Sunday, March 15, 2015

Magic of Cinderella Still Strong Thanks to Branagh And Excellent Cast

Classic cartoon, with a brand new view
With Blanchett and Branagh too
Put them together and what have you got?
130 million, plus 2 (worldwide, that is)

When Kenneth Branagh announced he was going to make Cinderella into a live-action movie, people knew he had a hard act to follow. The animated version from 1950 is considered a classic and (as the latest Princess Rap Battle mentioned) helped Walt Disney's studio finances. For months, the only details we got was Cate Blanchett has a cat on a leash, and the famous glass slipper.

Despite what some critics like Time and Vox say, Branagh has made a great new version of the well-known story who goes from scullery maid to belle of the ball. Sorry, guys, but we can't change the story.
Maybe after Frozen got so popular after the princess winds up saving herself and her sister, it made all the other traditional fairy tales a bunch of stale cliches, especially a woman needing a man to save her.

Well, it may be traditional, but this new version adds some more details to make it more well-rounded. It actually has back-stories. We see Cinderella when her parents were both alive. We get a little more insight about why the Evil Stepmother, Lady Tremaine, is so sour, and thinks marrying off one of her daughters will raise her standard. Some may argue that it proves Stepmom and Cinderella are both stuck in the "getting a man will save me" cliche.
However, it's just not them. Even though the Prince is having the ball to choose a bride, there's some intrigue thanks to the Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgard), since he's already chosen a bride to help the kingdom politically. That's an unusual detail to add to the story, the exceptions being The Slipper and the Rose and Ever After (and arguably A Cinderella Story and the ABC Family follow-up).
Besides, so what if Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is Cinderella's mom, who tells her with her dying breath to be brave and kind? She might be right, Peggy's orders.

Lily James is a vision as Cinderella, who uses her mom's advice through her life, even in the face of how Stepmom and the step-sisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera, Downton Abbey) treat her. However, she isn't that much of a pushover, especially in the final act.  Blanchett is really mean as Tremaine, but again, this version adds some details to her to make her more real. She gets very jealous not only towards Cinderella but the memory of her mom that she and her dad have. The scene where the stepmom and her daughters rip Cinderella dress, just like in the original, has more meaning here.

So how about the Fairy Godmother? Helena Bonham Carter looks like a tall Kristen Chenoweth, but she is still quite a hoot. Even though she doesn't sing "Bibiddi-Bobiddi-Boo", she certainly uses it. The best part is when she tries to turn a pumpkin into a coach, Oh, and she also plays two other roles in the movie, including one at the start.

Richard Madden is also great as the Prince, who's called Kit here. He uses that alias when he first meets Cinderella in the forest, as he's hunting a stag, This gives the sense that maybe this is destiny. So, when they meet at the ball, it's not exactly love at first sight, but second sight may be convincing. It's also great to see Derek Jacobi as the King, who wants the best for his kingdom and son.

While some may say this year's Cinderella may not be revisionist enough, they will rave about the costumes designed by Sandy Powell, especially her dress.
Also, Branagh knows how to set up scenes. As the Grand Duke is worried about Cinderella ruining his plans, guess who's off to the right listening to everything? He also chooses the right time to show Cinderella break down, losing her faith in what her mom said to her. Then there's the ending, when Cinderella does the worst thing possible to her stepmother. At least, according to the stepmom.

So this new version of Cinderella may seem to be too traditional for our times. Branagh wanted to make a live-action version of the 1950 movie. He succeeded by recreating the old look, and adding details to make it a classic on its own. No wonder some people would like to see him direct another Marvel film. Doctor Strange, anyone?
It also gives the crew who will make the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast something to shoot for in two years. At least having Emma Watson as Belle is a good start. She was almost Cinderella.

Before the movie, we got a taste of what Frozen 2 will be like with Frozen Fever. It's an extended mini-musical with Queen Elsa planning her sister Anna's birthday. Problem is, Elsa has a fever, and there's an interesting side effect that could lead to a boost in sales at Disney stores. You'll see what I mean.
The main sing, "Making Today A Perfect Day" may not sweep the country like "Let It Go", but it's still a nice tune. There's also two connections with the original story, too.

