With not much new in theaters this week and next week, it’s a good time to investigate some of the great online resources for entertainment. I was delighted to find out that there is still a way to see Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” When Whedon made it available free for one weekend only so many people tried to get access that there was a server meltdown. You can buy it now on iTunes or DVD. Or, you can watch it (with brief commercial interruptions) on Hulu. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a three-act musical about a would be super-villain played by Neil Patrick Harris. I love the laundromat song! And Hulu also has a wonderful collection of classic and new episodes of TV series and movies like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Groundhog Day.” It’s my go-to site when I have the flu.
I’d also like to recommend Odeo, a wonderful collection of the best audio and video from throughout the web. I am a huge fan of the series of podcasts from The Moth, where writers and performers tell stories about their lives that must be both true and without notes. I was enormously moved by the latest in the series, Ed Gavagan’s “Drowning on Sullivan Street.” Odeo makes it easy to subscribe so that you won’t miss any of your favorites. The Moth is also available on iTunes at no charge. Here is Gavagan’s story:
List: Alaska Movies (and one television show)
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In honor of the new Republican nominee for Vice-President, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, here’s a list of movies that take place in Alaska:
1. North to Alaska This easy-going comic “Northern” (that’s a western set up north) stars John Wayne and the lovely Capucine
2. The Gold Rush Charlie Chaplin memorably turns shoelaces into spaghetti in this Klondike classic.
3. Mystery, Alaska Russell Crowe is a hockey player on an underdog team from a small Alaska town that takes on the pros.
4. Insomnia If you have insomnia, going to a place with no nights is probably not a good idea, especially if you’re investigating a murder. Three Oscar-winners — Al Pacino, Hillary Swank, and Robin Williams — star in this remake of a Norwegian thriller written and directed by “The Dark Knight’s” Christopher Nolan.
5. Grizzly Man Werner Herzog’s tragic documentary about a man who wanted to live with grizzly bears is a thoughtful meditation on the impulse to go to extremes.
6. Into the Wild Sean Penn wrote and directed this fact-based story of a young man who wanted to leave everything behind and died in the Alaskan countryside.
7. Balto Kevin Bacon provides voice talent in this animated film based on the true story of the dog who saved the lives of Alaskan children by delivering essential medicine. There’s a statue in his honor in New York’s Central Park.
8. Road to Utopia Hope and Crosby’s “Road” travels take them to Alaska in this silly comedy.
9. The Simpsons Movie Homer Simpson leaves Springfield for Alaska in the first feature film from this record-breaking comedy classic television series.
10. Northern Exposure This beloved television series about a naive young doctor is well loved for its endearing characters and understated humor.
Vampires are really big this year. Breaking Dawn, the fourth volume in Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series was the most eagerly anticipated book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And one of the most popular events at Comic-Con was the panel for the upcoming movie with Kristen Stewart as Bella, the human girl who is in love with a vampire.
Also popular at Comic-Con was the appearance by Anna Paquin of the new HBO series True Blood, created by Alan Ball of “Six Feet Under” and “American Beauty.” In this series, the invention of a synthetic blood product has made it possible for vampires to “come out of the coffin” and join human society.
There are many reasons for the enduring appeal of the vampire myths, which date back thousands of years and recur in different forms in the folklore of many different cultures. The most popular modern conception is based in the Eastern European stories that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That has inspired classic movies from spooky classics (Dracula) to silly comedies (Dracula – Dead and Loving It, Once Bitten, and the unforgettably titled The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck). Vampires have been played by everyone from Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt to Jim Carrey, Wesley Snipes, Catherine Deneuve, the Coreys (Haim and Feldman), Humphrey Bogart, and in an hilarious SNL skit, James Woods. And they have been fought by everyone from Hugh Jackman to Buffy. in Shadow of the Vampire, Willem Dafoe plays a vampire playing a vampire, based on the mystery behind the filming of “Nosferatu,” which basically stole its entire story from Dracula but changed the name so they would not have to pay royalties.
One aspect of the vampire myth that is especially alluring is the idea of being un-killable. The life they lead may be perverse and tortured, but it is eternal. Ann Rice, author of Interview with a Vampire and its sequels, has said that it was the death of her child that inspired her to write a series of books about creatures who do not die. Her books have sold over 100 million copies. Certainly, the mixture of death and life that a vampire represents is a part of what draws us to the stories, helping us to explore our fears and desires. In the case of the Twilight series, the vampire adds another dimension. These days, writers of romances complain, it is harder and harder to find reasons for the couple in the story not to get together so quickly there is no time for — a story. The traditional obstacles keeping couples apart, especially cultural norms against having sex with someone you don’t know very well, seem quaint and out of date. But if the guy you like is a vampire and you are not, that’s a darn good reason not to get close any way other than emotionally and psychically. These books explore the deep romanticism of that kind of relationship.
The Canadian series Blood Ties is now showing on Lifetime. It is the story of an investigator specializing in the supernatural and it features “the sexy 450-year-old vampire, Henry” as her adviser and possible love interest. And “Moonlight,” the story of a private investigator turned into a vampire on his wedding night and now interested in a human woman, has been canceled by CBS but may return on another station.
When a studio is fairly certain it will not get a single good review it simply refuses to let the critics get a look before the release date. That’s called a “cold open.” Usually, movies that open cold are based on video games and/or very graphic horror films and/or directed by the legendary Uwe Boll (generally considered the worst director currently working in movies), and/or directed by Tyler Perry (no idea why this is because I really like his movies), and/or a very dumb generic gross-out comedy, especially of the “Scary Movie,” “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” etc. franchise.
And traditionally, Labor Day weekend is the worst weekend of the year for movies, when the studios release films that they have no expectations for whatsoever.
Thus, we have three cold opens this weekend. One is the action film “Babylon A.D.” with Vin Diesel. The last film by this director was “Gothika,” which gave rise to my well-known “Gothika rule” (if a movie has a mind-numbingly horrible ending I will give it away to anyone who sends me an email). Even he is telling people not to see this movie.
“I’m very unhappy with the film,” Mathieu Kassovitz tells amctv.com. “The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners. It was a terrible experience…” hile he was attracted to the material’s dense geopolitical themes, Fox, the studio co-financing the movie, only wanted “pure violence and stupidity … Parts of the movie are like a bad episode of 24.” He tells the website that Fox “made everything difficult from A to Z.”
The other two movies opening this week are comedies. “Disaster Movie” is from the people who gave us “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie.” They have yet to give us “Good Movie.” I feel confident in saying that Josh Levin’s Slate review of a previous film in this tired franchise is vastly more entertaining than any of their movies. And then there’s “College.” Its poster features a kid throwing up in a toilet. Enough said.
Now would be a good time to enjoy those last summer swims and barbecues, do some back-to-school shopping, catch up on some of the big releases you might have missed or see your favorites a second time — and get ready for the fall. In September alone we have the new Tyler Perry, the new DeNiro/Pacino movie, “Igor” with John Cusack, and the new Coen brothers movie, starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. I can’t wait!