Every Wednesday and Friday
I had some high hopes for Insanitarium – asylum horror is usually good stuff. The good news is Armin Sherman is in this! The bad news is so is Olivia Munn.
We get the premise upfront – dudes sister was mentally ill, but the assignment really telling what he needs to know so he gets himself committed . Olivia Munn checked him in, and I’m hoping that the last we see of her – I also spotted David Sussman! Most people know him as Stuart from Big Bang, but I still remember him from his days doing cell phone and Best Buy commercials. He’s got a significant role actually as one of the inmates and is positively an exposition machine. It’s weird to see him playing his usual nervous schtick straight this time rather than for comedy. He explains why the creepy prisoners in the white cells have huge dilating eyes and expresses the general feeling that the head doctor experimenting on them.
Our hero finds his sister – she is suicidal but he’s not ready to leave yet. We get a lot of the typical tropes – a evil guard, group therapy session with the head nurse straight one flew over the Cuckoo’s nest. During group therapy one of the prisoners goes nuts and attacks our hero – obsessed with blood from his cut thumb.
The thing is, despite what sounds like a genuinely creepy premise, the film isn’t particularly atmospheric – and I don’t get a real sense of danger until we hit the third act when all hell breaks loose.
It’s definitely worth sticking around for, with gallons of blood and inventive kills – the last 30 minutes of this film are exciting and visceral, I just wish they could spread a little more of that around earlier.
Every Wednesday and Friday
You see, I’m just not sure where this series goes wrong. This was the last gasp, Vin Diesel put up his own money and secured financing for this film because he believed in the character. I think he was right about that as well, he sees what I see in it, but perhaps fails to understand what’s required to make it work.
Approach. Perhaps it’s greatest problem is that it’s to back to basics. In a lot of ways I feel like I seen this story before and it borrows far too heavily from Pitch Black. We start off with Riddick stranded on a alien planet with absolutely gorgeous alien life forms. It’s one of the things that has always impressed me about this series and this entry in particular, just how well thought-out the creatures are. When I was a teenager I really was into Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. Wayne Barlowe had an excellent grasp on anatomy and really thought out his creature designs. I get that same kind of vibe from this film.
As Riddick struggles to survive, he finds a way station and sends out an announcement that he’s at this location knowing rightly, that it will be picked up by bounty hunters. The bounty hunters arrive and the fun begins.
At this point it takes on most of the elements from Pitch Black but is missing a couple of key things here. Riddick is still very much the main character though we switch our focus in great part to the bounty hunters. This is a good thing, because we need other characters that we can relate to and root for here. What’s really missing however, is the heart. there’s something about the kid in Pitch Black that really a sense of peril and of warmth and humanity to the film and it’s been missing ever since. It’s still missing here. Vin Diesel is attempting to create a sort of carbon copy of pitch black but misses the mark by neglecting to infuse the soul of the film with heart. I like creepy monsters and I’m very happy that the violence and gore has been ratcheted up here (We finally have our R rating!). It’s just not enough, you need something new. You need a better story.
I’d like to see more in this universe I’d like to see more of these characters but with the failure to really zone in on a formula, I fear this franchise is dead for good.
That doesn’t mean I’m finished though. More next time.
Every Wednesday and Friday
For the last few months, I’ve seen ads for the Mad About You revival popping up in my TV Guide feed. This seem like such a weird choice, because it’s not really the sort of show that needs a revival – it was about newlyweds at a very specific time in their lives. To suddenly shift to their golden years almost seems to undermine the premise.
Even stranger is Sony’s choice to release this only for Spectrum cable customers. I don’t know how it works where you live, but every place I’ve ever dwelled, the cable market isn’t really competitive. It’s generally one provider in the area, with the possibility of a satellite company sneaking in and siphoning off a single digit percentage of the residences. The point being, it’s not the competitive field vying for eyeballs that say, the new streaming market is.
