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.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Overdue film review: "Spectre"

Here's a good rule of thumb for the James Bond producers: If your tropes are parodied in "Austin Powers" movies, stop using the trope. Just stop.

This occurred to me during the scene where Spectre gets together around a big table, a member admits a failure and is promptly killed. And the viewer is not surprised at all.

I know, templates must be followed, but "Casino Royale" found new ways to tell an old story. "Spectre" finds old ways to tell an old story.

The pre-credits sequence features the same fight-in-a-helicopter scene we saw in "For You Eyes Only." Bond is beating on the pilot, why is he beating on the pilot of an airborne helicopter! This is the Indiana Jones problem of always having a fight in a moving vehicle. Why doesn't the driver just pull over and continue the fight?

Then after destroying Mexico City, Bond is called into the boss's office for the "The Prime Minister" wants my guts for garters," speech, which we've seen in the Daniel Craig Bond movies and every "Dirty Harry" movie.

No, no more!

Once again, this was parodied in the "Naked Gun" movies where Leslie Nielsen is dressed down for shooting up a Playhouse in the Park production of "West Side Story."

OK, Bond then gets a shot of technology so they can keep track of him. Umm, what happened to the chip he got in "Casino Royale" for the same reason?

Let's just ignore the making love to the widow of the man he just killed scene. We'll give them that.

Then he's using a biplane to chase the bad guys' cars, one of which has the kidnapped heroine. He destroys the cars randomly, fortunately, not the one with the damsel in it. But really, isn't using a biplane the worst way to chase cars in a mountainous forest?

Later we finally meet the villain. Hey everybody, MGM finally regained the rights to Spectre and Blofeld. Woo hoo. This is just like making a Star Trek movie with Khan because, um, you know, the fans will like it. Yeah, Bond and Star Trek have this in common: Recasting an old villain with a new actor with none of the charm of the original actor (or actors) doesn't mean it's going to be good, it just pretty much means you've run out of ideas.

The Daniel Craig films have two innovations for better or worse, they work as as running story arc, (a Bond girl gets killed and it still haunts him; she hasn't been forgotten, the stories kind of tie in together), and they're working to give Bond a backstory. Admirable, but unnecessary. It's like all fan fiction. The writer finds a single sentence from the original source material and thinks, "I can write an entire book (or make a movie) about this."

Remember that sentence from "Star Wars: A New Hope."? "Many rebels lost their lives to steal these plans." Ta-dah! We get "Rogue One." An entire movie based on one sentence.

They do the same thing here. In the novels, it's mentioned James Bond's parents were killed in a skiing accident. "Spectre" takes it from there. What if Blofeld's dad adopted James, so James and Blofeld were practically brothers?! Genius!, No, not really, first of all, they stole this from the Austin Powers movie that proposed that he and Dr. Evil were brothers. See my rule of thumb up top warning against stealing from your parody. Secondly, did I mention this is all unnecessary?

(There's also some bad photoshopping of young Daniel Craig and young Christopher Waltz).

There's also a scene where they're riding the Istanbul Express (or some kind of luxury train,) and she gets a evening gown from nowhere, and he gets a tuxedo from nowhere.

At the end of the movie, Blofeld is captured, but does not die a horrible death as all Bond villains do. I'm mixed about this. I've been faulting this movie for copying from all the others, so it would be wrong for me now to complain when they don't follow the template.

Also, after not killing Blofeld, we have M on one side of the bridge they're standing on, and the damsel on the other side, giving Bond a clear choice, the service, or the girl. He chooses the girl, but this rings hollow because by the next film, she'll be forgotten, or worse yet, they'll do like they did in the second Jason Bourne movie and just kill her in the first five minutes.

It would have meant something if this were Daniel Craig's last film as Bond, but it's already known he's coming back.

Also, M sends him a video from the grave to find a terrorist and kill him!? Why didn't she just ask him to do it while she was alive?

