Dr. Horribles Sing-Along Blog – The Doctor is Out week

In honor of my sudden illness this past weekend, this week is The Doctor is Out week. In this case The Doctor is Out..of his mind! Dr. Horribles Sing-Along Blog is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Dr. Horribles Sing-Along Blog (2008) – NR – Not Rated.

“When he’s not busy breaking the law or trying to get close to his secret crush, Penny (Felicia Day), supervillain wannabe Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) boasts about his exploits via his Internet video blog and dreams of defeating his nemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). Conceived during the 2008 Hollywood writers strike, Joss Whedons quirky musical comedy originally debuted as an online miniseries.”

“Its curtains for you Dr. Horrible. Lacy, gently wafting curtains.”

Okay I have to admit to having drunk the Whedon-flavored kool-aid. In my opinion he created two of the best TV series ever made (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly) and two flawed ones that I enjoyed (Angel & Dollhouse). He also wrote one of the best animated movies ever (Toy Story) and made one of my very favorite science fiction films (Serenity).

Joss Whedon made this with many of his friends and family during the writers strike. It was originally viewable as three webisodes. Despite never having a traditional broadcast, Time magazine named it the 4th best TV show of 2008.

Dr. Horrible is played to absolute perfection by Neil Patrick Harris. He auditioned for the role of Simon Tam in Firefly but did not get it. I have never seen Doogie Howser but I enjoyed him in Starship Troopers and Undercover Brother. His performance is quite nuanced.

Our hero, the pompous Captain Hammer, is played by Nathan Fillion. He is charming as always, has good comic timing, and works well with Neil.

Nathan Fillion starred in Firefly for Joss Whedon and when that was cancelled, Whedon put him in the seventh season of Buffy. Whedon did much the same thing for Firefly star Gina Torres, casting her in Angel.

Our love interest is the delightful Felicia Day, star and creator of The Guild. She was originally one of the Slayerettes in the seventh season of Buffy. I think she is my new favorite actress and I hope she gets bigger parts.

The only other star of note is Simon Helberg, who appears briefly as Moist. He is currently playing Howard Wolowitz in The Big Bang Theory.

The writing is superb and the framing device of this being the video blog of Dr. Horrible plays out great.

This short show (43 minutes total for all three acts) is absolutely hysterical and has great musical numbers (though not quite as good as those in Buffy the Musical). I highly recommend this show. I would actually go so far as to call this a classic and I will have to buy the DVD at some point.

People Watch: Jed Whedon appears as part of the Bad Horse chorus and frequent Joss Whedon collaborator Marti Noxon appears as a newswoman. Joss Whedon himself appears as the fist of Captain Hammer (when he punches the device on top of the van).

A Few Notes on the Oscars

Normally we do a big comfort food fest at the house on Oscar night (Oreo truffles – see below, chips and clam dip, etc.).

Oreo Truffles taste amazing (albeit too rich for my wife) and require only three ingredients. 1 normal-size package of Oreos (we like the mint kind the best), 1 package of cream cheese (softened – 15 seconds in the microwave works for us), and a container of dipping chocolate (2 packages of melted Bakers chocolate can be substituted but the container one is easier to work with).

1. Crush all the Oreos.

2. Mix in the softened cream cheese.

3. Roll 1-inch balls.

4. Dip in chocolate.

5. Refrigerate for an hour.

You can also get fancy and use white chocolate or decorate them but it is all we can do to wait until they harden before devouring them.

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This year we went to a local specialty theater, Cinebarre that was playing the Oscars on their largest screen for free. We had a really nice time. Cinebarre has table service and their food is quite good (albeit expensive).

Dan O’Bannon was completely missed in the In Memoriam section of the Oscars. He was instrumental in the special effects for Star Wars. He directed Return of the Living Dead and The Resurrected.

On the cult hit Dark Star, he was an editor, production designer, special effects supervisor, and writer. He also starred as Sgt. Pinback.

His greatest body of work was in screenwriting. He wrote or co-wrote Dead & Buried, Lifeforce, Total Recall, and Screamers. His biggest contribution for me was in the creation of my favorite movie series, Alien. I think that it is a shame that the Academy missed him.

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I cannot comment too much on the Awards themselves as there were no categories where I saw all the films. I am so comfortable at home that it is extremely rare that I venture out to the movies. One only has to wait about 4 months for a movie to come out.

Of the nominees the only ones I had seen were Star Trek, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Up, Coraline and Transformers 2. Of those all were excellent and I would highly recommend them EXCEPT Transformers 2 which was big, loud and stupid. I guess that is why the nomination for Transformers 2 was in the Sound category.

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The show was very enjoyable. Having two hosts was a nice change of pace but I have to admit that Hugh Jackman was a hard act to follow. I loved the Neil Patrick Harris number and would love to see him host someday.

