Friday, April 17, 2015

Film review: Home

I'm seeing a bunch of children's movies and they all seem to have the same ingredients. Hollywood has this template and it's OK for kids who haven't seen enough movies, for the grownups though…

Home is enjoyable and has its laughs, but ultimately you feel manipulated by the tried and true buttons Hollywood presses: A mother and child are reunited, not a dry eye in the house; the screw-up becomes the hero; everyone thinks the hero is dead … but he comes back. there's a big party at the end; we've seen these tropes a million time. Hollywood hedging its bets.

Jim Parsons plays an alien, but is pretty much playing his same character on "Big Bang," as human emotions and subtleties have to be constantly explained to him. He's on  a road trip with Tip, a little girl (Rhianna) and I'm still trying to shake "Lilo and Stitch" from my head.

The alien is on the run from his fellow aliens and Tip is looking for her mother. Meanwhile an evil alien race is coming close to destroy the earth unless … well you can pretty much figure out pretty quickly what they're after.

Steve Martin does best as the cowardly leader of the aliens. Funny is funny.

Take your kids, there's some wonderful animation, and great music, and a couple laugh-out-loud funny lines, but the rest of it will bring a big sense of deja vu.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Legally Blonde notes

I just saw the Upper Moreland (Pa.) High School's production of "Legally Blonde," and though  I'm not going to review it (the girl who sang while jumping rope though should just get an honorary Tony), it made me think of a character point from the film that bothered me.

Why are we rooting for Elle? She's perfect. She's one of those beautiful, perfectly coiffed, perfect-in-every way, affluent sorority sisters who could have any guy or career she wants. We laughed when John Belushi spit mashed potatoes on this character in "Animal House," and now we're rooting for her. It's kind of like wishing Margaret Dumont gets the best of Groucho Marx.

My other problem was  the film's sequel, which, like Home Alone 2, was really just a remake. The part of the first film in which she's actually cracking a case was the best part. I thought the sequel would be more of that, some actual Perry-Mason-in-Prada courtroom theatrics, but no.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Old timey film review: The Animal Kingdom

I'm a fan of Myrna Loy, it's on YouTube, what's not to love?

Well, this is pre-Thin Man Myrna Loy, and Hollywood still had no idea what to do with her. Here she's the bitch who makes Leslie Howard ditch all his friends within 15 minutes of their engagement. She also puts her nose in his business dealings.

Leslie Howard puts up with her and you just want to slap him. Ann Harding is the long-suffering former gal pal/ friend with benefits, who tries to stay noble while being shut out. The only other film I saw her in was "Double Harness." Good actress, but she played a martyr there, also.

It's all very talky, and stagy and you just know it was based on a drawing-room drama that might have been controversial in the day, but now it's kind of dreary and dated. And all the characters talk like they're in a drawing room drama from the '30s.

The negligees are skimpy and again I'm amazed that the negligees are wasted on really flat-chested women. Did bigger boobs evolve over the past 80 years, or is it Hollywood today won't cast you unless you have a double D?

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

What a great way to binge watch.

Ellie Kemper has such an expressive face, and her character's constant optimism are such fun, a viewer can't help but love her. And the jokes come very fast.

As everyone knows, Kimmy has spent the last 15 years held hostage in a bunker by a cult leader. This  could have been "Hogan's Heroes" level tasteless, yet, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock made it all work. Kimmy is starting life fresh, it doesn't matter where she came from. This is Mary Richards leaving her failed relationship and moving to Minneapolis. It's really all the same, just more absurdist humor.

Speaking of which, UKS takes place in the same absurd New York City where "30 Rock" took place. Lots of fortuitous running into each other, and no part is too small to not be hilarious.


Jane Krakowski is pretty much playing the same character from "30 Rock." She's vain and glamorous and deep down very insecure. Still, funny is funny.

Her roommate Tituss has been carrying most of the B plots, this is a little jarring because we shift from stories about fish-out-of-water Kimmy to Tituss going on auditions. "30 Rock" had A and B stories, but all the characters had the same employer. There's a disconnect between these characters' stories.

Recurring themes from "30 Rock" are turning up, a wolfman, an old man with dementia used as a plot device, the 15-year-old nemesis.

The last three episodes, tying up the arc that started with the first episode are probably the best. Tim Blake Nelson's Barney-Fife-only-dangerous, was hilarious, as was Fey's hapless Marcia Clark.

