Sunday, February 27, 2011

Happy Birthday, Adam Baldwin

The Blessed Are the Geeks Blog would like to wish a happy birthday to one of the best character actors in the business, Adam Baldwin. Baldwin is a fantastic actor who has a list of roles from film and television that makes him beloved by all geeks everywhere.

Some of his most notable roles include:

Animal Mother in Full Metal Jacket

Jayne in Firely

Fred Haise in From the Earth to the Moon

Knowle Rhorer in The X-Files

And he has done voice work as Superman, Green Lantern, and various characters from the Halo and Mass Effect games... and about a million other cool roles.

Happy birthday, Adam. You're awesome.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

I was vaguely aware of this series when it premiered on some channel called Starz, whatever that is. I remember watching a trailer and thinking to myself, "boy, that don't look too good." Flash forward a year or so later and my friend Anna has started watching it... and now she won't shut the hell up about it. I realized I'd have to at least check it out or else I'd never be able to talk to her again or even read her blog.

Oh, and I guess because I also respect her opinion or something, and because her recommendations had up to that point never steered me wrong.

I got the first disc on Blu Ray via Netflix and barely made it through the pilot. The acting was bad, the script was terrible, and the special effects were awful. It was obvious that somebody important at the Starz channel came to work one day and said something to his staff like, "Hey, I watched this movie 300 over the weekend and it was great. Let's do a show that's a complete rip off, only since we're the Starz channel, it will have really shitty effects and a crummy cast."

And that's the impression I got from the pilot episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. It was a about three parts 300, one part Gladiator, with a sprinkle of Rome thrown in for good measure. Since 300, Rome, and Gladiator were all brilliant, Spartacus really paled in comparison. I didn't really enjoy it, and I didn't have much interest in watching the other episodes on the disc. Of course, I had nothing better to do and the mailman had already come that day, so I figured I may as well watch at least one more episode before I wrote it off completely.

Long story short, I'm glad I gave it another shot, because the second episode was awesome. Turns out, the first episode was just a somewhat rushed, kind of forced origin story that was used just to set up the events that led to getting Spartacus into the Ludus where he becomes a Gladiator. The second episode is where the extended cast is really introduced and where things start to get interesting. And as the episodes went on, the show just got better and better until I finally began to understand why Anna started raving about it. Anyway, now I'm raving it about it too.

After the first few episodes, the show found its own visual style beyond being a clone of 300 and Gladiator and Rome. In fact, as the season progressed, I'd say that it rose to the level of those three productions, which is high praise because I love Gladiator and think that Rome is just about as good a TV series as I've ever seen. This show has a lot of sex and violence to be sure, but I actually think it won me over because the writing was so good, so thoughtful, and so intelligently done. The overall story arcs for the main characters were flawlessly constructed, and the structure of the entire season was meticulously put together, building up to the incredible finale. I knew much of what was going to happen because I've seen the original film about Spartacus and became I'm something of a fanatic about Roman history, but I was still kept on the edge of my seat, guessing about what was going to happen next during every episode.

But I don't mean to downplay the sex and violence, which was also splendid. The cast of this series is full of extraordinarily attractive people, and we are lucky enough to see all of them either naked or so close to it that our imaginations have an easy task filling in the missing gaps. Lead actor Andy Whitfield gives a superb acting performance, and he is certainly as handsome and strapping a leading man as I have ever seen. And then there's Lucy Lawless, who is already a goddess among the geek community for her roles in Xena and Battlestar Galactica, only gets more beautiful as the years go by. She has never looked more gorgeous than she looks here, nor has she ever shown off so much skin. Honestly, this entire series is worth watching if only to see how amazing Lucy Lawless looks as a redhead.

And the violence is completely off the hook. Even though there is far too much CG blood splatter, the fight sequences are incredible. The sequence were Spartacus and his fellow Gladiator Crixus face off against Theokoles was without a doubt the greatest fight scene in TV history, ranking it pretty high as one of the best fight scenes of all time. I also loved the sequence toward the end where Spartacus was forced to square off against an entire group of Roman soldiers. But, really, every fight scene was well choreographed and brilliantly put together.

