King of Kong clip

August 31, 2007

To send you off on your holiday weekend travels (or, at least, my holiday weekend travels), here’s a fun clip from King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

Enjoy and see you next week!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

New Disney Princess?

August 30, 2007

Snow White, Cinderella, Pocahontas, Belle, Aurora, Ariel, and Jasmine (those last four are Beauty, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, and Aladdin for you non-parents or those, well, living under a rock), and now, Giselle.

Sure, you don’t recognize the name yet, but the Disney merchandising behemoth is hoping you will recognize it and want to buy all sorts of stuff with that name on it really, really soon.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Disney is looking to install a new Disney princess in the pantheon based on a character from its November film, Enchanted. In the film, Amy Adams plays Giselle, an animated fairy tale princess banished to the “real world” (that’s right, the live action world) by an evil witch (Susan Sarandon). Once there, she eventually falls in love with the guy who first discovers her – a divorce lawyer played by none other than Mr. McDreamy himself, Patrick Dempsey. (sorry, the McDreamy reference just couldn’t be avoided)

Here is the, in my opinion, slightly vampire goth-esque movie poster, from Cinematical.com.

Enchanted Poster - Disney Princess

This sounds a little too much like a commercial Disney-fied blend of “Cool World” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” to me, but hey, I’m all for more “happily every after” fun – and Disney needs some sort of fairy tale hit that doesn’t involve the adventures of Cinderella’s great-grandchildren.

And, in any case, at Disney, it’s all about the princesses. They may seem like innocent, once upon a time heroines, but in reality, they’re marketing giants. As Entertainment Weekly says about the princess aspiring to its august lineup:

[Amy Adams is] creating a character specifically engineered to become a ”Disney Princess” superstar, up there with previous royals like Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Ariel (The Little Mermaid), and Jasmine (Aladdin). Showcased in Enchanted like a product in an infomercial, Giselle’s voice, looks, mannerisms, and personality will be endlessly replicated by performers at Disney theme parks across the globe. Her likeness will also grace an avalanche of Disney Princess tie-in products — everything from pocketbooks to sippy cups to dress-up costumes.

Sound like overkill? Not from where Disney’s sitting. According to Disney, the Disney Princesses line accounted for $3 billion in retail sales worldwide in 2006. That’s right, THREE BILLION dollars in sales in one year alone.

The Disney Princesses have even expanded into couture. Kirstie Kelly has created a line of bridal gowns based on the princesses, so that now you can really feel like a princess on your wedding day – walking down the aisle outfitted in a dress inspired by Belle’s ballroom gown in Beauty and the Beast.

What’s more, Parc Disneyland in Paris recently asked a handful of fashion houses to design couture gowns “creatively” inspired (no poofy Snow White sleeves here) by characters like Belle, Aurora, Tinkerbell, Minnie Mouse, and so on, to commemorate the park’s 15th anniversary. Designers included Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Chantal Thomass, and others. Baccarat even created a real glass slipper. Here’s the design for the Little Mermaid, from design house Impasse de la Defense:

Little Mermaid designer dress

Go here to see more images of the designs.

For more on the event (in French, but hey, it’s never too late to learn another language!), go here. It also includes a video on the event. The gowns will be sold in November to benefit charity.

For information on Disney’s Become an “Enchanted” character website, click here.


Harry Potter auction

August 29, 2007

If you’ve got some thousands to spare (I’ve got mine, you know, just safely tucked away in my underground vault), The Catie Hoch Foundation is auctioning off signed copies of all 7 Harry Potter books to benefit children with cancer. The bidding started on August 23rd and ends September 21st.

So if you’re a high roller, go on the site and post a bid! If you win, you can always say it was for charity and not just because you desperately wanted a signed copy of a Harry Potter book. I’m sure some people will believe you.

On August 29th, the highest bid was $5,500. Considering that a full set of first edition Harry Potter books (with the first book signed) is selling for up to about $45,000 through the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, I would unfortunately guess that it will probably not end there.

Not to mention the fact that just one first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone recently sold at auction for $18,000.

