genre, Wolf Creek does feature some brutal, graphic violence, but it also does a very admirable job of taking time to establish characters with hints of depth who we actually care about. Based loosely on a true story, the film also feels stomach-turningly possible. These sorts of films play out like excruciating cautionary tales against leisure. Easily one of the best horror films of this decade.

2. Omohide poro poro [Only Yesterday] (1991)
A Studio Ghibli animated movie about a young office woman. Feeling like her life might be passing her by, she takes a trip to the countryside and reminisces about her childhood. A lot of people will hold up depictions of graphic violence as evidence that animation doesn't have to be just for kids. I'd recommend that they watch this beautifully realized film where the exacting attention to details about ordinary life are caught in the animation, and it carries to the larger themes of a young woman's appreciation of the world around her. The film walks a fine line of heart warming moments but manages to avoid falling into a trap of schmaltzy sentimentality. Apparently Disney decided not to release this film as part of its Miyazaki imports because the film mentions menstruation, and yet they did release Pom Poko which stars Raccoons with gigantic testicles.

1. The Last Detail (1973)
At some point I realized that Jack Nicholson used to be a great actor and I went about hunting down all of his performances, but imagine my surprise when I got to this film and found out that Randy Quaid used to act too! This Hal Ashby film falls squarely in the man's man cannon like every Clint Eastwood or Steve McQueen flick. Two naval officers are assigned to escort a sailor to a military prison for a petty offense. The 2 officers are determined to take the fastest route possible so that they can use the extra time and per diem as a small vacation, but when they realize how young & inexperienced in life their charge is they can't bear to leave him to rot in prison for 8 years without a taste of his youth, So a vacation that probably would have consisted of blowing off steam in strip clubs & bars becomes a lot more poignant. It's a great film where all of the characters are given the spotlight to be their best & worst, for you to love & hate.

Record Score - Penna Primary Edition


Kenny Burrell "God Bless The Child" Lp (CTI)
The classic CTI players: Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Cobham, Hugh Lawson, Ray Barretto, Airto Moreira... back guitarist Kenny Burrell on soulful renditions of "God Bless The Child", "A Child Is Born", "Love Is The Answer", "Do What You Gotta Do", & "Be Yourself"

V/A "Eccentric Soul: The Big Mack Label" 2xLp (Numero Group)
I have to admit, I was a little let down by this compilation. The other entries in the Eccentric Soul collections are more idiosyncratic and, even though they feature awesome music, it's easy to see why the groups represented might have been too left of center to catch on with the general public. The Big Mack Label on the other hand features pretty straight ahead doo-wop & Motown-esque R&B and it seems that the music might just have been too safe & calculated to stand out. Who knows, maybe one day I'll get on doo-wop kick and I'll rediscover the brilliance here, but I'm not feeling it now.

The Richard Schulman Group "Wonder" Lp (Richard Schulman)
1980 jazz recording featuring electric guitar, bass, drums, tenor sax & led by Richard Schulman on Piano. It's a nice, self-published outing hitting a big range of styles from hard bop to jazz-funk to a loose calypso number. Apparently my copy was owned by someone related to the group (how else would they get a copy really?) who wrote notes like "Bob's brother" on the photos, and it gives an added personal touch to the record. It's an above average session with a lot of personality, and i can see why Richard Schulman was excited to get it out there.

The Astronauts "Go! Go! Go!" Lp (RCA)
Rare 1965 Lp from the 60's garage band. The songs have a decidedly more clean-cut, bubble-gum sound than some of their contemporaries but the rhythm section swings with the best of them and this album is begging to be pillaged for samples.

Bobby Hutcherson "Happenings" Lp (Blue Note)
Bobby Hutcherson knows how to make huge, full-sounding music, and bleeds to the edges of the tape on "Happenings". I'm most struck by the awesome team of Hutcherson & Joe Chambers on marimba & drums.