Snakes On A Boat: Rifftrax Presents Its Riff on Anaconda

Last year's Rifftrax Live events were notable because they included real movies, at least more real than Wonder Women or ROTOR. That's thanks to the Kickstarter campaign that raised 265 thousand dollars to make it possible. The crew of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett took on the 1997 version of Godzilla just a few months after last year's version, then Anaconda, where Jennifer Lopez battles a really disgusting snake...and an Anaconda, too.

I reviewed this when it was shown in theaters just before Halloween, but the mp3 was finally released to everyone over the weekend. The movie was notable because it included Lopez, rapper Ice Cube, Owen Wilson, Eric Stoltz and MTV hottie Kari Wuhrer. They're part of a documentary crew looking for a long-lost tribe in the Amazon when they come across a guy named Serone (Jon Voight) whose boat is disabled. He offers to help them find the tribe, but it's really part of a plan to look for really big anacondas. It's bad enough he looks like this for much of the movie:'

The CGI version of the snake is kind of strange, not as fancy as those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. It seemed to defy gravity, much less logic. But then, so does this movie.
Let's get to some of the riffs:

Ice Cube's character mentions "today's a good day", one of his bigger hits
AK's in the duffle bag

They come across some totems depicting snakes
They've carved a statue of Steven Tyler.

One of the smaller snakes bites the finger of Westridge, the narrator of the movie
This little piggy never made it to market.

Owen Wilson in the anaconda's stomach
Jonah's loser brother

They tie up Sarone
And now, Jon Voight in 50 Shades of Gristle

Lopez and Ice Cube are tied up, and her hair is really wet
J-Lo's new hairdo is called the Cousin Itt

The point when Serone winks at Lopez after the snake vomits him out:
A pick-up artist to the bitter end.

There's also riffs on movies Wilson and Ice Cube made, a movie role Stoltz still wishes he took, the Source Awards, The Room and Nick Nolte (now required in every movie riff), The African Queen and Richard Terry.

Meanwhile, this year's Rifftrax campaign called "The Crappening" has passed the $180 thousand mark, which means all supporters will get a free mp3 of a new riff on The Room. The campaign ends Saturday, which means it needs $20 thousand to get the final Harry Potter movie riffed, $45 thousand to get a second t-shirt made, and $70 thousand for backers who donate at least $75 to get Sharknado 2 for free. It's possible donations could explode towards the end, but if you'd like to give, please
click here. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Rifftrax's New and Improved Sketchfest Video

A couple of years ago, Rifftrax presented a video of its live show from the San Francisco Sketchfest, where they mock several terrible education videos. It looked a little underlit, and you couldn't hear the audience laughing. It still had some great guests including Kristen Schaal (now with Last Man on Earth but is also one of Jake's kids from Adventure Time), Adam Savage from Mythbusters and Kevin MacDonald from Kids in the Hall. 

Now, it's released "Night of the Shorts 5:  A Good Day To Riff Hard", which took place last month at Sketchfest. That means some of the riffs are piping hot. They take a look at six shorts, already available at the Rifftrax site. It just has the added kick of live reactions from the audience. The production is also fancier. There's real opening credits, and they'd added scenes of the riffers doing their thing along with audience reactions. The lighting is better, too.

It starts with "One Turkey, Two Turkey", where kids learn to count to ten by seeing lots of turkeys while hearing a song that Schoolhouse Rock would never use, That's followed by the first half of "Setting Up a Room", with Sketchfest founders, and Rifftrax riffers, Cole Stratton and Janet Varney. This film shows two teachers taking a looooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnggggggggg time preparing a room for a kindergarden class. It's more tedious than Lost Continent and Hercules Against the Moon Men combined. Kevin Murphy does point out that it's better than "setting up The Room".

