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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Thursday, December 29, 2005 - 07:19 am:   

I started a new thread because the last one, upstream, was getting a little unwieldy.

Just did 550 words for SCIFI magazine, about the Darren Aronofsky/ Kent Williams
graphic novel, THE FOUNTAIN. It's the translation to comic book of the (cancelled)
big-budget science fiction epic, set in three different time periods, about
the search for the Fountain of Youth. Aronofsky, the director of the brilliant,
harrowing REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, has been stuck in development hell since 2000,
and took the story to Vertigo Comics after the plug was pulled on his 2002 production,
thanks to a star *cough* Brad Pitt *cough* who changed his mind days before
filming. Excerpt.

"Some of this is awfully powerful stuff. The modern-day sections are the best,
downright heartrending in their portrayal of an agonized husband torn between
supporting his wife in her final illness, and rushing off to his lab in search
of the miracle that will likely arrive too late to save her. The relationship
between man and wife is not the generic, weepy template of a thousand similar
stories, but a highly specific relationship, between two clearly delineated
people. The sections set in in 1535 Spain have their own powerfully romantic
kick. Alas, the far-future sections, which are supposed to tie all three storylines
together, suffer from the abstract excesses of the art and the elliptical surrealism
of the story; they’re so much flash at the expense of substance that the climax
evokes head-scratching bewilderment rather than the resonant wonder Aronofsky
and Williams intend.
In this telling, at least, it’s a story that falters by attempting too much,
rather than one that disappoints by not attempting enough. The good news is
that working on the graphic novel inspired Aronofsky to recast his cancelled
big-budget epic as a smaller, but no less ambitious film, that it’s completed
filming, and that it should be out sometime in 2006."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Saturday, December 31, 2005 - 07:19 am:   

600 words so far today, my review for SCI FI magazine of the oversized reprint, MAXIMUM FANTASTIC FOUR #1, which blows up the images and forces modern-day readers to digest the familiar tale one panel at a time. It brings vitality back into the story. There's a memoir by the great mystery novelist Walter Mosley, whose brainchild this was. Excerpt:

Mark Evanier’s essay, “August 8, 1961: The Day Everything Changed,” covers the story behind the story, and includes extras like Stan Lee’s typed outline for the first issue. It turns out that the characters changed significantly between that synopsis and the printed comic book: for instance, Stan Lee’s original Invisible Girl was like the H.G. Welles Invisible Man, in that she was invisible all the time and had to take off her clothes before she could disappear completely. Lee notes, “I hope this won’t seem too sexy in art work. Better talk to me about it, Jack -- maybe we’ll change this gimmick somewhat.”
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Monday, January 02, 2006 - 06:05 am:   

Just received one of my coolest pieces of reader mail, ever. EVER.

Many months ago, I wrote a "Classics" review of the Todd Browning film, FREAKS.
That's the one which had many sideshow performers playing themselves in what
was essentially a horror film. The review mentioned several of the players in
passing, including "bird woman" Elizabeth Green. (This is not the woman transformed
into a sort of duck at the end of the picture, but another of the performers
who wanders in and out of the action. If I recall correctly, Green had no physical
abnormalities; she was just a somewhat odd-looking, somewhat chinless woman
whose strange appearance could be exaggerated by clothing.)

I just heard from Betty Green's grand-niece, who must have been googling the
family or something, who tells me that her great-aunt retired from the sideshow,
spent her last years living with her family, helping to raise her, and sharing
her wealth of stories about her days in the circus. She wanted to know if I
had any other info, and I had to say no.

But I did say I was happy to hear that the review touched someone who knew one
of the FREAKS players as more than just an image on a movie screen, and that
Betty lived such a long and happy life.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Monday, January 02, 2006 - 08:18 am:   

Adam, that's so cool that your story was found by Betty Green's grand-niece and that she was touched by it. So often, it feels like we're sending our words out into the void, and it is amazingly heartening when we learn that those words, seemingly adrift in the trackless wastes, actually washed up on somebody's hearth.

A happy, healthy, and productive 2006 to you and Judi! I hope your fondest wishes come true in the coming months.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Friday, January 13, 2006 - 03:26 pm:   

Und the same, Andrew.

Monday's reviews will include my takes on THE TIME TUNNEL, and HOODWINKED; TIME
TUNNEL is already up on the advance page, here:

http://scifi.com/sfw/advance/13_screen.html
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Saturday, January 14, 2006 - 08:16 pm:   

My review of the CGI cartoon, HOODWINKED, will be up on Tuesday. I said it was fitfully funny, with a few moments of genuine brilliance, but no consistency and long, hackneyed stretches.

Also completed a classics review of the not very good 1930 science fiction musical
comedy, JUST IMAGINE. Maybe three good jokes in the entire movie, all cited
in my review. Most interesting for its view of an unimaginably far off future
world of 1980. Excerpt.

