Lou Taylor Pucci on skinemax

Lou Taylor Pucci was one of the judges for the Sundance festival for the Short Film category, and between shows Cinemax is showing an entertaining bumper with him. He’s narrating the upcoming film Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Collider has a video interview with him regarding that film as well. Lou is probably best known for starring in Thumbsucker, my favorite of the Garden State-alike indies (including Garden State itself) and he’s had smaller, but very memorable parts in Southland Tales, Fast Food Nation, Personal Velocity, The Chumscrubber, and Fanboys (full review). He’ll also be in the Dennis Quaid thriller The Horsemen and Bret Easton Ellis’s The Informers this year.

Why the plug? Lou’s my cousin, and honestly, a fine young actor- notice I plugged the movies of his I like, and I’ll warn you off 50 Pills which even he hates- it got mangled in editing. I’m going to give The Go-Getter another shot before reviewing it here, as the first time around I wasn’t that thrilled with it. But give Thumbsucker a shot- it’s a great little movie, and he holds his own against Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio and Vince Vaughn, which is saying something.

Wallace and Gromit – A Matter of Loaf and Death

Cracking good toast, Gromit!

I must admit that I love Aardman animation. Wallace and Gromit are two of the great cartoon characters- if you can call claymation a cartoon. A bumbling mad scientist slash glutton of a fellow, and his silent, clever dog, if you haven’t introduced yourself to their adventures– whether it’s rocketing to the moon to mine the green cheese in A Grand Day Out, foiling a jewel thief penguin with robotic pants gone mad in The Wrong Trousers, sheep shearing and propeller plane dogfights in A Close Shave or the lepusthropic gardening hijinks in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit— Nick Park and crew have consistently raised the bar they’ve set for themselves. Even their non-W&G films such as Chicken Run and Flushed Away– the latter using CG animation mimicking their claymation style- they just show how it’s done, when you want an animated film both kids and adults can not only enjoy, but fondly remember.
Sadly, their latest effort, A Matter of Loaf and Death, won’t be coming to theaters. It was broadcast on British television, and isn’t yet on DVD. Clocking in at only half an hour, it was their first release after a fire gutted the studios. It’s worth hunting down, as it lives up to their stellar reputation, and continues the misadventures of hapless Wallace and his lifesaver of a pooch, Gromit.
This time they’re bakers, and 12 other bakers have been found murdered of late. Wouldn’t want to make it a baker’s dozen, would we? At their Top Bun bakery they’re working hard and making the dough, with Wallace’s gadgets helping out- as long as Gromit’s there to save things from going pear-shaped now and then. During a delivery, Wallace saves a Rubenesque gal named Piella when the brakes on her bicycle fail. She has a shy poodle named Fluffles, who is friendly but very concerned. Wallace and Piella – a former pin-up girl for the Bake-o-Lite company- begin a head over heels romance, but Gromit is suspicious, especially when he finds out that her bike’s brakes are just fine….
As usual, Gromit has to save Wallace from peril that he is unaware he’s even in, and the movie references (and the fur) both fly. My only complain is that it’s not long enough; if they’d been able to create their usual feature length story, it would have more of the little touches they’re known for. At 30 minutes, it’s jam-packed and feels a bit rushed at times. They manage to reference everything from The Silence of the Lambs to Aliens, plus all their prior adventures. It gets a bit breathtaking if you try to catch them all. but more importantly, the old wit and charm are both there, and this is a taste of Aardman to hold us over. Until it comes out on DVD, check out their previous films, which are all top-notch.

