Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Jamie want big boom."

I haven’t had cable for years, so I’ve been missing out on lot of the better shows on television. That’s why Netflix Watch Instantly is fun- it doesn’t have everything by a long shot, but it’s got plenty to occupy the folks here in my house. One of our favorite Netflix offerings is the Discovery Channel hit MythBusters, which is fun but also semi-educational and, for the most part, family friendly. In other words, perfect for watching at the end of a long day of work and/or school.

Sadly, I recently happened upon the news that many of the episodes that Netflix currently streams will no longer be available as of this Monday. The list of episodes being given the axe includes some of our favorites, including “Salsa Escape,” “Cooling a Six-Pack,” “Cell Phone Destroys Gas Station” (the source of the above quote), “Blind Driving,” and beloved specials about pirates, James Bond, and the gang’s two-episode trip to Alaska.

But to my eyes, the biggest loss is “Alcatraz Escape.” If a MythBusters newbie asked me what would be a good place to start, “Alcatraz Escape” would be the one I’d recommend. For my money, it’s the perfect combination of the ingredients that make MythBusters work- a well-known history-based myth coupled with a healthy amount of education speculation, and spiced up with ingenuity and some derring-do. It’s not quite my favorite (that honor would go to the thankfully still-available “NASA Moon Landing”), but it’s a lot of fun.

So if you’ve ever been curious to get into MythBusters, I suggest you get moving, because after this weekend, many of the show’s best-known episodes won’t be available to stream anymore. And for those who want to watch their favorites one more time before they’re gone, here’s the complete list of episodes getting the heave-ho:

Exploding Toilet
Cell Phone Destroys Gas Station
Barrel of Bricks
Penny Drop
Buried Alive
Lighting Strikes/Tongue Piercings
Alcatraz Escape
Chicken Gun
Breakstep Bridge
Buried in Concrete
Ancient Death Ray
Boom Lift Catapult
Salsa Escape (Big Blasts Collection)
Exploding Port-a-Potty (Big Blasts Collection)
Is Yawning Contagious?
Cooling a Six-Pack
Son of a Gun
Shop ‘Til You Drop Special
Mythbusters Revealed
Hollywood on Trial
Breaking Glass
Killer Brace Position
Border Slingshot
Helium Football
Bullets Fired Up
Exploding Pants (Big Blasts Collection)
Crimes and Myth-Demeanors
Diet Coke and Mentos
Earthquake Machine
Deadly Straw
Air Cylinder Rocket (Big Blasts Collection)
Exploding Lighter (Big Blasts Collection)
Firearms Folklore
Anti-Gravity Device
Holiday Special
Hindenburg Mystery
Pirate Special
Underwater Car Escape
Grenades and Guns (Big Blasts Collection)
Exploding Water Heater (Big Blasts Collection)
Confederate Steam Gun (Big Blasts Collection)
James Bond, Part 1 and 2 (Big Blasts Collection)
Alaska Special 1 and 2
Exploding Steak
Blind Driving
Ninjas 2
Alcohol Myths
Motorcycle Flip
Coffin Punch
End With a Bang
Banana Slip, Double Dip

Oh, and if anyone can point me to a site that lists other Watch Instantly titles Netflix is adding or cutting, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Summer 2011: Mini-preview

You know, I really used to look forward to the summer movie season. If nothing else, the coming of May would always herald the biggest, loudest, most spectacular movies of the year- pure cinematic candy to gorge on when escaping the assaultive sun. Sadly, as I’ve gotten older I’ve lost a lot of this sense of fun. It’s not just that I’ve gotten more mature as a moviegoer either. I’m still just as capable of enjoying a well-crafted blockbuster as the next guy, provided it delivers the thrills and doesn’t kill too many brain cells. But what really took away that summer movie magic was when the studios started releasing summer-worthy titles year ‘round. Once Hollywood began putting out a big e-ticket every month or so, summer began to feel less like a special time at the movies.

That said, there are at least a handful of intriguing titles coming to multiplexes this summer. Please notice that I’m talking about multiplexes here. Like many cinephiles I’m looking forward to the release of the Errol Morris’ latest doc, Tabloid, along with the goodies new and classic coming to the Wexner Center over the summer. But all five of my anticipated titles listed below should be coming to a theatre near you, no matter where you are, by the time the kids go back to school in the fall. We’ll begin, of course, with my #1 most anticipated movie of the summer, and proceed in (roughly) descending order of anticipation.