"Like so many Hollywood films set in some version of the future, its agenda
is not to create a fascinating portrait of that future but to flatter the present.
Single O may be an idiot, but he’s cool enough to know that food tastes best
when eaten and that alcohol is most fun when imbibed. Similarly, one way we’re
supposed to know that J-21 is a good guy is that he’s exactly fifty years behind
the times. He says he hates “modern women” and wants one exactly like his grandmother
-- not even his mother, who might have had him around 1955, but his grandmother,
who is of course the same age as the ladies who bought a ticket to this thing
in 1930. And just as naturally, the future is represented by people like the
scientists who revive the man originally known as Peterson, later Single O --
a bunch of eccentric, nasty folks, whose inhumanity is captured by a series
of reaction shots depicting them in grotesque, extreme close-up. It is Single
O, the most humble of all men, a clown who speaks in a burlesque foreign accent,
who speaks for the time the movie was made, and who, for all his foibles, stands
for values this future time is supposed to lack."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Monday, January 23, 2006 - 06:11 am:   

Review of FREAKS (a novel, not the Todd Browning film) will be up today. Scifiweekly has promised to fix the error that gives the byline to a name other than mine.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Monday, January 23, 2006 - 10:34 am:   


Just sent in my clasics review of THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN. Excerpt
-

"Indeed, one would accuse {Robin} Williams and {Oliver) Reed from stealing the
movie outright if it hadn’t been already stolen before they could get to it.
The thief is young Sarah Polley, just a few short years removed from her successes
as an independent movie queen, the clear star of a movie that could have swallowed
her without a trace. Unlike many child actors who appear in this kind of thing,
who are all too often mush-mouthed, bland presences revealing little understanding
of the material around them, Polley displays an emotional sophistication and
a mastery of comic timing that render her rather basic viewpoint character every
bit as interesting as the over-the-top lunatics played by film‘s many distinguished
adults. Seriously: their resumes may be longer than she is tall, but she matches
the best of them. As a result, her character’s innocent bafflement at the orgasmic
hyperventilation displayed by the Queen of the Moon, and later much cannier
pleasure in informing a jealous Vulcan that the Baron is dancing with his wife,
are highlights of the film, as impressive in their own way as any of the miraculous
special effects sequences."
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Monday, January 30, 2006 - 03:48 pm:   

JUST IMAGINE review is up.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Wednesday, February 01, 2006 - 08:37 am:   

So far today, my review of the ALIEN NATION tv series DVD. I gave it a less than enthused B-, but had some good things to say. Excerpted:

"The central gag of the series -- aliens who have so completely assimilated into human society that it’s sometimes hard to forget they’re more than just human beings with strangely shaped heads -- is of course THE CONEHEADS writ serious, and it’s the one element of the show that can never get old. Though some of the dramatic moments work quite well, there’s something irresistibly funny about an alien turned crooked telemarketing pitchman, or another turned comic-relief janitor, that fascinates well out of proportion to science-fictional richness. The one-episode subplot involving a hapless male alien, zapped by sexual pheromones, who falls head over heels in love with the increasingly uncomfortable Matthew, may be a cheap joke, but works just as well. You can’t argue with a lovesick alien any more than you can argue with a custard pie in the face. It’s funny despite itself."

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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Saturday, February 04, 2006 - 10:11 am:   

1000 words, on Kevin Brockmeier's wonderful novel THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD,
about a City populated by the recent dead, who get to enjoy corporeal lifefor
as long as anybody on Earth still remembers them; and of the last woman left
alive after a worldwide plague, whose struggles to survive in Antarctica keep
that metropolis standing. Excerpt:

"The novel’s true focus, which it returns to again and again, is memory: the
way our lives resonate in the lives of other people, even those we’ve only touched
in passing. This rings just as true with the people of the City as it does for
poor, suffering Laura. They achieve compelling weight, even when they appear
for only as long as a sentence. The ones we get to know are rich, and alive,
and still capable of surprising us, as much with the life they live now, as
with the memories they bring with them from the life they lived before."
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Sunday, February 05, 2006 - 10:24 am:   

Today, reviewed Philippe Mora's credulous UFO documentary, ACCORDING TO OCCAM'S
RAZOR.


Oh, dear. One of the worst movies I have had to review, EVER. EVER.

Excerpt -

"...we see rocket scientist Werner Von Braun speaking to President Kennedy and
the gentlemen of the Press. The film gushes, “Note the alien artifact around
his neck!“ It’s a microphone. And not even a microphone anybody but an idiot
could possibly mistake for anything else: it’s a microphone being used as a
microphone, that bloody well looks like a microphone. A subsequent “expert”
testifies that JFK was assassinated to prevent him from publicly revealing the
existence of aliens. Marilyn Monroe was also eliminated by the same vile conspiracy.
And, by the way, the early moon footage was so grainy because NASA didn‘t want
eagle-eyed viewers to spot all the artifacts lying around. We also get graphic
footage of an “alien implant” being removed from a patient (which the DVD box
assures us “could not have been faked!”) There are odd shots of Ronald Reagan
invoking a (hypothetical) alien visitation during a speech to the UN, clips
from the George Melies film A JOURNEY TO THE MOON, a totally gratuitous appearance
by the great French mime Marcel Marceau, and a just as pointless sequence chasing
Mora through a self-storage facility. It’s hard to tell what some of this has
to do with anything. Marceau, wearing full makeup, doesn’t say a single word,
which puts him head and shoulders above many of the film’s participants. As
Mark Twain once pointed out, it is much better to keep your mouth closed and
appear to be a fool than to open it and thus remove all doubt."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Sunday, February 12, 2006 - 11:28 am:   

Just mailed in my scifiweekly review of TIME AFTER TIME, the '70s sf film in
which H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) tracks Jack The Ripper (David Warner) to
1977 San Francisco, and woos contemporary bank employee Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen)
along the way. Excerpt:

"If Amy’s particular take on Women’s Lib now seems dated to us -- as it was,
in fact, a little behind the times even then -- then so much the better: the
now quaint rhetoric transforms the chemistry between her and Wells, rendering
them even more the creatures of their respective eras. She still takes forever
to notice that there’s something more than just a pleasant degree of nerdiness
“off” about this cute man she’s met, who’s never heard of the Golden Gate bridge
and isn’t quite sure how to use a phone. But Steenburgen’s somewhat spacey
acting style -- a part of her own considerable charm -- makes her character
seem, if far from stupid, then at least the kind of person who might take some
time to pick up on these less-than-subtle cues."

