Friday, January 1, 2016

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (spoilers ahead)

The bad news which isn't too bad: Ultimately, it's a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope. It opens with a person under attack planting a message in a robot, then sending the robot off. A loner in the desert finds the robot, and the loner turns out to be much more important than initially thought.
And it ends with an attack on a Death Star that has a fatal design flaw ...again...

..and all kinds of familiar plot elements in the middle.

If you ignore these swipes (and more), you'll have a good time at the movies. It's often exciting, the new characters are great. It's easily better than the prequels. And you have Harrison Ford who is worth every penny of the $20 million he reportedly got.

There's a couple nice surprises: The turncoat stormtrooper, Kylo Ren's parentage.

Some quibbles: It took Luke Skywalker three movies to learn to do things with the Force that Rey learns in one afternoon.

For never handling a light saber before, Finn and Rey are really good with it.

But if you just forget the past, you'll have a good time at the movies.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Star Trek Again

Just as "Star Trek: The Next Generation" broke ground for syndicated television, and "Star Trek: Voyager" was the flagship of the new UPN network, it was announced a new Trek would be the big draw for CBS All Access. (Kind of like Netflix or Hulu but with CBS reruns).

My friends who know of my fondness for Trek asked if I were excited.

No, I'm not.

I know the Internet was invented so Star Trek geeks could debate who is the better captain, Kirk or Picard, and a gazillion gigabytes of data on the Internet are about Star Trek. But, if you can just put up with a few kilobytes more, here's why:

I never recovered from the disappointment that was "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
I had come late to the party, watching the reruns of TOS throughout the '70s. What a great show. It blended science fiction and adventure, and it was written by smart people for smart people. So imagine my excitement when I heard there would be a new Trek. It would be a whole new crew, but us Trekkies were open-minded.

My big moment of disappointment came about the second or third episode. A new alien species was establishing itself. A Ferengi showed up on the viewscreen of the bridge of the Enterprise. And Whorf, feeling threatened, points his phaser at the viewscreen.

Let me repeat that: Whorf, feeling threatened, points his phaser at the viewscreen.

Two things went through my mind: The writers are imbeciles...or ...hey wait a minute ... the writers think the viewers are imbeciles.

Either way at that point, the show had to win me back, and it never did, nor did any of the following series.

TNG in fact got worse:

The psychic never told the audience anything it didn't already know.
Someone had to explain the plot to Wesley every week.
Every time Whorf got in a fight he got his ass kicked
Ryker was just redundant, Picard would say, "Warp factor 1," and Ryker would just repeat him. He was supposed to be the guy who went planet-side to keep the captain safe. This never happened.

On and on, by the third time Picard surrendered I kind of gave up.

Oh and the "something went horribly wrong in the Holodeck!" schtick I think they did every episode.

Deep Space 9's Tribble episode did something TNG was never able to do, have an actually funny episode. DS9 had its own mythology based on TNG's, but not really about TOS's idea of exploration and science. I lost interest pretty quickly.

I gave Voyager about a season. The point of the ship being lost gave it an excuse to ignore the prime directive to whose slavish devotion made TNG so boring. Once again, a concept they gave up immediately. They always followed the prime directive .. the path to most boringness.

I gave up on Voyager after Capt. Janeway gave a race of aliens who had killed her crew and stole their organs a stern scolding to never do that again. (Jerri Ryan pumped a lot of life in that show though).

I didn't see enough episodes of Enterprise to give a fair review, but that it only lasted 4 seasons might tell you something.

So, I might give it a chance when it premiers for free on CBS in 2017, but after 50 years of disappointment, I'm not sure I'd give it more than that.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Supergirl (pilot)

OK, it's the pilot, even the best TV shows started off with clunky, exposition-laden pilots.

Some points:

They borrowed a lot from the first Superman film: First rescue that of being a loved one on an aircraft, the scene where everyone gets chewed out by the boss who says: Get me an interview!, the villain using high frequency radio signals to contact the hero. But, fine, the airplane rescue was worth the price of admission. (I love the part where she's flying upside down, carrying the plane and she sees an approaching bridge, and grumbles, "Oh come on!" The pilot needed more moments like that.

It's what  happened after the rescue when things got dodgy: Her sister comes to scold her for saving her life, and to not do it anymore? It's explained later the sister is part of a top-secret alien-hunting task force, which makes it only slightly less hard to swallow. And the sister's boss scolds her too, telling her to knock it off. There's a lot of scolding going on.

She's as powerful as the sun, and no one thinks she's capable???!! A big stretch.

It needs to be a little more like the Flash, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, their support teams like the hero .. and furthermore are a lot of fun to hang out with. There was little fun with this crowd.

Especially Jimmy Olsen whose job it is is to be dreamy looking and tell her what her cousin would say if he were here. Do we need that? If it were so important let him tell her himself!

This was a problem with the Supergirl film, also. They always talked about Superman in reverent tones, but unless he actually shows up, who cares? That's what I liked about Power Girl, when she was introduced she wanted to distance herself from her cousin. (They borrowed the Kara-getting delayed-for-decades-on-her-way-to-earth conceit from Power Girl, which was a good thing, as well as the concept of Kara being tasked with being Kal-El's babysitter. Great idea.) Not such a great idea: Pep talks from hologram mom.

I'm not sure we need Calista Flockhart. The outright theft from "The Devil Wears Prada," is too incompatible with the long-underwear aspects of the show. Jackie Cooper was probably the best at being the unhinged boss.

The overall concept: We got lots of intergalactic prison escapees! That could work in a Buffy-in-the-Hellmouth way. I'm not sure about their leader being her aunt. Why?