So I can't recommend this series enough. It's an absolutely brilliant, enthralling look at the life of the historical Spartacus. Very little of it is based on fact, of course, and the view we get of Gladiatorial life and combat is highly romanticized and stylized, but I wouldn't want it any other way. This show is just good, sexy, exciting fun. Check it out.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

I never had much interest in this movie to be perfectly honest. I thought that Superman II was a perfectly fine film as is, even though it was admittedly flawed and very, very silly. Most Superman fans knew about how the film was taken away from the original director Richard Donner mid-production and given to Richard Lester to reshoot and reedit, although to this day nobody really knows why. So the question always lingered like a riddle wrapped up in an enigma: what could have been?

Like I said, I never really bought into that riddle because I like Superman II way better than I did Donner's original Superman film, so I didn't have a whole lot of faith that his version of the sequel would be that much better. After all, Donner was the guy who made Lex Luthor into a joke, conceived Clark Kent as a bumbling fool, came up with an over all story that made zero sense, and ended the film with the most ridiculous deus ex machina in movie history. So I never really understood why people thought it was such a travesty of justice (not to mention truth and the American way, or whatever) that Donner was fired from finishing the second film.

Fast forward thirty years later, and the original cut as envisioned by Richard Donner was restored and released on DVD and Blu Ray. Well, it's as close to his original vision as possible, since much of his footage was lost forever and some remained unfilmed, but for all intents and purposes this is the film that would have been released had Donner not been fired and replaced with Lester. Got all that? Good. Like I said, I had little interest in seeing this, until a few days ago when I heard some people whose opinions I respect extolling its virtues and encouraging everybody to check it out. So I checked it out.

The Richard Donner cut is a very interesting, thoughtful, painstakingly reedited and restored version of a very flawed, admittedly stupid movie that turned it into a very different but equally flawed movie that is still very stupid. Some of the flaws from the original cut have been fixed to make way for new flaws, while some of the stupid stuff has been replaced by stuff that's just as stupid. At the end of the day, I prefer the original, and seeing this film only reinforced by original assumption that the stupid replaced Richard Donner because his ideas were just plain bad.

I'm not going to go into detail here about all of the changes from version to version, since there were so many, some major and some so subtle that I probably didn't even notice. I'm just going to briefly discuss my initial impressions and what I thought worked and what I thought didn't. The film's opening was completely different, eschewing the big set piece at the Eiffel Tower with a ten minute montage recapping the previous film in order to set up the release of Zod and his gang from the Phantom Zone prison. In Donner's cut, they were now freed from Superman deflecting one of Luthor's missiles and not from the bomb placed by terrorists on the Eiffel Tower (or whatever). This was a fine change, although I found the montage of the first film to be a ponderous, unengaging way to open a film. The Eiffel Tower scene was pretty dumb, but at least it was exciting and fun. This new opening was just boring.

Most of the changes throughout the rest of the film were more of tone than of anything else, although some footage was stuck in and some other stuff was taken out. Richard Lester directed a campy, overly silly romp while Donner's cut is a more thoughtful, talky dramatic piece. Personally, I found Donner's vision to be pretentious and boring, while Lester's at least was funny and seemed to contain a lot more action. One cool change was how they put Marlon Brando back into the film as Jor-El, replacing footage of him for all of the footage with Superman's mother. That was all flawlessly done.

But it was really the ending that sold me on the original version, since Donner's Cut has the worst ending sequence I've ever seen in any movie since... well... since the original Superman. Both films basically have the same ending, and while it was dumb the first time around, it was completely moronic and almost offensive the second time. Just watch it and you'll see what I mean. (SPOILER!!!!!!) Sure, Lester's version were Superman clouds Lois's memory with a super-kiss was dumb, but having Superman turn back time again was so much worse, and completely invalidated the entire movie. Dumb dumb dumb.

