Saturday, July 11, 2009
Synthoid Conspiracy, Parts I and II
G.I. Joe is having war games at sea while the military's top brass observes on the USS Flagg and Destro and Cobra Commander observe in a submarine below. Of course, things go awry--the Dreadnoks attack, and in the confusion, General Franks' aide Ericson reveals himself to be Zartan. He takes Franks, Admiral Ledger, General Howe, and Colonel Sharp prisoner, and while Cobra troops arrive to reinforce the Dreadnoks, Zartan replaces the brass with Destro's newest invention--synthetic humanoid replicants. Cobra is now in charge of the US military.
Because I always like a classic cartoon reference: Scarlett radios Shipwreck and asks if he could sink a couple of the Cobra Moray hydrofoils--"Does Popeye like spinach?" 'Cuz he's a sailor, see, and... aw, let's move on.
The synthoids are pretty hostile to G.I. Joe, of course, and General Franks chastises Duke and Scarlett for their inadequate performance against Cobra. Duke is obviously pissed and actually turns and walks away from Franks, so his position must be pretty secure.
Cobra Commander is oh-so-pleased with himself, of course, and explains that the next step is to put a synthoid inside G.I. Joe. He also jokes around with Destro by creating a synthoid version of Destro that bows when commanded to. Destro is more pissed off about this than he's ever been about anything, and immediately demands the destruction of the synthoid. Cobra Commander's all "Hey, c'mon, guy, I was just joking around," but he's clearly enjoying putting Destro in his place.
The Commander has a device which will neutralize the synthoids within a given range, so the settings on this thing will probably be important later, you think? He melts the Destro synthoid, clearly having made his point--that even Destro can be replaced--and Destro stalks off, completely freaked out.
So now the synthoids head into action: General Howe and General Franks propose that the US cut funding in half for G.I. Joe, which the budget committee agrees to despite weekly proof that they really need the money. Franks even suggests getting rid of the team entirely.
The changes go into effect yesterday, and no one can get the supplies they need--G.I. Joe HQ is short on treads, fuel, and ammo, and the base is falling into disrepair. Just then, a fleet of Cobra Rattlers attacks and Duke can't get a single plane in the air. Like the opening attack, this battle scene really takes its time--they've got two episodes so they can throw more Joes into the battle and give us some time to make it big. You've got Mutt and Junkyard, Cover Girl, Scarlett, Roadblock, Quick Kick, Rock 'n' Roll, Ace, Clutch, Blowtorch, and Gung Ho rushing around (though not everyone has a speaking part).
In the confusion, Duke gets captured by Zartan and the Dreadnoks and replaced with a synthoid. When Cobra suddenly withdraws, the Duke synthoid is already off. He calls Scarlett by Cover Girl's name, and Junkyard starts snarling at him. Then General Franks shows up to call them a disgrace, which pisses Scarlett off pretty good. Franks decides none of this would happen if there was no G.I. Joe, so he orders the organization disbanded.
Junkyard finally snaps and attacks General Franks, but Mutt pulls him away just in time. Franks orders Junkyard put down right away, but Mutt punches out the MP and takes off running with his dog. When Franks aims a rifle at the dog, Quick Kick kicks the gun out of his hand. He's arrested as Rock 'n' Roll takes off after Mutt on a motorcycle. He blows a hole in the chain link fence so Mutt and Junkyard can get away--but the pair encounter Destro, who knocks them unconscious with a burst of gas.
Now, if there's one person Cobra Commander wants to impress that isn't Zartan, it's Duke--I mean, he's always capturing the guy and putting him in an arena--so he's soon spilling the details of his plan. Zartan gets all pissy and jealous and claims that he himself invented the synthoids and contributed heavily to the plan. Duke uses the spat to rush the guards and escape into the swamp.
With G.I. Joe disbanded and everyone still under military contracts, the team is assigned to other positions. For maximum humiliation, Scarlett pulls duty as General Franks' secretary. She can't stand it, so she contacts Duke about secretly getting the team back together at their old bunker, but of course Duke is a synthoid, who reports it to the Franks synthoid, who reports it to Cobra Commander. Breaker's on the case, though, and traces the transmission. Looks like they've had time to figure out some of the goings-on. Scarlett decides it's time to investigate the destination of the signal, acquire some Skystrikers and some fuel, and break Quick Kick out of jail.
