Friday, April 14, 2006

Some stand-up comedy and some cartoons are in this week’s DVD column.

Inspector Gadget: The Original Series

One of the signs of success for an animated cartoon is whether or not someone wants to make a live-action version of the property. By that standard, the Inspector Gadget series has been quite successful, as there have been two live-action comedies based on the 1980s television staple.

This four-disc set features the first 22 Inspector Gadget episodes, as well as a short documentary on the genesis of the show. The series started in 1983 and was a huge international success – eventually it was seen in 55 countries and in 24 languages.

Gadget himself never was thoroughly explained – all we knew is that he was a bumbling secret agent with robotic parts who was aided by his niece and her dog. He fought a never-ending fight against Dr. Claw, the leader of an evil secret organization. The show emphasized slapstick over violence and seemed to be an ideal action show for younger children.

With a voice supplied by Don Adams, it was easy for adults to see Gadget as an extension of Adams’ famous Maxwell Smart character. Like Smart, gadget was always unaware just how incompetent he was.

Besides the documentary, the set includes the pilot episode in which Gadget sports a bushy mustache. He dropped the facial hair when MGM threatened to sue. The company thought Gadget looked too close to Inspector Clouseau!

Gadget remains a fun cartoon for the younger crowd even after more than 20 years after his debut.

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Aeon Flux

Generally, when a studio doesn’t schedule advance screenings for critics, the impression is the film embarrasses them and that it’s a dog.

Aeon Flux didn’t have advance screenings and didn’t make a great impression with the critics and theatrical audiences.

Frankly, I’m not sure why. The film is competently made and has a tone and look that is quite commercial.

It’s not the greatest science fiction/action movie ever made, but it certainly isn’t the worst. If you’re into the genre, it’s a diverting way to spend 92 minutes.

Charlize Theron stars in this adaptation of the somewhat inscrutable MTV animated series of over a decade ago. The cartoon series was overly sexual and violent, but this live action version substitutes those elements with plot and characterization in an effort to tell a real story.

Theron is Aeon Flux, a revolutionary trying to end the dictatorial reign of Trevor Goodchild in what is believed to be the last human city on earth. Things, however, are not as they seem, and Goodchild is hiding a very big secret from his people.

Loaded with extra features including five featurettes, the DVD also features a commentary from the star and Oscar-winner herself.

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Jeff Dunham: Arguing with Myself

Ventriloquist Dunham is a western Massachusetts favorite, having appeared many times at the Comedy Connection at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee. His first DVD has just been released which is a comedy concert featuring Dunham and, well, Dunham, Dunham, Dunham and Dunham with different voices.

I’m a sucker for this kind of entertainment. Paul Winchell, Edgar Bergen, and Senor Wences were all childhood favorites of mine and Dunham stands up with those stars of yesteryear.

Not only is he a technically proficient performer, he is just plain funny.
I had never caught his act live, but now that I’ve seen him captured on video, I will make sure to see him the next time he is in the area.

The DVD features both a “bleeped” and “unbleeped” versions of the performance as well as outtakes and bonus clips.

If you’ve seen Dunham perform, you’ll want to see this DVD.

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Dave Attell’s Insomniac Tour Uncensored!

I’ve interviewed Dave Attell three times now and I’m a huge fan of his off-kilter, self-deprecating and sometimes very adult humor. Needless to say, I was curious about this DVD which is an uncensored version of a Comedy Central special that aired earlier this year.

The show is basically a comedy concert and has little of the Insomniac elements (interacting with every day people and seeing what’s happening at 3 a.m.) that I enjoy so much.

As a concert goes there are high and lows. Atell is the host and is in great form, but I can’t say the same about some of his fellow comics. Sean Rouse is simply boring and Dane Cook ends his set with a disturbingly dirty tale of adolescent lust. Greg Giraldo is quite good, though.

For the right crowd, this is a fine party DVD. If you have to make a sandwich, do it when Rouse is on.

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Garbage Pail Kids: The Complete Series

In the 1990s I edited and published two nationally distributed magazines on animation. I have seen hundreds of animated productions – movies, theatrical shorts and television series. Seldom have I sat through something so hideous that it just might be the worst animated series ever made for American television.

And until now it was safely in a vault someplace.

Those folks who grew up in the 1980s will remember the Garbage Pail Kids, a card set from Topps that parodied the then popular Cabbage Patch Kids. The cards featured illustrations of disgusting “children” that emphasized mucus, vomit and physical deformity.

Kids loved the grossness of the cards and they have remained in print on and off up to today. Their popularity inspired a 1987 live action movie, which bombed, and this 1989 cartoon series that was commissioned by CBS and never aired.

In true 1980s television animation fashion, there is no set-up for what we are about to watch. Only by inflicting multiple episodes upon yourself do you learn the show is actually a sort of superhero parody with five “normal” kids who are able to become trash heroes and fight crime or adults or someone. It’s not really clear.

The show is repulsive, but obviously the network didn’t want to go as far as the original trading cards did.

Thank goodness.

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You know the drill. Don't blame anyone but me for what's here.


Marky Mark said...

dude, I GOTTA see that GPK dvd!

SRBissette said...

See how this works? We must see the 'worst' anything!

Re: AEON FLUX, the movie: "The cartoon series was overly sexual and violent, but this live action version substitutes those elements with plot and characterization in an effort to tell a real story."

Well, it wasn't just sex and violence that made the original non sequiter installments of AEON FLUX so intoxicating; you're rather unfairly dismissing what it was that made this 'property' alluring to Hollywood in the first place.

The delirious associative lunacy and seemingly endless kinetic energy of the animated series is what I loved: the animation series stylishly mocked the kind of 'action movie' AEON FLUX became. The movie made a game go of it up to and including the sequence with Aeon and her foot-handed fellow tussling with the 'killer' blades of grass; after that, the substitution you note traded a sorry derivative threadbare 'plot' for the vicious dadaist dystopia of the original short-burst 'toon series, and all was lost.

I can't blame the filmmakers, entirely, as the later AEON FLUX cartoons lost the meat of the original shorts: once narrative cohesion was foisted upon a series that revelled in refuting linear narrative logic, the subsequent animated series became increasingly banal.

This recent strain of cosmetically hyper-gloss (literally in the case of AEON and the similar ULTRAVIOLET) sf action opuses distill the worst of Heavy Metal (originally the US translation of the innovative French/Belgian 1970s zine Metal Hurlant, long since dwindled to a repository for gorgeously illustrated sf/s&m fantasies) to a precise cinematic equivalent, with the dreadful VAN HELSING standing as the most expensive and designed-for-the-masses (PG-13 rating) of the breed. Of the genre, the two UNDERWORLD films remain my faves, which isn't saying much; I found both AEON FLUX and ULTRAVIOLET watchable eye-candy at best, but little else.

Mike Dobbs said...

Steve...So I'm you want my extra copy of Aeon Flux or not?