Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review: Ready Player One

What a terrible movie!

It substitutes plot and character development with pop culture and video game references.

Throw in the plot of "Tron," steal "Willie Wonka's" ending, and that's it.

The sight of the DeLorean from "Back to the Future" is supposed to entertain us? A cameo from the Chucky doll is supposed to make us go, "wow!"?

Didn't "Pixels" just do this? Didn't "Wreck-It Ralph" just do this?

And how many 'teen rebels vs. dystopian society' movies have been made so far? A dozen?

The low point is "We're not gonna' take it" playing over the scene where the people rise up against the evil corporation. This song has been used in Clearasil commercials.

There is nothing new in this movie.

The "Guardians of the Galaxy" films also had pop culture references, but take them away and you still have two really good movies. Take the pop culture references from this film and you'd have nothing!

This is clearly Spielberg's worst film. There is nothing new or inventive. You'd be better off getting Life magazine's special '80s issue and flipping through the pictures. You'd get the same effect.

i never liked the holodeck episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" because it was never real. It was like reading a book about a guy reading a book. How is that interesting? ST:TNG holodeck episodes were watching imaginary characters experiencing an imaginary adventure. Who cares? This movie is the same thing.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Appreciation: "City on the Edge of Forever"

Just caught this Star Trek gem on one of the antenna stations. I had't seen it in years, and I knew it was good (probably the best episode of any Star Trek ever), I just forgot how nearly perfect it is.

Economy of words: There is not an ounce of fat in this episode. Every line, every scene moves the story forward. They don't waste  a second. Watch the sequence where Spock sees a guy working with intricate tools, he cracks a safe and steals them, Edith Keeler confronts Kirk and Spock about the theft. This all happens in the space of two minutes.

McCoy's recovery scene: We learn more about McCoy in this tiny, well-written exchange with Keeler than we will in the whole series. He's not just a cranky Spock antagonist. He's realizing he's somehow on earth in 1930 and instead of freaking out, he sees it as another day working for Starfleet.  When Keeler sympathetically says, "We've all drank from the wrong bottle at one point." He just laughs at the analogy. "Not like the bottle I drank from." Then he offers to help out. The viewer imagines he's going to make the best of things by practicing medicine just in a  different time.

McCoy's back alley scene: What a great monologue, "people sewn like garments!" He's mad, but he's right. In the future, we won't be sewing people like garments, and it's barbaric to him even in his demented state.

Kirk/Spock interplay: "Sometimes I expect too much of you." Spock has a genius intellect yet Kirk is still able to play him. This answers the question, if Spock is so smart, why isn't he the captain. Because Kirk knows all the angles you'd never read in  a book (previously this was done with Kirk routinely beating Spock in chess).

Heartbreaking ending: It's all wrapped up in a minute, there's no epilogue to explain everything, there's no moment where they're back on the bridge for a laugh/freeze frame. Just heartbreak.

It's like a two hour episode packed into 60 minutes. If it were made today the story would have been spread out over the whole season. Not too crazy an idea. Think about Kirk telling the Red Shirts (who *don't* die!) to follow him into the time portal if they think he'd been gone too long. Imagine what those subplots could be had they listened to him.

My only question is why they didn't use the Guardian of Forever again? They used different means to time travel, it might have been better if they stuck with this one.

Harlan Ellison wrote a book about the making of this episode, and it includes the original script. It also recounts some shady maneuvering from Shatner and Roddenberry. If you can find it get it.

Great stuff

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Overdue film review: Star Wars Last of the Jedi (spoilers)

The word sequel in Hollywood is used mostly when they mean to say 'remake."

"Home Alone 2" wasn't the further adventures of Kevin McCallister, it was the exact same adventures of Kevin McCallister from the first "Home Alone."

"The Force Awakens" and "The Last Jedi" on the other hand aren't sequels to the Star Wars films, they're the exact same adventures but experienced by different characters.

The space battles, the long speeches about the Force, the captures and escapes, we've seen it all before. Sure they're entertaining and fun to watch, but ultimately the series ran out of plot five movies ago. The new characters are  just doing what the old characters did.

The only reason Luke refuses to aid in the rebellion is because otherwise, there'd be nothing for him to do. And really, he throws the light saber over his shoulder? Would you do that with a gun?

The Carrie Fisher scenes are curious, they could have easily killed her early on in the first explosion, but once she floats in space to the spaceship you start thinking, "she was dead when this scene was CGI'd in. Then she spends the middle third in a coma, and you have to wonder what she was supposed to be doing in the middle third had she lived. It's a pleasant surprise to see her return for the final third. I suspect they're sitting on more footage of her that will turn up in the third film.