I also point out -- as others have -- that this wasn't the last movie where
Steenburgen got to play a woman wooed and won by the inventor of a time machine,
who then accompanied him back to his own era. She did it again in BACK TO THE
FUTURE III.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Monday, February 13, 2006 - 07:15 am:   

Hi, Adam! My father took me to see Time After Time in the theaters when I was a young teenager. A good memory. We both really liked the film, for all the reasons you list above. I recall thinking, too, that its script was several cuts above those of the typical SF movies of its day in terms of coherence and cleverness. Plus, the performances by all the major actors really made the picture sing. I'll have to check it out from the Blockbuster and take another look at it.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Monday, February 13, 2006 - 09:17 am:   

I loved it in the theatre, and in several subsequent viewings. Its thriller elements have faded, but that has only brought the other ingredients into sharper relief.

More:

Just handed in my 850-word review of the horror DVD EVIL BREED: THE LEGEND OF
SAMHAIN, starring among others porn actresses Jenna Jameson, Chasey Lain, and
Taylor Hayes. Very bad film, which includes a scene where a deformed cannibal
maniac (a literal descendant of Sawney Beane), is puzzled by the implants he
just carved out of Jameson.

Excerpt:

"EVIL BREED is so devoid of genuine entertainment value that you might have
more fun hitting the Internet Movie Database to look up the uncanny titles of
previous films made by its bevy of porn actresses. Taylor Hayes, for instance,
was in something called “Tit Happens.” Can’t get better than that. "
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Saturday, February 25, 2006 - 11:35 am:   

Just sent in my review of the animated film, DOOGAL. Excerpt -

"The British version features Bill Nighy as Dylan, Jim Broadbent as Brian, and
Joanna Lumley (who one British reviewer of the film calls “simply irreplaceable”)
as Ermintrude. The American version adds a narration by Dame Judi Dench, scraps
the other voices in favor of a camped-up American cast, and provides a script
stuffed with smartass pop culture references that we suspect as exclusive to
this translation. Folks who thought SHREK had a lot of that sort of thing should
note that this one includes jokes referencing LORD OF THE RINGS, STAR WARS,
STAR TREK, HARRY POTTER, THE APPRENTICE, AMERICAN IDOL, THE PIRATES OF THE
CARIBBEAN, two separate Indiana Jones movies, The Beatles, and Austin Powers.
About 95% of this is destined to sail over the heads of the pre-schoolers who
present its best possible audience, but does provide a smirk and an elbow in
the ribs for any parents motivated to pay attention. The voice-work of Ian McKellen
is particularly fun, especially since the good wizard Zebedee comes to an apparent
end similar to the apparent end that befalls Gandalf in FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.
That‘s a nice touch. But still, it’s always a sad thing for any story to rest
on clever references to the better stories that came before it. A truly great
story has a life of its own."
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Sunday, February 26, 2006 - 05:52 am:   

DOOGAL review is already up at the site.

I think the OCCAM'S RAZOR review may appear tomorrow.
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Scott Edelman
Posted on Sunday, February 26, 2006 - 09:03 am:   

It's scheduled for Thursday.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Monday, February 27, 2006 - 07:38 am:   

Oh? Are new reviews appearing on Thursday, now?

So far today: my review of THE FLASH COMPLETE SERIES DVD, the first live action
version of DC's super-speedster. Excerpt:

"The main problem with all this is the same one that afflicted the much longer-lived
live action series ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. Once the show establishes that Barry
can move faster than any ordinary crook can react, and can evade bullets fired
at point-blank range, almost nothing he confronts afterward poses a substantial
threat to him. On several occasions, the stories actually provide him with a
slower than average reaction time, in order to avoid having him defeat the villains
too quickly. The logical gymnastics required to stymie him with such menaces
as an all-girl gang of thieves or even the show’s one major super-villain (Hamill’s
truly loopy Trickster), are such a strain that this Flash sometimes is less
an obsessed urban vigilante than a well-meaning dufus."
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Wednesday, March 08, 2006 - 12:09 pm:   

OCCAM'S RAZOR review and A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD review are both up.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2006 - 02:02 pm:   

TIME AFTER TIME review is up.
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Nobody's Listening Anyway
Posted on Thursday, March 16, 2006 - 07:06 am:   

The very contemptuous EVIL BREED review is up.
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adam-troy
Posted on Tuesday, March 21, 2006 - 01:13 pm:   

Two reviews sent in: one for HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2, of which I say, "It doesn't entirely suck, and is at times almost good." Strong praise.