Bringing back Spectre was a terrible idea. They were never that good to begin with. Let's think about it, a super secret society of evil where all members get identifying rings (or tattoos), psss, if you want to keep your society secret, don't all wear matching rings.

It's so disappointing, Casino Royale was so good, the rest of the Daniel Craig films have been awful, and speaking of Daniel Craig, has he ever looked more bored in this film. He shows no emotion the entire film.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

I liked it, my 10-year-old liked it, what more do you need in a summer blockbuster?

This is a dialed-back Marvel film, Spider-Man isn't saving the world, just catching a bad guy. Most importantly, even though it's a reboot, we skip the whole origin story. The radioactive spider is mentioned, but that's it. And not a word about Uncle Ben.

Thank you for skipping all that; no one needs it anymore. The only thing missing that's important to the canon is J. Jonah Jameson. But I didn't miss him until my 10 year old pointed out his absence after the film.

Tom Holland (another Brit to play the role) plays it as an awkward teenager very anxious to get in the game, but is told to "keep to the ground" by (on-loan-from-Disney) Tony Stark. You don't believe he's 15, but still, he is good enough to make you forget the other Spider-Men.

This is another winner for Michael Keaton, who is less a genius super villain, and more a mob guy who's just doing business. He's not trying to  conquer the world, he's just running a black market for weapons. They're alien-enhanced weapons, but hey, business is business.

A third-act twist turned this good movie into a really good movie. There's a scene where you watch the gears turn in Keaton's head as he figures out Spider-Man's secret identity that's just as suspenseful as anything you'd see in a Hitchcock film.

There's just enough Avengers crossover to keep things interesting in the Marvel Universe, without it overshadowing the main star. (There's a funny running gag about Captain America doing all-purpose PSA's for Peter Parker's high school).

Marisa Tomei is the hottest Aunt Mae ever, but I'm not complaining.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A good Blondie

A bad Blondie is when they try to combine modern technology and Dagwood's eating. Dagwood finds an app that shows him where the best hamburgers are, or whatever. It always feels forced and is never funny.

Every once in a while though,  it goes back to basics, throws a curve, catches me off guard, and I laugh out loud. This is one of those strips.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Film review: Despicable Me 3

The original Despicable Me was just jam-packed with inventiveness and crazy ideas all at a head- spinning pace. Its premise was that the world was so full of James Bondian villains that they were often tripping over one another.

The film's best gag typifies its anarchic-spirit: "THE BANK OF EVIL - Formerly Lehman Brothers."

By the second film, the producers decided Gru should be a good guy, thereby sucking out all the joy found in the first film.

There's a segment in DM3 where Gru's minions are telling him how much more interesting his life was when he was a villain. And it's hard to argue with them.

And it goes down hill from there. His wife is just a scold really. The villain is stuck in the 80s. He dresses like it's the 80s, he listens to music from the 80s. This joke gets tired real fast.

The leader of the Anti-Villain League shows up long enough to step down and be replaced by a woman with a ... get this ... a really big nose! Her nose is supposed to be hilarious. It isn't. She's just another unnecessary character.

The story is Gru finds his long-unknown about twin, Dru, who, craving a life of excitement, wants Gru to return to a life of crime. This character is voiced by Steve Carrell modifying his voice for Gru. And this role really calls out for stunt casting: Was Stephen Colbert busy?

Either way, Gru takes Dru on a heist, he nearly screws everything up and I couldn't help but think about how Kate Capshaw's helpless character sucked all the fun out of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."

There's also three subplots that sit there limply. The minions revolt and wind up taking over a prison, which is actually a little funny, and Gru's oldest daughter inadvertently misleads a  little boy into thinking she likes him. This goes NOWHERE. The third subplot is his youngest daughter goes on a unicorn hunt which has a cute conclusion, but these subplots feel really detached from the main film.

The first film was more Tex Avery than Walt Disney. The series now is like those watered-down Disney movies from the 70s that were sleeping pills for parents.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Overdue review of criminally underrated album: "Armchair Theatre" by Jeff Lynne

Definitely the greatest rock and roll album you never heard of.

