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Now in our sixth calendar year
PCR #277  (Vol. 6, No. 28)  This edition is for the week of July 11--17, 2005.

The Sanford Summit---Part 2
 by William Moriaty
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
 by Mike Smith
"Fantastic Four"  by Nolan B. Canova
The Business of Horror
 by Drew Reiber
Rock Star: INXS - Yet Another Major New Wave Disappointment...."Fantastic Four" Review...."Land of the Dead" Review
 by Andy Lalino
Latest Reviews and Shohei Imamura
 by Peter Card
"War of the Worlds"...."Fantastic Four"
 by John Lewis
King Kong 2005....MOH Meltdown
 by Matt Drinnenberg
Empty Nest .... Hypocrites .... Coming Soon....He Can Keep "O Bla Dee, O Bla Da"....Jaws: The Story, Part 25
 by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
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Andy Lalino
Oddservations by Andy Lalino

Rock Star: INXS -
Yet Another Major New Wave Disappointment

In the wake of Bob Geldof's "Live 8" debacle, I had the unfortunate happenstance of catching the last 15 minutes of "Rock Star: INXS" the other night. I'll admit I held out some hope in that traditionally a fan can count on a New Wave band to at least rise above the drek mainstream viewers wallow in; but sadly, INXS wasn't able to overcome the show's sheer awfulness, no doubt thanks to it's "creator" Mark Burnett, who inflicted "Survivor" on us years ago.

I guess the deal is that 20-something's have to audition for this lame competition to have a shot at becoming the new INXS lead singer - after the eight years(!) since Michael Hutchence's death in 1997. I've argued the point with fellow INXS fans who felt that the band should have folded after Hutchence's passing. I disagree. I don't believe in quitting, especially with a band as talented as INXS. I think they deserve to go on and try to find a lead singer who can at least try to fill Hutchence's shoes (a tall order), but this is certainly not the way to go about it. I mean; come on, the Doors of the 21st Century were able to enlist the great Ian Astbury from The Cult, so why can't INXS come up with a decent candidate?

It's hard to convey just how bad this show is. Picture a packed house at some L.A. nightclub (taping in L.A. was the first big mistake; why not New Wave towns like London or Sydney?) in which these God-awful 'rock' singers parade on stage performing some of the worst renditions of (some) classic songs I've ever heard. Without exception, the "singers" were off-key, totally untalented, and did not have the slightest clue of what it means to be a New Wave rock star. R&B-style singing does not a New Waver make. Someone should notify INXS (actually, they should know already) that you can't take a 20-something, one of a generation who has embraced 'American Idol', and make them into a New Waver - they're more suited to sing Britney Spears songs than A Flock of Seagulls. I will concede that the song selections were above par; Bowie's "Heroes" and Talking Heads' "Burnin' Down the House" were butchered, however some young numbskull had the gall to warble "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the face of a great '80s band. Thankfully, he was scolded for his pick.

Can someone tell me why these crooners were, for the most part, singing with "soul"? Are they auditioning to be a Mariah Cherry backup singer, or INXS for Chrissake?!? Dudes, this 'aint American Idol or a Destiny's Child, video. This is a New Wave band. Act like it.

What amazed me were the utter lies and pandering the band displayed when reacting to these lousy performances. You know, I don't like to be played like a chump, and when some rock star wannabe struts their mediocrity in front of INXS, I expect the band to be honest with the viewers, and call it what it is - crapola. Were I one of the Farriss brothers, I would have walked out (had I gotten that far). The "singers" were blatantly terrible beyond belief, and I don't appreciate being hoodwinked to believe that INXS actually digs these clowns.

And can I say that I don't really appreciate Dave Navarro's presence. Being that I didn't catch the first part of the show, I wasn't sure why he was there in the first place, that little twerp. Is he INXS' new manager or something? For some reason, he got more face time than the band!