I had an odd number of records again so I'm going to pimp LOST which returns Thursday after a month+ hiatus to finish out Season 4. The season 3 soundtrack from Michael Giacchino also just came out last week, but i haven't had a chance to pick it up yet.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Record Score! - Ape Real!

Akoya Afrobeat "Fela Dey / Wahala" 12" (Tip Of The Iceberg)
- My 2nd 12" from Akoya, and another assured pair of extended afrobeat jams. There are some great groups around the world doing the Afrobeat thing these days (Antibalas, Nomo, Chin Chin, Budos Band...) and they all pay close homage to the godfather of the genre, Fela Kuti, but i think Akoya really come closest to carrying on his legacy of sound, even more than son Femi Kuti & former partner in crime Tony Allen. Where other groups might imitate some of the Afrobeat tropes like call & response choruses and ringing horn sections, the Akoya Afrobeat takes a real traditionalist approach, and hammers through 15 minute workouts of that raw James Brown grunt, free swinging jazz, pidgin english, and polyrhythmic percussion.
(More Info & Sound Samples)

Andres "Moments In Life / El Ritmo De mi Gente! (Feat. Lady)" 12" (Mahogani)
- The upbeat A-side on this is a perfect track for climbing out of a deep, sleepy winter and meeting the day with a smile. I've heard some stuff from DJ Dez before, but it took this song to really make me stand up and notice. Moodymann's Mahogani label continues to indoctrinate me in the ways of Deep House.
(More Info & Sound Samples)

Theo Parrish "You Forgot / Dirt Rhodes" 12" (Sound Signature)
- Both tracks on this are long, sparse house grooves, with a decidedly slower BPM. The A-side caught my attention instantly with a very abstracted approach to the vocals by Genevieve and my man Jerry The Cat adding a nice live percussion bed to keep the track organic.
(More Info & Sound Samples)

Vampire Belt / Magik Markers - Split 7" (Not Not Fun)
Skullflower / Axolotl - Split 7" (Not Not Fun)
- These 2 7"s are my 2nd shipment from Not Not Fun's Bored Fortress 7" club. Not Not Fun continues to be one of the more interesting labels out there with their growing roster of DIY psych rock bands. The 1st shipment was a little disappointing by including less structured, more masturbatory noise from the likes of Thurston Moore, but on these 2 platters you can hear a lot more thought and creativity. I'd heard the Magik Markers & Skullflower before, & Vampire Belt & Axolotl keep pace as all 4 turn in loud, guitar-churning noise. Honestly, I haven't been in the right state of mind to give these the time they deserve, but I liked what I heard.

J Rawls "A Tribute To T.R.O.Y. / So Fly" 7" (Turntable Jazz)
- Finally got the vinyl for this tribute to one of the best songs ever made. J Rawls has been a solid member of the underground Hip Hop movement for the long haul, and he always comes solid with those jazzy head nodding beats for artists like Lone Catalysts, Blackstar, 3582, BJ Holmskillit, Dudley Perkins... Paying homage to Pete Rock's "They Reminisce Over You" is a pretty no-brainer way to get my money. I'm just a sucker every time for those Tom Scott horns, and even though J Rawls' version isn't terribly innovative, it's a nice, slightly jammier instrumental version. I held off ordering this from elsewhere because it's pretty non-essential and record labels are dumbing with their prices on 7"s. We've been getting a lot of plain white sleeve, minimal label artwork, 2 song 7"s from distributors with wholesale prices of $10+. Way to shit all over the people that want to support independent music & vinyl with your 900% mark-up guys.
(More Info & Sound Samples)

Doug Carn "Infant Tears" Lp (Black Jazz)
- This copy is beat, and crackles as much as it sings, but there's no denying the Carns. Plus, I always love the bold cover design of Black Jazz titles, and can get lost staring at the cover.