It bewilders me that this album really didn't register. By 1990 had classic rock stations given up on Jeff Lynne? Was it too classic rock-sounding during the onset of grunge?

This is a lost classic. It's an album about lost love and the resulting hope for redemption.

The standout (and should-have-been single) is "Now You're Gone,"  a haunting song about the grief and memories resulting from the loss of a loved one (Wikipedia says it's about his late mother, but you can apply it to any breakup).   This is carried by a driving piano line, Beatles harmonies and some unexpected Indian backing vocals at its climax. It's a natural progression from "Within Without You," and the reason to buy the album.

"What would it take?" is another driving rocker about trying to save a dying relationship. You'd think repeating the title in the verse and chorus would be a losing proposition, but Lynne makes it work. The chorus serves to make the pleas more dire.

"Blown Away" is a Beatles-esque anthem (the piano intro is borrowed from McCartney's "Hold Me Tight" from the "Red Rose Speedway" medley (and a couple  hundred other sources) but it becomes its own touching song. Then the coda comes along as a whole new inspiring anthem on its own. You might cry. Tom Petty co-wrote this and it really should have become Lynne's "Let It Be."

Lynne pays tribute to his pre-rock and roll influences with covers of  "Stormy Weather,"  "September Song and the pre-rockabilly "Don't Let Go," "Stormy Weather" and "September Song" get an up tempo treatment. "September Song" becomes a skiffle. "Don't Let Go," turns a semi-forgotten blues number into a Elvis Presley-Chuck Berry hybrid.

If you're a fan of the Beatles, The Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty, ELO or any blues-inspired rock band, there's no reason this album isn't on your iPod.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Philadelphia Theatre review: The Light Princess

In a magical kingdom, an aggrieved witch/aunt bestows upon a newborn princess the curse of no gravity. Both literally (she floats away if not tethered) and metaphorically: She takes nothing serious and it gets annoying after a while, especially all the fart sounds.

This is what's going on in the upstairs, intimate theater at the Arden. The show is a slightly more serious musical for children, especially if they had seen the charming "A Year with Frog and Toad," at the Arden just a few months earlier.

I brought my 9-year-old, and I thought he was too mature for the first act, but during the second act when a character decides to sacrifice his life for the good of the kingdom, I was thinking he wasn't mature enough. The second act does take a serious shift and a lot of heinies of 6 and 7 year olds got squirmy.

You might think of "Into the Woods," another fairy tale with a light first act and a consequence-laden second act.

Composer Alex Bechtel plays the handsome prince, and wicked aunt, and plays the piano.  His prince is textbook, but his witch channels Dame Edna via Charles Nelson Reilly. Kinda funny but kinda scary, too.

Brett Ashley Robinson has a tough job making a girl without empathy a sympathetic character. Her obnoxious princess is reminiscent of Gildna Radnor's Lisa Loobner. She can also flip the switch to be the nice princess (whenever she's in the water for reasons I wasn't sure of), and she's a whole new, more likable character.

 Lyricist, Philly stage veteran  Tony Lawton plays narrator and some smaller fill-in parts. A funny running gag is when the king (Rob Tucker) keeps asking him who he's talking to.

Tucker and the queen Emily Gardner Xu Hall, play the loving parents trying to figure out what to do with their special child, while making up the rest of the orchestra. Between the two of of them they played piano, viola, guitar and in the q-and-a session after the show, they admitted to learning the accordion for this production.

The show has been extended through June 4, and really, the Arden can do no wrong. So if you have a child ready to make the next step from "Frog and Toad," this is your chance.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Big epiphanies

In yesterday's post I made the sweeping, near-blasphemous statement that all one-camera sitcoms from the 60s are terrible and unwatchable. (there's a couple exceptions).

It just insults me that Darren yells, "Sam!" , Sam winces and says, "Well." and the laugh track laughs hysterically. I grew up watching this stuff, it took me years to realize not only isn't this funny, but it's terrible!