Nevertheless, I was curious. I’m the target demographic for this. I was just about old enough when it came out, and I was a fan when it was still on first run, particularly towards the end when it was not only in first run, but also constantly being syndicated. The idea of a show about a newlywed young couple, just a touch older than I was, really appealed to me. These were married folks that didn’t look like my parents, in a genuinely funny presentation. One of the other things I found incredibly appealing was that it explored with the husband and the wife’s foibles equally. There were plenty of episodes where Paul comes off looking ridiculous and bad, and there would be just as many episodes where Jamie looked every bit as foolish. It cuts against the grain of the modern sitcom template where the wife is wise and always correct and the husband is invariably a bumbling fool (I hated Home Improvement for this reason and the Cosby Show had lost it’s luster for me long before any of the accusations started). I like that it explored both characters and presented what was actually a very edifying portrait of marriage.
So how is this new version fair?
It opens with a cute bit where Paul and Jamie discuss running into an old friend they haven’t seen in 20 years and how they changed. It’s clever but I don’t recall this show getting meta like this and it throws me off a bit. God bless Richard Kine for coming back though. He’s great. And Jon Pankow is still as much fun as ever. He’s actually nicer looking as an older man, though I don’t understand what on earth he’s doing as a restaurant owner. What happened to the sporting goods store? I also can’t help but notice Anne Ramsey is listed in the title credits of every episode though she actually only appears in two.
There’s some stuff that’s off though. There are the constant “wink wink” callbacks and ‘memberberries that they keep dropping. Remember Ira’s old flame Mary Ann? Or Fran! You remember Jamie’s best friend Fran! (She and Mark are divorced now and he’s remarried to a sassy new African American stereotype). After a while they start to get annoying. It’s little stuff too. It’s not just that the dog from the original show is dead, it’s the fact that they KEEP MENTIONING IT. I probably wouldn’t have really noticed Murray’s absence if they didn’t keep bringing him up. I’m not a dog person, but even to me this is a drag. Paul’s dad is dead too (Louis Zorich actually did pass last year), and his mom is in a nursing home – looking surprisingly frail. I’m not sure I want to see her like this (perhaps that just hits too close to home for me, with my father spending his last days in a similar facility). Then of course, the whole thing with Richard Kine’s character is strange as well. I realize they couldn’t get Leila Kenzle back as Fran, but that doesn’t make the thing with Mark make. Let’s say your best friend divorces. Do you still hang out with her ex husband and his new wife instead of her (Hang out, she’s even apprenticing under the new wife)?
If we want to nitpick, there’s things like in ep 5, Richard Kine says Paul is well into his seventh decade. In ep 6 Paul’s mom says she’s 85. This math is not adding up.(If she had been a teen mom, it would have been addressed earlier). Also, I’ve been in my house for fourteen years. We’ve not come even close to remolding this place to the degree they have redone that apartment. And why does everything have to be r rated? I really don’t need the S bombs, but I suppose it could be worse
Abby Quinn as the daughter is brilliant. Mable is actually the most interesting part of this series. I’d watch a spin off of just her adventures at college with periodic (and frequent) drop ins by Paul and Jamie. She channels Paul Riser in a lot of her performance and her relationship with Jamie would be perfect if…
Well that’s the problem. Jamie.
Paul Riser has gotten gray and soft and fluffy in his old age. It’s actually something I noticed in the second season of Stranger Things – he’s lost what little edge he had that made him such a great villian in Aliens. But that’s fine. He’s a teddy bear with his very recognizable brand of humor still at the forefront. Helen Hunt’s character on the there hand has gotten harder, with sharp edges. Her character had always been neurotic, even quirky. But it was balanced with a charm, an adorable funny style that just made you love her. I’m a fan of Helen Hunt. I like her outside of this series and followed her into her film career. Heck, I even remember her afterschool specials days. But this incarnation, it’s like they took all of the ugliest aspects of Jamie’s neurosis and amplified them while jettisoning everything that was charming about the character. Her husband is cucked sexually and every word out of her mouth to him seems critical. She gets mad that he smokes an occasional cigar and yet I remember her sneaking cigarettes during the 90’s run. We seem to have tumbled backwards, into that sitcom formula I was so critical of earlier, where the husband is just a bumbling fool and the wife is always right, and her rightness is validated by all around her (Even in episode 4 I believe, where she’s been proven demonstrably wrong, yet the episode closes with Ira speaking the words “She’s always right!”). I got to be honest, I like Jamie less with each episode. She’s turned into a very ugly person.