Again, one of the nice things about this being a two-parter is that, even if they don't say anything, a lot of Joes fill the frame. The much-neglected Stalker is a part of this operation, as are Recondo, Zap, Dusty, Grunt, Doc, and a few others we haven't seen in a while (also Wild Bill, but he's in nearly every episode, as is Flint, who suddenly appears). The Joes nab Quick Kick, fuel the jets, and get into their base only to discover the equipment is all gone and Destro is waiting for them. He's come to help, he says, and lays Cobra Commander's synthoid plan on them. Duke, being a synthoid, warns the Joes not to trust Destro. Why would he help the Joes?
Turns out Destro is still pissed off about the synthoid Cobra Commander teased him with, and he plans on demonstrating to the Commander and Zartan the fury of his anger when provoked. Which is probably why Cobra as an organization is never going to get anywhere. It might have served Destro better to plot against Zartan and take him out while letting the Commander take over the US, and then moved against the Commander. Instead, Destro's setting them back to square one so he can be precious about an affront to his honor. Badass, sure, but is it a smart move, especially coming from Destro? At least he helps the Joes escape when they're surrounded by regular Army.
Back in the swamp, Copperhead finally bears down on the real Duke, but Copperhead himself is jumped by Mutt and Junkyard. Destro deposited them near the Cobra base. Is there a passage of time issue here? Can't tell, but it seems like a lot happens in the outside world while Duke is wandering around the swamp and Mutt is just missing. Duke's plan is to commandeer Copperhead's Water Moccasin and attack Cobra. Two men on a swamprunner? Okay...
Duke and Mutt make it inside the Cobra base and split up as Destro gets the Joes in a position to attack. Mutt finds the real Ledger, Sharp, Howe and Franks and frees them. Dozens of Skystrikers start strafing the Cobra base and a firefight ensues, and the synthoid Duke tries to kill Scarlett, who is too close to discovering he's not who he says he is. Scarlett survives, of course, and follows him into a hidden entrance to the base.
This all inevitably leads to a whole Enemy Within moment with the two Dukes fighting one another, and only Junkyard is able to tell them apart. Still, synthoid Duke manages to escape and, when Cobra Commander decides to neutralize him for failing in his mission, all of the synthoids are fried. See? The settings did come back to haunt him, after all. Who knew? (And if you didn't see it coming, how did you like your first experience watching a TV show? I bet you'll dig movies, too.)
Well, everything turns out fine. Cobra Commander and Zartan escape, but G.I. Joe is reinstated and a hearty "Yo Joe!" is had by all. Ooh, that sounds dirty.
Stretching this across two episodes does give it all an epic feel, but I wish it had been at the service of a better script. It's completely situational and uninvolving.
Haul Down the Heavens
We open right away with Lady Jaye nearly killing Duke and Flint by buzzing them with a Skystriker. Adorable. Let's move on to the episode, shall we?
Apparently there's something happening with the Aurora Borealis that's gone "haywire" (not the most scientific of episodes), and the disturbance could apparently cause the polar ice caps to melt. I'd love to see the proposal on this mission. Flint, Lady Jaye, and Snow Job lead the mission north, accompanied by a Dr. Entwhistle. But, besides being attacked by a polar bear, things go weird on the mission. The Snow Cats start going wonky and driving themselves, and there may be sabotage, and Dr. Entwhistle is a huge bitch who sees G.I. Joe as an inconvenience and doesn't get along with Lady Jaye and... hell, do I even have to tell you that Dr. Entwhistle is the Baroness in disguise?
How often are we going back to this well? Every time they meet a woman, it's the Baroness.
Well, there's a Cobra base up there in the arctic, and the Joes try to hide to plot their next course of action. Cobra Commander captures Lady Jaye and Flint, but Snow Job gets away, walking off into the snow to get help even after he's been jabbed with tranquilizer darts because he's just that fucking tough.
Well, inside the Cobra base, Destro starts revealing Cobra's entire plan to the deputy leader of G.I. Joe, which is surprisingly dumb for Destro. He's going to use something called the ion attractor to melt the ice caps and flood the world. He shows them what looks like a rough cut version of Deep Impact, with the melted ice caps flooding New York. Cobra Commander is worried that Snow Job might have gotten away, so he orders Firefly to sabotage the Joe HQ.