The catalyst was a visit to my high school journalism class by Joan Dinerstein, a Philly news personality. Far from being the smiling news anchor we saw on TV every night, she was a little more blunt about TV and TV news.

One of the things she said that stuck with me was, "Watch your family watch TV; are they laughing at the comedies?"

And she was right, no one was laughing at the comedies, we just sat like zombies.

Joan Dinerstein pretty much ruined TV for me. But in a good way.

The first time I actually burst out laughing at a TV show was that scene in the Simpsons where Homer skateboards into a canyon, gets pulled up by stretcher, banging his head on every crevice, and all in the space of 20 seconds, he is loaded into an ambulance, the ambulance hits a tree, the back doors pop open and Homer's gurney comes flying out of the back of the ambulance and back down the canyon!


So it took about 30 years of watching TV before I laughed out loud.

I'm talking about the sitcoms of the '60s and 70s, and though single-camera sitcoms with laugh tracks are pretty rare nowadays, the three-camera sitcoms in front of live audiences are guilty of being lazy and sweetening the laughter. Watch "Friends,"  or even "Big Bang Theory," for that matter. It's all set-up, punchline, hysterical laughter, set-up, punchline, hysterical laughter. Compare this to "Modern Family or "Kimmy Schmdt." These are single-camera sitcoms with no laugh track. We're not told when to laugh, we have to figure it out ourselves. The writers have to work for the laughs, they just can't have Ed O'Neill say to Sofia Vergara "Gloria!!" and Gloria says, "well."

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Flash review, third season finale (spoilers)

As the Internet figured out weeks ago, Iris wasn't killed by  by Savitar, it was HR who switched places with her using a previously established illusion-maker. This was revealed pretty quickly though, which served to not insult the viewers.

Barry's plan to appeal to Savitar's nice-Barry side, and offering to fix things if Savitar would turn nice and come to STAR labs was also a little misguided. He's spent thousands of years planning Iris' murder and he wants to rule all time, and he's suddenly going to turn nice when reminded of a happy memory? Nah.

Savitar's plan to have Cisco fix the speed force bazooka was also misguided, of course he was going to sabotage it.

Oh but screw all that, it was all worth it for a great climax featuring three Flashes, Killer Frost, and Gypsy. And Barry knocking Savitar out of his costume was pretty cool (as was the illusion effect with  Iris and HR).

All in all a satisfying ending to a pretty enjoyable season...If you don't think too hard about it.

The ending though ... what was that? The Speed Force sends earthquakes until Barry sacrifices himself, and Barry just walks in voluntarily. He gives everyone a hug goodbye? I didn't buy any of it.

Lost opportunities in television Part 2: Bewitched cast

Though I grew up watching them I can no longer watch one-camera sitcoms with laugh tracks. They're unwatchable, and worse never funny. (some exceptions below)

Let's think with our heads and not with our hearts. "Bewitched" was a terrible show.

Use the below variables to make your own episode.
Sam's Mother, aunt, uncle, cousin, daughter....
casts a spell on Darrin and turns him into a monkey, dog, zebra, someone who can't lie, someone with polka dots, etc....
on the same day the big client is coming for a presentation. Fortunately the client mistakes the curse for the proposed advertising campaign and thinks the idea is brilliant!

This was every episode. (except for that one weird one where Sam helps a local boy build a soap box car which appeared to be an unsold pilot script for a totally different show)

In fairness, there's some bright spots: Bernard Fox's unhinged doctor, and I have to give them credit for Maurice Evans' and Agnes Moorehead's characters' relationship to each other. On TV, no one ever was divorced, yet here was a couple who were separated for years apparently, but still had  a fondness for one another. This was unique for TV in the 60s.

(and for the record, Dick York was a better Darrin than Dick Sargent. York could easily switch from flustered to loving, whereas Sargent always just seemed pissed.)

So here's my point, the show was terrible, but the cast was actually pretty good. Here's my lost opportunity: Picture the same cast in an MTM-style 1970s sitcom for grownups.