Still, as it took about a season for "30 Rock" to get into its groove, I expect UKS to only get better.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Lost Trek Lore

If you can find it, try to get Bill Planer’s “Lost Voyages of Star Trek.” It includes synopses of Star Trek scripts that were never filmed.

In the mid-70s, Paramount was going to start a “fourth television network” and its flagship show was to be “Star Trek: Phase II.” The adventures of the Enterprise’s second five-year journey.
Scripts were commissioned, the actors were going to reprise their roles, except for Leonard Nimoy.
New characters were drawn up: Decker, a headstrong, young first officer; Ilya, a psychic, and onetime lover of Decker’s, and Xon a vulcan who, unlike Spock, actually enjoyed working on a ship with humans and wanted to be more like them. (These three characters might sound familiar.)

Then something big happened: Star Wars. 

Paramount executives who had spent every morning climbing over a new pile of mail from Star Trek fans begging for a Star Trek movie started asking themselves: Do we own any properties that have spaceships in them?
Plans for the fourth network and Phase II were scrapped. (Barry Diller, the Paramount executive spearheading this concept, would take it to Fox. You might have heard of this.)

Roddenberry was ordered: Make us a movie.

Then came an astonishing series of bad decisions, one understandable, the rest bewildering.

Bad decision one: Choosing the director. This is the understandable bad decision. We’re talking Robert Wise. “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” Blockbusters both. But most important to Roddenberry: “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Possibly the most cerebral science fiction drama up to that time, and probably to this day. (Call me what you must, 2001 a Space Odyssey was a pretentious overlong boring indulge-o-fest)

Rodddenberry didn’t want space spaceships blowing each other up, he wanted a movie just like “The Day the Earth Stood Still”: men in military uniforms sitting around discussing what to do about the alien threat.

The problem is, after Star Wars, no one else wanted that. We wanted fast ships and explosions. Instead we got long long talky meetings, and interminable inspections of the outer hull of the Enterprise
Now the baffling decisions: Roddenberry went to the stack of scripts written for Phase II and found “In Thy Image,” a story about an Earth space probe that becomes self-aware and returns to meet its makers. 

Two problems with this script. A) it had been done before as an episode of Star Trek, B) the concept really doesn’t lend itself to a big budget motion picture experience. There are no villains! Now after “Wrath of Khan” I can’t argue that going back to the source material is a bad idea, but Khan was a sequel, building on the original. And if you’re going to spend $20 million (then a lot of money for a movie) to remake an episode of Star Trek, do “The Doomsday Machine” That episode just begs for the big-screen treatment. (Check out the CGI-improved version, you’ll see I’m right).

Baffling decision 2: “Let’s shave Persis Khambatta’s head!” 

Baffling decision 3: Upon finding out the revived Star Trek would be a movie, Leonard Nimoy was suddenly interested. At this point, Roddenberry thought, wow, I can keep Decker and Ilia, but I’ll have to kill off Xon. 
Kill off Xon? 

Roddenberry somehow was thinking that not only were the Star Trek Phase II episodes, complete, they were aired, and the fans would want an explanation on why Xon wasn’t in the movie.

How else to explain his role in the film of quickly introduced, quickly dispatched Vulcan, making a movie that was a half hour too long even longer.

The film was released, became a hit, but was quickly nicknamed Star Trek: The Motionless Picture. 
So, Roddenbery went into exile and Paramount would never release another Star Trek film without phasers being fired and things blowing up.

When Roddenberry returned from exile, they let him produce an ambitious little TV program called Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Once again, he raided the box o’ scripts from Phase II. Only wherever it said Kirk, he crossed it out and wrote Picard. Decker became Riker; Ilia became Troi, and Xon became Data.

This man was the master of recycling.

As  pointed out in a Cracked article, Roddenberry’s talents were somewhat overrated in favor of people who worked for him. Cracked cites Gene Coon, but I would add DC Fontana and David Gerrold to the mix. When they left Next Generation things quickly went to crap. Interesting thought-provoking scripts were replaced with tropes that were moldy in the ‘60s. Evil twins, unambiguously-good good guys. A captain who surrendered seemingly every episode, the psychic who provided no insight that wasn’t always obvious, the boy genius for whom every episode had to stop in its tracks so someone could explain the plot to him, and a Klingon who got knocked on his ass in every fight.

Star Trek: Phase II could have been the best Star Trek series of them all. Roddenberry was always somehow Star Trek’s greatest champion and worst enemy.