So... the Richard Donner Cut. All they managed to do was take a dumb movie and made it even dumber. If you loved Superman II already, you'll probably like this as well since it is fundamentally the same movie, albeit with a few changes here and there that range from the marginally superior to the infinitely inferior. If you hated Superman II, this cut won't change your mind, and, in fact, might just annoy you even more. I will give credit to the people who reedited and restored this version, however, since the new footage was seamlessly integrated with the old. There were some wacky moments here and there were the footage didn't always click because hairstyles changed from shot to shot and some of the effects were obviously cleaned up with CG, but it was an astounding work of restoration all the same.

But still... Skip it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Arnold Schwarzenegger Career Retrospective Part II

Welcome to the second part of the Blessed Are the Geek's Career Retrospective on Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can find Part I here, or continue on:

Total Recall (1990)
Based upon the short story by Philip K. Dick, Total Recall is a thoughtful, witty, clever, and intelligent science fiction film, that is also a ridiculously over the top action extravaganza. In other words, it's freakin' awesome! This is probably my pick for Arnold's best stand alone film. I mean, it's got a chick with three tits. How cool is that?

This is one of those rare Arnold Schwarzenegger movies that would've been just as brilliant had another actor appeared in the main role, since the script was so good, the concept was so clever, and the direction by Paul Verhoeven was so perfect. However, the fact that Arnold did star made it all the better, because we got a clever, smart science fiction movie filled with Arnold killing people while making one-liners. In my opinion, that would make every movie better. Arnold should've appeared at the end of Passion of the Christ and said something to Jesus like, "Why don't you hang around for a while?"

Anyway, great movie, and he does say "I'll be back."

Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Arnold's second attempt at comedy was a lot more successful than his first. Everybody loves this movie. Arnold was already world famous before this movie (or he would never been given the freedom to star in a movie like this in the first place), but this was the one that made all of our mothers, girlfriends, and nun love him as well. This was just a funny movie where Arnold was able to take his usual persona and poke fun at himself.

And he does say "I'll be back," but this line might be the most famous from the entire movie:

Great movie.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Arnold Schwarzenegger Career Retrospective Part I

How have I not done this yet?

I've already done a retrospective on the greatest action film star of all time, so it's about time I got around to doing one for the second greatest. And if you have any doubts about those rankings, rest assured that I already settled that argument definitively.

Anyway, Schwarzenegger is definitely one of my all time favorite film stars, so here is my rundown of the man's entire career. Well, his film career, anyway. Whatever he did in politics is for some other blogger to chronicle.

Hercules in New York (1969)
This isn't a very good film, but I don't blame Arnold for starring in it. You wouldn't have turned it down either.

The premise is that... I don't really remember, but it had something to do with Arnold playing Herclues, who was transported to present day New York. Like I said, it's not a very good movie, but it's worth watching for a few laughs, especially for the unlikely pairing of Schwarzenegger and the nebbishy character actor Arnold Stang.

This was the former bodybuilder's first feature film, but he went on to bigger and better things to be sure. I'm sure he has no regrets. I bet he got laid a lot on the set and did tons of drugs.

After this one he did some TV appearances and bit parts in movies that nobody remembers, so we'll skip ahead about ten years or so...

Stay Hungry (1976)
I've actually never seen this one, but I remember seeing a commercial for it when it aired on HBO (or Showtime, or wherever) when I was a kid. Jeff Bridges and Sally Field co-star, so maybe it's worth watching. But I doubt it.

Pumping Iron (1977)
This movie is an absolute masterpiece. It's a documentary on the Mr Olympia competition centering around the reigning champion Arnold Schwarzenegger and the up and coming challenger Lou Ferrigno. This movie is fascinating for the look into the world of professional bodybuilding, but it is incredibly entertaining for Schwarzenegger, who is a total douche bag, but he's so damn charming and likable at the same time. This is the movie that really made Arnold a star and sold his persona to the world, which is interesting because he appeared as himself.