An office comedy, full of slightly damaged, yet optimistic characters trying to get their jobs done, making mistakes, having differences, but still getting along.  It could have been done.

Picture the exceptionally talented Elizabeth Montgomery in a comedy written for grown-ups! With old Shakespearean Maurice Evans, Orson Welles vet Agnes Moorehead, the unhinged Bernard Fox! It would have been wonderful.

There  is precedent for this. Bob Crane, star of the morally indefensible "Hogan's Heroes," starred in the "Bob Crane Show" for MTM where he played a middle-aged man who trades in his comfortable life to follow his dream to go to medical school. Or Bill Daly, who went from playing the wacky best friend in the terrible Bewitched rip-off "I Dream of Jeanie" to play the wacky neighbor in MTM's immeasurably more sophisticated "Bob Newhart Show."

(Gavin MacLeod is some weird exception to this, was in the terrible one-camera with laugh track "McHale's Navy," then moved onto "Mary Tyler Moore," arguably the best sitcom of all time, then slid backward into the terrible one-camera laugh track "Love Boat.").

(some exceptions to the one-camera laugh track sitcoms are terrible rule: "That Girl" and "Get Smart")

RIP Roger Moore

Some notes on Roger Moore: He knew he was filling big shoes by taking over as James Bond, but he kept his sense of humor . When Sean Connery returned as Bond in "Never Say Never Again," Moore said, "It's the first time I got bad reviews for a film I wasn't even in."

Moore fans might want to check out the Julie Andrews-Ben Kinglsey recording of "The King and I." Moore has a (non-singing) cameo as a British official visiting Anna.

Lost opportunities in TV part 1: Nita Talbot

Let's pretend for a minute that "Hogan's Heroes" didn't have the most tasteless premise for a sitcom in the history of television.

Instead let's focus on Nita Talbot, the wonderful, unappreciated actress who played the recurring character of Marya. She was a Russian spy, but her relationship with Hogan was an analogy to  U.S.-Russian relations during World War II, America didn't want to trust Russia, but it had to.

And Nita Talbot was great; Hogan, and the viewers never knew what she was up to. Was she there to  have sex with Hogan, or kill him! It was hilarious and sexy and suspenseful at the same time. And Talbot played the rare sexy/funny character; Marya was using her looks to get what she wanted from the Americans and Germans, and you never quite knew whose side she was on.

The lost opportunity: This should have been a spin-off. She could have had a boss, she could have had co-spies, and unlike "Hogan's Heroes," she wouldn't be confined to a prison camp. Paris, London, Berlin, Washington(?). It could have been good.

In the late '60s, CBS was all about spin-offs: Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, Gomer Pyle. It could have been done. Am I really the first person to think of this?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

RIP Pixanne

Before the nation's two or three media conglomerates bought all the local  TV stations, local TV stations used to air locally produced programming.

Sure we have local news programs now, but they're pretty much 15 minutes of weather, sports and car crashes. There was a time you got to know what was going on in your city. Shows for kids and adults introduced you to your mayor, your zoo keeper and your grocer.

One such show for children in in the  '60s and early 70s in Philly was "Pixanne." Pixanne was a Peter Pan-ish character who lived in an enchanted forest and she told stories and introduced kids to their city and who brought it to life, and never in a condescending way.

And I was glued to my seat ... or the floor. .. in front of the TV, with my brother, each of us with our fist in a box of cereal.

Needless to say, she was the first crush of many young boys.

Her real name was Jane Norman and she just passed away.

She had to know how much of an effect she had on Philly kids. Including me.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Movie review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The mention of Peter Quill's parentage at the end of the first movie was a clumsy attempt to set up the sequel, but it paid off because the sequel is very good.

CGI is evident in every frame, but the best special effect is de-aging Kurt Russell in a flashback scene. I was astounded, it's as if they scored some unused footage of Russell from a Disney film from the 70s, it's that convincing. See it for that alone.