If we dive deeper into a study of these performances, I almost wonder how much of it is intentional. You could argue that Jamie has settled into the same antagonistic role that her mother filled, except not as passive aggressive as Carol Burnett or Penny Fuller played it. To that end, Paul may well just be settling down into the content and submissive role that Louis Zorich portrayed as his father Burt. We become our parents. It would be accurate. But is it good?
When you end a sitcom, you kind of want to show that the cast is moving on from one time of life to another. You want closure, but you also want to know that they are going to be okay. That things are good. Mad About You actually did a fairly good job of this with their series finale. They still showed struggle and growth, but ultimately we got the end we wanted. As I said at the beginning, this kind of undermines that.
So is it worth seeing? At 25 minuets per episode and only six episodes out (The back half of the 12 episode season will drop in December) you can easily plow through this in less time that it takes to watch a Marvel movie. If you have Spectrum, It may be worth your time over an evening or two, particularly for the delightful Abby Quinn. It’s not worth the trouble of pirating or purchasing though (Maybe if it hits that $5 bin at Wal-Mart). If they are smart, they will eventually add this to the 90’s series syndication package so everyone will have access to it in a few years. I’m curious enough to be willing to binge the last six episodes next month, but can’t see how this gets a second season.
Every Wednesday and Friday
While I’ve focused mainly on my Hellraiser poster for autographs, over the years, I’ve acquired a few individual items over the years.
Vance slipped me one of these after signing my poster, to give me a heads up on his new film project.
Every Wednesday and Friday
The Plague lists Clive barker as a producer. That actually got me a little excited about it, but I don’t really see his dna in this story any more than I do in the later Hellraiser sequels. Still, familiar faces like James Van der Beak and Dee Wallace give it some credibility ad made me interested in seeing what was going to happen.
As the film opens, the kids in this town are all falling ill and comatose, landing them in a catatonic state that lasts for a decade. Suddenly, they all wake up at once and are murderous – acting it seems, in conjunction with each other.
It’s more like the Crazies than it is like zombies, but these hordes of kids with red eyes and veiny sore skin make for a terrifying image.Our heroes are trapped in a school that was set up as a hospital, giving us long chases through dim hallways occasionally punctuated by bits of minor gore.
They escape in a police car, and hole up in a Church (and equally creepy setting) with the plan to regroup and head the safety of an air force base, but the kids are hot on their heels.
It’s an interesting film, but I’d like a little more information on what the plague actually was. We get some abstract philosophizing about it, but no concrete answers (and it’s not the sort of art film that can get away with defying answers). A fun watch with a somewhat unsatisfying ending.
Every Wednesday and Friday
Every Wednesday and Friday
Remember what I said about weird tonal shifts and the dramatic difference in style that we get from Chronicles of Riddick? Well that’s here in force. Dark Fury is an anime version of Riddick presumably taking place immediately after Pitch Black on their way to New Mecca.
It’s so clean! Anime tends to have that kind of a very slick and polished look but that’s totally out of place within Riddicks dirty, rusty universe. Even Riddick himself seems to slick – all the character that we get in Vin Diesel’s dirty face is missing.
We get some really good imagery here, giant ships, elegantly hand-painted along with dynamic and interesting-looking mercs. Riddick’s ship – the escape capsule last scene in Pitch Black is picked up by a bunch of mercenaries trying to capitalize on the bounty on his head. Hijinks ensue. We’ve got monster fighting again, but the monsters are… weird. Tentacles and glowing bodies, very much anime creatures. They lack the sophisticated attention to biology that the films show, but nevertheless it shows some thought going in here. There’s an attempt to keep some of those themes throughout these movies.
