Film Threat Review: He-Man & The Masters of the Universe (2002)

2009
Rated G
127 minutes

**

What do you remember most about He-Man™? The scantily clad cartoons? The hodgepodge of literally-monikered villains like Beast Man™ and Mer Man™? That annoying and incompetent flying Jawa, Orko™? Personally, I remember the moral lessons at the end of every episode because they’re the reason my mom let…nay, insisted on me watching the show. In the 80’s, the babysitter in a box was born. And it did more than entertain. It taught kids lessons. Important lessons that parents didn’t have time to teach themselves. Things like cooperation, reserving judgment and consumerism.

Speaking of consumerism, what’s the best way to get a new generation interested in old toys? Why, a cartoon remake, of course. “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” was remounted in 2002 in order to promote a “new” line of Mattel He-Man™ toys. The producers claimed it was a “fresh take on the retro classic.” But it’s about as fresh as a box of Velveeta. Not much has changed. All the familiar characters are still here and as single-faceted as ever. I’m pretty sure it’s just about the money. That would explain all the trademarks on the DVD box.

The series starts out going back. Way back to when Skeletor™ was called Keldor and still had a face. He was defeated by Prince Adam’s™ father, scalded himself with some sort of mystical acid and banished behind an impenetrable wall. Ever since, he and his cronies have been trying to find a way back into Eternia™ so that they can, you know, rule the world and whatnot.

Flash-forward to present day, where young, wiry Prince Adam™ spars with Teela™ (minus the Tequila), his childhood friend and the daughter of Man-At-Arms™. She is basically kicking his ass and taunting him. And on his 16th birthday, no less. Clumsy, unreliable and a little dim, he’s pretty much a disappointment to everyone. That is, until Skeletor™ discovers a way to penetrate the impenetrable wall. It’s then that Man-At-Arms™ takes Prince Adam™ to Castle Greyskull™ and reveals his destiny. Even though the King already has a pretty decent security staff and plenty of specially-abled forces to protect his kingdom, and even though Teela™ is quite battle-savvy herself, the useless Prince has a destiny. Royalty never has to earn anything.

So anyway, the Sorceress who lives in the castle gives Prince Adam™ the Sword of Omens…I mean, the Power Sword™, and he’s transformed from a 90-pound weakling into The Most Powerful Man in the Universe™. Likewise, his enormous cowardly tiger is transformed into Battle Cat™. And thus, He-Man™ saves the day.

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. So Prince Adam™ can’t tell anyone he’s He-Man™ and has to go on pretending he’s incompetent, lest he “put his loved ones in danger.” This line of reasoning makes sense in present day New York, but not as much in a magical land where Skeletor’s™ main target is the King, Prince Adam’s™ father. It seems like his loved ones are already in constant danger. But whatevs.

Those familiar with original show might find some novelty in seeing all the characters they remember. But that wears off quickly, right around the time Orko™ botches his bazillionth spell and makes a mess. The lessons are still present at the end of each episode, which would make my mother happy. In fact, the only really discernable difference between this series and the original is the hair. Gone is He-Man’s™ girly pageboy haircut, replaced with a nice, tousled shorter do. Also, the non-super Prince Adam™ remains skinny and useless, squeaking at everyone in his pre-pubescent timber and not so much suspiciously resembling the all-powerful beefcake, He-Man™. This certainly makes the secret identity hiding a bit more plausible.

Though plausibility is the least of the show’s problems. The plot lines are cliché. The battle one-liners are as cheesy as ever and the whole thing takes itself way too seriously. That’s really saying something for a program with a character named Ram Man™. If they hadn’t already, they lost me during the episode in which they attempted to make Orko™ seem relevant.

The DVD box set includes all 39 episodes of the series on 4 discs. If that’s not enough, you can delve further into 12 audio commentaries, interviews with artists and scripts for every episode. There’s also a PDF comic book for the un-produced 40th episode for people who just love to read on their television.

If you’re a kid, well, I have no idea if you’re going to like this reHe-Mangining (sorry). Kids are fickle. If I knew what kids wanted, I’d be a millionaire. I can, however, speak for adults. Particularly adults who grew up in the 80’s. And I’m sorry to say that even a couple pulls on your Tall Boy or puffs from your water pipe aren’t really going to make this an entertaining show. I’d suggest looking up the old show on YouTube. Or, better yet, getting the Thundercats DVD. That shit is HILARIOUS.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Just As I Thought

When faced with a surprise vegetarian challenge, the Top Chef contestants were mostly useless.