But plenty of reasons abound to catch it, we see the dysfunctional family dynamic play out again and it's just as much fun as the first time around. The plot is a throwback to 50s horror movies: Travellers are welcomed to a scientist's remote castle and everything seems OK, until they find the zombies in the basement.

My only real complaint is the 70s music selection is not as nostalgic, kitschy fun as from the first film. With the exception of "Brandy," (which ties into the plot), "Mr. Blue Sky," and "The Chain," I only have vague memories of the other songs.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

50-year overdue review: Star Trek: What Little Girls Are Made Of

This episode was on one of the antenna channels tonight, and boy does it hold up.

It has the ingredients of the best episodes of the old show:

Introduce a scientific concept.

Debate the wisdom/dangers of the scientific concept.

And the icing on the cake: a cool fistfight/spaceship battle, and scantily-clad alien women.

This is what set Star Trek apart from other shows on back then. It was written by and for smart people.

Let's look at the scientific concept: They're talking about artificial intelligence 30 years before the term was even coined! Bonanza never did that!

And the only Star Trek film to discuss theoretical science was "Wrath of Khan" with the Genesis device.

Scientific concept, debate wisdom of scientific concept, cool spaceship battle, Kirstie Alley at her hottest. And not so coincidentally, it's still the best film.

Another thing interesting about this episode was the introduction of Nurse Chapel.

Some backstory. It gets a little complicated: Gene Roddenberry wanted to give his girlfriend, Majel Barrett, a job.

Oh, wait, that wasn't complicated at all.

The story was Nurse Chapel joined Starfleet to hopefully find her one-time lover Roger Korby who went missing.

They find him, but he turns out to be a robot, so the search continues.

Only it didn't. Her whole backstory was forgotten. They set up a starting point which could have lead to two or three episodes and they totally dropped it. The only thing she had to do after this was have a crush on Spock.

And if she weren't superfluous enough, in the first film, she's a doctor. So the ship has two doctors.

One final point to go over: Holy crap, that jumpsuit on Sherry Jackson!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Blasphemy: How "The Wrath of Khan's" centerpiece showdown could have been better

I don't have to tell the Trekkies among us that the scene where Khan ambushes Kirk in "Wrath of Khan" is the most exciting, suspenseful and hands-down the best sequence in any "Star Trek" film even to this day.

Every "Star Trek" film since then has tried to insert a mid-film showdown similar to the Khan sequence. And it's never as good.

They even tried to remake the whole film with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Khan.

I remember sitting in the theater on opening night. As the sequence unfolded I was dumbstruck. "The Enterprise is done! Kirk's going to beam over and Khan's going to kill him! And then he'll blow up the Enterprise just for laughs!" My mind was racing all over the possibilities, I had no idea how Kirk would get out of this.

We've seen this a million times. There's always a bad guy holding a gun over James Bond, and you think, "ehh, he'll throw sand in his eyes, he'll kick him in the shin, the love-interest will shoot the villain from behind." I've never thought James Bond was ever in real peril.

But this was the first time the villain was pointing a gun (or phasers) at a hobbled hero and I thought, "Crap! The movie is over!"

But then ... Kirk calls up the Reliant's command code, and orders the Reliant to lower its shields. The imperious Khan is suddenly stunned and clueless, and the audience gets this amazing release when The Enterprise starts firing on the now-defenseless Reliant (the audience opening night was cheering!)

(not to mention that for everyone in the audience, this sequence  more than made up for the dull, listless "Star Trek: The Motion Picture").


But could the sequence have been better?

Yes, and it would have been easy and made more sense.

While delaying Khan, Kirk asks Saavik for the command code for the Reliant. Saavik is confused, "Command code?"

Kirk then explains to her (and the audience) that every Starfleet ship has a command code "to keep an enemy from doing what we're about to attempt."

Oh, OK, that makes sense. Even in 1982, we had computer passwords to prevent hacking, so this wasn't an especially new concept. It had really never been introduced in the TV series.

But, why was this concept introduced as the sequence is progressing? It would have been super easy, and more enjoyable if the concept was explained at the beginning of the film.