In the end it feels more like a random anime and it does a Riddick entry. That’s the problem with not having a series Bible… anything goes. The technique of anime sidequel works very well with the Matrix films, they already had heavy Japanese influence to them, and translating that kung fu action style into anime was simply a next logical step. Not so much here. Still, at least the animation is of a reasonable quality – that wasn’t the case with the Hellboy animated episodes. It’s a curiosity that would have been better suited as an extra on a DVD rather than a standalone entity in its own right. Unless you’re a completist, it’s not really worth owning.
Time to move on to the third film.
Every Wednesday and Friday
So my fears were kind of realized this weekend… Akron Comicon is not what it once was. For a good long while, Akron Comicon was one of the two polar events that Cleveland fandom revolves around, the other being Free Comic Book Day at Carol and John’s comic shop. Akron Comicon was held in lush, beautiful locations like the Quaker Station Hall with warm colors and exposed brick and a historic aura around the building and side rooms. When they moved to the John S Knight Center, I felt like the show had really arrived. This huge facility, all glass and steel, was where I used to attend Star Trek conventions in the 1980s. Akron Comicon managed to fill those venues, and even last year at the Goodyear Hall, a beautiful old stone and brick theater, framed by colorful fall leaves, towards the edge of the downtown area, things felt classy and beautiful. This year’s event at Emidio’s banquet hall in Cuyahoga Falls feels like a step down. It’s a kind of sketchy little event center in the unfashionable side of town. I passed through metal detectors to enter the convention and was struck by how much the layout looked like the flea market set up of Akron Canton Comic Con and all the other Jeff Harper shows. Panels were held in the back area that had been curtained off with folding launch chairs set up to accommodate the meager crowd.
Akron still draws cosplayers though, and I was delighted to see not only the Beetlejuice chick, but especially the Galactus. That costume was just brilliant and really inspires me – now I seriously want to go make one of my own. There was even a Spider-Ham! And here I thought I was the ONLY Spider-Ham cosplayer out there! Rubber City Cosplay did their usual excellent job of running the costume contest and were nice enough to stream it for anyone who couldn’t make it out on Saturday!
To be honest though, I was really only here for one thing… Before selling the show, the old promoter had secured the main guest of honor, classic Cleveland TV host Superhost. He doesn’t do very many conventions or appearances and I didn’t want to miss this chance to meet him. Superhost showed up in great spirits and in costume which utterly amazed me. He brightened up at the sight of my Superman shirt declaring “Us super people have to stick together!” Next to him, the actor who played Captain Pike in the original Star Trek episode The Menagerie, was perplexed at why people weren’t stopping at his table to pay $40 for an autograph but were lining up all the way to the door to meet this strange man in a clownish Superman suit. Because of Supe, all of Cleveland fandom turned out for this show – I’ve seen nothing but photos with Superhost for the last two days on my Facebook feed and it’s glorious.
Akron Comicon itself however is less than glorious. The easiest way of describing it would be to say that it’s in decline, resorting to bringing in high-priced celebrity guests rather than staying true to its comic book roots and comes off as a low budget, first year trade show. The new crew seems to be trying to spin the show into a multi site, multimedia event, hosting a screening of local film Rottentail at a nearby theater as well as hosting an afterparty for the convention at a local bar (all for additional charges of course) with various bands.
For my part, I slipped in (No costume – amazing how many people DIDN’T recognize me without some sort of fantastic outfit) got my autograph and my photograph, then I hit the three-for-a-dollar bins and filled my bag. I’m happy I came home with a huge stack of old comics to read but I’m pessimistic about the future of what was once my favorite comic convention. It’s not that it’s BAD, it’s just that it isn’t spectacularly good anymore. It’s fallen from the crown jewel of northeast Ohio conventions to become just another show. I had in fact, planned on skipping this year and if it hadn’t been for Superhost’s appearance, I absolutely would have. It’s next year’s attendance that will really tell us if it can can survive, and what will become of it if it does.
