Saturday, May 27, 2006

Pride & Prejudice (1995)

Elizabeth meets Darcy at the Netherfield Ball; noses are upturned, and we're off to the races. While Darcy nixes the burgeoning romance of Lizzie's sister Jane with his own pal Bingley, Lizzie stokes Darcy's jealousy (and sates her own arch-but-curious heart) by courting fop-in-disguise Wickham, who has his eye set on anything with a dowry. Sinuous subplots and intrigues work to keep our star-crossed lovers from recognizing that they are, in fact, star-crossed lovers. You know the rest.

Keira Knightley's giggly performance of Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 film version didn't transfer Austen's acerbic social comedy (not entirely her fault, as that film generally fell victim to overly lush production, with atmospherics overpowering scenes of simple character interaction: heated arguments in the pouring rain; romantic reconciliation upon dewy sunrise-lit meadows; breathlessly whispered passions during thunderstorms; &c. until Jane goes a-spin in her box...). By contrast, the BBC's elder but stately, understated, solid production allows the direction to lift Austen's story right off the page. The actors make the most of their roles -- particularly David Bamber as the beguilingly smarmy Mr. Collins, and Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet, at times so gratingly comic you could swear she's channeling Terry Jones in Python drag. Colin Firth's career-making turn as Darcy is pitch perfect; the critical moment when he declares himself to Lizzie is both sudden and believable. Sometimes being faithful in adaptation means invoking the proper tone, not inventing a new one.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Tales from the Crypt: From Comic Books to Television (2004)

Made-for-cable documentary chronicling the controversial but lauded EC horror comic book line, from its troubled original print run to its eventual home-video resurrection. William M. Gaines came to comics ignorant of the field, and it paid off; his stories were a raw blend of morality play melodrama and Grand Guignol gore designed to entertain and to sell books, not necessarily in that order. Fingered as the cause of juvenile delinquency and the general corruption of youth in the 1950s, Crypt and Vault of Horror were the subject of Congressional hearings on "decency." The result: the industry invoked a self-censoring "comics code of approval" which ultimately put EC out of business (except for Mad Magazine -- because it's fine to be subversive if you're funny, but not if you're scary and gross). Talking heads who tout the Crypt as an influence include George A. Romero, R.L. Stine and film producer Joel Silver (who eventually produced the HBO series). Stephen King is oddly MIA.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Destroy All Monsters! (1968)

Those wacky Japanese folk have exiled all the world's giant beasties-who-are-totally-not-dudes-in-rubber-costumes (Godzilla, Baragon, Mothra, Rodan, Gorasorus, &c.) to a remote island imaginatively code-named "Monsterland." (And what a dump compared to that swanky Skull Island, no turn-down service or anything, but I digress.) Undoubtedly cutting short plans to open a theme park featuring Jeep safaris -- See the Monsters in their Natural Habitat!! -- some no-good Kilaaks swoop down from their secret base on the Moon, and set all the creatures loose. Before you can say "Toho" the liberated beasts are smashing up cardboard replicas of London, Manhattan, Tokyo, Peoria, you name it. This is all part of the Kilaak's plan for world domination, right up until the beleaguered Earthlings invent broadband wireless and regain control of "their" monsters. A showdown with Ghidrah (representing the Kilaaks) atop Mt. Fuji decides the Ultimate Fate of Mankind. For all their troubles saving Earth from alien invaders, our conquering heroes are promptly sent back to the critter ghetto that is Monsterland. What's the lesson here?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hide & Creep (2004)

Dang it all if small-town Thorsby AL ain't overrun by zombies. On top of that, there's no TV reception to speak of, which means no coverage of the (suspiciously off-screen) flying saucers whizzing overhead. Ah, hell, who cares -- The News has been a hoax since the "moon landing" and everybody knows it. Meanwhile, some non-union actors in pancake-zombie makeup stagger uninvited into strip clubs and barbecue joints, whilst mullet-endowed yokels hunt them down armed with rifles and machetes and, well, mullets. Where's the General Lee when you really need it? When some kind of Space Lady shows up, that's the end. I would spend more time describing the plot, but I can't. Loopy no-budget hybrid of Clerks, Shaun of the Dead, and any given Ed Wood production (be sure to go heavy on the Ed Wood now, y'hear?). Filmed in the scenic college burg of Montevallo. Which might explain some things.