Eastbound & Down

Ever since seeing Danny McBride in Andy Samberg’s Hot Rod, I’ve been a fan of his bombastic assholitude. Since then he’s gone on to memorable roles in Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, and starring in The Foot Fist Way, as a small town Tae Kwon Do instructor. I dunno why I never gt around to reviewing that one- I’m buying the DVD and will rectify that soon. It’s as hilarious as this show, which plays Monday nights on HBO.
In Eastbound & Down, McBride plays Kenny Powers, a has-been baseball player who used to be a pitcher with a killer fastball in the ’80s. He still packs the mullet, the ego, and the attitude, but now has a beer gut and debts to pay instead of a magic arm and the world on a platter. He’s living with his brother’s family, working as a substitute Phys-Ed teacher at a local school, and drives around listening to his own audiobooks in a monster truck towing his Jet Ski. The show rides on this character he has created- someone so full of himself and obviously past whatever prime he had, and unable to let it go, that every moment of his life is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel. There is not a likeable atom in his body, so unless you can laugh at someone like that, this isn’t for you.

He’s backed up by some relative newcomers who will be big soon. Katy Mixon (photo gallery), a busty brunette best known for Four Christmases, shows her comedic chops as the old flame Kenny holds a torch for; her husband, the school principal (Upright Citizens Brigade alumn Andrew Daly) is the perfect nerdy fan, but is still driven to apoplexy by Kenny’s shenanigans. At home, Kenny’s brother Dustin (John Hawkes, Me and You and Everyone We Know) and his wife Cassie (Jennifer Irwin) have their Christian hospitality put to the test, and the kids swerve from being terrified of their bellowing beast of an uncle. But he also charms them, because at heart he’s just a kid who never grew up. But that kid is more like Eric Cartman from South Park than anything else.
McBride’s Will Ferrell has an episode-long cameo as the sleazy owner of a car dealership, and who knows who’ll show up next. His buddy and co-writer of the show Ben Best plays an old cokehead friend with aplomb. McBride was in Tropic Thunder, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Ben Stiller dropped in sometime. Let’s hope this has stronger legs than HBO’s last 30 minute comedy, Louie C.K.’s Lucky Louie, which despite being hilarious, disappeared off the radar one season in. HBO has a bad track record with any show that’s not a blockbuster, but this is the most I’ve laughed at a TV show in a long, long time.


Frank Langella admits that Skeletor was his favorite role

Frank Langella is up for the Best Actor Oscar this year for his excellent portrayal of President Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon, but when he was asked what his favorite role was on CBS Sunday Morning, he didn’t mention that one. Or Dracula, the role that made him a ’70s sex symbol, or the evil politician from Dave.

Nope, it’s Skeletor in the enormous late-’80s flop The Masters of the Universe, based on the cartoon. If you haven’t seen it, click here for my review.

Here’s Langella’s interview on CBS Sunday Morning. He’s a brave man, and said he took the role because his son watched the He-Man cartoon. It’s pretty awesome that he starred in a disaster of a B movie for his son’s enjoyment. No wonder he had so much fun with the role. Most actors say that hours of make-up is a pain in the butt, but the very private Langella endured it for his kid, and I respect that. I feel bad for mocking his taking the part now, but he and Billy Barty were really the best parts. To see how he prepared for Nixon, I suggest watching him as Skeletor. You won’t regret it.

Christmas with the Venture Brothers

Each year, the Venture Brothers team- Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer- do a goofy holiday song in the voices of their characters for Quickstop. This year, it’s #21 and 24 singing my least favorite Christmas song- Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” … and if the nerdy henchman duo cracks you up, this song will have you in stitches.

Previous years include:
The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend singing The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl’s “A Fairytale of New York
(That’s my favorite, with the high-pitched Monarch doing Kirsty’s part, and gravelly Dr. G doing Shane MacGowan; plus hearing the Monarch call Dr. Girlfriend a “cheap lousy faggot” vindicates Brock’s assessment of her as post-op)
The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend singing the David Bowie & Bing Crosby duet of “Little Drummer Boy
Henchmen 21 & 24 singing Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas

Best of all may be the epic “Venture Aid 2006” which has so many voice cameos every nerd will be sated.

If the direct mp3 links stop working, they are available via a player on Quickstop’s Holiday Havoc page.

Also, according to Jacks in Public’s LJ, Patton Oswalt, John Hodgman, and Seth Green all did voice work for the upcoming season, which is awesome.