By now, G.I. Joe has found the real Dr. Entwhistle (tied up in a hotel room, because the Baroness is apparently a poor planner). They still don't know what's going on in the arctic (Snow Job has been rescued by a Taganook man but is fading in and out of consciousness), so Duke orders a mobilization. When they try to take off in Skystrikers, the planes explode--Firefly, who totally escapes from Duke, has put acid in the fuel supply. Once again, the entire air fleet is destroyed--all but one plane.
Flint and Lady Jaye break out of their bonds and fight their way to the command center to use the radio. Destro stops them before they can call for help and decides to just shoot them in the head, like he should've done instead of revealing his plans, but Cobra Commander gets all "Arena of Sport" again and wants to give them a fighting chance.
Meanwhile, Breaker gets a distress call from the Taganook who has Snow Job, and the last remaining Skystriker is mobilized so Ripcord can parachute out and inject Snow Job with a serum to neutralize the toxins or reverse the polarity or whatever. Snow Job instantly recovers, like they always do in cartoons.
Arena of Sport time: Cobra Commander chains Flint and Lady Jaye together and sics a polar bear on them. Commander, what is it with your insane need for constant stimulation? You always let your sadism overrun your strategic planning. The two Joes trick the bear into biting through their chains, because if there's one thing polar bears are known for, it's their ability to bite through iron. They escape, knocking Destro out a window for good measure.
So, the Joe forces arrive, the Cobras escape, everyone's rescued, and the polar bear takes a nap on a Joe WHALE while Duke makes a quip about his philosophy about 10 foot bears--they can do anything they want.
Kind of a meh, episode, don't you agree, Commander?
Yeah, not exactly a classic.
Friday, July 10, 2009
1. Tony Banks: Thirty Three’s
2. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bad Moon Rising
3. Ringo Starr: Liverpool 8
4. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem: Tenderly
5. Michael Jackson: Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
6. The Pretenders: Message of Love
7. Tom Jones: Do What You Gotta Do
8. Joy Division: Shadowplay
9. Shania Twain: I’m Gonna Getcha Good!
10. The Kinks: Rainy Day in June
1. From his album The Fugitive. Genesis is one of my all time favorite bands; Banks' solo stuff tends to sound like unfinished Genesis backing tracks, but this song is pretty good.
2. I don't really care overly much for Creedence. I haven't listened to this song in a long time, and I'm surprised how much I enjoy it. There was once a time when I would turn the channel whenever CCR came on Oldies 104.3.
3. Nice song from Ringo about the Fab days.
4. This song always appears on Muppet Show compilations. Because it rocks.
5. Fantastic. A great song in the summer, too.
6. I didn't like the Pretenders too much when I was younger, but I appreciate them a lot more now.
7. I have, however, always liked Tom Jones.
8. I'm not the biggest fan of Joy Division, but this is one I like.
9. This is about the only Shania Twain song that I dig. It just flows, you know?
10. Pretty, pretty song from Face to Face. But you're two weeks too late, non-sentient iTunes shuffle! It's not June anymore. And there were so very many rainy days in June...
:: President Obama has decided it’s okay for the US to hold detainees indefinitely even if they’ve been acquitted by a military tribunal. He’s also hired a guy who is hostile to government inspections of meat processing plants to head the FDA. I’m awful damn sick of this high-handed behavior from the people in charge.
:: If you killed yourself because Michael Jackson died and you can’t live in a world without him… well, if you’re that unrealistic about life, it was only a matter of time before you wound up doing something stupid that would eliminate you, so what’s the difference?
:: I wish the record label would stop pushing the Ting Tings song “That’s Not My Name.” It’s a great song—good album, too—but they’ve put it out with three different music videos and in at least two mixes, and it’s not getting any higher on the chart than it already has. It’s not going to be the giant breakout hit they keep trying to make it. Pick another single off the album and go with that. You’re making me hate this song. Stop trying to make fetch happen, Gretchen! It’s not going to happen!
:: I can’t work up any enthusiasm over Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie. Too many letdowns from this guy over the past decade or so.