Obviously I have bumped up The Hurt Locker which has been in my queue for a while.

The Producers – Nazis Gone Wild! week

This is Nazis Gone Wild! week. The Producers is currently available on instant Netflix.

PASS: The Producers (2005) – Rated PG-13 for sexual humor and references.

“Washed-up Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) schemes with neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) in Mel Brooks musical. The men plan to raise a ton of money for a play that is sure to be a flop and then keep the extra dough. They pick “Springtime for Hitler,” written by a Nazi (Will Ferrell), and hire an offbeat star (Uma Thurman) and a freakish director. But no one can predict the audiences reaction on opening night.”

“Move a few decimal points around – you can do it. You are an accountant.”

“Stand still. How can I shoot you if you keep moving?”

This is not the classic 1968 movie with Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. This is the movie version of the play based on the original movie about producing a play.

Interestingly, the 1968 original may be the origination of the phrase “creative accounting”.

Matthew Broderick is likable and talented but he does not do manic very well. Gene Wilder (Leo in the original movie) built a career on manic and conveys it quite a bit better. My wife is not going to be pleased that I have rejected another Matthew Broderick film. I should probably review Godzilla and make it a hat trick.

Like Broderick, Nathan Lane is likable and talented. The two of them are certainly watchable. Will Ferrell appears to have quite a fun time as Nazi Franz Liebkind. For that matter everyone seems to have fun and run with their role.

Therein lies the problem – there seems to be little direction of the actors. Everyone seems to be giving a play performance which is a little jarring in a film. Sometimes this can work but here it does not quite gel right.

Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell were the only leads not in the original play. Franz Liebkin in the play was portrayed by Brad Oscar. He appears in the movie as the cabdriver.

Many of the setpieces are quite well done. The old lady routine is quite a sight gag and of course there is the classic Springtime for Hitler.

I do like the image of rows and rows of identical accountants with visors using old-fashioned adding machines singing “Unhappy”. Unfortunately almost the same scenario is carried out much better by Monty Python in The Meaning of Life.

Unfortunately the movie just seems to go on forever. The original movie ran a tight 88 minutes. The embellishments added to this lengthen it to an almost tedious 134 minutes.

While I cannot recommend this as a watch, it is enjoyable but you must have patience. If you are a fan of musicals then certainly you should watch this as there are precious few musicals these days. If you do watch then stay through the end credits for a final musical number.

People Watch: Cameos abound here. Mel Brooks is the voice of Tom the Cat and the voice that says “Dont be stupid, be a smartie. Come and join the Nazi party” (a line from his 1983 single, To Be or Not to Be). Jon Lovitz appears as Mr. Marks. Michael McKean (Spinal Tap) is a prison trustee and Andrea Martin is a hoot as Kiss-Me-Feel-Me.

I am Sick – Nazis Gone Wild! week

Ugh! I came down with something out of the blue that wiped me out. I will be finishing Nazis Gone Wild! week and doubling up on posts as soon as I feel better (and can think coherently). Next week in honor of my illness will be plague or health care week or something along that line.

My Fuhrer – Nazis Gone Wild! week

This is Nazis Gone Wild! week. My Fuhrer is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: My Fuhrer (2007) – NR – Not rated.

“With the tide turning in favor of the Allied Forces, leaders of the Third Reich hope that a rousing speech from Hitler (Helge Schneider) can spark a resurgence of confidence for the German people. One problem: The Führer is too depressed to deliver. The solution: a little coaching from Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) former acting teacher, a Jew by the name of Adolf Grunbaum (Ulrich Mühe). Adriana Altaras also stars in this wry comedy from Dani Levy.”

18 phone calls, 163 stamps and 1.7 kilometres of red tape later, Dr. Goebbels great idea was put into effect.”

“I am no longer the Fuhrer that God chose me to be.”

My Fuhrer is written and directed by Dani Levy. It treads much of the same uncomfortable  territory as Life is Beautiful. Mining humor from Hitler and the Holocaust is problematic at best but Levy does a very good job of it.

There are really only two ways to go with this. Either you can have a slapstick comedy or you can have a dark sardonic one. This is the latter.

They have a lot of fun with how much was hidden from Hitler towards the end. I really like the idea of Hitler driving past walls built as sets to disguise the bombed-out rubble that is Berlin.

There are also a number of good jokes about how German soldiers would not do anything without the proper form. This plays especially well as our society becomes more and more bureaucratic.

The entire plot and feeling of the film is surreal. For example try to picture Adolf Hitler in a track suit doing push-ups. The comedy is not laugh out loud funny but is more of the make-you-smile variety.