The third short is "Writing Better Social Letters", harking back to a time where people had to send thank-you letters to friends and family, and actually use prehistoric things like a pencil and an envelope. It's also a Coronet film, so that explains a lot. Todd Barry helps out here. That's followed by the short of the night, "Live and Learn", where kids from the 1950's do incredibly stupid things that send them to the hospital. It also has lame special effects, where they try to recreate the scene of a kid falling off a cliff. How it's handled makes Bill Corbett complain about how a "perfectly good mannequin" is ruined.

Comic John Hodgman joins the crew (after barely avoiding injury) to riff on "Making Sense With Sentences", another Coronet film that tries to teach kids grammar through a fictitious island and a guy who's a cross of Ed Wynn and John C. Reilly. Sadly, using confusing riddles and plush elephants that move by themselves isn't that effective. It had a monkey who just sits there in the background. If it had a bigger role, it could have been a better short. Then Paul F. Tompkins, dressed like a snappy-looking test pattern, helps out with "Safety: In Danger, Out of Doors" Safety Woman, aka Guardiana not of the Galaxy, is back to give safety lessons to more kids dumber than the ones in "Live and Learn." She uses powers given to her by chipmunk aliens that help her reverse time, or beams kids away from speeding cars about to hit them.  Still, saving kids from drowning is described as "a less-stupid version of Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow". It also includes a really sharp riff by Mike Nelson that's got to be heard.

Finally, all of the guests return to take on the second half of "Setting Up A Room", which turns out more tedious than rock climbing. It does start with a "previously on" review that may look familiar to fans of a certain podcast. This sets a new record for most people riffing on a lousy education film (not including DVD commentaries), and might prove that combining the Rifftrax and MST3K riffers into a super-group just might work for one night (like maybe against, oh, Twilight?)

The new Sketchfest show is now available for $9.99 ($11.99 for HD) at the website, along with the 2013 Sketchfest show.

Also, the Kickstarter campaign for fund this year's Rifftrax Live shows known as "The Crappening" is still in full swing. They'll take on The Room, Sharknado 2, Miami Connection, and another version of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny.  It's currently at 162 thousand dollars, but it it reaches $200 thousand, people will finally get a riff of the final Harry Potter movie, $225 thousand will add a new Tommy Wiseau-inspired Rifftrax t-shirt, and $250 thousand means people who donate at least 75 bucks will get copies of  three Rifftrax Live shows. It won't include The Room, because you still have to look for that DVD--on purpose--to enjoy the mp3 riff.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Backer of Road Hard Reviews His Investment

Not everyone likes Adam Carolla.
They hate him for making The Man Show, describing it as mysogyny with a laugh track (even if it's really satire). They wonder why he hosted Loveline with Dr. Drew and never took the doc's advice. NPR interviews him, and then refuses to air it because it's not good radio (aka "we forgot to check if our proof that he's a racist was accurate").

Yet he's got one of the most popular podcasts around, and produces a few others. His stand-up shows do very well, and he invented Mangria. He also sometimes makes some sense abut things, like how sitcoms are made or airline passengers needing dogs to travel.
He also wrote and starred in a very small movie called The Hammer, about a boxing teacher finding a new perspective as well as a future prospect. When he decided last summer to make another movie about a comic who wants to get off the circuit, he was fairly certain very few in Hollywood would invest in an idea that doesn't include sado-masochism, loud robots or mockingjays.

So, he asked his friends to chip in, namely his listeners and fellow comics. They came through in a big way, and now Road Hard is available online, on demand and at several theaters. While a small amount of critics weren't wowed by the movie, the fans definitely were.

Before I get to the review, some things to know:
while I do know him from The Man Show, I liked his morning radio show from L-A that I downloaded regularly from iTunes. I also saw The Hammer when I was in Burbank. I got the DVD, and he autographed my ticket. It was actually better than I thought, especially his scenes with Heather Juergensen.

So, when he asked for donations through Fund Anything, I decided to help out. I gave $85, which entitles me to this award,

a t-shirt that was too big, another that was the right size, and a poster. I think I'm supposed to get the DVD eventually, too.