:: Why would Lorne Michaels want to produce a movie based on McGruber? It works at 90 seconds, but what’s going to happen in the movie? He can’t just blow up every three minutes, so now we’re going to have to see this guy lamenting how pathetic he is and all of that unfunny garbage that ruins 95% of Saturday Night Live movies. There’s just no story there—hell, they’ve taken the sketch as far as it can go since they had MacGyver show up as his father. There’s nowhere else to go. Does anyone actually want to see this?
:: Anyone ever notice that Lady Gaga sometimes looks like Paul Williams in drag?
:: I appreciate that you asked, but don’t look at me like I’m an asshole because I’m not giving you any of the breakfast I just bought. It’s your fault for not eating breakfast before you came to class. Don’t act like I’m an asshole because I plan on eating something I bought with the express purpose of eating it.
:: I can understand being against the death penalty on moral grounds. But when you tell me that the death penalty is “getting off too easy” and murderers “need” to be in prison for life so they can be “tortured by the memory of their crimes,” you don’t exactly have the high ground on being humane.
:: Something I find hilarious: the people who go on about how music shouldn’t be a product while ignoring how rich bands like U2 and Green Day are. You think those guys don’t want to make money off of their music? Just because they package it as an anti-product to make you feel better about consuming their product doesn’t mean it’s less of a product. (Same goes for Radiohead.)
:: Some people are in a tizzy over Miley Cyrus’ “racy” photos in Elle. Apparently being reminded that a 16 year-old has cleavage is racy. I’ve been down this road before on the internet, and by now I just don’t care. Hey, Brooke Shields posed nude when she was 12. If you want to shock me with kiddie cleavage, it’s way, way, waaaaay too late. For the amount of people being all disgusted and outraged over this, it’ll be forgotten by next week and affect no one. Blah blah blah.
:: Anthony Abbate, the drunk cop who beat the shit out of a woman—on camera—for not serving him any more drinks doesn’t end up in prison, but it’s appropriate to sentence Bernie Madoff to 150 years in a federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison? It’s not that I think Madoff doesn’t deserve to go to prison—although the way he’s being so gleefully turned into a scapegoat for the entire economic collapse is pretty chilling—it’s that I see criminals who are clearly guilty go free all the time. Abbate should be serving time. So should a lot of other people. I think it’s ridiculous to go so over the top on Madoff to make some kind of example out of him. It's like people assume that the economy is going to be fixed now because Madoff is getting severe punishment.
Meanwhile, the talk has started of another stimulus.
:: Heard in my house today: “Hey, look! There’s an actual classic music video on VH1 Classic!” The rare occasion when they don’t play talking head shows, movies, or reruns of I Love Two Weeks Ago This Morning.
:: Marilyn Manson says he cut himself in the face with a razor 158 times because he was so depressed when Evan Rachel Wood left him. Amazing how he didn’t leave any marks. I love it when pussies pretend to be tough, it makes me laugh. Manson says “I was struggling to deal with being alone and being forsaken and being betrayed by putting your trust in one person, and making the mistake of that being the wrong person.” How do you think Dita Von Teese felt? At least she had the grace not to whine to Spin.
:: Do people think it’s funny or self-deprecating when Jerry Springer apologizes for his terrible show? I mean, it’s never stopped him from taking the money and running, so why do I care?
:: Six children have died so far this year from being left alone in a hot car by idiots. Never take common sense—or the ability to learn from the mistakes of others—for granted.
:: Remember Lori Drew, the woman who posed as a boy on MySpace, then romanced and dumped her teenage daughter’s rival, causing said rival to kill herself? Her case was dismissed by a judge. They were charging her for violating MySpace's terms of service, which would have made the smallest violations a crime (the judge’s example: is it then a crime for someone 45 to say they’re 40?). But there isn’t some way they can send this woman to prison where she belongs? She got online, pretended to be a teenage boy, romanced a teenage girl, and then made that girl so depressed that she killed herself. If I did that, I’d have already been killed in prison. Chris Hansen would’ve hosted my arrest on TV. So why is it so different here? This isn't shaving a couple of years off of your age or weight or lying about being Jewish so you can cruise J-Date. This is identity fraud with intent to humiliate and hurt a child. She might as well have just murdered the girl, for chrissakes.