Spoilers contained herein Continue reading

Vegetarianism: What’s Old is New Again

I was both excited and annoyed by the promo for next week’s Top Chef. They revealed that the Chefs would have to cook for actress, Natalie Portman. But that wasn’t the shocking surprise. When asked about her “likes and dislikes” some astounding news blew everyone away! They didn’t reveal the twist in the promo, but I’m pretty sure I know what it is. Natalie Portman is a vegetarian.

Now, I LOVE Top Chef and have been able to find inspiration in every episode, despite their meat-favoring themes. In 5 seasons, they had yet to feature a vegetarian challenge. Everyone who has tried to cook vegetarian food has been sent home immediately, or at least severely reprimanded. The one time a contestant was forced to use tofu as his main ingredient, he braised it with beef to flavor it and he was commended for his ingenuity. I’m sorry, but if you can’t make tofu taste good without covering it in meat juice, you probably don’t deserve the title of Top Chef. And what about other dietary restrictions? Kosher? Food allergies and lactose intolerance? VEGANISM? If you’ve chosen a lifestyle that eliminates certain foods (or nature has chosen for you) do you deserve to be kicked out of the foodie club?

I’m very excited that the chefs will finally have to make an all vegetarian spread for Portman but I’m very irritated that her diet is such a big deal. For a while, vegetarianism was not only common, it was trendy. And now, with the foodie trend making exotic meats popular, vegetarians at dinner parties and gastropubs are back to nibbling on celery and dinner rolls. I feel like I’m back in Virginia in 1992 getting horrified looks when I refuse a plate of ribs. Recently, I said no thank you to a sausage sample. After the man barraged me with a persistant spiel about how healthy the sausage was, I explianed to him that I am a vegetarian. His response: “HOW DO YOU LIVE?!”

I am preemptively annoyed by all the bitching that will no doubt happen during this episode. I’m sure Mike Isabella (whose face got totally pervy when Portman walked in…can we PLEASE get rid of him already?!) will have plenty to say on the subject. I can only hope that a challenge like this will (re)open people’s minds to the fact that your food can be delicious, culinarily sophisticated and completely meat free.

Film Threat Review: Good Hair

2009
PG
95 minutes

****

Like every American girl, I had a hard time coming to terms with my hair. It’s profoundly straight. Couldn’t be any straighter. It laughs at a flattening iron as if to say, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” It didn’t help my self-esteem that my mother spent the first 12 years of my life trying to make my hair into something it wasn’t. I became very familiar with curling and crimping irons, hot rollers and overnight curlers. There were even a few perms in there. The thing is I probably wouldn’t have thought anything was wrong with my hair if my mother hadn’t been so adamant about trying to make it look “nice.”

It doesn’t appear that there has been any improvement in hair confidence for little girls. If anything, it’s gotten worse. When Chris Rock’s three-year-old daughter asked him “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?” he was gobsmacked. How do you answer that question when the concept of “good hair” is so nebulous? Why isn’t the hair that nature gave you good enough? In the documentary, “Good Hair,” Rock enters the profoundly lucrative world of hair care in an attempt to answer his daughter’s loaded, near-heartbreaking question.

Rock narrows down the quest by honing in on the African-American hair world. What he finds is astounding. From conventions and styling competitions to the black market of weaves, there is big money (and celebrity) in hair care. He follows the four finalists in the Bronner Brothers Hair Show, as they prepare for their sensational circus-like performances cutting hair live on stage. He also traces the two most profitable products in African-American beautification back to their roots: Relaxer and weaves.

The key ingredient to Relaxer is sodium hydroxide, a highly toxic chemical that, when inhaled over long periods of time, causes permanent lung damage. You should see what the concentrated form does to a chicken breast and a soda can. Yet both men and women use it to straighten their hair. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. That’s why they call it “The Creamy Crack.”

Though it doesn’t have a street name, the weave is the biggest business of all. Women will pay upwards of $1000 to sew someone else’s hair onto their heads. They’ll forgo the rent so they can meet societal standards of beauty. The beauty industry isn’t the only one profiting from it either. Human hair is India’s largest export, garnered from a common sacrificial ritual in the Hindu church.

In addition to the socio-economic impact, “Good Hair” also explores how hair care affects the African-American community in confidence (both personal and race-related), romantic relationships and every day life. Celebrities like Ice-T, Salt n’ Peppa, Maya Angelou and Rev. Al Sharpton hilariously weigh in on this complex and clandestine business.