Jazz Liberatorz "Clin d'oeil" CD (KIF)
- A great album that I know nobody is going to care about. The Jazz Liberatorz, a trio of Hip Hop producers from France, have been putting out some nice little vinyl EPs since about 2000, usually featuring 2 vocal cuts & a couple of instrumentals. They've really got the Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, Jazmatazz... thing down, and they also support some of my favorite emcees like T-Love, Apani B, J-Live, Sadat X... There's a little bit of quixotic battle underway, with the Jazz Liberatorz banging out solid tracks in a style that has mostly lost its relevance, but there's a few of us old men left that appreciate what they're doing. The astute amongst you might notice how hard the cover is aping the Black Jazz design, a nice nod, and a good design to bite.
(More Info & Sound Samples)

Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition "Tin Can Alley" Lp (ECM)
- Jack DeJohnette fell victim to some of that "funky" 80's jazz styling on this and his later material, but there is a track on here which features DeJohnette multitracking himself playing the drums, congas, timpani & organ which is another brilliant, atmospheric, ambient piece. DeJohnette is a fantastic drummer, but i love when he leaves the straight bop aside and gets abstract on the keyboards too.

Connie Crothers "Perception" Lp (Inner City)
- Jerry said he'd never seen this record before, and considering Jerry's photographic memory and the unfathomable number of records he's seen in his lifetime, that's something in itself. I was ready to pick this up before that though as it features a nice little piano-led trio with all originals composed by Connie Crothers. A lot of the songs are nearly straight-ahead solo piano pieces which isn't really my thing but there's a nice personal edge to it, neatly epitomized by Crothers writing her own liner notes.

The Red Garland Trio "Bright And Breezy" Lp (Jazzland)
- 80's reissue of an awesome 1961 recording. Red Garland along with Sam Jones & Charlie Persip give a seminar in making a trio sound like a big band. Every note counts, and there's so much soul infused into the hard bop sound that it wouldn't feel out of place a decade later. Easily my favorite rendition of "On Green Dolphin Street."

That last graphic is just me giving Pennsylvania a little love now that we're experiencing that golden moment before the humid summer sets in.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ocular Optometrical - Vol. 3: Stop! Rewind That!

Control (2008)
Joy Division is a band that I always kind of liked but shied away from because I was always turned off by their fans, a terrible stew of goths, asshole music critics, and indie rockers nostalgic for a period of music in which they wore diapers if they were lucky. Control, the excellent biopic about the troubled singer Ian Curtis, works overtime to cast an even light on the band, at once building up their heroic status, and simultaneously anchoring them in the humdrums of routine life. Based on the book by Curtis' ex-wife, the film tends to dwell on the darker chapters, like his troubled marriage and his battle with Epilepsy. In a lot of ways, the story is an attempt by Debbie Curtis to understand her departed husband, and she paints him in a very sympathetic light, celebrating his intelligence, decency & poetic soul even as she depicts him abandoning her & her child, and falling in love with another woman. Shot in black & white, with a superb cast, Control is compelling and emotional, and a fascinating depiction of the early Manchester scene & Factory Records era. It's hard not to leave the film without a greater appreciation for Joy Division's music. Control makes a great double bill with 2002's 24 Hour Party People, a manic film about the life of Manchester mogul, Tony Wilson which is slightly scattered in it's scope but fills in a lot of details of the time and place. 4/5 stars.
For an excellent Podcast discussing Control & 24 Hour Party People, check out Cue The Film's "Film Splice." (