And just sent in my review of the Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers DVD. Excerpt:

Alas, the show’s strongest element has now become its saddest one. That’s the
supporting performance by the late Andreas Katsulas, reprising his series role
as Ambassador G’Kar. Straczynksi always gave G’Kar all the best speeches, evident
here in scenes that range from political maneuvering to musings on the galactic
ubiquitousness of Swedish meatballs. And Katsulas, inhabiting what turned out
to be the role of his career, with a presence he rarely got to demonstrate without
tons of rubbery appliances on his face, is as delightful as ever. The energy
level goes up whenever he’s allowed to enter a scene. Straczynski has said that
when Katsulas died, G’Kar died with him, as no one else could ever play the
role. And he’s right. Even those of us didn’t know the man can feel the void
left behind by the loss of the character he played.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Tuesday, March 28, 2006 - 10:02 am:   

Scifiweekly Review, 900 words, of 2 of the MASTERS OF HORROR episodes, John
Carpenter's "Cigarette Burns" and Stuart Gordon's "Dreams In the witch House."
I liked the Carpenter more, but had trouble accepting the futility of both stories.
Excerpt --

"One of the frequent pitfalls of short horror stories, as opposed to long ones
(and, yes, having perpetrated the form, I’m well aware that there are any number
of exceptions) is that they are often more about revealing the nature of the
awfulness rather than the struggle (failed or triumphant) of the characters
who must confront it. Their narratives all too often feature plots that draw
a beeline to the protagonists being, either literally or figuratively, Eaten
By The Monster, The End. Nobody’s saying that these stories need to substitute
happy endings. But if the protagonists are too clearly doomed from minute one,
it’s hard to care as they spend their time on stage circling the drain."
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Thursday, March 30, 2006 - 01:04 pm:   

Just did 800 words on WESTWORLD, a "Classics" column on scifiweekly. Excerpt:

"Westworld is a relic of that lamented earlier time where B-movie concepts had
B-movie budgets and therefore relied on their own charms, rather than bloating
to the point where they collapsed under their own weight...of course, the story
collapses in a heap the second it's examined closely. Why are these fantastically
advanced robots -- which we're told are a proprietary patent of the people behind
Delos -- used only to entertain some fatuous tourists, when it should be easy
to think of any number of more lucrative uses? When they turn homicidal, is
it a simple malfunction or the first stirrings of resentful self-awareness?
Why are the Westworld robots provided real ammunition, when they're "programmed
to miss" and even when functional, were always only one bad ricochet away from
a dead park guest? How come the horse robots remain obedient and useful when
the human (and rattlesnake) robots go bad? Worst of all, exactly how stupid
do the technicians have to be, to turn off all the power and thus trap themselves
in an airtight room with power doors? And why oh why other than scenarist convenience,
does that tech center have no emergency exit?"
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Friday, March 31, 2006 - 07:31 am:   

Awww, Adam, just chill out and enjoy the cheese. . . geeze, you sound just like I did when I sat at the West Bank Palace Theater and picked apart the new King Kong with Dara.

#;^)

Have a great weekend, pal.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Tuesday, April 11, 2006 - 06:55 am:   

The entire Westworld Review, which has some good things to say in addition to all the complaining that got on Andrew's nerves, appears here:

http://www.scifi.com/sfw/screen/classic/sfw12523.html


Upcoming reviews: Hollow Man 2, the Star Trek Time Travel collection DVD, The Peter Jackson King Kong collector's set DVD, and a classics review of Poltergeist.
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Tuesday, April 11, 2006 - 10:11 am:   

Andrew, Others,

My thoughts on Jackson's KING KONG are available elsewhere. But I strongly recommend the
extra, available on the DVD, "The Natural History of Skull Island."
Seems that Jackson and company worked out an entire, detailed past for the island,
ranging from how the creatures survived the extinction of the dinosaurs, how
the island flourished for eons, how its advanced civilization lived, and how
the increasing geographical upheaval not only destroyed that civilization but
also severely diminished the size of the island in a (geographically) short
period of time, thus forcing its predator population into a smaller and smaller
geographical range. In short, the ecology of the island is severely compromised
at the moment Denham and company arrive, driving the predators into direct competition
with one another, and absolutely insane with hunger -- the main reason Kong's
own species is extinct but for him. The island has less than fifteen years to
live at the time Kong is found. It's a pretty impressive bit of worldbuilding,
which comes damn close to making the whole thing make science-fictional sense,
and it is all visible in the film, even if the protagonists are too busy and/or
unsophisticated to connect the dots.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 - 07:08 am:   

Dear Adam,

Thanks so much for sharing this info with me. The above explanation is very appealing, and the film would've perhaps won me over a bit more had some of that information been worked into the script somehow. Honestly, I probably won't pick up the film on home DVD until I spot it for $6.98 at Target or somewhere, because it's not anywhere near the top of my list of films I'd like to own. But knowing that this extra feature is included makes me a lot more likely to grab it at some point. Thanks again!
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Adam-Troy
Posted on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 - 06:33 pm:   

If it helps, I have been told that the same extra -- along with a terrific documentary on 1933 New York -- is in the one-disc edition, which is about half the price.
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Andrew Fox
Posted on Thursday, April 13, 2006 - 06:50 am:   

Thanks again. And a very happy Passover to you and Judi and your families.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - 09:12 am:   