I would have bid on that one, of course, but I’m, um, just waiting for the opportune moment. Any lifetime now.


Streamed anime films online

August 29, 2007

Anime news network reports that heavy.com will start to stream classic anime films, as well as television episodes, online in full-screen.

According to the site, it will be “the first time many of these classics will be streamed online.” A full TV episode will stream every week, and a full movie every month.

Films will include (among many others):

Ghost in the Shell – An absolute anime classic. If you like anime, and haven’t seen it, rent it now.

Castle of Cagliostro – A very early Hayao Miyazaki film, about the thief Lupin III, a character originally introduced in manga.

Read or Die – One of the best titles ever.


Best and Worst Mythology Movies – sorry, ‘King Arthur.’

August 28, 2007

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a myth geek. I even read academic books about myths in my spare time (yuck, I know). Which is why, as a movie geek too, I was so excited when my favorite film magazine, UK’s Empire, recently posted a blog entry by Helen O’Hara on Hollywood’s recent interest in movies based on classic myth or legend.

O’Hara, a self-proclaimed “history geek and fantasy lover,” makes a few choice comments about the recent film updates (“Troy works wonderfully as a silent movie” and so on) and what she would like to see in the future (Táin Bó Cúailnge, anyone?). And since I’m, well, a history geek and fantasy lover myself, I couldn’t resist using her entry as inspiration to make a list of what I believe are my favorite and least favorite movies based on myths and legends.

MOST FUN

The Mummy – I believe I’ve said it before, but this is one of those guilty pleasure movies that I can watch again and again (and I do). I love ancient Egypt and ancient Egyptian mythology, and this has got fun spins on both. A Book of the Dead made entirely out of some sort of hardened black substance? Sure, why not. A Mummy that brings with it the ten plagues of Egypt? An interesting take on the Bible, but okay. An expert on ancient Egypt as an action heroine? It’s about time! Fun, entertaining (sometimes in a campy sort of way), action-packed, somewhat romantic, and rooted in Egyptian myth, The Mummy’s got it all.

Troy – Okay, it has its weak points (for me, the Paris/Helen chemistry-free romance), but it’s got some awesome fight scenes (Brad Pitt vs. Eric Bana in a gracefully brutal Achilles and Hector showdown) and I have to admit that I was touched by the love story of Achilles and Briseis, whether or not it was true to Homer’s The Iliad, the movie’s basis.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Not for everyone, this is one of those movies that most people I know either love or just don’t get. Me? I still crack up at the opening scene (I’m getting better!) and:

-What is your favorite color?

-Blue. No yel- Ahhhh!

And who can not appreciate an extended discussion on the flight capabilities of the African swallow?

StargateThis is myth-based, you say? Of course it is! Clearly it is simply a sci-fi retelling of ancient Egyptian myth. Who is the god Ra? Why he’s an alien, of course! How else do you think they built the pyramids? (Riley from National Treasure, you were right all along) In any case, it’s got Kurt Russell and James Spader battling it out with that guy from The Crying Game in an alien version of ancient Egypt. It doesn’t get more fun than that.

Aladdin (Disney) – Perhaps not the most accurate adaptation of the Arabian Nights (if the tale of Aladdin is a Nights tale at all), but probably the most financially successful one. Who would’ve thought that Robin Williams as a blue genie could be so much fun? And don’t even try to deny that you’ve had “A Whole New World” stuck in your head at some point or another – for better or for worse.

Hororable Mentions: Ghostbusters and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Okay, a bit of a stretch perhaps, but the use of a Sumerian god, Gozer, and an Aztec curse? They might both be fictional, but still clearly influenced by mythology.

CAMPIEST (and thus, lots of fun as well)

Clash of the Titans – This is truly a camp classic of mythology. Presenting the tale of Perseus and Medusa with stop-motion animation (see the giant monster Kraken move jerkily forward to attack!), this 1981 film has got enough action, fantasy and romance to satisfy anyone. Not convinced? Then go for the actors who play the gods: Maggie Smith plays Thetis, Ursula Andress is Aphrodite (Venus), and Laurence Olivier himself plays Zeus. And for you gamers out there, Harry Hamlin, who does the voice of Perseus in God of War II, originated the role in this movie.