To me, it was obvious that "Survivor" wunderkind Mark Burnett, a fellow Aussie, was friends with INXS, and was able to manufacture this lemon. I'll admit that it's nice seeing INXS after all these years, even in an arena like this. I'm not about to bash a band who gave us nearly two decades worth of great music, but I think they should set an example by not getting involved in "reality TV" shows - a concept that is so utterly repulsive to New Wavers. Stick with VH1 Classic, guys, and be one of their Headline Acts.

Now, I didn't catch the opening of the show, but I do indeed hope that proper respect was given to the late Michael Hutchence.

"Fantastic Four" Review
Can you believe it, I actually saw a first-run movie last night! Yes, it was Marvel Comic's latest adaptation (no, not "Man-Thing"!): "Fantastic Four". I think I'm on a roll, seeing "Land of the Dead", "War of the Worlds" and this - all in the past two weeks!

F4 wasn't bad. In fact, it's solid entertainment and a great popcorn movie. I'd rank it below the "X-Men" series, and above "Daredevil" - it's nowhere in the league of Raimi's "Spider-Man" films, which is proof that it takes a horror director to make the project truly excellent.

The main problem was, as usual, casting. It's nice that Jessica Alba is a looker, however why the filmmakers chose to deviate from the Storm siblings' blonde hair Anglo look is puzzling. Alba is kind of "blonde" in the film, however her skin has a dark-ish complexion that didn't seem at all right for the role of Sue Storm - this seems to be the Freddie Prinz Jr./Fred syndrome. Ironically, Chris Evans, who plays Sue's brother Johnny, is the strongest actor in the bunch; however he suffers from the malady of not looking like the traditional Johnny as well. I'm sure his six-pack abs helped get him the part.

Michael Chiklis was a big letdown as Ben Grimm/The Thing. People expected something exceptional, and what they got was an actor who didn't seem comfortable in the role, and who was further burdened by a surprisingly awful make-up job that reeked of the ill-fated '94 version. Apparently they patterned The Thing after the original '60s look, where he resembled a pile of lumpy oatmeal. The Thing's presence actually weighed down the drama and action. A big blunder was making Grimm kind of a "Mr. Nice Guy" at the beginning. In the original comic book he was quite the asshole, nearly beating both Johnny Storm and Reed Richards to a pulp after the cosmic ray exposure. There are moments in the story where Grimm is portrayed as a loose cannon, but those were few and far between. Whatever emotion Chicklis tries to conjure up is nullified by the awful make-up job. After this movie, I'd be in the camp demanding that The Thing be a CGI creation as to have the character look more like its classic styling. I mean, The Thing is made of rock and has few facial/body muscles, so why make him a man in a suit?

The weirdly-named British actor Ioan Gruffudd plays Reed Richards, leader of the F4. Again, it kind of bothered me that he didn't exactly look like the classic comic book character, and even seemed a bit younger. Gruffudd wasn't bad in the role, but he was goofy-looking and didn't embody the leadership aspect to Reed Richards' personality that the comics established.

Julian McMahon was a good choice for Dr. Victor Von Doom (soon to become Dr. Doom). I liked the way screenwriters Michael France (who lives in St. Pete. Beach!) and Mark Frost linked Doom's origin to the Fantastic Four's, which deviated from the comics. It was nice to see that physically, Dr. Doom was faithfully represented in the film. One bit conceptual stumble I question is: why did Dr. Doom need a metal mask if his skin was already turning to metal? Why was the area around his eyes still made of flesh? In another scene, The Thing doesn't seem to feel impact to his rocky "skin" (glass breaking, etc.), yet he's able to feel it when a blind black woman touches his face.

The script was at its weakest when it pandered. Guess in 2005 we have to suffer through Johnny Storm going through some gratuitous "EXtreme Sports" moments ('snowboarding', BMX bike stunts) to appease the 'yutes' in the audience, all with a real kool thrash soundtrack. I would have loved to have been there when Raimi nixed a similar suggestion brought up by one of the suits at a "Spider-Man" conceptual meeting. The tense attraction between Reed Richards and Sue Storm was standard subplot stuff, and even the poor Thing gets his heart broken by a gal who just can't accept the fact that her man is now...well, a hunk of granite. She should look on the bright side; he'd never lose the hard-on!