Just completed my review of the MASTERS OF HORROR Dvd 2-Pack that includes Don
Coscarelli's gamey botch of the powerful Joe Lansdale story "Incident On and
Off a Mountain Road," and Mick Garris directing Henry Thomas in "Chocolate,"
a story about a hapless divorcee who finds himself experiencing vivid sensory
flashes from the life of a beautiful and murderous woman. I damn the Coscarelli
for botching Lansdale, but have better things to say about Mick Garris. Not
that I let Garris off the hook, either. Excerpt:

"The direction fails only in those scenes which depict Jamie suffering the unpleasant
social effects of sudden sensory immersion in Catherine’s life. Unbelievably,
given the way the scenes are staged, nobody realizes he’s experiencing a phenomenon
beyond his control; they just think he’s being a total creep. This is perhaps
most inexplicable during a scene when, experiencing sexual pleasure from Catherine’s
point of view, he stares blindly at the ceiling and suffers what could easily
be interpreted as a convulsion while his one-night-stand girlfriend, his ex-wife,
and his young son all look on with various levels of disgust. Nobody asks him
if he’s okay, or if he can hear them, or if he needs medical attention. They
just react with contempt and frustration, and walk out on him. And the only
reason they react that way is that the script and direction requires them to
react that way As directed, the scene has an impact precisely opposed to the
one intended, establishing not that Jamie seems to be losing his sanity, but
that everybody in his life is an uncaring ass."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2006 - 07:04 am:   

Just wrote my Scifiweekly review of one of my favorite under-appreciated science
fiction movies, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 1991 DELICATESSEN. Excerpt:

"The very last adjective anybody would ever expect to apply to a cannibalism
movie is “charming.” And yet it’s happened several times. Peter Jackson’s gorefest
DEAD ALIVE, for all its bloody zombie mayhem, was built around a love story
of surprising sweetness. Simon Pegg’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD, also pretty brutal,
was at its heart the story of an unpretentious bloke who loves his Mum and girlfriend,
but has never quite grown up. And then there’s this one: an eccentric, magical
romp, that achieves heartwarming status despite being set in a ruined world
where people must prey on each other to survive. The oddest and by far gentlest
of the three – there’s almost no gore, and all the violence is cartoonish or
off-screen -- it is rich with humor, romanticism, and wit, and deeply resonant
in its insistence that human decency can win out over everything, including
the end of the world.
"All the characters are memorable, from the leads to one hapless Troglodyte
who reveals at one critical moment that he honestly doesn’t know how to tell
the difference between men and women. (No wonder he lives in a sewer.) Julie
and Louison make an appealing couple, never more so than in a scene that plays
off her near-sightedness. She admits that her eyes are foggy and he responds
that he could get lost in them. Watch that exchange – or the one where Julie
and Louison play a duet on cello and saw -- and you will pray to all the cinematic
Gods there are that these sweet kids survive and find some measure of happiness."

(Folks)

This is out on DVD now. I have rarely recommended anything in this space as
fervently as I recommend this: it's wonderful.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2006 - 03:48 pm:   

Latest Classics review, also completed today: THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955). Excerpt.

Summarized in the broadest outline, as we have, THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT reads like a parody of a typical fifties horror film, complete with mutated Astronaut, arrogant scientist, and alien life form that manages an earthly invasion only to shuffle about offing people one at a time. As a screen presence, the mutated Victor of the early scenes is not much different than any number of other conflicted monsters, shuffling about since the very establishment of horror film. Indeed, if you want to carry matters that far, his very name evokes Victor Frankenstein, and one key scene echoes the Universal FRANKENSTEIN by showing us his encounter with a sweet little girl who only wants to be his friend.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 - 05:50 am:   

Just sent in my review of the Korean film NATURAL CITY, which has been billed
(with mixed accuracy) as the Korean version of BLADE RUNNER. Its milieu and
production design are very much reminiscent of the Ridley Scott film -- and
match it for quality -- but the story fails to translate, on any level. Its
biggest problem: the protagonist, an emotionally deadened cop named R, is not
complex or multi-layered, but just a total asshole. Excerpt from my D+ review:

"As for the film’s surface resemblance to BLADE RUNNER: it is, visually, just
as superlative, so much so that fans of production design for its own sake may
well want to check it out for that element alone. But, seriously. BLADE RUNNER
had a workable, if not great, story to go along with its unforgettable visuals.
NATURAL CITY has a pointless story to go along with its unforgettable visuals.
Why would anybody be interested in seeing what BLADE RUNNER would look like
if the story totally sucked?"
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, June 02, 2006 - 05:49 pm:   

From my review of the French action film, District B13, now showing in US theatres:

As a story, it's little more than a series of dazzling setpieces, given weight by its fanciful characters. But, thanks to the foundation he laid, the direction of Pierre Morel, and the performances of its principal, any ten minutes of it is more fun than the entire running time of Hollywood action movies that try twice as hard.
Much of this has to do with the staging. We've all grown bored with action sequences that seem to have been cut together by ADD patients in the last stages of Ritalin withdrawal; these days, the average fight or chase scene contains so many confusing cuts that it's almost impossible to tell what's happening. Too often, the participants don't even seem to be in the same movie as one another. This is not a sin committed by DISTRICT B13. When Leito swings by on a rope, many stories up, to take out a bad guy shooting at him from a window, we see the whole thing in long shot, rather than as a series of isolated images. When Damien takes on another gang in a casino, we never lose track of where he is, in relation to them. When there are cuts, even quick cuts, the end result is never the planned confusion too many modern-day action sequences offer in place of genuine excitement: we always know what's happening, we're always seeing that the actors actually are pulling off some dazzling moves, and we're always popping grins when the latest moment of derring-do invites us to exclaim a fervent "Dang!"
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, June 09, 2006 - 10:26 am:   

Just reviewed: CANDY STRIPERS, a direct to video horror film in which alien
slugs infest the nurses and candy stripers at a small town hospital, turning
them into sexually ravenous sirens who drag orderlies and patients into locker
rooms to seduce and then murder them.