Comingsoon.net reports that Warner Bros. is scripting a remake. Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time.

Jason and the Argonauts – Another stop-motion animated classic, but this time from 1963. It’s a retelling of the classic myth of Jason and his crew of Argonauts (including Hercules), and their search for the Golden Fleece. If you like Clash of the Titans, you’ll like this.

Excalibur – Another cult classic. A dramatic and violent, and beautifully shot, retelling of King Arthur and his knights. With Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Bryne, Liam Neeson, and others. Be prepared for lots of mist!

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys / Xena: Warrior Princess – I know they’re not technically movies, but you know I had to include them.

The Thief of Baghdad (1924) – Watch the caliph’s daughter swoon over Douglas Fairbank’s swashbuckling (yes, swashbuckling) Aladdin in silent black and white. Need I say more?

Honorable Mention: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Referencing classical mythology and Celtic folklore, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is of course the classic comedy by William Shakespeare. It is, however, also a recent film from Fox Searchlight. Sit back, relax, and watch stars like Calista Flockhart, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale, Kevin Kline, and Stanley Tucci have lots of fun running around in the forest, while occasionally tripping over Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter.

MINISERIES (solid and not too shabby)

The Odyssey (1997) – Okay, I can give adaptations a hard time, but let’s admit it, it’s not easy to adapt a classic epic, especially one that is one of the most famous in the Western world. Although not perfect (but what is?), this miniseries with Armand Assante as Odysseus manages to pull off a solid retelling and keep many of the tale’s details intact. Also starring Vanessa Williams, Isabella Rosselini and Christopher Lee.

Mists of Avalon – Based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s popular King Arthur epic with a feminist twist, I didn’t think this was half-bad. The book was still worlds better, but a solid adaptation nonetheless. Plus, Michael Vartan plays Lancelot!

Helen of Troy (2003) – I’m torn on this one. One of those “this is the true story of…”, it doesn’t necessarily always stick directly to the original mythology. Plus, some of the legendary characters get short shrift; Achilles and Hector who? But I still found the miniseries – about the Trojan War from the perspective of its famous beauty – entertaining at times and usually fun to watch, and it contains many of the characters left out of other adaptations (Cassandra, Pollux, poor Iphigenia, even Kings Atreus and Theseus make appearances).

Arabian Nights (2000) – Nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, this adaptation of the 1001 Nights plays up the romance between Scheherazade and Sultan Schariar, to whom Scheherazade must tell a story every night in order to put off her execution at his hands. It’s got its campy moments, but it doesn’t digress as much from the Nights as other adaptations and Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible II, Ever After) and Mili Avital (From Stargate! It’s all coming together…) are convincing as the troubled king and his beautiful storyteller.

Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King – A miniseries that aired on the Sci-Fi channel and is based on the Germanic tale, The Nibelungenlied (nee-buh-luhng-ehn-leed, I believe – it’s a very impressive name to mention at parties). Ever heard of Wagner’s Ring cycle? Also partly based on The Nibelungenlied (translation: Song of the Nibelungs). Benno Furmann, a Kevin Sorbo look-alike with his long hair, plays Siegfried, the hero and dragon-slayer, and Alicia Witt is Kriemhild, his sometime lover. Kristanna Loken plays the other lover, the warrior Brunhilde. Not bad for a miniseries, it’s got lots of fun, smoldering dialogue and special effects. It lags at times, but generally provides lots of often campy fun. It was originally released outside of the US and under various different titles, including Ring of the Nibelungs.

BEST

Spirited AwayHayao Miyazaki‘s beautiful and haunting animated movie was heavily influenced by Japanese Shinto mythology and tradition. It tells the tale of a girl who wanders into a supernatural world populated by all manner of magical creatures. The film won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. Just goes to show that you don’t need fancy CGI to make a stunning animated film. If you’ve seen this and liked it, go rent My Neighbor Totoro. An earlier film by Miyazaki, it’s the story of two young sisters and their adventures with magical spirits. Playful and fun, but also moving.