I thought the two leads, Helge Schneider as Hitler and Ulrich Muhe as Grunbaum, were quite good but Sylvester Groth really steals the show as the nefarious Dr. Goebbels. The other performances are fine but not especially noteworthy.

The film is told in flashback and does build to a wonderful payoff at the end.

As long as you do not mind subtitles or the subject matter, I recommend this film. If you watch it then stay through the credits as there is a final point to be made.

People Watch: Ulrich Noethen played Heinrich Himmler in this film and also in Downfall (Der Untergang – 2004).

The Goebbels Experiment – Nazis Gone Wild! week

This is Nazis Gone Wild! week. The Goebbels Experiment is currently available on instant Netflix.

PASS: The Goebbels Experiment (2005) – NR – Not rated.

“Reading from the diaries kept by Third Reich propagandist Joseph Goebbels between 1924 and 1945, Kenneth Branagh brings the infamous Nazi spin doctor to life, all the way up to his suicide at the end of World War II. Using this primary source material as their canvas, filmmakers Lutz Hachmeister and Michael Kloft paint a portrait of a 20th century figure who was sometimes a success, sometimes a failure and always fascinating.”

First let me state that this film is far scarier than Dead Snow. As one would expect from the diaries of Joseph Goebbels, there is an abundance of xenophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Communism. Just listening to the excerpts of his diaries pre-war makes me very uncomfortable.

Goebbels is also thrilled that Max Schmeling beat Joe Louis in 1936. He does not even refer to Louis by name. He calls him the Negro and the black man.

Lutz Hachmeister not only directed but co-wrote and co-produced The Goebbels Experiment. He does an excellent job of pairing appropriate footage with each diary entry. With the very brief exception of a few modern color outdoor shots, the entire film is composed of vintage clips and stills.

Goebbels naturally comes across as supremely self-important. Every good decision was his and every bad one was one that he had argued against.

Hachmeister does omit a lot that is puzzling. The 1936 fight between Schmeling and Louis is covered but not the 1938 rematch. The annexation of the Sudetenland is not even mentioned nor is Neville Chamberlain (except in a late comparison to Churchill).

It seems like one moment they are covering the 1936 Olympics (though no mention of Jesse Owens) and Leni Riefenstahl and then *poof* World War II.

The invasion of Russia is covered. Even though the pre-war American economy is mentioned, their entry into the war is not. Neither is Japan mentioned.

We also jump from 1941 to 1943. Were there no interesting events in the intervening year and a half?

The “Jewish question” is only mentioned tangentially yet for Goebbels this occupied a large part of his time and effort. In point of fact this actually seems to be what is missing in the 1942 segment.

The documentary ends with the suicide of Goebbels on May 1st but this is not stated in any way. They simply show the bodies of Goebbels, his wife and children.

This documentary is fascinating and I recommend it highly for those deeply interested in the subject. Unfortunately, the focus is too narrow and erratic to recommend it in general.

People Watch: While Kenneth Branagh narrated the English version, the original was narrated by noted German actor Udo Samel.

Dead Snow – Nazis Gone Wild! week

Here is the film I have waited over a year to watch. This is Nazis Gone Wild! week. Dead Snow is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Dead Snow (2009) – NR – Not rated but definitely not for the kids as the poster might attest to. There is sex, brief nudity, language, and lots and lots of gore (almost entirely in the second half of the film).

“A group of Norwegian friends get the scariest history lesson of their lives during a weekend getaway to the snowy town of Øksfjord, where the party is interrupted by throngs of Nazi zombies who once occupied the area. Armed with a machine-gun-equipped snowmobile, the gang fights for survival in director Tommy Wirkola’s quirky horror, shot on location in the mountains of Norway. The film had its U.S. premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.”

“Ein. Zwei. Die.” – Poster tag line.

We should have gone to the beach like I told you.”

Dead Snow begins wonderfully with a stately winter sky shot slowly panning down to the forest as a piece of classical music plays in the background. As the music speeds up, we are watching a young woman in the forest on the run from…something. The pace of the chase matches the frantic end of the piece.

Tommy Wirkola wrote and directed here and for a young director, he has a sure hand. Many of the scenes are staged beautifully (for both surprise and comic effect) and he wisely refrains from showing much until the midway point of the movie.

I have to say that the winter landscapes of Norway are gorgeous, particularly in high definition on my Roku box. I would not want to live there but it seems quite a vacation spot for winter sports.

Wirkola superbly uses the blown out contrast between the bright white snow and the dark night and later between the snow and the blood. This film will definitely give the colors of your high definition TV a good workout.

There are quite a number of American pop culture references in the film. Everything from Indiana Jones and The Simpsons to horror staples April Fool’s Day, Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead series is mentioned or quoted.

The film owes a huge debt to Sam Raimi and the Evil Dead series. The plot, cabin setting, and tone are very much like Evil Dead 1&2. A nod and a wink is given to this by some of the characters in the film.