And you need the jokes because without them, the whole thing is kind of a tragedy. Maya Angelou points out that, “Hair is a woman’s glory. You share it with your family. You breed it.” But very few seem to abide by that philosophy. Chris Rock interviews a group of high school girls, most of whom have weaves, who explain that a woman just won’t be taken seriously in a job interview if they walk in with an afro. A little girl, who admits she hates having her hair relaxed, says that she thinks everyone should still go through with it because “you’re supposed to.” It’s not just women that feel the pressure. Ice-T and, more famously, Al Sharpton both succumbed to the Creamy Crack.

Though the film focuses on African-American hair, the theme is universal. While African-American women pay thousands of dollars to make their hair straighter and lighter, us crackers (or at least our mothers) are trying to make our hair curlier and bouncier. The hair is always prettier on the other side. I did finally embrace my straight hair and found a natural style that works for me. But that doesn’t mean I’m a free spirit. Just ask my box of hair dye.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

Pretty/Scary Review: Lumina

Written, directed and produced by Jennifer Thym, Lumina is a nine-part web series set in a complex universe of rival realms that are secretly politicizing unbeknownst to the people of modern day Hong Kong. Lumina is a beautiful young girl who is inadvertently drawn into a world she doesn’t understand. Recently broken-hearted, she has immersed herself in work and become the star employee at some sort of think tank. It’s not until she meets the man in the mirror that she realizes just how lonely she’s been.

The man in the mirror is Ryder, who can see her in all reflective surfaces via a special mirror he has acquired in his world, the Dark Realm. Lumina knows very little about his world, and he isn’t eager to spill the goods. But she does know that he’s cute and seems to like her. This may sound like a terrible basis for a relationship but face it ladies, we’ve all done dumb things on the rebound. At least you can’t get a disease when there’s a pane of glass between you and your boyfriend…

Read the rest at Pretty/Scary!

Pretty Scary Review: Surviving Crooked Lake

A group of nature-loving girls who have been best summer camp friends forever decide to embark on one last canoe trip into the Canadian wilderness. Steph harbors a slight fear of water ever since she watched her father drown, so her older brother, Jonah, agrees to chaperon the excursion for moral support. Regrettably, as the title suggests, things don’t go quite as smoothly as they’d planned…

Read the rest at Pretty/Scary.

Pretty/Scary Review: Nature’s Grave

Peter and Carla are a married couple on the outs. In a half-assed attempt to rekindle their relationship they decide to take a romantic camping trip to a secluded Australian beach. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that this will be an epic fail. All they do is bicker, bicker, bicker. They clearly need to get divorced as soon as humanly possible. But away they go with their dog, fancy new camping equipment and Peter’s gun. Actually, Carla is ready to turn back pretty early. But Peter isn’t having it. Neither rain nor near-accidents nor getting lost will keep him from finding this spot and having a good fucking time, goddamnit!…

Read the rest at Pretty/Scary!

Film Threat Review: Whip It

2009
PG-13
111 minutes

***

At first, I thought “Whip It” was a misleading title. In light of the the fast-paced, smash-happy trailers, they would have you believe that it’s all about hardcore chicks beating the crap out of each other and partying hard. But the film’s actually about relationships. Not the hip relationship between Ellen Page’s character, Bliss, and her Urban Outfitters boyfriend, but real relationships: the kind that real teenagers have with their best friends when they’ve been close forever and can hardly imagine a life apart, the sort of tempestuous interactions that only a teenage girl can have with her mother and that a girl feels when her father chooses to play Switzerland in life-or-death social matters. Don’t worry, fellas. There are still plenty of hot babes on roller skates. But those skates also serve as vehicles for a fairly realistic and rather poignant coming-of-age story.

Ellen Page plays Bliss, a 17-year-old girl in a small Texas town who is starting to grow tired of being her mother’s dress-up doll in local beauty pageants. When she’s not going through the motions with the debutants, she works alongside her best friend, Pash (“Arrested Development’s” Alia Shawkat) at a BBQ joint, counting down the days till she can get the hell out of town. One day, while shoe shopping in Austen with her mother and sister, she encounters a carefree group of Roller Derby girls and is immediately smitten. After she and Pash attend a game, Bliss decides to try out for an opening on underdog team, the Hurl Scouts. She’s clumsy but fast and somehow manages to make the cut. So yeah, there’s a bit of the underdog story you expect, complete with progress montage and hipster soundtrack. But there’s also much, much more.