:: Is it really news that old sitcom stars like Joyce DeWitt or Carmine from Laverne & Shirley got DUIs? Who gives a shit? Is it just to laugh at them because they weren’t successful their whole lives? Fuck you.
:: Lindsay Lohan turned down a role in The Hangover because the script “had no potential.” Since I went to see that movie and my lovely Heather Graham was in the role instead, I’d like to thank Lindsay Lohan for her decision. Lindsay’s latest movie, Labor Pains, premieres on ABC Family next week. They won’t even release it in a theater because no one wants to see her in a lead role anymore.
:: 60 kids were kicked out of a private club’s swimming pool in Philadelphia because they were black. Humanity has pulled itself up from its animal origins, but not very far.
:: Please, Michel Gondry, I beg you not to put Cameron Diaz in Green Hornet. I want to like it.
:: Red Stripe Beer: for when you don’t care about the quality of what you drink and just want to get puking drunk.
:: You may remember my discussion of how the internerds will hate Ghostbusters III regardless of quality, and how predictable their hatred of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Phantom Menace and anything new by a director with a cult following is. I could’ve added Watchmen to the list—entirely predictable. I’m also getting the sense that the internerds will hate Ponyo. I can feel it coming. And they’ve already decided they hate Inglourious Basterds, so I don’t want to hear any of the criticism about that, either, because I can't take the criticism seriously when the outcome's been decided in advance. Meanwhile, a lot of the self-serious internet critics are scratching their heads in wishy-washy reviews, wanting so hard to believe that Public Enemies is really a masterpiece but unable to just admit that it isn’t.
Don’t you people get tired of needing to have the same opinion as everyone else?
ME: No, to this day I've never seen an episode of Miami Vice.
BECCA: Oh, really? My mom was really into Don Johnson, so we watched Miami Vice all the time.
ME: Oh, my mom hated Don Johnson.
BECCA: Well, yeah, you had the Magnum mom! I'd much rather have watched Magnum than Miami Vice! Magnum was cool!
ME: Not really.
BECCA: ... No, I guess not.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Picture via AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com.
Everyone’s scratching their heads over Sarah Palin’s resignation. I did think her resignation speech—especially the actual text, with all of those CAPITALIZED WORDS and EXCLAMATION POINTS!!—was hilariously adorable. Extra points for having your family onstage in front of the media with you while trying to excoriate the media for having too much of an interest in your family. It’s been a futility to suggest that Palin stop using her family as campaign props if she wants to keep them out of the public eye.
Why did she resign? I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll find out eventually. I think it was pretty stupid to announce that she didn’t intend to run again in 2010, then decided to quit because she didn’t want to be a lame duck governor. Why not just not announce anything about 2010, then? For now she’s got a book to write, because you can be illiterate in America and still become a bestselling author. Dan Brown does it all the time. There’s also talk that some kind of criminal investigation is going to come down on her, but if that’s the case, resigning is a dumb thing to do; resignation is something corrupt politicians can usually trade for a lighter sentence.
If she’s quitting now (and let’s just call it that—quitting; little miss “Country First” is a quitter) to focus on a presidential run in 2012, it’s an idiotic decision. It’s not smart to run for president as a governor who wouldn’t finish out a single term. Not that it matters to her fans, who will love her no matter what and believe the claptrap about wanting to protect her family from mean ol’ David Letterman. If she really wanted to protect her family from ridicule, she’d give up politics and stop enjoying her celebrity so much and stop making her supposedly wonderful mothering ability part of her public persona. Instead, she drags her family into the spotlight with her and refuses to leave. She paints a big fucking target on them and then cries foul when someone takes a shot, bemoaning the “politics of personal destruction” after she tried so hard to do the same in the presidential race.
But the people who are so strangely devoted to her as a personality won’t care what she does and will support her unflaggingly, no matter how corrupt she may be or how incompetent she is. And those people are apparently unaware of how stupid and shallow she makes their shared beliefs seem to a lot of other people. Luckily, those people don’t constitute a majority, and even though the far right thinks she’s an amazing demagogue, I’d be surprised as hell if during her eventual presidential campaign she wins the primary, let alone a presidential election. Even I give America more credit than that. Bailin’ Palin couldn’t handle being the governor of one of our least populous states for an entire term, but she’s competent enough to lead one of the most populous nations on Earth? Please.