Being infected by aliens makes these women wear mucho eyeliner and lip gloss.
(At least two of them are played by Playboy Centerfolds, including May 1998
Deanna Brooks.)

By the time the movie is over, they have completely taken over the hospital,
and are stalking the small band of 30-year-old high school students who represent
the last best hope of Mankind.

I am not kidding.

I asked permission, but Scott refused to let me sum up the whole thing with
the phrase, "Night of the Giving Head."

Excerpt:

"The closest this thing comes to quality is the occasional actor who might be
salvageable, and the occasional shot where one pretty lady, or another, manages
to project sex appeal past the genuine inanity of the story she’s trapped in.
It’s worth noting that, for the majority of the models and actresses in question,
this is well before their characters are made over by vomitous alien slugs.
For instance, I’m not sure that you can call what Deanna Brooks does, in her
early scenes, acting, but she’s likeable enough, and effortless in her demands
on audience sympathy. But she’s not quite the same when she becomes the hooker
from another planet."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Sunday, June 11, 2006 - 06:55 am:   

And just sent in my DVD review of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, SEASON 1
VOLUME 1. This selection includes "The Price of Doom" by one Cordwainer Bird,
notorious for a violent behind-the-scenes incident involving the irate scriptwriter's
heartfelt response to a sneering insult from network exec Adrian Samish. I mention
that, but find plenty of other stuff to talk about. For instance (excerpt):

"There’s also the unique procedure the Seaview sometimes uses to surface: emerging
from the water at a sharp 45-degree angle, pointing its nose at the stratosphere,
before gravity takes over and sends the hull smashing back into the ocean in
the shipping equivalent of a belly-flop. (It’s very much like the sinking of
the TITANIC, in reverse.) To seven-year-olds, watching this event in the mid-sixties,
this was awesome. Now, we’ve got to wonder whether the people aboard curse the
bruises they accumulate during such pointlessly phallic seamanship."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, June 16, 2006 - 09:14 am:   

Just did a CLASSICS review of Harlan Ellison's collaborative collection, PARTNERS
IN WONDER. Excerpt.

"Ellison’s chatty, personal memoirs about the personalities involved – also
a major selling point of his DANGEROUS VISIONS collections – are especially
welcome now, given that well more than half of the collaborators are sadly no
longer with us. It was a great collection in 1971. It’s a bit of our history
now."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, July 14, 2006 - 01:06 pm:   

Just sent in my "Classics" essay on THE FLY. What, you say? I've already done
that? Well, yeah...but my earlier essay was on the one with Jeff Goldblum. This
is the one with David Hedison and Vincent Price, which I freely admit was blown
out of the water by the remake, but which has its own moments of interest, not
all of which are intentional. Excerpt.

" {James} Clavell, later famous as the author of SHOGUN, fills the script with
any number of moments laughable to today’s ears, which likely provoked titters
along with the creeps even then. The classic moment, which everybody who sees
it remembers, is the fly with the human head screeching, “Help me! Help meeee!”
That’s a goodie. That’s the money moment, and it delivers exactly as intended.
But coming immediately after that, the Inspector puts the poor thing out of
its misery with a rock, and Francois makes the immortal declaration: “You committed
murder just as much as Helene did! You killed a fly with a human head! She killed
a human with a fly head!”"
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Thursday, July 27, 2006 - 08:12 am:   

In the "really, really, really, really, REALLY hated this movie" category, which
is a large percentage of my beat at Scifiweekly, my comments on the alien slugs
who take over a buxom collection of hospital CANDY STRIPERS:

http://www.scifi.com/sfw/screen/sfw13278.html
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - 09:01 am:   

Have not been updating often, here, but there have been a bunch.

From my upcoming review of the STAR TREK FAN COLLECTIVE collection of Klingon episodes:

"Especially amusing was the reminder that Charlie Brill, who played Klingon spy Arne Darvin in both Tribble episodes, was also half of the unfortunate comedy team who filled the slot immediately following the Beatles during their first 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan show….a gig which, through no fault of his own, has been called the most anti-climactic moment in television history."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Thursday, August 17, 2006 - 05:35 am:   

The Natural City DVD review is up.

http://www.scifi.com/sfw/screen/sfw13336.html

This one breaks a record for publication lag, at Scifiweekly. I have had reviews
run the next day. I wrote this one in May.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Wednesday, September 06, 2006 - 08:33 am:   

Just mailed in my classics review of CARRION COMFORT by Dan Simmons.