Think about it, in the beginning, while Enterprise was in space dock, the Starfleet air traffic controller could have easily said, "Should I use your command code to steer you out of dry dock?" and Saavik would have said, "No thank you, I don't like handing over control of the comm," then the film would continue where Kirk looks shocked and Bones offers him a sedative.

And the audience would have enjoyed the scene, not realizing they were being set up for the big action sequence an hour later. And when the sequence unfolds, there would be no need for exposition.

Think of the CAT ekto-skeleton in "Aliens." James Cameron didn't introduce that thing at the end of the movie when Ripley needed it to defeat the Alien, he introduced it at the beginning, and turned it into a red herring by convincing the audience that the CAT's only purpose was to show that Ripley was a badass in front of a male chauvinist. It worked for me, and everyone else in the audience. Meanwhile, we learned it existed and how it worked early on.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Flash review: The Once and Future Flash

Barry goes to the future to try to learn Savitar's identity. Future Barry would just tell him, right?

Everytime Barry travels in either direction through time, something always goes horribly wrong,  This time, in the future everyone is pretty miserable, it's like their "Wonderful Life" episode they couldn't wait till Christmas to make. But instead of George Bailey seeing how miserable everyone's life is if he hadn't been born, Barry sees how miserable everyone's life is after Iris dies and future Barry goes into seclusion.

In the end, he rallies the team together again and everyone's happy. That was easy! Even the miserable in-seclusion Barry comes back.

In the forgotten "Superboy" series from the late 80s, Superboy travels through some alternate dimensions, finds a burnt-out version of himself and he comes back to save the day.

So it was a hybrid of "Wonderful Life" and that one good episode of "Superboy."

It's still fun to watch, but they might be running out of ideas.

Killer Frost is back, with a great tease at the end to the real ID of Savitar.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The TV-character-whose-other-job-is-as-a-TV-host trope

The internet and I have explored TV tropes before: the jump the shark moments, the death of a beloved character never mentioned before, disposable love interests, the unnecessary plot contrivance.

But here's something I've never seen explored: The-TV-character-whose-other-job-is-as-TV-host trope.

In the late 80s-early 90s, it wasn't enough that Bob Newhart was an innkeeper, in the later seasons, he had to be an innkeeper with his own TV show; it wasn't enough Tim Allen was a handyman, he was a handyman with his own TV show, it wasn't enough Kelsey Grammar was a psychologist, he was a psychologist with his own radio show, George Wendt had a short lived show (based on NPR's "Car Talk,") where he and his brother were mechanics who had their own radio show.

We've seen plenty of backstage sitcoms before, but Rob Petrie only had one job!

Why would they all have a second job? Why would the second job always be in media? Where did this come from? In each case I suspect network interference, because all of these shows would have been just as good without the main character's extraneous job. In every case, the extraneous job seems tacked on; the implication is 'doesn't everyone have his/her own TV show?'

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Dennis the Menace works blue

Probably more about the Mitchells' sex life than we'd like to know, but I like when old comics try something new.

Review of 10-year-old comic book I've finally gotten around to reading, part 2

A beautiful Alex Ross cover, some beautiful retro Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek art. What's not to like? Well....

The story picks up from JSA 17 where the Magog-ish god-like character banishes Power Girl to ...
some manner of Pre-Crisis Earth 2. Huntress is still around, Dick Grayson is still around, and the Justice Society had merged with Infinity Inc., and it's a real kick to see these characters illustrated by the wonderful Jerry Ordway again.

But, in one of a long series (dating back decades) of Power Girl and Huntress having late-night, rooftop conversations, PG tells Huntress she feels out of place and it's pretty obvious she's the wrong Power Girl for this dimension.

They go on to break up the Joker's gang and PG even saves Huntress' life....

And then the dimension's real PG shows up, has a hostile reaction to her doppleganger and of course, a fight breaks out.

The JSA decide, with no evidence at all, the the doppleganger PG must be evil and they begin to hunt her down (despite her just saving Huntress' life not an hour earlier.)