Whale Rider – Set in New Zealand, the film uses Maori myth and tradition to captivating and poignant effect. It’s a touching story about a girl growing up to become a leader in a male-dominated society. The lead actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes, was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film at the age of 13.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Like Monty Python, most people I know either really like this or don’t get it at all. An odd, yet oddly captivating, retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, the movie follows three ex-prisoners in the 1930s as they encounter a Cyclops, sirens and more on their search for treasure and love. George Clooney is Ulysses and Holly Hunter plays the modern Penelope, “Penny.” In my opinion, all worth it for the scenes with the Soggy Bottom Boys.

Ramayan (1987-88) – A hugely successful Indian “miniseries” that recounts the famous epic story of Rama and Sita, ancient heroes in Hindu tradition. According to Wikipedia, the series was watched by over 100 million people when it was first on the air. It can move at a slow pace and may seem campy to Western audiences, but it’s lovingly done and an Indian classic. It’s also a great way to learn more about beloved Hindu figures. The whole thing is 78 episodes long (no, that’s not a typo), so if you haven’t seen any of it, catch an episode of it sometime if you can.

Fritz Lang’s Die NibelungenThe Nibelungenlied again, but this time in silent black and white. The famous director of Metropolis tells the epic tale in two parts (Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Revenge). Slow but powerful.

WORST

Hercules (Disney animated) – I just don’t like this movie, I’m sorry. Hades as a used car salesman type? No, no, no, and no. Not for me.

King Arthur – I love Clive Owen, and have a soft spot in my heart for Keira Knightley due to her beautiful portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, but I was not impressed by this movie. They were striving for the “real story” of King Arthur, and I respect that, but it just didn’t work.

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (animated) – Yet another example of why celebrity voices alone (Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones) can’t sell a movie.

UM…

Pasolini’s Il Fiore delle mille e una notte (The Flower of the One Thousand and One Nights) – I really don’t know what to say about this film. It defies description. Critically acclaimed, yes, but I’m just not sure I get it. Be warned though: for adult audiences ONLY.

The Fountain – Lots of references to Mayan myth, but again… ?

TO BE DETERMINED

Beowulf – Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother? I’m suspicious, but willing to give co-screenwriter Neil Gaiman the benefit of the doubt. For my review, click here.

Thor – In development, an adaptation of the Norse superhero in the Marvel Comics. For more, go here for Rotten Tomatoes’ news of the event.

Yes, I know I’ve missed some (First Knight and Camelot come to mind – even The Matrix and Star Wars), and probably many, but this list can’t go on forever. What can I say? The ones above are the films that made the strongest impression on me, for better or worse.

For great print versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Arabian Nights, check out Neil Gaiman’s Dream Country for his award-winning take on Shakespeare’s play, and Fables and Reflections for a look at the world of the Nights – both volumes are part of Gaiman’s Sandman series.


Movie plot holes from the summer’s blockbusters

August 27, 2007

This past week, Empire magazine posted a blog entry on plot holes in the summer’s biggest movies. Here’s a summary of what they said (with some of my own comments added in, just because, you know, I can. Ah, the beauty of blogging):

SPOILER ALERT

The Transformers

[H]ow in the name of Cybertron does helicopter Blackout get from a Middle Eastern desert to America’s West Coast in roughly 20 minutes?

That may be true, but what about all that focus at the climax of the movie on getting Shia LeBoeuf’s character to a helicopter in order for him to spirit away the all-important Allspark? Um, maybe I’m missing something, but how on earth would him getting to a helicopter keep the Allspark safe against machines that can transform themselves into fighter jets and their own helicopters? That must be one mighty government helicopter… oh, no, wait, it’s already been destroyed by the massive, towering robot. Oh well.