Excerpt:

"He is especially adept at Horror, a genre that defines this epic masterpiece
only because the paperback has a skeleton on the cover, and because its villains
can be seen as, and are sometimes uneasily described as, vampires. In truth,
that label fits them as loosely as the genre label defines the book, which could
have been just as easily marketed as science fiction, or as a mainstream thriller.
Whatever you choose to call it, it is a page-turning marvel, weaving multiple
plot threads and over-the-top action sequences into a narrative of genuine,
resonant power. One of its greatest strengths, easy to miss in light of all
the other pyrotechnics on display, is the author’s skill at evoking time and
place. He not only describes his far-flung locations with the evocative visuals
of a writer who bothered to visit them first, but in the process defines characters
by using their own perceptions as a filter.
The elderly Melanie, who is capable of plotting and carrying out the most vile
atrocities, while simultaneously bemoaning the sad immoralities of the modern
world, is a particular case in point. This is not a lady with the right to sniff
disdainfully at your neighborhood, but you know for a fact that she would."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, September 08, 2006 - 02:15 pm:   

Just e-mailed my D+ review of today's un-screened for critics horror thriller, THE COVENANT, about four hunky prep school boys with supernatural powers, who ultimately find themselves contending with a malignant fifth. Not very good at all, and (as I say in the review) unkind jokes about Harry Potter strike me as unwise, when your own magical universe fails to work on anything approaching
the same level. Excerpt:

"...the energy level is so low, throughout, that viewers may find their thoughts wandering down unproductive avenues. For instance, there's the scene where the four boys discuss their troubles in a chamber lit by hundreds of candles. The
dialogue, involving matters of life and death, should seem pressing. But instead we find ourselves wondering how much time these guys spent procuring the candles, setting them in place around the room, and lighting them (either one at a time, or en masse, with a stern look from their glowing eyes), at this juncture when they really had more important things to worry about. Oh, sure, you can rationalize it any way you want. Maybe they're magical candles. Maybe they need the candles for the ritual. Work hard enough and the scene can be made to jibe. But isn't thinking about such things a sure sign that the story itself has lost you?"

I also say that the name of one actor, Taylor Kitsch, seems such a gimme to lazy critics that I declare any of the obvious jokes off-bounds.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - 11:40 am:   

Just send in 900-word review of CLIVE BARKER's THE PLAGUE DVD, about a strange
contagion that sends all the world's children (under Age 19) into vegetative
states. 10 years later, in a world defined by grieving parents, where the last
unaffected kids are just now leaving high school, and where all subsequent children
born have the same condition...


...the kids wake up and start acting like zombies, swarming and killing people.

Honestly. That's the best the moviemakers could do.

Excerpt, longer than most, from my review.

"...the creative laziness here verges on the criminal. You have a powerful and
disturbing opening concept like that, worthy of John Wyndham or Nigel Kneale
at their best, and a cheap zombie rehash is the best you can do with it? Then
get another job. Seriously, it doesn’t take all that much thought to come up
with half a dozen alternative story directions, all far more promising than
just having the blank-eyed kids wake up and start killing people. Here’s just
a few. What if one kid came out of the coma, and became the subject of too much
attention by too many adults projecting all their heartbeat and loss upon him?
What if the Plague ended, and the new influx of bright, happy and unaffected
kids entered a world now facing the problem of what to do with all those millions
still rotting away in high school gymnasiums? What if the kids came back fully
recovered but slightly off, leaving their parents to the dawning knowledge that
their darlings were hiding something? What if we followed the life paths of
the last high school class, as they move on into adulthood, enjoying the status
that has accrued to the last of their kind, but increasingly aware that they
can leave nothing in their wake but oblivion and extinction? Hell, what if the
story turned out to be entirely about adults struggling for a reason to live,
in a world with no future?

"Honestly, people: those questions – each more promising than the story’s actual
direction -- represent a mere thirty seconds of brainstorming, by a reviewer
dizzy with a flu who needed chicken soup just to think straight. This movie
comes attached to the name of one of the most imaginative, uncompromising fantasists
of his era. Either one of us is having a peak day despite physical infirmity,
or one of us just isn’t trying."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 12:14 pm:   

And just sent in my review of THE DROP, starring John Savage and Sean Young,
which -- honestly -- makes CLIVE BARKER'S THE PLAGUE look like the second coming
of Orson Welles.

A college student is chased back and forth across several levels of a parking
garage by thugs who want to know where he hid a briefcase containing a mysterious
glowing object capable of destroying the world. Beyond awful. Excerpt.

"As Mr. Zero expostulates on the sinking on the Titanic and the bugging of the
Watergate Hotel, Carter runs through the abandoned parking garage in slow motion,
pumping his pencil arms as if practicing for the rapidly expanding fireball
a more expensive action movie would soon position behind him. What follows is
a very slow-motion war indeed, with plenty of meaningful glances, interminable
pauses, self-consciously arty shots of things like coffins and Sean Young applying
her lipstick, and action scenes so listless that the result seems less a movie
than a series of carefully-posed slides.

"...Ultimately, this is just a dull, lifeless, pretentious, and agonizingly
pointless movie made by people who have absolutely no idea what a story is for,
made for what seems about $1.98, and granted precious little respectability
via the presence of two name actors who have seen better days."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Thursday, September 28, 2006 - 08:57 am:   

Four awful movies reviewed in four days, the latest being HEARTSTOPPER, a formula serial killer thriller in which an executed madman rises on his gurney to stalk a pair of teenage patients through a darkened and all-but-deserted hospital. Robert Englund receives star billing and is featured on the video box, but is really only there to serve as early victim. I think the resulting review is the funniest one I've written since my evisceration of THE SUCKLING. Excerpt, I kid you not.