Poor Lou Ferrigno is the butt of most of Arnold's jokes and pranks, but he went on to win multiple Mr Olympia titles and became a famous actor in his own right as well.

Anyway, if you've never seen this movie, go watch it today because it's brilliant.

The Villain (1979)
I have no idea what this is, but I need to see it.

It's also called Cactus Jack, and has Arnold acting opposite an absolutely amazing cast, including Kirk Douglas, Ann Margaret, Paul Lynde, Foster Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, Jack Elam, and Mel Tillis. It's directed by Hal Needham, who also did Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball. How have I never even heard of this? I just added it to my Netflix queue, so I will update this entry when I know more.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, LeVar Burton

Blessed are the Geeks wants to wish a happy and healthy birthday to Reading Rainbow host and Star Trek actor LeVar Burton.

Somewhere, I have his autograph. I had the opportunity to meet him once at a book signing and he was just as warm and charismatic as all of the characters he had played in movies and on TV.

Happy birthday, LeVar!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Video Clip of the Week: Big Mamma 3

Who knew they were making another Big Momma's House movie? I probably won't go see it, but I like Martin enough to give him a free plug on my website. Anyway, I'll admit... I laughed.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Despicable Me

I don't have a whole lot to say about this movie, but I figured I'd mention it if only because I've been so negative with my past few reviews. But, anyway, this movie was hilarious. I recommend it highly for adults as well as adults with children. It was incredibly funny, moving, and just plain clever.

Check it out. Two thumbs way up.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Social Network

I watched about ten minutes of this before shutting it off. It opened with a conversation between two obnoxious, insufferable people, at least one of whom was the star so I assumed he was going to be in it until the ending. I didn't want to spend another minute with these characters, so I shut the movie.

I'm sure it's well written because the dialogue was intelligent and well constructed. I'm sure it's well acted because star Jessie Eisenberg is usually quite likable and charming, so I'm assuming the fact that he was so boring and obnoxious was an intentional acting decision. And I'm sure it's well directed because David Fincher is a famous, well respected guy.

But I turned it off after ten minutes because I found it to be unwatchable.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Super Bowl Movie Trailers

I didn't watch the Super Bowl this year, just like I didn't watch it last year, the year before that, or the year before that. I don't even watch it for the commercials, which is an activity I've never really understood because the commercials aren't all that different, better, or more exciting. After the game, they usually go into regular rotation anyway, so it's not like that's the only way to see them even if they are outstanding.

However, the movie trailers are usually worth checking out, if only because they often are the first time you really get a good look at some of the more exciting movies coming out later this year or the next.

Let's take a look at some of the more interesting film trailers that aired during last Sunday's big game:

Captain America: The First Avenger

This looks pretty cool. I'm excited for it. Captain America is one of the three or four best comic book heroes ever, and this looks like it'll be a pretty cool movie. I like Chris Evans, and director Joe Johnson certainly did an amazing job with the Rocketeer. However, that costume really looks lame now that I see it in motion.

But... I'll see it, probably on opening weekend. It looks cool.

Happy Birthday, John Williams

Blessed Are the Geeks wants to wish a happy and healthy birthday to our all time favorite film composer, John Williams. Favorite film composer? Hell, he's our favorite composer ever! I thought about doing a top ten list of my favorite compositions, but he has done too many, and it is all too amazing to rank in any real, meaningful way. It's all brilliant.

Monday, February 7, 2011


This movie was ok.

There isn't much to say about a feature length film that was based on a fake movie trailer. As far as these things go, it was as well done an adaptation as could be expected, but that isn't to say it was all that great. It certainly had a lot of pretty girls taking their clothes off, and maybe more decapitations than any other film I'm ever seen. After about the fifteen decapitation, however, it started to get boring. This was the kind of movie that would've been a rip-roaring good time had it been only an hour and fifteen minutes or so, but since it was actually about an hour and fifty, it just over stayed its welcome and felt like a chore.