Pushing Daisies… perhaps too apt a title now

It is with great sadness that I read about one of the best and original comedies on television, “Pushing Daisies,” will be doing just that next season. Never has a title been so perfect a pun since “Six Feet Under” ended. And it’s a damn shame, because Pushing Daisies is a more original show and one of the few things I looked forward to watching on prime time these days.
Perhaps it was too quirky for its own good. The basic premise? A virtuoso pie maker named Ned has a secret gift- his touch can bring things back from the dead. But only for a minute, then something else must die to take its place. And if he touches you twice- you’re dead for good. It’s a bit silly, but I like when magic has its rules. Otherwise you end up with day-walking vampires chugging holy water martinis with garlic-stuffed olives, and that’s just lame. Daisies was crammed with amusing characters, from Emerson Cod- the bulky black private eye (Chi McBride from Narc, The Frighteners) who uses Ned’s gift to help solve murders, to Ned’s childhood crush Charlotte aka “Chuck”- who he can never touch- because he saved her once. Probably the only man who appreciates condoms. The starry-eyed and star-crossed couple are played by Lee Pace (The Fall, Infamous) and Anna Friel (A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
Rounding out the cast are Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen “Suddenly Seymour!” Greene (Little Shop of Horrors) as Chuck’s eccentric aunts, who live in Grey Gardens-style reclusivity, and the delightfully named Olive Snook. Who is, of course, a snook who’s in unrequited love with Ned, and the show’s sharpest-tongued smartass. And it’s biggest doofus. Your typical show will consist of Emerson using Ned to solve a bizarre murder- the show has killed people with bees, exploding steam ovens, and cement mixer-magic tricks gone wrong in the last month alone- while the quirky crew shuffles around their mutual webs of deceit in the pie shop.

You can’t go wrong with pie, and the show has the best-looking pies since Waitress. Despite the health code violation of a shaggy dog named Digby, The Pie Hole is the kind of place that makes you long for a specialty pie restaurant around the block. They’d need to wheelbarrow me home. The show’s quirky humor, snarky narration by Jim Dale (who reads the Harry potter audio books, and was a regular in the Brit “Carry On” comedies) and fantastic set design made it a big stand-out in the prime time lineup. With reality shows and CSI-alikes crowding the schedule, it was nice to have a completely strange and often hilarious show like Pushing Daisies around. With cameos from the likes of Paul Reubens and Fred Willard, and directors like Barry Sonnenfeld and Peter O’Fallon (Suicide Kings) taking the helm, it really popped.
If anything, give your HDTV or Blu-Ray player a workout and watch the rest of the season. The colorful and imaginative sets- ranging from mountain convents, carnival side shows, and Emerson Cod’s amazing wardrobe- are worth watching for the eye candy alone. It’s unfortunate that yet another original show is getting the axe, and Pushing Daisies will join the ranks of Arrested Development, Carnivale, and Deadwood in the Island of Shows Unappreciated by Their Networks. Watch it while you can, it’s smart and funny, probably too much for its own good.

Olive singing “Hopelessly Devoted” as she pines for Ned.


8. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Schlocktoberfest #8: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
I’m watching this movie because Brian the Friendly Irish Giant said it scared the bejeezus out of him as a child, and I want to make fun of him. Back in the ’70s we had some good TV movies, and this was one of them. Made in a 2 week rush after a writer’s strike, it stars Kim Darby (the crazy mom from Better Off Dead) as a housewife tormented by little creatures living in the walls of her house. Of course, her husband doesn’t believe what she sees out of the corners of her eyes, but we know he’s full of shit when he tells her: don’t be afraid of the dark.

creeepy house…

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is also in the news because Guillermo del Toro wants to remake it. It’s a classic tale, and could use his creepy touch. For an old TV movie with horrible special effects, it is quite effective. When we meet the Farnhams they are moving in to a Spanish mansion, and are confused as to why the huge fireplace is bricked up. The handyman associated with the house- Mr. Harris (old hand William Demarest) tells them that it can’t be unbricked, that the previous owner- Mrs. Farnham’s grandmother- had him do it with steel rebars and so many layers of brick that you’d have to tear the house apart to do it. When she asks why, he adds ominously, “some things are better left as they are.”