Tree of Life (May)

Come on, like you didn’t see this one coming. Back when this was slated to come out in ’09, it topped my most-anticipated list of that year, and the intervening two years have only increased my eagerness to see this. Terence Malick has yet to falter in my eyes, and this project, which he first began writing in the 1970s, could be his most personal yet. There will always be the contingent of vocal Malick-haters, but they can suck it. In a time when there’s precious little excitement left at the multiplex, Tree of Life is my idea of an Event Movie.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (July)

I have yet to be truly bowled over by a big-screen Potter adaptation, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking forward to this. Part of the reason is because last fall’s installment was one of my favorites of the series to date, doing a bang-up job of condensing the original story while setting up this final entry. And with so much ground yet to cover before the series has wrapped, this one has the potential to be pretty ambitious. I predict this’ll be the top-grossing movie of the summer- and perhaps one of its most satisfying entertainments.

Super 8 (June)

With his first two features as a director, JJ Abrams has proven himself to be a canny assimilator of popular culture. Now with his third film, he offers his take on the eighties-era Spielberg adventure, with a group of small-town kids coming face-to-face with something… strange. This may be the iffiest film on my list, but the trailer is awfully impressive, and Abrams looks to be sure-handed in his re-imagining of Spielberg-esque Americana.

Captain America: The First Avenger (July)

Speaking of Americana, am I the only one who’s looking forward to this more than any other comic-book flick of the summer? I hope not, because while X-Men: First Class looks to be yet another attempt to milk a seemingly dry franchise and Thor doesn’t seem too compelling to me, Captain America is the kind of throwback superhero yarn that could serve as a corrective to heaviness that’s become increasingly prevalent in the genre. And I couldn’t think of a filmmaker better suited to this than Joe Johnston, whose underloved The Rocketeer was another infectious adventure about the straight-arrow good guy. With luck, Captain America will give him the franchise he deserved to get two decades ago.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (May)

What’s that, you say? Pixar has a new movie coming out this summer? Well yes, but that Pixar movie is Cars 2, and as much as I’d like to stand out from the crowd, I can’t help but join the chorus that calls the original Cars the least of Pixar’s films thus far. Meanwhile, Kung Fu Panda is Dreamworks’ best animated film to date, a thoroughly unpretentious action comedy that showcases Jack Black’s best star turn since School of Rock. So while I’m still curious to see what else Pixar can do with the Cars gang, deep down I’m really looking forward to laughing along with Po and the Furious Five. Just as long as it doesn’t get too schmaltzy, I expect that I’ll be laughing a lot, and sometimes when you’re watching a big summer movie, that’s really all you need.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Grim it up"?!?!?!?

After reading this, I’m pretty much done with Jeff Wells. I can handle his super-sounds-of-the-70s taste in movie and alpha-male posturing, and hell, I find his comically thin skin as amusing as anyone. But after reading his comments about child abuse I don’t think I can take any more. To tell abused and neglected children to “grim it up” in response to poor parenting is insensitive at best and dangerous at worst. I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who didn’t abuse me, but I know plenty of people who weren’t so fortunate, and I know from experience that the suffering adults inflict on children causes lifelong wounds, both physical and psychological. I came of age in a time when the idea of physical punishment of kids was being seriously called into question, and I wholeheartedly agree with nearly every child psychologist today that hitting your children does far more harm than good. Likewise, to willfully cause pain to someone you live is, to me anyway, fairly unthinkable.

But what really gets me is his remark that he “can tell you stories about my own messed-up childhood that’ll tear your heart out.” Oh, so you had a terrible childhood and you turned out OK, so that means every kid should be able to do it? I call foul on that remark. If you made it out fine, then bully for you. However, most children don’t have the temperament or the inner strength to suck it up when things get bad for them, especially when the bad stuff is coming at the hands of the person they look to first for help and guidance in life. For him to downplay the cost of child abuse so casually is, to my eyes, a glaring lack of the sort of empathy I abhor in others. If you can’t extend your heart to someone who’s suffering- particularly if you suffered from the same sort of pain- I don’t have much use for you in my life.