But it's definitely entertaining, for the most part, what with all the pretty girls and the heads flying off. Director Robert Rodriguez certainly knows how to stage a fun action sequence, and he always assembles fun casts that give fun performances. It's difficult to say how much Robert Rodriguez did on this movie, however, since he is only credited as co-director, along with some guy named Ethan Maniquis. I'm guessing that their collaboration consisted of Rodriguez calling the set and saying something along the lines of, "Today you should film a fight scene where Machete chops off a bunch of guys' heads and shit," and then Maniquis would go and film that. All things considered, it was a perfectly adequately directed movie, but maybe it would've been more fun and excited had Rodriguez actually directed it himself.

The star of the film is long-time Rodriguez player Danny Trejo. Trejo is always dependable and fun to watch as a heavy, but he really proved in this movie that he's incapable of carrying a film all by himself. Jessica Alba is a fine actress in her own right, but even her stunning good looks (and, frankly, there's nobody sexier in the world than her) didn't do much to elevate Trejo's one-note performance. I like Trejo and think he's awesome as a supporting actor in a movie like Predators, but he just lacks any kind of real charisma and gravitas needed to carry an entire movie. The supporting actors were all really great too -- including notable names like Linday Lohan, Don Johnson, Jeff Fahey, and Robert DeNerio(!!!) -- but none of them were really given much to do. The best of the lot was actually Steven Segal, who was really fun as the main villain.

So... this movie was ok. Check it out for the shot of Jessica Alba naked in the shower (you don't see anything, but even her side is better than a full frontal shot of any other woman), and maybe for all the heads flying off, but you might get bored after the first 45 minutes or so. I sure did.

Video Clip of the Week: Leftover Beatles Memories

Another clip from The Dana Carvey Show. For my money, there's nothing funnier than Dana Carvey doing Paul McCartney.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Oliver Stone Career Retrospective

Oliver Stone used to be one of my favorite filmmakers, but I lost interest in his films after he stopped making movies that looked appealing. Watching Wall Street 2 the other day didn't really change my opinion of his recent run of films (since it totally sucked), but it did rekindle my interest and appreciation for the man's films. Or, anyway, it made me want to look back on them all and share my opinions.

So, here is my (directorial) Career Retrospective on... Oliver Stone:

Seizure (1974)
Never seen it, never heard of it. Apparently it's about a writer who is terrorized by characters from his novels. It stars Jonathan Frid, who people may know better as the star of that TV series Dark Shadows. Um... or maybe not. Anyway, it sounds cool. I'll check it out and get back to you later.

The Hand (1981)
This one I've actually seen, and it wasn't that good. It's about a guy who loses his hand in a car accident (or something), and then it comes alive and starts to terrorize him. It stars Michael Caine, which sounds impressive, but back in the mid 80s Caine was making a lot of shit. This was way before Cider House Rules put him back on top as a notable movie star. Still, Caine is always dependable and Stone's talents as a director make this better than your average B horror movie.

Salvador (1986)
Stone followed up that piece of shit horror movie with an absolute masterpiece. Salvador is seriously one of the best movies from the 80s, and the first great movie made by Oliver Stone. It's a historical fiction about a photojournalist who covers the atrocities happening in El Salvador during the mid 80s. It's harrowing, gripping stuff, featuring an amazing central performance by James Woods, who went on to be an Oliver Stone favorite.

This was only Stone's third film, but his screenplay earned him an Oscar nomination (he had already won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for the 1979 film Midnight Express). James Woods was also nominated for Best Actor, but he lost to Paul Newman for Color of Money. Paul Newman is one of the best actors of all time, but James Wood deserved the award that year. Anyway, great movie. Check it out.

Platoon (1986)
This was the film that made Oliver Stone a major player in Hollwood. Platoon was Stone's first movie about the Vietnam War, and it was so popular and influential, that it ushered in a renewed interest in the war, and helped to give most American's a better appreciation for the troops and what they endured over there. After this movie, everybody made movies about Vietnam, some of the more notable ones being Full Metal Jacket, Gardens of Stone, Hamburger Hill, and the TV series China Beach, among many, many others.