The two main action sequences actually take a back seat to the character interaction. Though slightly clumsy, they were well-executed visually and suspenseful. Inherent to a concept of a "Fantastic Four" is the fact that there are four good guys, meaning the threat from the dark side should be even-Steven, which it's not in this film. Ultimately, it hurt the effort. No doubt Dr. Doom is a potent villain, however four-against-one leaves little doubt who would prevail at the end. Some more time should have been spent either teaming Dr. Doom up with another famous F4 baddie (where was The Mole Man?) or giving him some effective servitors in order to make the F4's lives more difficult.

Hey, coming from the director of "Barbershop"(!) and "Taxi"(!!), this one could have been worse. A lot worse. Come to think of it, I'd like to know how someone figured that the director of those two comedies was able to handle a big-budget adaptation of a beloved Marvel Comics film? I think now that Marvel's got a proven box office bonanza record going (okay, let's forget about "The Man-Thing"), it's time to put their foot down and make sure subsequent sequels & prequels are of sufficient quality of, let's say Raimi's "Spider-Man" films. This way, we can 86 the need to cast Jessica Alba, have gratuitous eXtreme sports scenes, and other types of fluff that are only there to make sure the film stays on the safe side. Maybe Romero should direct F42.

"Land of the Dead" Review (reprinted from my message board post)
All I can say is Wow...

After endless streams of disappointments - "Star Wars" prequels, "Escape From L.A.", etc. The classic fanboy has finally received a sequel that is as good as or beyond the great horror/sci-fi/fantasy films from back in the late '70s/early '80s - the genre's platinum age. It would take the genre's greatest, most unflinching/uncompromising director to pull off this near-impossible feat: George A. Romero.

"Land of the Dead" could easily have been an entertaining, yet brain-dead big Hollywood opus, such as "War of the Worlds", but when great filmmaking comes into play - there's nothing more satisfying.

I'll start with the look and the tone of the film. Incredible. Most of the action takes place at night, in and around a feudalistic, post-apocalyptic city called "Fiddler's Green". Romero, who seemed to take a lot of cues (rightly so) from John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" and George Miller's "The Road Warrior", bathes the city in darkness, and focuses on the industrial infrastructure, giving this world an authenticity the likes I haven't seen since the EFNY days (the very early '80s).

I was surprised at how far he went with the post-apocalyptic theme - the movie is more about the human characters and their conflicts rather than the zombies, who become a vital part of the action in the third act.

The casting was very decent. I thought Simon Baker as Riley was a bit too white bread and paladin-like. I would have liked to see a lead with a more cynical edge, such as Snake Plissken; but he worked and was likable. Asia Argento was of course stunning - hey, and she can act too! Perhaps my favorite character was Charlie (Robert Joy) who played Riley's dependable, but scarred sidekick. I concur with everyone's assessment of John Leguizamo's (sp.) performance as Cholo (I normally don't like him as an actor), though he wasn't my fave. I couldn't help but wonder if Romero gave a nod to John Carpenter by naming Leguizamo's character "Cholo". Cholo was the brutal gang in Carpenter's famed 1976 masterwork "Assault on Precinct 13". And don't forget that Carpenter named one of his characters from EFNY "Romero"! I disagree with Nolan and thought that Hopper was really good as Kaufman.

KNB's effects were very good, but I have to admit that I didn't think the zombies were as scary as, let's say "Return of the Living Dead", or even some recent offerings "28 Days Later", "Shaun of the Dead". The scares honestly didn't make me jump, but they did the two girls sitting behind us in the theater - it was great seeing them spill their popcorn!

Another one of the main characters that I loved was the deadly, hulkish tank tagged "Dead Reckoning" which plays a pivotal role in the plot. It really helped to give the film an uber-cool "Damnation Alley"-type twist on the horror action.

