Saturday, 19 February 2005

The Whole Wide World

Today I went to WalMart and made my usual trip to the DVD cheap bin. And usually there aren't any movies of much account in the cheap bin, beyond a few Abbot and Costello and John Wayne movies, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. They had Army of Darkness, Mystery Men, and The Whole, Wide World. Most of you have probably heard of the former two, but I doubt many of you have heard of the last movie. That is a shame, as The Whole Wide World is a very fine film indeed.

The Whole, Wide World centres on the tumultuous relationship between school teacher Novalyne Price and pulp writer Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, and Solomon Kane). And it is that relationship is what makes this movie so special. Instead of a syrupy, sweet, perfect, Hollywood romance, we get an imperfect, at times stormy relationship between two people who actually existed. We have Howard, the dreamer who is overly devoted to his mother and whose experience with women is, well, limited to say the least. And then we have Novalyne Price, an independent, intelligent, young woman, who is a bit on the quiet side. It is natural that two such strong personalities, each with their own frailties and contradictions, would be attracted to each other.

There is very little I can find to dislie about The Whole, Wide World. Its strength lies in the peformances of Vincent D'Onofrio as Robert E. Howard and Renee Zellweger as Novalyne Price (Renee even gets to speak with her native drawl for once!). The two actors certainly did their research, as they capture Howard and Price so completely that it is hard to pictue anyone else in the roles. It seems to me that screenwriter Michael Scott Myers did his research as well. As near as I can tell, it strays but little from the reality of Howard's life. I also have to meantion Dan Ireland's direction. At the same time he captures both the atmosphere of Depression era, rural Texas and Howard's overblown imagination perfectly.

Sadly, The Whole, Wide World was lost in the rush of movies released at the 1996 Christmas season. While it won a number of awards (and was even nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), The Whole, Wide World only made $136,933 at the box office in the United States. This is a shame, as it is truly a good film. Indeed, I would recommend the movie to anyone who is a Robert E. Howard fan, loves the state of Texas, loves non-traditional romance movies, or just plain loves well done movies, period.

Friday, 18 February 2005

Enterprise Cancelled

UPN has cancelled Star Trek: Enterprise. I can't say I am really surprised. Ratings have not been particularly good since last season. When UPN moved the series to Friday, I pretty much knew that was the end. While there have been exceptions, most sci-fi series airing on Friday nights have gotten abysmal ratings. It doesn't surprise me that Star Trek: Enterprise was no exception.

Of course, Star Trek: Enterprise has had a rocky history. While I have always liked the show, there were some things I could have done without. I never did like the Suliban as villains and hated most of the time travel episodes, which occurred far too often. Last season's subplot involving the Zendi dragged on far too long. And I was never pleased that the producers never made much use of the aliens from the original series. This season is the first that we ever saw the Orions, who would have made far more interesting villains than either the Suliban or the Zendi. It is also the first season in which we have seen much of the Romulans. I guess I can at least be thankful that the Andorians appeared often.

As I said, I have always liked Star Trek: Enterprise. While I don't think it was the best Star Trek series (that would be the original), it was hardly the worst (that would be Star Trek: the Next Generation). It has produced quite a few episodes that I enjoyed, particularly those involving the Andorians and Vulcans. In fact, I think this season has been the best so far. That is what makes its cancellation so sad for me. Quite frankly, Star Trek: Enterprise has finally hit its stride. It's too bad it took the producers this long to get it right.

Thursday, 17 February 2005

Happy 50th Anniversary, KRCG

It was on February 13, 1955 that KRCG-TV, channel 13, in Jefferson City, Missouri, first started broadcasting. Since that time KRCG has been the CBS affiliate for mid-Missouri. Unlike its two fellow stations, KOMU or KMIZ, it never has switched networks.

Indeed, perhaps because it was a CBS affiliate, KRCG is the TV station I remember watching the most growing up. From the Fifties (before I was born) into the Seventies, CBS was the number one network. A number of classic shows then aired on KRCG: The Ed Sullivan Show, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, The Twilight Zone, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Wild Wild West, All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and WKRP in Cincinatti among them. In fact, for much of my early life, our TV was tuned to KRCG on most Monday nights.

Of course, KRCG also had the other channels beat when it came to local programming as well. They were the last station in Missouri, perhaps in the nation, to air a locally produced children's show. Showtime featured cartoons and often interviews of interest to children (I remember Burt Ward, Robin from the Sixties Batman TV show, was on one time). Dick Preston, who still anchors KRCG's News at Noon and previously served as an evening anchor, hosted it for some time. Unfortunately, Showtime went off the air the same year that I graduated from high school--replaced by reruns of Dallas. I also remember in the Seventies KRCG would show old horror movies under the title Tales of Terror late Saturday nights. I can't remember too much about Tales of Terror, but I remember the host's sidekick was called Igor.