So here’s the thing, I really want Retro Invasion to succeed. I love the idea behind it, the philosophy and more importantly, I love that it’s practically in my backyard. It’s one exit down from my office and the easiest drive I’ve ever had to a convention.
That’s one heck of a preface isn’t it?
When I entered the hotel this year I was shocked. Remember how last time The convention space was so packed with the tables that you couldn’t even walk between them? This time around things went the opposite direction… The room was still under blocked that I literally walked in looked around and walked out and asked if there was a second vendor‘s room because this One was so empty… It looked like less than 20 tables, including the guests scared of around a very large room… I’m surprised, because this room really would only take about 10 or 15 minutes to walk through and yet there wasn’t an enormous amount of programming going on either. To put it simply, there simply wasn’t a whole lot to do. Add that to the fact that they were once again going up against a mammoth convention competitor happening in the same market – I have absolutely no doubt that Akron Comicon was siphoning away potential attendees.
Being familiar with the layout from last time I managed to find my way upstairs to the movie room in time for a screening of Night of the Creeps. I’m pleased to see that they’ve marked the rooms this time so it’s a little clearer that these spaces are being used for convention functions. However, that didn’t stop them from having confused patrons and I found myself giving directions and pointing people to the correct rooms on a surprising number of occasions.
I don’t know if the screening for the movie was late or if somebody had simply misestimated the running time, but the film was just getting into the third act when it was time for the Night of the Creeps panel. This overlap is a real drag, because you had to choose between watching the movie and listening to the actors – something that would’ve been complimentary to each other if they’ve been scheduled back to back instead of one cutting the other off. I slipped out of the screening about six minutes early to make it to the panel room.
It was empty.
The lights in the room were dimmed, and I was confused – I checked the schedule and the panel was indeed scheduled to start in the next five minutes but no one, not even the moderators, had arrived yet. I decided to make a quick pit stop in the bathroom to kill some time and started heading back to the movie room when I bumped into a couple of young women in spooky clothing and bright hair. They asked me where the panel room was and I showed them, only to discover that these were the moderators and that they were arriving mere moments before the talk was scheduled to start. I probably could’ve caught an additional 10 minutes of my movie.
Jill Whitlow has a very convention friendly personality, she is polite and likes to see her friends but it’s still very much a convention kind of persona. Jason Lively on the other hand is completely cracked. He’s got very much a surfer dude bro personality, and is fun and engaging. He was a delight to hang out with, and while I was waiting in Whitlow’s line to have her sign my Night of the Creeps poster he kept getting bored at his table and running over to me to show me pictures from last time he was at a con. We chatted about Spooky Empire and Chiller and Jean Claude Van Damme movies. It was so much fun. He occasionally check in with Jill and play with her as well, Lively is very hyperactive, especially for somebody who had had as many beers as he’d already had that evening! The stars of Night of the Creeps are both charging $30 for an autograph with an extra $10 up charge if you wanted a photograph with them. I really hate this sort of pricing, and ended up only getting the autographs. After all, the only person from that film who still looks the same as they did back then is Tom Atkins (and I already have a photo with him)! The guys from The Warriors were just flat out charging $40. It’s kind of a drag and really pushing me away from collecting autographs. There was a time when I would’ve grabbed something from everybody in that room, but not with what they’re charging these days.
The panel was good, and I enjoyed what little I get to see of Night of the Creeps, but overall, Retro just doesn’t have enough to do. The convention really can’t keep you occupied for more than a couple of hours and I feel bad for the dude that was in front of me in line who had driven down from Michigan just for this event. This is Retro’s second try at getting the convention formula right and I don’t think they’ve done that yet. It’s my hope that they’ll still give it one more try and get it right, but at this point the goodwill and patience of the con community has got to be fading fast and I’m genuinely not sure if I’ll be back. Guess we’ll wait and see what happens!
Every Wednesday and Friday