She’s also threatened to sue any media outlet that says her resignation is due to the ongoing criminal investigation, which is just the kind of thing an innocent person does. Palin is a bully and a coward, a self-important nitwit who takes pride in her ignorance and her self-righteousness.
Hey, maybe she’s just a quitter. Maybe she’s just giving up. Maybe she’s cutting and running. Maybe she’s just in over her head and doesn’t want to do it anymore.
Sarah Palin is a joke.
I can only hope she’s irreparably damaged her laughable political career.
After enjoying the recent Star Trek remake/reboot/whatever in theaters, I decided to sit down and take in the first movie series again. It was nice to really just sit and watch them for the first time in a while (especially for Becca; she'd never actually seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture all the way through, so for her it was like getting a new Trek movie). Here are my overall reactions.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Harold Livingston, story by Alan Dean Foster; produced by Gene Roddenberry
I've actually always liked this movie. And watching it again just strengthened my enjoyment. It's much more like the television series than people give it credit for (and not just because it uses a premise--as Harlan Ellison pointed out--that the series had used two or three times). It's interesting to see how the characters have grown, too, with Kirk more driven and Spock less human and McCoy much angrier. Because this film was set years after the series and was supposed to be the Enterprise's return to action, the movie takes the time to set up the characters and how the crew reunites and reconnects. It's a pretty epic movie, and a thoughtful one. I think it's the only one of the Star Trek movies that is really a science fiction movie and not an adventure in outer space. This isn't to malign any of the other movies, but this is the only movie that doesn't have an action plot (no one even fires a phaser) with the exception of IV, which is more whimsical. It acknowledges outer space as a dangerous environment to work in and gets across the utterly strange possibilities of a limitless void.
One of the most interesting criticisms of this movie that I've ever heard is that it feels too old-fashioned to be immediate--"How the past saw tomorrow" is how the writer put it--and while I see that as a valid criticism, I don't think it stops the movie from being enjoyable. The movie takes its plot seriously and treats it in a realistic and thoughtful manner. And it's very much in the spirit of the original series. I would've loved to have seen this series continue with these characters. In a way it did, though; Becca pointed out that the movie is really the seed of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is very true--Decker and Ilia are Riker and Troi (until halfway through, when Ilia becomes Data), V'Ger prefigures the Borg, and the tone is very similar (though less self-important, which was always one of the problems on Next Gen). This is somewhat of an unfairly dismissed film in the annals of Trek. The movie series was never this epic again.
(Grain of salt: the version I love is the 2001 Director's Edition. The original theatrical version, which I saw on video in 1985, is harder to come by.)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Jack B. Sowards, story by Sowards and Harve Bennett; produced by Robert Sallin
This is the movie where Harve Bennett was brought in as executive producer and Gene Roddenberry was shunted to the side as a consultant. Star Trek II is the cream of the crop, the best and most exciting of the Trek movies, and the one with most of the best acting. I can't really say anything about it that other people haven't said repeatedly in the past. Honestly, I think this is the last truly great Trek film. Even though it's a major departure from the tone of the first film, it's just as devoted to the growth of Kirk and Spock as characters and the idea of exploration, even if the exploration takes a darker turn. It's a great movie. I've seen this so many times and so often that I don't have much to "revisit," as it were. Let's move on.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Directed by Leonard Nimoy; screenplay by Harve Bennett; produced by Harve Bennett
A missed opportunity. After the epic treatment of the first movie and the exhilaration of the second, Star Trek III is a little movie with a hastily put together plot that lets down the major emotional/character cues--the death of Kirk's son, the rebirth of Spock, the destruction of the Enterprise--and robs them of their impact. I almost wish they hadn't have bothered to make this movie if this is all it is: just a way to undo Spock's death. I remember writing an alternate storyline for this movie with some friends that involved the return of Spock much earlier in the film and involved the Romulan unificationists and more character development for Saavik (an interesting character completely undone by this movie) and David (before his death at Klingon hands). I'm not claiming my version was "much better" or anything; I just did it for some friends to show how much more epic the script could've been.