Instead of finding a tape recording, our protagonists encounter a mysterious stranger who fills in the backstory. His first appearance is a wonderful reveal by Wirkola. His final scene is quite good as well.

The actors are all young and engaging. The performances are nice and not wooden as I am sure they will be in the inevitable American remake.

I do not want to discuss too many of the scenes, particularly those in the second half, as part of what I liked about the movie were the fresh takes Wirkola had on tired scenarios. I will say there are many hilarious gags including a small one with a certain Communist symbol.

As long as you do not mind subtitles and gross gory horror movies, I highly recommend this Norwegian import. It is a tremendous amount of fun.

I was so glad this was not disappointing as I had heard about this film as it played in European theaters. It then had a DVD release in the UK last fall and I was wondering if it would ever come over here. Wonderfully Netflix had this on instant play day and date with the US DVD and Blu-Ray release.

People Watch: Director Tommy Wirkola apparently has a cameo as one of the zombies. He also made a Kill Bill parody, Kill Buljo prior to Dead Snow. Currently he is working on an intriguingly named project, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

The Night of the Generals – Nazis Gone Wild! week

This is Nazis Gone Wild week! The Night of the Generals is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: The Night of the Generals (1967) – Rated PG.

“It is 1942 in Warsaw, and tenacious Wehrmacht Intelligence Maj. Grau (Omar Sharif) is led to Paris as he attempts to pinpoint who of three generals is responsible for killing and then slicing up a hooker. Among the suspects is Nazi Gen. Tanz (Peter OToole), a known sadist. Anatole Litvak directs this grand-scale World War II film based on the Hans Helmut Kirs novel. Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray co-star.”

“The Fuhrer has ordered General Tanz to solve the problem of Warsaw.” – “How?” – “Meticulously.”

Major Grau stops the Doctor in his detailed description of the crime – “Thank you Doctor – there is no need to be vivid.”

Ha ha – right away you can tell this is a late 60s film. The first scene involves the discovery of the butchered prostitute.

Earlier than the 60s and you could not have this subject matter. If it were a 70s film, they would have shown you the body. If it were the 80s then the corpse would be nude. If it were 90s or later then they would have shown you the actual murder in excruciating detail.

Still this was a difficult movie to film as the production code was still in effect. The MPAA would replace the production code in 1968 with our now familiar ratings system. This film had to hide a lot of the sexually related material. You can even catch a shocking if brief conversation referring to homosexuality – something unheard of with the code in effect.

Direction is a little off. Up until the third act, the few scenes set in the 60s seem disjointed and most do not segue well back into the story. On the other hand some of the segues, particularly one that removes modern tourists and replaces them with German soldiers, are very nicely handled.

The film seems quite bloated at 2 hours and 23 minutes as, even though this is a murder mystery, they wanted to include a lot of the detail on the razing of the Warsaw Ghetto (a little misplaced time-wise) and Operation Valkyrie.

Omar Sharif is the investigator Major Grau. He positively beams with joy upon finding out that the murderer is most likely a General. His makeup is quite interesting as it is used to allow him to pass for German. Unfortunately his performance really consists of that one note of impishness.

Peter OToole is his usual flamboyant but eminently watchable self. He could make reading from the phone book fascinating. He is wonderful at playing damaged psyches. His General Tanz here is quite fascinating and is based somewhat on Joachim Peiper.

Peiper was a wunderkind but is perhaps best known for performing the massacre at Malmedy during The Battle of The Bulge. Peiper survived the war but served time for war crimes. Much like Roschmann from The Odessa File, Peiper was alive while this was filmed but was assassinated in 1967.

There are a lot of funny parts in casting. Donald Pleasence, Nigel Stock and Gordon Jackson play General Kahlenberge, Otto and Captain Engel respectively. Here they all play German soldiers and earlier in The Great Escape, they were all trying to escape from German soldiers.

Charles Gray and Donald Pleasence both do a great job of playing Generals here. Later they would both oppose James Bond as Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Gray in You Only Live Twice and Pleasence in Diamonds are Forever). Joanna Pettet plays Ulrike here and Mata Bond in Casino Royale (1967).

I recommend this film but with some reservations. The film runs a little too long. Shaving a half hour off the run time would have improved the pace quite a bit. Overall the film is worth watching for the performances of the three Generals (OToole, Pleasence, and Gray) and for watching what one of the last production code films could get away with.

Just as a side note this film was a little glitchy on my Roku box. I had to watch part of it on my computer.

People Watch: There is a cavalcade of British character actors in the background here. Look for Patrick (Night Creatures, The Devil Rides Out) Allen and Harry (Theater of Blood, The Medusa Touch) Andrews in small parts.