Be Kind Rewind (2008)
I was prepared to hate this movie. The Science Of Sleep felt like a terrible mess after the brilliance of Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and I chalked that up to Michel Gondry writing his own script full of his energetic creativity but lacking Charlie Kaufman's attention to detail & structure. Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind worked because it operated according to the rules of its own universe, where The Science Of Sleep tended to eschew narrative for whimsy a little too often. So, when critics and friends alike criticized Be Kind Rewind for being short on film logic & story, it rang true. Throughout the 1st half of Be Kind, I tended to agree that the story was slight, the performances were weightless, and the whole film seemed to stand atop a mountain of contrivances, but something clicked with me as the movie prepared to embark on its conclusion. In a very improvisational moment where Jack Black playfully sang with a group of kids, I realized that I'd been taking the film entirely too literally. Michel Gondry wasn't making a flimsy, feel-good comedy. He was committing his manifesto for life to film. Gondry wants to live in a world where people aren't passively sucking down the entertainment coming off the conveyor belt. He wants movies, and music, and art of all mediums to inspire more creativity. He believes that the power of the creative mind can shape our reality. Why wait for a conglomerate of resources to dump their interpretation of Ghostbusters 3 on us, when you can act it out yourself? Why surrender to the march of technology, when you haven't finished wringing dreams from your old toys? Why live a life of despair & regret when every moment is an opportunity to redefine the world around you and celebrate? That all seems pretty obvious, and is sort of there in the story of Mr. Fletcher's video store, but it's actually more strongly in the essence of how the film was made. Gondry put his joy of filmmaking on the screen and simultaneously captured his characters of limited means at play with the process. I really think that Be Kind Rewind is going to find a huge cult following, and the critics are going to be slapping their foreheads for looking at Jack Black & Mos Def bumbling around on the screen and taking it all at face value. 4/5 stars.

American Revolution 2 (1969)
Another strong documentary from the 60's that features unnarrated footage of protests, riots and historic meetings between agitators during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It's always interesting to see how the importance of "The 60's" comes in and out of vogue depending on the political climate of the present, but having raw footage like this to see the victories & shortcomings of our passionate democracy is vital. 3.5/5 stars.

Vantage Point (2008)
Sometimes you just want to watch a shitty Hollywood thriller to make yourself feel smart. The problem is that while the trailer even challenges viewers to figure out the twisting plot as it unfolds, there's actually no discernable mystery. The movie basically takes a badly crafted Lethal-Weapon-cast-off ending and stretches it over an hour & change by playing it out over & over again, adding new information each time. You're only ever trusted with more details of the mechanics of the plot and the motivations remain unsatisfyingly empty. Watch Rashomon or The Italian Job remake instead. 1.5/5 stars.

Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring (With Rifftrax Commentary) (2001)
I never understood the Mystery Science Theater 3000 fandom. I liked the concept, and I gave it a lot of opportunities to win me over, but i laughed at an average of 1 out of every 30 jokes. Now that the same creative team is doing the same style of running commentary for big blockbuster movies, I'm equally intrigued by the concept & equally underwhelmed by the results. Having a Rifftrax commentary for the Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer may have been the only way I made it through that Hollywood clunker, but watching a movie that I've already seen with their bland humor just doesn't cut it. Although, It's still a tempting option when I want something running in the background while I work.

John From Cincinnati (2007)
John From Cincinnati was a frustratingly inconsistent Television series. Every episode seemed to be a battle royale between great character actors and the worst detritus of the star-machine. The story itself, about a famous family of surfers plagued by a litany of movie-of-the-week problems, felt like something swiped from a stack of Hallmark Channel spec scripts, except that there was also a dark undertone and cloud of supernatural occurences that hinted that something much deeper was going on. Every time Rebecca De Mornay or Luke Perry stumbled through a clunky monologue scribed by David Milch, of Deadwood fame, there was an expectation that in mere moments the actor would wink at you and the scant facade would drop away to reveal a dissertation on the nature of man's existence & the fragile concept of reality. I was endlessly frustrated by the show. Where the language on Deadwood had been playful & erudite, on John, it was cryptic & obtuse, and what I could parce didn't feel terribly profound. However, it was the show that I was most interested in every week. It was vastly different from every other TV show out there, and always seemed to hold the potential to race off in any direction it wanted. Plus, the opening, with the Joe Strummer song & Hi-8 footage is a thing of beauty. Rewatching the show on DVD, my opinion hasn't changed, and instead of finding new clues and nuances, I find the show is hurt because there's no promise of future episodes & shocking revelations, but something still tugs at me. Something suggests to me that there's some hidden knowledge just beneath the waves waiting to surface. 3/5 Stars.