Uncle Charley from “My Three Sons” colludes with the underworld…

Now of course, Sally can’t leave it alone. It niggles at the back of her mind, and she finds a way to pick at the cinder trap with a wrench to sate her ravenous curiosity. She peers inside the flue and sees nothing but a seemingly endless crawlspace going off into the depths of the house’s innards. Well, that was anticlimactic, right? But once that grate has been unlocked, strange things start happening. She hears little whispers in the dark. Scuttling footsteps in the corners, like little rat claws scrabbling at the walls. She starts seeing faces in the dark corners, most notably under the table at their housewarming party. She screams and no one else can see it, so her mental state comes into question.

Do they want to give her a demonic abortion?

Back in the ’70s, Women’s Lib be damned, it was still okay to portray women as hysterical creatures incapable of resisting the slightest abnormality. If they weren’t tripping on those high heels during ’50s monster flicks, their inherently fragile nature was shattering at the merest suggestion of terror in these ’70s and ’60s horror films. It’s hard to blame her when the lights go out as she showers, and she finds her husband’s straight razor on the floor! Soon we get hints of the house’s dark secret- little clawed hands are reaching out from cabinets to turn off light switches. Little misshapen heads huddle together and whisper “free, free!” and “I want to hurt her!”

Yer grandad put a cask of Amontillado in there…

Poor Sally manages to hold it together, and agrees with her husband to sell the house, despite it being a family estate. When they ask Mr. Harris to do some more work before sale, he refuses; he knows something, but he’s keeping his lip zipped. As he retrieves his toolbox from the dark and dusty basement, little voices threaten him: “You told! You know what happens to people who tell…” and he barely manages to escape the clutches of the unseen critters. Well, they’re not exactly unseen- we’ve seen little bits and pieces- a wizened face here, a hairy limb there. Just the kind of thing you don’t want squirming between the joists in your drywall, and poking its face out of a duct.

come live with us Sally… and bring moisturizer…

Their reign of terror begins as soon as hubbie leaves on a business trip. When the critters make their first attempt, they get the interior decorator instead. He takes a dive down the stairs, and they chatter “It’s your spirit we need, Sally! One of us! Live with us!” When the police come to get the body, she tells them he fell. Nobody suggests putting a fucking light on. This is the darkest house I’ve ever seen. A guy just fell to his death in your dark-ass house! The little demons must exert a form of suggestion, because everyone seems turned against her. The doctor is incredulous that she’s upset over someone dying in her home; her friend demands that she wait for her husband to get home when she wants to flee.

In the ’70s we had an energy crisis but didn’t live like mole people.

When hubby gets home, he listens to their story and goes to confront Mr. Harris, leaving the two women alone. The little creatures make their next move and cut the power, hacking at the lines in the walls, making the place even darker. This is where the story gets most effective, because the tiny beasts- which are just people in costumes, shot at angles to look small- are much creepier by candlelight. The little buggers want to tie Sally up and drag her down the chimney to their lair, where we learn that her grandfather was taken before her…

“I did this in a men’s bathroom to get through college.”

So is it worth watching? For its age, it is surprisingly effective. Somewhere between the camp of Trilogy of Terror and the psychological horror of 1963’s The Haunting, you have this bleak tale of a house whose secret is never fully explained. It was obviously influential- the ironic title comes about because the house’s little terrors can’t stand the light, and that may have been part of the inspiration for Gremlins, also about tiny malicious critters. It suffers only because its miniscule budget; the house itself is quite creepy, but the monster suits are pretty pathetic if you see them for more than a split second. They’re similar to the little demons from The Gate, but look even more dated. In a dark room on a quiet night, it will definitely give you the heebie-jeebies, and if your cat jumps on you at the wrong time, you may need a change of underwear. Recommended. If del Toro remakes it, I guarantee it will be amazing; it’s a good story that deserves a better telling.