"Sarah tries to impart the gravity of the situation to fellow teenage patient, Walter (Stephenson), who has been brought in because of a life-threatening wound sustained while raking leaves. She says of Chambers, “He’s killed, like, a gazillion people. He rips out their hearts and watches them die, all right? The crime scenes are usually bloodbaths!” And don’t you love the inclusion, in that context, of the modifier, ‘usually’? Chambers must sometimes rip the hearts out of people but mop up the puddles afterwards. ‘Usually’, my sweet Aunt Fanny."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, September 29, 2006 - 12:47 pm:   

From my review of the BEWITCHED Season 4 DVD set:

It genuinely bothered me, even as a child watching these shows as they aired in syndication most weekday afternoons, that Darrin professed to love Samantha while, simultaneously, hating almost everything about her. He hated her powers, he hated her relatives (even the well-meaning ones like dotty old Aunt Clara), he hated what she was, he hated the unpredictability of life with her, he got mad at her if she used her abilities for so much as sparing herself the drudgery of housework, and though he was capable of smiling at her whenever things were going well, he spent much of his time with her in a state of seething, resentful frustration.

What Darrin wanted, really, was a wife as accoutrement, a furnishing to occupy his status-symbol home and reflect all the trappings of his supposed success. And he offered her precious little in return, but for a little perfunctory affection. It rendered the show’s enduring mystery, not its supernatural trappings, but just what the hell the clearly smarter, and much classier, Samantha – who wouldn’t have needed to cast any spells of the supernatural kind to claim any man she wanted -- saw in this pop-eyed putz.

Watching these shows for the first time in more than thirty-five years, I see little reason to revise the perceptions of my tow-headed young self. The man’s a poopyhead. Indeed, the show’s one great joke, very much deliberate, obvious then and downright belabored now, is that he’s also a total fraud as hotshot young adman. Just about every brilliant campaign he claims to come up with (for a treacherous boss who claims to love him but keeps intimating an eagerness to fire him at the first sign of failure), is actually concocted by Samantha, as an improvised coverup for the latest in a series of magic spells gone awry. If she ever did decide to kick his ass to the curb, he wouldn’t stop sliding ‘til his only professional options were to go to work as a greeter for Wal-Mart.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Sunday, October 15, 2006 - 01:46 pm:   

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, Season 2 Vol 1 Review. Excerpt:

"There’s plenty to mock in just one episode, “Leviathan.” In this entry, written by William Welch, the pretty helmet-headed blonde played by Karen Steele summons the Seaview to an underwater installation imperiled by radioactive emissions. She desperately needs their help, but still, for reasons she later explains but which hurt my head too much to repeat, spikes the ship’s supply of salt with a powerful drug that causes the crew to imagine the sub under attack by stock footage that include “giant” jellyfish, and sawfish. Everybody in the crew hallucinates precisely what she needs them to hallucinate, on cue and in unison, while retaining their mental acuity and ability to command and control a state-of-the-art nuclear submarine. That's one hell of a precise narcotic. But there are evidently some problems. The visions are so very terrifying, in fact, that Captain Crane says things like, “It’s headed right for us!”, even when the stingray visible through the window is clearly swimming away.


"But wait, there’s more! Upon their arrival at the undersea lab, it turns out that the chief researcher, Dr. Anthony Sterling (Liam Sullivan), has grown to giant size, thanks to a spectacular physical mutation that has also conveniently affected his trousers and fuzzy sweater. Growing larger and developing a set of fangs – but still retaining his clothing -- the dude even departs his base and physically wrestles the Seaview himself, a development that fails to explain why his lab remains intact after his departure when the only exits were scaled to human dimensions. This is, in short, a story about humans expanded to giant size where mere violation of the square-cube law remains, by far, the least impossible thing you’re required to believe."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, August 17, 2007 - 02:26 pm:   

I haven't posted review updates here for almost a year, but here's one.

My review today was for the current theatrical release THE LAST LEGION, essentially
"The Origin of Excalibur," starring Ben Kingsley, Colin Firth, and the current
"Most Beautiful Woman In the World," Aishwarya Rai. I made good sport of the
film, which has some awe-inspiringly silly moments, but thought it amusing enough
to give a C+. Excerpt.

"The love story between Mira and Aurelius is also less than persuasive, in part
because the movie isn’t really interested in steaming up the screen, and in
part because Aishwarya Rai’s less-than-compelling performance here fails to
live up to her spectacular face and anatomy. (We assume that she’s much better
as the star of so many Bollywood films). But the real problem, as demonstrated
by oodles of previous romantic comedies starring Colin Firth, is that he’s really
best at expressing sexual longing when that feeling manifests as puzzled irritation
as his characters slowly recognize their attraction to the women in question.
This can make perfect dramatic sense in something like BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY,
where the object of his reluctant longing is a deglamorized Renee Zellweger
radiating full-bore off-putting neurosis, but is risible in something like this,
where the leading lady who implores him to see her as a lover as well as a warrior
is, again, The Most Beautiful Woman In The World. Meet Aurelius, your dedicated
Roman Centurion. He suffers from Advanced Macular Degeneration."
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Thursday, October 04, 2007 - 06:24 am:   

FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Be apprised that I'm very proud of the layers and layers of snark in this one.

http://www.scifi.com/sfw/screen/sfw17083.html
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Sunday, October 21, 2007 - 01:29 pm:   

SARAH LANDON AND THE PARANORMAL HOUR.
http://www.scifi.com/sfw/screen/sfw17173.html

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