It also seemed they set up mysteries in the first movie to totally forget about them for this film. Snoke? What's his backstory? Umm, I guess we'll never know. Rey? They spent a lot of time convincing us her backstory is a big deal and then they just sweep it off. R2D2's red arm, I think they totally forgot about that. George Lucas spent years just making it up as he went on, not really concerning himself with continuity or logic. I was hoping Disney would try to be a little more consistent.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Christmas Story" audience shaming

A lot has been written about the "Deck The Halls" finale of the live musical production of "A Christmas Story." The producers decided not to repeat the joke that the Chinese waiters mangle the song with "Fa Ra Ra." Instead they sing it with perfect diction. So they decided to kill a joke and replace it with ... not a joke.

Making it worse, the dad says, "That's not what I expected." And the restaurant owner says angrily, "What were you expecting?" He is scolding the dad, and by extension, the viewer, who was also expecting "Fa Ra Ra Ra."

So, they capped a delightful and fun musical with a scolding to the audience. I get it, the joke aged badly. So kill it! Don't draw attention to it and then shame the viewer for laughing at it in 1983.

The scene doesn't even need the caroling. The point of the scene was: the family's Christmas adventure had a happy ending at the only restaurant open on Christmas day in the small town they lived in.

The could have easily killed the caroling part of that scene.

One last note: The kid they got to play Ralphie was great.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Movie review: Thor: Ragnorak

Spoiler in the one-sheet

It's another winner from the Marvel factory. It basks in its own silliness without ever disrespecting the characters. (Maybe this is the problem with DC movies. Maybe DC's contempt for its characters is why the movies are so divisive.)

Thor must return to  Asgard when his sister, the God of Death, takes over. Before he can do this, he and Loki get sidetracked to a gladiator planet (this used to happen to Capt. Kirk a lot), where he's matched up against the Hulk. This was supposed to be a big surprise but since this scene was in every trailer and commercial it turns what should have been the biggest surprise in the film into the lamest.

Not a dramatic speech goes by without some heckling, and no heroic action takes place without some self-deprecation. In a funny set of sequences, Thor plays the Hulk and Bruce Banner against each other.

Tom Hiddleston again becomes the spotlight hog. Such a great character, sometimes good, mostly bad, but always captivating on screen. Why hasn't this guy been signed up to be the next James Bond?

Jeff Goldblum plays the most powerful nebbish in the galaxy. That his character has no closure might be the film's biggest flaw.

Minor quibbles:

This film and "Age of Ultron: both end with the heroes evacuating a city while fighting an army of drones.

The sequence with Doctor Strange is fun, but entirely gratuitous.

When Mark Ruffalo broke out in movies he was compared to a young Brando. Watch the scene where Thor debriefs Banner and you'll think, 'is he intentionally channeling Brando?"

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The problem with "Elf"

It's funny, it's beautiful, Will Farrell is hilarious; the scene with Peter Dinklage is well worth admission.
But, "Elf" has a problem.
There's no plot.
There's a premise, but that's not a plot.
They set up a premise, then there's 90 minutes of sight gags.
This is the state of cinema comedy today. There are no stories, just premises followed by gags.

What was the last comedy you saw with a plot? The two that come to mind for me are "The Producers," and "A Fish Called Wanda." The characters had a mission in each film, they had to go from point A to point B.

Will Ferrell just had to act silly.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Quick review: Mystic U #1

I walked in cold, I had no idea what it would be about. But, I'm a big Zatanna fan, so I was intrigued ... up until page 3 or 4 when I realized someone at DC said, "What if Zatanna went to Hogwarts?"and someone else said, "And what if she had misfit friends like "Monsters U?"

And they squandered all my intrigue.

After a half dozen Harry Potter books and a few seasons of "Witches of Waverly Place" haven't we had enough of sorcery schools?

It's beautifully drawn, and they're building up to a "big evil is coming" story line (where did we see that before?), but ... Zatanna is better than this. Read Paul Dini's Zatanna books, they're a revelation full of crazy new ideas. This is just a retread of books and movies we've seen before.

Maybe I'm looking at it all wrong, maybe Dini's Zatanna was aimed at older readers and this book is aimed at preteens? Even so, preteens deserve better.

I did enjoy the allusions to DC's early 70s horror lines, OK, they made an old coot like me happy, but even then, they were a little more than cameos.