Live Free or Die Hard

It’s not easy, but I can just about swallow ninja baddie Mai Lihn getting barely a scratch after being crunched by John McClane’s car… [But then there’s the] pursuit on the freeway, a missile’s fired and the overpass splits, forcing McClane to ditch his big rig and leap onto the fighter jet. The plane explodes and McClane miraculously leaps to safety. Question is, how’s he going to track down the baddies again? Well, as it happens, he doesn’t need to. He gets to his feet, walks forward five steps and spots their van entering a warehouse right in front of him.

Yes, he just happens to spot the van. But, as they mention, that’s after he evades a fighter jet while driving a big rig truck – granted, a vehicle known for its maneuverability and speed, but still a bit of a big target, no?

Spiderman 3

[I]f Flint Marco and all his clothes – buckles and zips included – turns into sand, how come his locket stays metallic?

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

The pirate lords have held a council in which they elected to fight Beckett’s armada to the death. So why, at the film’s climax, when they have massed their ships and stand on decks, swords in hands, do they decide to just sit there and watch two ships fight inside the maelstrom instead of sailing into action?


The Golden Compass

August 26, 2007

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the upcoming film adaptation The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights, to Brits), part one of Philip Pullman’s three-part, religion-laced, epic fantasy series, His Dark Materials. The series has already been turned into a successful play at London’s National Theatre, and the author has won numerous awards for his work.

For those who don’t know, here is some of what The Golden Compass is all about:

Main characters: Lyra (newcomer Dakota Blue Richards – no, not that Dakota) and her daemon Pantalaimon, her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), the mysterious Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), Lyra’s friend Roger (Ben Walker), the witch Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green – the Bond girl herself), the talking polar bear, Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Nonso Anozie), and the Gyptians (played by various actors).

And, of course, the infamous Dust – but you’ll have to wait to see the movie (or read the books) to learn more about that.

Plot: Lyra is an orphan living at Jordan College in Oxford. When her friend Roger is kidnapped by the evil Gobblers, she agrees to leave Jordan College with the powerful but enigmatic Mrs. Coulter. However, when she becomes suspicious of Mrs. Coulter and her involvement in a church group known as the “General Oblation Board” (referred to as the Magisterium in the movie, according to Entertainment Weekly) Lyra escapes and heads north to find her friend Roger, aided at various points by the Gyptian nomads and Iorek Byrnison.

What are daemons? Every human in Lyra’s world has one. They are animal creatures that are constant companions and can usually never be more than a short distance away from their human partner. Children have shape-shifting daemons (like Lyra’s Pantalaimon), while adults’ daemons have settled into one constant shape that cannot change.

Of course, there is more, but I don’t want to ruin the story. If you’d like to learn more (and remember, I warned you, this contains major spoilers), Wikipedia has an entry on Pullman’s daemons.

What is the Golden Compass? (This is NOT a plot spoiler, I promise) Also known as an alethiometer, it is a very important item given to Lyra by the Master of the College before she leaves with Mrs. Coulter. It can supposedly answer any question set to it by the owner.

Why is the series called His Dark Materials? The title comes from a line in Paradise Lost by John Milton, a major influence on the series:

…Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in thir pregnant causes mixt
Confus’dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look’d a while,
Pondering his Voyage… (more)

In fact, according to The Daily Telegraph (spoiler alert: this article reveals important plot points about the series), the whole series is itself a reimagining of Paradise Lost.

In recent news reports, Nicole Kidman has claimed that the movie is not “anti-church” and that:

…some of the religious elements were removed from the movie script. “It has been watered down a little,” she told Entertainment Weekly.

Great. “Watered down” is always a major incentive for me to see a movie (see Cinematical’s thoughts on this). I have to say, though, I’m not too worried… yet. Religious commentary is a bit more peripheral in the first book than it is in the later ones, which are heavy with discussions of Adam and Eve, God and the devil, faith, and organized religion. Whether or not any of the series is anti-church, if the first movie is successful, it’s hard for me to imagine how all of those “religious elements” could be left out of sequels 2 and 3, as they form the core of the story.

If you want to hear more from the man behind the controversy, Philip Pullman will be in New York discussing his series October 30th with former New York Times book review editor, Charles McGrath. For more info, click here.

The movie itself is being released December 7. To see the cool trailer, go here.