I'm sure we'll see more of Dean Cain and Helen Slater as her earth parents. In the comics, Superman just dropped Kara off at an orphanage. That Superman is cold!

Bottom line: This could be a lot of fun, like the Flash, if they could tone the scolding down a little.

Addendum: As my 8-year-old pointed out: "National City? That's not even in the DC Universe. And he's right, I was thinking such an unusual name for a city, especially one made up for a TV show that is not in the original DC Comics. Then later I realized my answer was in the question: National was DC's name through the 40s to late 70s. Doh! Very clever Supergirl producers!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Review: Hotel Transylvania 2

Man, even less plot than the first one.

Adam Sandler's vampire doesn't want his daughter and grandson to move away.

Yup, that's it.

The rest of it is monster jokes from the Munsters. Ninety minutes of monster jokes from the Munsters, and the Rankin-Bass "Mad Monster Party."

There is one funny joke. The GPS with the voice of Peter Lorre.

The rest of time, I pressed the recline button on the fancy new theater seats and closed my eyes.

My 8 year old liked it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Film Review: Fantastic Four

Is it the colossal train wreck everyone on the Internet says it is?


Is it good?


If Joss Whedon's Avengers movies taught us anything,  it's you have to  litter your movie with  action sequences. Seemingly every fifteen minutes the Avengers individually or together are pummeling someone or being pummeled.

Toward the end of The Fantastic Four, someone says, "He's going to create a black hole and destroy the world!" (there's a lot of clunky exposition in this film). I'm thinking, "What, it's the big finale already? There hasn't been any action sequences."

And this is true, it's a superhero movie with one action sequence.

Just one.

Come late because it's at the end.

Another thing we've learned from Whedon is, if you're making a superhero movie, you better have a sense of humor. Ant Man knew this, it was hilarious.

Fantastic Four, not so much.

The theater I saw this in just installed recliners. Instead of sitting on the edge of my seat, I was reclined the whole film.

This is a good opportunity to discuss organic storytelling: I believe an inherent problem with the Fantastic Four in movies is its lack of organic structure.

Let's go back in time a little. All-American Comics didn't create the Justice Society of America out of the blue. No, Flash had his own title, Hawkman was featured in his own stories in Flash Comics, Green Lantern had his solo stories in All-American Comics, Hourman, the Atom, Dr. Mid-Nite, Dr. Fate, all solo stars brought together in an All-Star team up.

Decades later this was repeated with the Justice League: Every member had his own title, or at least solo stories before forming the JLA.

Decades later Marvel had the genius idea of giving Iron Man, The Hulk and Captain America solo movies before getting them together. And after owning the DC line-up for 50 years, Warner Bros. is finally thinking, hey, let's do what Marvel is doing with our JLA film.

Now -- according to legend, the publishers of Marvel and DC comics were playing golf when the DC boss mentioned casually to the Marvel guy that DC's biggest seller was the Justice League. The Marvel guy then ordered Stan Lee to make a super-team title.

Hence the Fantastic Four. Assembled all at once, not from solo characters, just out of the blue.

This gives everyone who ever tried to make a Fantastic Four film a problem. He'd have to spend the first two-thirds of any film telling the origin of four different super heroes ... and Doctor Doom!

Richard Donner was somehow able to spend the first two acts of the first Superman film as origin story. The first act on Krypton, the second act in Smallville. Superman doesn't even show up until almost an hour into the film.

Yet, those first two thirds were exciting, and funny and emotional, and jaw-dropping and everything the first two-thirds of the Fantastic Four were not.

In closing. As long as Ant-Man and Age of Ultron and Mission Impossible are out there this summer, I really can't recommend Fantastic Four. Maybe wait til Marvel get the rights back and reboots it again.

Friday, July 10, 2015

In defense of Ariana Grande

Forget about the Confederate flag, or health care, or gay marriage, the real concern among Americans right now is Ariana Grande.

Some words in her defense:

First of all, she's 22, all 22-year-olds do dumb stuff. This didn't involve driving drunk of killing anyone.

Second, she was talking to her boyfriend in confidence. I wouldn't want anything I told my girlfriend when I was 22 put on the Internet.

I give a lot of leeway to things told to spouses, lovers, best friends, even close co-workers when the speaker doesn't know he/she's being recorded. There's a reason your spouse can't be a witness against you.

(of course if you deride poor people in a room full of campaign donors, it's fair game)

Third, she doesn't hate America, she's just astonished at our remarkably unhealthy food choices.

Until she slips roofies in undergrads' drinks, I say we give her a pass.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: Inside Out

The reviews have called it a breakthrough for Pixar, but no. It's good, but it borrows from so many other sources I'm not sure why film reviewers are astonished by its originality.

All of the "Toy Story" movies have the same plot and the same theme.

The plot: "We have to get back home!"

The theme: Leaving behind your childhood is the most painful thing you'll do.

"Inside Out" borrows both of these concepts.

The only real difference is in the "Toy Story" films we follow the toys going home in the real world. In "Inside Out," they're going home in a surrealistic world, a place where there's an actual "train of thought," and "graveyard" for old memories. I kept thinking about "The Phantom Tollbooth," the little-seen Chuck Jones film where the protagonist also finds himself in a world of abstract concepts.

(Not to mention Robert Clampett's "Porky in Wackyland.")

It's harder on the audience. Everyone knows the rules of physics in the real world, what are they in a surrealistic land of dreams?

And the concept of the emotions being the stars. Fox did this with "Herman's Head" some years ago, and no one called that genius.

See it, but your kids might get a little restless.