I did not expect to like this movie. Ellen Page is generally a one-dimensional actress who tends to rely on her forehead to convey emotions. But she was surrounded by an able-bodied supporting cast and given such terrific material. I barely noticed her puppy-dog pout. Kristen Wiig, always hilarious, is very effective as the unexpected voice of reason. Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern put in empathetic performances as Bliss’ multi-layered parents. Alia Shawkat (who would have made a better lead) steals her scenes with the jokes and drama alike.

There are a lot of surprises in “Whip It.” Just when you think you know where it’s going, they throw in a curve ball. Bliss’ pageant-obsessed mother is not a stereotypical former debutante and housewife. She works hard at her job and simply wants her daughter to have success the only way she knows how. Bliss does fall for a cute boy, but her story never becomes about the boy. He’s incidental in her quest for independence. Bliss has a lot of lies to juggle and you know that they will all blow up eventually, but the way it plays out is unexpected. The villainous Iron Maiven (Juliette Lewis), from rival team, The Holy Rollers, is not purely evil. Though she makes things hard for Bliss, she still follows a sort of Roller Girl Code. Even the outcomes of the games are never certain. Things are not black and white here. Like the bruises the girls don as badges of honor, everything is in full, brutal color.

The more I think about it, I can see how the title fits. “Whip It” doesn’t just refer to whipping around the track or whipping ass. It’s about a girl who must whip herself into shape and grow up. It sounds trite as a tag line, but when Bliss learns to be her own hero, she becomes a better person. Not just a literal and metaphorical ass-kicker, but also a mature young lady who sees her parents as human beings rather than oppressive wardens. This is a movie that every teenage girl needs to see. Well done, Drew Barrymore. I really didn’t know you had it in you. Also, thanks for sticking to the sidelines, acting-wise. That really helped.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Roman is Burning

For the record (and by record, I mean “my blog”, which is a sort of record in this day and age), here’s what I think about that whole Roman Polanski mess. Yes, Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl. Yes, it was “rape-rape”, as it involved alcohol, narcotics and an underage girl. Given the presence of narcotics, it still would have been rape-rape if she’s been of legal age. He also made some of the most amazing films of all time. These two things are, for the most part, mutually exclusive.

When the crime was committed, Polanski should have been tried and sent, not to jail, per se (though maybe for a little while), but certainly to a psychiatric prison where he received help. Because this man was not well at the time. His life till that point was filled with darkness that included the Holocaust and one of the most notorious serial killers in history. Both of these things directly effected his life. And he wasn’t coping with it well. Perhaps he’s somehow exorcised those demons since. Perhaps not. But at the time, he was definitely mentally ill. I have no doubt that had his wife and unborn child NOT been murdered by the Manson family, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

But since he wasn’t treated for his mental illness at the time of the crime, we are having this discussion years after the crime was committed. There are people who think they should just let it go (victim included). There are people who think he should be tarred and feathered for it. I think that since they did go through all the trouble of arresting him (finally), they should probably give him a trial. But if “temporary insanity” is not brought up, it is not a fair trial. I’m not saying he should be let off. I’m just saying sometimes fucked up circumstances make a person behave horribly and with whatever punishment he receives (or doesn’t receive), I hope they take that into consideration and get the man some help.

NFT Radar: Portage Bay Cafe

Maybe it’s because students aren’t known as early risers that there’s a disturbing lack of breakfast options in the U. District. Sure, you can get a coffee and pastry just about anywhere. But what happens when you want some damn French toast? Make it yourself? Fat chance. Fortunately, there’s Portage Bay Café. Their sweet breakfast menu includes several types of Challah French toast (double down on the protein) and hearty buckwheat pancakes. Every order includes a trip to the toppings bar where you can smother your organic goodness with fruit, nuts, whipped cream and syrup to your inner child’s heart’s content. If you’re after something a little more savory, they also offer 4 Benedicts and 6 Hashes. Some breakfast items are available all day but you can also move on to sandwiches and salads if you’re so inclined. Their organic offerings are a whose who of Seattle heavyweights including Essential Baking Company, Bseecher’s Flagship Cheese and Jones Soda. It’s never too early (or late) for a mimosa and theirs are fully customizable via their vast juice selection. If you prefer to steer clear of the UD, you can also visit their South Lake Union and Ballard locations. Toppings bar!


4130 Roosevelt Way NE 98105
206-547-8230
www.portagebaycafe.com

X-posted from Not For Tourists.