The story was excellent. Instead of making the film a zombie meat factory, Romero chose to have the zombies a zesty accent to the plot rather than focusing too much on them. As noted in critiques of the film and on these boards, the zombies are in that evolutionary stage where they begin to work with tools and are regaining their ability to think (almost like cavemen). Bravely, Romero wrote them making a journey toward the "ivory tower" of Fiddler's Green, where the rich and prosperous were holed up (more about social commentary later...). I thought, via effective parallel editing, that this sub-plot worked exceedingly well, and was esthetically, very satisfying. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and state that I found the conflict between Riley, Cholo, and Kaufman more intriguing than the zombie melees.

Of course, being a Romero film, social commentary is interwoven into the action. In a way, some of it proved to be the weakest part of the film, in other ways, it made it stronger. The whole "class envy" thing, to me, is an accepted form of prejudice between the have and have-nots. Most well-to-do people that I know work their asses off for their money (some, mind you, are assholes, like Paris Hilton), but they all shouldn't be condemned because they have some bucks in the bank. I think Romero, thankfully, only took that point of view so far. There's a scene where the richies are prevented from fleeing the city by an electrical fence, and are further threatened by an approaching horde of flesheaters. Instead of making the rich easy prey, and thusly make a negative statement about them, Romero finds a way to elude that trap. In that regard, he focuses all the rich-bashing on Hopper's Kaufman character. If Romero feels in 2005 it's still a necessity to state "the rich are evil, and so is the Bush administration", well, he has that right, however someone should tell him this isn't 1969 anymore. We've advanced quite a bit, and those social topics seem terrifically dated. Did anyone also note that VW bus that exploded? I wonder if Romero was saying the hippie generation dropped the ball.

I also noticed the poor didn't escape the wrath of fate - the zombies were as willing to munch on them as they would the richies. To me, that says Romero is at least attempting to play fair.

I loved the whole fireworks concept (called "sky flowers"). For those who haven't seen the film, fireworks were shot off from Dead Reckoning - it makes the zombies stand still and stare, so the mercenaries can go about their business without being eaten. Again, it makes a statement of how easily we're distracted by dumbshows and noise.

There were just a couple of weird spots. Toward the end, Savini's character (the same one as in "Dawn of the Dead" - now a zombie) turned around as Kaufman was making preparations to flee Fiddler's Green, and then nothing else was seen from Savini in the rest of the movie. It's as if they forgot about him. I also loved that gratuitous shot of two girls kissing - and then immediately they were ripped apart by zombies! No doubt the suits wanted that shot in there! Can't believe Romero capitulated on that one!

All-in-all, "Land of the Dead" is easily the best film of the year, and may be the best horror film since the mid-1980's. I think what I liked best about it is that it mixed my favorite genre and favorite sub-genre - horror and post-apocalyptic - in a wholly satisfying way. No MTV-type cutting or imagery; no senseless humor; just matter-of-fact storytelling with a delicious old school flavor - something the fans have been clamoring for since the end of the '80s.

I wouldn't worry too much that LOTD is a box-office "disappointment"; it had a great opening weekend, when you consider it was sandwiched between "Bewitched", "Batman Begins", and "War of the Worlds". Plus, Universal didn't go out of their way to promote it. The print ads were too small, the trailers were almost non-existent, and the actors were nowhere to be found on any of the entertainment shows. If the film were to be a big box office bonanza, Universal would have had to pull in the mainstreamers - which they miserably failed to do.

When you consider that movies are $8-$10 a pop, it's easy to see how a moderate-budget LOTD can get lost in the big summer movie season. Plus, it's a guy movie, and leave it to the chicks to want to see "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and not a zombie-munching epic. LOTD is destined to be a big hit on DVD, and I'm hoping that Universal re-releases it to theaters in October. I think it will pull in enough dough so that a sequel is called for. Hey, at least we managed to get a fourth installment of the "Dead" series in our lifetime, and directed by the great one himself. Once more, it may be the best entry in the series; I'm still pondering that. If you had asked me if we'd ever see a Romero "Dead" movie on this scope and scale in 2005, I would have said you were crazy. Thank your lucky stars!

"Oddservations" is ©2005 by Andy Lalino.  The Oddservations banner is a creation of Andy Lalino. All other graphics are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.