Sunday, October 28, 2007

The weekly menu

• Notable releases in stores Oct. 30 and movies in theaters Nov. 2.

Buzz!: The Mega Quiz (PS2) // Get your game on quiz-show style in the latest installment of this party game series utilizing a set of actual buzzers in place of the control pads. Sounds more fun than the Atari 2600's paddle controllers, at least.

Bee Movie // Is an animated flick what anybody wants from Jerry Seinfeld? Those promotional shorts airing on NBC would be cool if they were funny. A Bee Movie tie-in video game for all the major systems is on shelves Tuesday.

Martian Child // John Cusack's adopted six-year-old thinks he's from Mars, and it all seems too precious for its own good in the trailers.

Captivity (unrated) // Another poorly reviewed entry in the torture porn genre stars Elisha Cuthbert as a fashion model.

CSI Miami: Season Five // Five seasons, and David Caruso hasn't left yet! The problem I have with the CSI shows is that you can't ever really guess who did it, and those little wrap-ups in the last three minutes are too contrived and often anti-climactic.

The Outer Limits: The Original Series, Vol. 3

Scrubs: Season Six

Spider-Man 3: Special Edition // I don't do superhero movies, but, if I did, it would be one of the Spider-Mans.

Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition

Backstreet Boys, "Unbreakable" // Really, isn't it just time to let it go?

Britney Spears, "Blackout" // Really, isn't it just time … and what an awful sleeve design.

Joy Division // Special editions of Unknown Pleasures, Closer and Still.

Peter Hoeg, "The Quiet Girl" // I read Smilla's Sense of Snow back in the day and found it … cold.

Clive Barker, "Mister B. Gone" // I read a handful of early Barker selections in the late '80s and early '90s. He had some intriguing ideas in novels like The Great and Secret Show, but I found his tales to be wholly uninviting. Here, Mr. Barker offers a demon's memoir.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The weekly menu

• New stuff in stores Oct. 23 and movies in theaters Oct. 26.

Only two new movies hit wide release this week, including Saw Part 17. If you're looking for chills, see 30 Days of Night instead.

The Shining: Special Edition (2-disc set) // The buzz on this one says expect a few new featurettes and improved sound quality.

Mr. Brooks // Kevin Costner tries sinister.

The Stanley Kubrick Collection: Director's Series (10-disc set)

Tales from the Crypt: Season Seven

Saw III: Unrated Director's Cut // I'm still meticulously avoiding the horror subgenre that Entertainment Weekly recently dubbed "torture porn."

Hostel Part II: Unrated

The L Word: Season Four

I Love Lucy: The Complete Series

Dave Gahan, "Hourglass"

Patricia Cornwell, "Book of the Dead"

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Movies: 30 Days of Night

• A clever premise aids the outstanding vampire flick 30 Days of Night.

Genre: Horror, vampire, adaptation
Director: David Slade
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Ben Foster, Danny Huston, Mark Boone Jr., Mark Rendall
Verdict: &&&&1/2

It's such a simple yet brilliant idea, one marvels that it hasn't been done before: Set a vampire tale in the land where the sun doesn't rise. The result, 30 Days of Night, is brutal, engrossing, and one of the best horror films of the 2000s.

Based on a horror comic series by Steve Niles, it takes place in tiny Barrow, Alaska, a frozen landscape made more uninviting by the setting of the sun for a full month. As the "final" sunset approaches, young Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett, instantly likable here as the amiable town caretaker) has his hands full with odd occurrences of vandalism in his chilly burg, and his unease escalates as he visits a kennel where all the dogs have been knifed and the town diner, where a mysterious stranger (Ben Foster) requests a bowl of raw red meat and comes to blows with the sheriff. From his jail cell, Foster is exceptionally creepy as he warns that "they" are coming and wonders aloud who'll be killed first — Oleson's younger brother, Jake (Mark Rendall); his grandmother/dispatcher; or his estranged wife, Stella (Melissa George), who missed the last flight out of town and will be forced to reevaluate her relationship with Oleson.

The stranger proves to be right; these opening scenes build a palpable sense of dread that is realized as a band of vampires begins a full-throttle feeding frenzy. Attacking with unbridled ferocity, the vampires quickly take out much of the town, leaving little hope for anyone to survive the onslaught. Sheriff Oleson and a small group hole up in a well-hidden attic, aiming to stay out of sight. It's not giving away too much to say that various circumstances will expose certain members of the group, and the numbers gradually dwindle. As the unlucky survivors transform, the genial sheriff is forced to do unthinkable things to hold the group together.

The forbidding location, with blowing snow and sub-zero temperatures, heightens the overwhelming bleakness. The movie's portrayal of the blood-soaked vampires brings nothing radically new to the table, but it is so tautly crafted that it doesn't matter. A lesser movie wouldn't dare go where this one does in the final act; I wanted to shout "No!" at the screen. I'm glad I didn't look at the critics' reviews before going to this movie, and I'm frankly puzzled by the negative reactions — it baffles me that anyone who has watched some of the awful horror movies of the last couple of years can carve the knives over this stylish entry in the vampire genre. 30 Days of Night is simply a must for anyone who enjoys thoughtfully executed horror.

Pictured: Sheriff Oleson (Josh Hartnett) takes matters in hand.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

DVD: 1408

• 1408 fares better than par for a King adaptation.