Unfortunately, like Showtime, Tales of Terror went off the air. Fortunately, it was replaced by reruns of Star Trek. That brings me to another point--for most of its history KRCG has always gotten the best shows in syndication. KRCG aired Star Trek for literally years, as well as Star Trek: the Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. They also aired reruns of Thriller, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The X-Files, and various other shows over the years. Even in the afternoon KRCG had the other stations beat before all those talk shows arrived and swept everything else off the air. Over the years they aired reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, M*A*S*H, and The Jeffersons. I remember for a time in the Nineties they would show movies late on Sunday night.

Here I feel I should speak in defence of KOMU and KMIZ. They are both fine stations in their own right and I have fond memories of watching both of them as a child (let's face it, Star Trek and The Monkees' first runs were on NBC...). That having been said, it is KRCG that I enjoyed the most as a child. While I don't think their programming is nearly as good as it once was (I would be very happy if they replaced Montel Williams with reruns of The Addams Family and Get Smart of an afternoon...), they are still one of the best stations anywhere.

Wednesday, 16 February 2005

Hellboy

This weekend I watched the Hellboy 2 Disc Special Edition DVD. I have been a fan of the Hellboy comics ever since they were first published over 10 years ago. Naturally, when the movie came out last year, I had to see it in the theatre. And, of course, I had to get the DVD.

Quite frankly, in my humble opinion Hellboy is the best superhero movie besides Spider-Man II. In many respects it is loyal to the origin of Hellboy as told in the first graphic novel. In other ways, of course, the movie departs from the comic books. No romance exists in the comic books between Hellboy and Liz Sherman as portrayed in the movie. Professor Broom gets a lot more screen time in the movie than he did pages in the grahpic novel. Regardless, the movie is very loyal to the spirit of Hellboy. And it is very well done as well.

Like the Spider-Man movies, the emphasis in Hellboy is on the characters. A good deal of time is devoted to Hellboy's relationship with his adopted father, Professor Broom, as well as Hellboy's relationship with Liz. In fact, the movie is probably less about a demon fighting evil than it is about a young man (well, young for Hellboy--in human terms he is over 60 years old...) growing into manhood. The script focuses primarily on the characters, as opposed to the action and strange goings on, and the performances of the cast are top notch. As Professor Broom and Hellboy respectively, John Hurt and Ron Perlman do some of their best work in this movie.

That is not to say that Hellboy is simply a character study. There is plenty of action in this movie, with fight scenes that look like they could have been torn straight from Mike Mignola's comics. In fact, where action scenes are concerned, they might be the best superheroics on screen since Superman II. Hellboy's fight with Samael in a subway is particularly amazing, with walls being busted and offices falling apart. What makes the action scenes more amazing is that it is hard to tell where ordinary wire work ends and CGI begins. In fact, I was amazed while watching the "making of..." documentary to learn that many of the scenes I had thought must be CGI were done with old fashioned wire work...

When buying the DVD I would have been happy with just the movie (in wide screen, of course) and a few extras, but they have almost overloaded the two discs with extras. There is the two and a half hour "making of..." documentary that goes well beyond the typical documentary on the creation of a movie. There are two separate audio commentary tracks, one with director Guillermo del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and the other with the cast (Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tabor, and Rupert Evans). There are there delted scenes, Motion Board-a-matics, Animatics, DVD Comics, a Multi-Angle storyboard comparison, the trailers and TV spots, and much, much more. Thre are even four classic UPA cartoons (three of which featuring Gerald McBoing Boing). This is one of the best DVD sets I've ever seen.

Anyhow, if you have not seen Hellboy, I urge you by all means to do so. And the Special Edition is a must for any Hellboy fan.

Monday, 14 February 2005

Valentine's Day

Well, today is Valentine's Day. This is not one of those holidays for which I have very many fond memories. As a little boy in school, one had to give Valentines to each and every one of his classmate. Of course, most little boys consider such things "mushy" and so it is not excactly a pleasant experience. As an adult, given the unstable nature of my love life, I have too often found myself alone on this day and listening to "Love Stinks" by the J. Geils Band.

The cynical tend to believe that Valentine's Day was invented by Hallmark to sell card. And while there have been times I have not been particularly fond of this day, I know enough to realise that isn't true. While the day's origins are shrouded in mystery, it does have its roots in the feast of St. Valentine. Beyond that, it is difficult to say why the day became associated with love and sweethearts. There are the various legends regarding St. Valentine (none of which appear in his early biographies). And then there was the Roman festival of Lupercalia that took place in February, which was essentially a feritility festival. But it wasn't until the Middle Ages that Valentine's Day seems to have been firmly linked with love. A superstition in 14th century England apparently associated the day with the mating of birds. It was at that time that lovers first started exchanging love notes (the ancestor of the modern day "Valentine"). And a lot of scholars think that the various legends of St. Valentine and love may have been introduced at this time.

Regardless, today Valentine's Day is a billion dollar business for the florist, candy, and card industry, the day when more chocolates, more roses, and more cards are sold than any other. For whatever reason the day beame associated with love, it is firmly so now.

I have not heard from my Valentine in the past few days. I do hope to hear from her some time today. While I might have thought the day "mushy" as a child, I can't say I believe that any longer.