It is then to be continued in JSA, but ... eh, who cares.

DC has this long history of contempt/neglect for Earth 2, it's hard to work up ethusiasm. Is this the real pre-Crisis Earth 2 or just one of a million deviation universes so numerous it's hard to get an emotional attachment? Either way, it will be gone soon, so just forget about it and move along.

Secondly, the "He/she must be a villain; let's beat him/her up" misunderstanding was a staple for Marvel in the 60s and 70s and let's admit, it's getting pretty tired by now.

So, it starts out as a treat to old-timers like myself who enjoyed Earth 2 stories  and the mid-80s Infinity Inc. run, and still feels the Crisis on Infinite Earths was a colossal mistake, but by the ending, most good will has been squandered.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: Amy Schumer's Leather Special

It's funny, a lot of oral sex jokes. But her blackout stories are a little worrisome. "There was this time I blacked out and when I came to I found out I had...."

She tells several stories like that, and instead of finding it hilarious, I'm thinking, if she's blacking out this many times, she might need some intervention.

Are we going to be reading an interview with her in People magazine five years from now when she says, "No one realized my jokes were really a cry for help."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review of 10-year-old comic book I've finally gotten around to reading, part1

Having kids didn't stop me from buying comics, it just kept me from reading them! So I've stumbled upon a couple books I finally got around to reading.

Action Comics Annual #10

This one's a head scratcher. The cover has the go-go checks, layout  and the '48pg giant' logo all from the 60s, which is supposed to evoke some feeling of nostalgia from old-timers like myself. I bit, I bought it, expecting a bunch of standalone Superman stories like the good old days, but no.

Instead it's a collection of unfinished stories, and Superman is hardly in it. My first clue should have been Superman not even being on the cover (he is featured prominently on the alternate cover, so those readers must have been really disappointed.)

OK, no Superman and unfinished stories. Oh, I get it, there had just been another reboot, and these were the introductory stories to upcoming interminable story arcs for the next issues of Action.

At least that's my theory, I hadn't bought too many Actions after this.

That, and I hate DC story arcs. They never finish. They spend more thought on setting up the arc than actually seeing it through.

The first story no, not actually a story. Lex Luthor goes through a jungle imagining different ways to kills Superman. He finds some Kryptonite, and that's it. Four pages. Great Art Adams art though.

Second story is a retelling of the introduction of Mon-El. Why didn't they just reprint the original story from the 50s? The only difference is instead of stressing the cover tease of a brother from Krypton (not really), it stresses Clark Kent's loneliness. It does have a beginning, middle and end though, unlike everything else in the book. Eric Wight provides some indie-comic style art.

The "Mystery of the Blue Sun" story is the real head scratcher. Thanagarian space police cruisers investigating destroyed cruisers come upon some Bizarro Supermen. Once again, that's it. Two pages! At first I thought it was a production error because the "story" ends abruptly and it goes to a two-page spread of the "Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude," ... then a two-page comic about the Wii, you keep flipping pages looking for the Bizarro story to continue, and it never does! It's always great to see Joe Kubert, especially in the 2000's when he was nearing retirement, but still. There's no there there.

"The Criminals of Krypton" is the closest we get to a story with some interesting concepts. It's based on the deleted scenes from the first Superman movie where the Kryptonian council sends its storm troopers to take out Jor-El. OK, great idea, tell me more. We get some background on the Phantom Zone villains (they weren't evil, just misunderstood -- or lobotomized) -- and more background on Jor-El. OK, a good story, with beautiful art by Rags Morales.

By then though it's too little, too late, because it closes with the continuation of Lex Luthor unveiling the new and improved Metallo

It's all a big tease and big cheat, DC is essentially saying: Here's a bunch of unfinished ideas we may or may not get back to, thanks for your $3.99 though.

I used to think I stopped buying comics books because I had kids and no time to read them, now I'm thinking it's because I kept feeling like I'm getting cheated.