Genre: Horror
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
DVD released: Oct. 2, 2007
Cast: John Cusak, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Jasmine Jessica Anthony
Verdict: &&&

With a haunted hotel room, a writer protagonist and the idea of an evil room or dwelling, 1408 is very much a case of Stephen King deja vu. Based on a tale from the latter-day short story collection Everything's Eventual, this better-than-average horror flick finds a jaded writer, Mike Enslin (John Cusak), compiling a travelogue of quaint haunted inns. He's seen every mom and pop bed and breakfast with a half-baked ghost story to attract attention when he receives a postcard tipping him to the Dolphin, a stylish New York hotel, and its room 1408 (the numbers add up to … 13). The movie is most effective here, building palpable anticipation as hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson, almost redeeming himself for his awful performance in The Phantom Menace) attempts to change Enslin's mind, telling him of the room occupants' horrible deaths and the many natural deaths that never made the press. But there's no stopping Enslin, who sets out to be the first person in modern times to last more than an hour in the room. As with many modern horror films, 1408 lacks subtlety; although it is psychological horror to a great extent, the effects spectacle soon takes over. The room knows and exploits Enslin's weak spot — the hotel is in New York, where he once lived with his estranged wife and daughter, who died after a difficult illness — and uses it to wear him down. There are some clever moments throughout 1408 — I loved the recurring use of the song "We've Only Just Begun" by The Carpenters — but the anticipation built by the opening scenes gradually checks out as Enslin checks further and further into the mind game of 1408. // DVD notes // Feel free to skip the single-disc edition's pair of alternate endings and commercial-like featurettes.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The weekly menu

• New releases in stores Oct. 16 and movies in theaters Oct. 19.

30 Days of Night // In an Alaska town where the sun doesn't rise for 30 days, something vampire-like lurks. It's a clever idea based on a series of horror comics.

Rendition // With Meryl Streep among the cast, this thriller looks like a must-see.

The Price Is Right (CBS, 11 a.m./10c) // Fire up the VCR: Drew Carey introduces his first item up for bids and a sexy new set design.

The Reaping // A likely bad horror movie that might at least be better than …

The Invisible // … which also received savage reviews. Not making it easy this Halloween, are they.

That '70s Show: Season Seven

Joe Hill, "20th Century Ghosts" // Son of King offers a collection of creepy stories previously published in magazines. It doesn't fall far from the tree, etc., does it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The password is, "Don't screw this up"

• CBS launches another game show.

If you've been wondering what classic game show format will get butchered next, CBS today announced the answer: Password, Password Plus and Super Password. The network has ordered six one-hour episodes of Million Dollar Password from FremantleMedia North America with Regis Philbin hosting the midseason revival of the Goodson-Todman classic.

"With new twists, higher stakes, a $1 million grand prize and the one-and-only Regis Philbin at the helm, we're confident viewers will tune in to rediscover the format that helped to define the game show genre as we know it," said Cecile Frot-Coutaz, head of FremantleMedia North America, in a news release.

Here's hoping viewers won't be nauseated by what they see. Password is brilliant in its deceptive simplicity; it doesn't need to be dressed up in a big money format with unneeded new twists. The show will at least stick with the classic set-up of two teams, each with one celebrity and one civilian. CBS says the winning team "will then have to decide whether or not to keep their earnings or move on to a tension-building final round, where one word can potentially win a $1 million grand prize."

That suggests another tired variation of the money tree is in the offing.

"I'm thrilled to be part of this great show that I remember so well from a few years ago," Philbin said in the news release. "It was a very classy production and Allen Ludden was so terrific. I hope I can continue that tradition on Million Dollar Password."

Surely the great Reege wouldn't get involved with a crap version of a classic.

My favorite of the old Password shows was Super Password, a Bert Convy-hosted staple of NBC's excellent daytime game show blocks, running from 1984 to 1989. It is currently a fixture on the schedule of GSN, formerly Game Show Network.

When it comes to old favorites, the hardest password to accept is often "change." Skepticism aside, I'll be tuning in, hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The weekly menu

• New releases in stores Oct. 9 and movies in theaters Oct. 12.

28 Weeks Later // A sequel to the pretty good effort 28 Days Later, this entry in the tired zombie/virus genre received reviews that were all over the map.

Poltergeist: 25th Anniversary Edition // If ever a horror film screamed for a maxed-out special edition, Poltergeist is it. By all accounts, however, this edition, which offers the movie in remastered form, is nothing special in terms of extras.

Rise: Blood Hunter // Lucy Liu does horror — and that seems perfectly natural, doesn't it?

Apartment 1303 // A 2007 Japanese horror film based on a story by the novelist who penned The Grudge.

Stargate SG-1: The Complete Series Collection // For those who have money to burn, a 54-disc set. Yes, 54.

Twilight Zone: The Movie

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season Three

Family Ties: Season Two

Fatboy Slim, "Late Night Tales"

All of this week's interesting flicks are in limited release — Control, a biopic about the suicide of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis; Lars and the Real Girl, in which Ryan Gosling is a man who falls in love with a sex doll; and Sleuth, in which Michael Caine and Jude Law struggle over the affections of the elder's wife.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Price tag

Deliciously retro, isn't it? I'm loving what I see of the new set design for The Price Is Right, and I'm a little shocked by the degree to which the producers decided to embrace the retro goodness. The Oct. 15 premiere with new host Drew Carey is shaping up to be a must-see. Check out a slide show of set elements here.