So, the story:  Adam plays Bruce Madsen, a guy who was once famous when he made The Bro Show (yes, Man Show) with his old partner Jack Taylor (Jay Mohr), who's now a hit on late night TV (gee, isn't that Kimmel?). That was a long time ago, and now he's back on the  road trying to get back his fame. He deals with bad hotel rooms and small comedy clubs with audiences who don't like him as much. He's looking for a way to get off the road, but his manager Baby Doll (Larry Miller) is less than supportive. He wears bad toupees and a Lopez Tonight bathrobe while hanging around with topless babes and YouTube personalities like Jenna Marbles.

He sometimes meets with his old friends like Phil Rosenthal, who talks about how he sends old scripts of Everybody Loves Raymond to Eastern Euopean countries so they can make their own versions. He also talks to fellow stand up Mike Gerard (David Allen Grier), who says he's got a new sitcom about the first Black dairy farmer in Wisconsin in the 1960's. He didn't want to tell Bruce about it because he might be upset.

Not only that, Bruce is living in the guest house of what used to be his home. His ex-wfe (Illeana Douglas) is there with her boyfriend and their adopted daughter Tina (Cynthy Wu). Bruce gets along better with the daughter than the ex-wife. Anyway, Tina says she's been accepted to USC, which means big bucks Bruce doesn't have, and his ex-wife doesn't want to sell the house. With all that, he's got to stay on the road to stay above water.

After a gig in Boston, he meets a girl named Sarah (Diane Farr) who may provide Bruce with a way off the road. However, he's still trying to find what comics usually look for after doing stand-up for years:  a sitcom, a corporate gig, or a game show thanks to Howie Mandel.

Carolla co-wrote and directed the movie with Kevin Hench. They came up with interesting scenes about  Bruce's life. After a gig in Texas, he's in his room with Twinkies and box wine while seeing old Bro Shows dubbed in Spanish. He heads to the bathroom where you think he's going to end it all, but it winds up being something that costs him 250 dollars. There's another scene where he does his act while someone is translating it for the deaf, right before he's given an introduction that reminds him of what he no longer is. Then there's one when he's with Sarah, and he does something nice for her with his other skill, woodworking.
Yes, Adam is basically playing himself as Bruce because this story is his life, and if things went a bit different, he would wind up where Bruce is. Miller, meanwhile, has the "shallow agent" part down, maybe because he's known people like that. The movie does hint maybe Baby Doll might be on the way down if he thinks YouTube personalities are the superstars of the future.

Fans of the podcast may spot some familiar things, like how annoying passengers with dogs can get, or Gerard doing a really obscene impression of Teddy Pendergrass. There's also some insights of why some comics will stay on that road of lousy flights, bad comedy clubs and worse rooms, especially one from Dana Gould. Even Bruce admits his career could have done better if he had done the work to keep it going outside the stage, as Jack did.

People who have seen this on iTunes are raving about this movie, but only 16 movie critics have filed reviews, and they're split. While the New York Times didn't like it, the San Francisco Chronicle liked it because it thought it got the comedy circuit details right.
Granted, the movie isn't for everyone. Some of the stuff is raw, especially when Bruce tries to talk his way out of that 250 dollar charge, or how his one night as a warm-up comic goes south very quickly. Overall, it's a pretty good comedy about the life of a comic, and how it's not always a lot of laughs.

Carolla may consider himself lucky, too. What happened to Bruce Madsen could have happened to him. At one point, he had a show on Comedy Central that wasn't nearly  as popular as The Man Show. He came back, though, in a big way, and part of that triumph is this movie.
What's more, he doesn't have to rely on Hollywood as he did with The Hammer seven years ago. He'll get more attention and fans, his way. with this movie.

You can learn more at Road Hard's website, which has links to Amazon Video, iTunes, and other VOD sites.  There's also a list of theaters showing the film, if you prefer that way. That'll be for the 2500 backers who gave enough cash to have their names in the ending credits...and yes, I'm in there.