Platoon also garnered Stone his first Oscar as Best Director. His screenplay was also nominated, alongside his screenplay for Salvador, which may be some kind of unparalleled achievement for all I know. Has anybody else ever been nominated for best Director and Best Screenplay twice in the same year? Anyway, Platoon is an amazing movie that holds up as one of the best and most enthralling war movies ever made, helped in no small part because Stone himself was a veteran of the same war.

Happy Birthday, George A. Romero

Blessed Are the Geeks wants to wish a very happy and healthy birthday to George A. Romero, who is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. He looks more an more like a zombie himself every day, which would be an insult to anybody else, but for him it somehow seems like the most fitting compliment.

Happy birthday, George!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Video Clip of the Week: Job Helmet

This is one of those scenes I could watch 1,000 times in a row and I'd never not laugh.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Iron & Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean

I don't fancy myself any kind of music reviewer, so I'll just keep this short and to the point. I bought the new Iron & Wine album this afternoon, and it's amazing. Go buy it.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

I bet money would fall asleep if it tried to watch this movie.

This was a strange, vexing, somewhat admirable failure of a film by a director who used to be one of my favorite filmmakers. Oliver Stone has always been a strange man who made polarizing films, but he never used to make boring ones, until the past few years, however, when he seemed to go soft and start making movies that could've been directed by anybody. I don't like movies directed by anyone. I like movies directed by Oliver Stone. Or, at least, I used to. Anyway, I certainly didn't like this one.

When I heard that Stone was going to make a sequel to his classic film Wall Street, set in the present day and centered around our recent economic collapse, I was excited. I rewatched the original film just to catch up on the story again (and was surprised by how brilliantly it holds up), but then I saw the trailer and it looked... meh. When the reviews and word of mouth was terrible, I still meant to see it, but I just never found the time or the energy. I finally rented it on Blu Ray, and just about the best thing I can say about it is that the video presentation was flawless. The movie, however, sucked.

First of all, it was boring. Of course, economics and accounting and stock trading aren't exactly the most thrilling things upon which to base a film, but the first Wall Street was brilliantly entertaining and enthralling. If you know a lot about economics or the recent market problems, you might find some stuff to enjoy here, but as an admitted moron, I was bored and left clueless. The first film was about the same things, but it was told in a way that morons like me could understand and follow along. After watching the first film, I came away with a better understanding of Wall Street. After watching the sequel, I walked away learning nothing at all, and suspected that Oliver Stone didn't know much either. The collapse of the markets happened just as abruptly in the movie as it did in real life, which may have been a stylistic approach to model reality, but it was just awkward and confusing when put on film.

Storywise, this film was just a huge mess. Shia LaBeouf is a talented actor, but his character was so poorly written and thought out that it was all but impossible to care about him or anything he did. I had no emotional attachment to his character, nor did I believe any of the relationships he formed with his girlfriend or any of his various mentors or friends. Did he want revenge on the villain? Did he want to save the world with clean hydro fusion (whatever the hell that is)? Or did he just want to make lots of money? I asked these questions because the film never answered them, and just when you thought the character's motivations and arc was clear, the filmed changed directions and ignored what came before in favor of some new tangent. It was just terrible.

I can't say anything bad about the cast, however, which was fantastic. It was a treat to see Michael Douglas reprising his role as Gordon Gekko. Every scene he was in was worth watching and a lot of fun. He's still a great actor who oozes charisma. Also great was Josh Brolin, who was in this film because he legally has to appear in every film now. There was also a really strange, awkward cameo by Charlie Sheen, who was the star of the original Wall Street film. It was fun to see this character pop back up, but it was so awkwardly acted by Sheen, and it made no sense why his character was such a jerk.

So... skip it. It was a well intentioned film that attempted to skewer the 21st world of Wall Street the way the original skewered the Wall Street of the 80s, but it just lacked bite and was poorly written.