And even in this sparse script they can't find anything for Uhura to do other than take over a transporter room and then say "See you on Vulcan" and disappear from the movie for an hour? Give me a break; there's nothing going on, anyway. Why not put her on the Enterprise and let her witness the death of the ship as well?
Not that there aren't things to like here; the characters are there, and the fight between Kirk and Klingon Reverend Jim on the Genesis planet as it's breaking up around them is pretty neat. But it feels like an episode of a TV show. It's a letdown after the first two movies, and basically turned Star Trek into just another movie series.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Directed by Leonard Nimoy; screenplay by Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes and Nicholas Meyer & Harve Bennett, story by Nimoy & Bennett; produced by Harve Bennett
Here's what I like about this movie: Leonard Nimoy purposely designed it to be fun and uplifting, a comedy that families and fans could enjoy instead of another round of phaser fire in space and death. That's pretty nice. And it works, too. It's a funny movie, a nice movie, with a lot of classic character moments. But it's also pretty slight.
This movie always used to have a reputation, at least in my neighborhood, as being the one everyone liked and the best of the series. Really, I think it's just the most likable. It's not made exclusively for fans, even though it continues the varying story arcs (other than Saavik's; she's just sort of dumped on Vulcan, and her goodbye scene is only thrown in for the fans who need the canonical explanation for her disappearance--really, it could have been handled in one line of dialog, but since Meyer created the character, maybe he wanted to see her off with his return to the series). And it has an ecological message that's easy to agree with (and surprisingly graphic footage of whale slaughter). It's funny. It's a nice movie.
But it's not much more than that, honestly.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Directed by William Shatner; screenplay by David Loughrey, story by Shatner, Harve Bennett & Loughrey; produced by Harve Bennett
Is this movie as bad as fans say? Yeah, pretty much.
It's not the plot that bugs me, although it is underwritten--it's the characterization. The characterizations are, for the most part, bad. And for the most part, it's not the little jokes at the characters' expense that rankle me--although I have always hated Scotty hitting his head on a perfectly obvious support buttress. It's the larger things, like McCoy's guilt over euthanising his father, and Spock's feelings of inadequacy over being half human. That in particular seemed to me to be perfectly resolved at the end of the previous film, when Sarek basically says he was wrong to disapprove of Spock's decision to enter Starfleet and the friendships he has built (and one of my favorite Spock lines, "Tell my mother I feel fine"). Spock has always been my favorite element of Star Trek, and I didn't like seeing him here as little more than the puppet of a silly plot.
And the way McCoy and Spock betray Kirk... I know it makes Sybok seem more powerful, but it really only makes Shatner look more egotistical. Only Kirk can resist this would be prophet! It plays like Shatner's Mary Sue movie.
I have always liked Laurence Luckingbill as Sybok, though. He's an interesting character. Pity they didn't do something more interesting with him. Maybe next time I write an outline for an alternate version of Star Trek III?
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Meyer & Denny Martin Flinn, story by Leonard Nimoy & Laurence Konner & Mark Rosenthal (the guys who wrote The Legend of Billie Jean, Jewel of the Nile and Superman IV); produced by Steven-Charles Jaffe & Ralph Winter
This is probably the best note they could've gone out on, and I think it's probably the best Trek film since the second one. But it also bugs me that the impetus for this film seems to be merely to bridge the "continuity gap" between the original series and The Next Generation (which would only be further expounded on in Star Trek: Generations). Therefore, the movie mostly services fans, but it has fun within that framework. I get bored during the prison planet sequences, but I like Captain Sulu and I love the scenes with Spock and Chekov doing the whole Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson thing (including Spock's comments about "an ancestor of mine"--that was fun). Too many of the Trek films--such as the basic story arc between the second, third, and fourth movies--seem to exist just to refer to the other movies. I think there are a lot of Trek fans who would rather that the films fit into an established tapestry than actually be enjoyable. At least this film proves that you can do both. It's a fan service movie, but it's not joyless because of it.
I broke off there; I'm not interested in visiting The Next Generation just now. But I will say that, as lesser as the other movies are, I didn't consider it a waste of time watching them again.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
"I don’t think it will ever happen, and here’s why: Rob Thomas and I had a powwow, and we were both 100 percent on board. We took our proposal to Warner Bros. and Joel Silver told us that there is no enthusiasm to make a Veronica Mars movie, and that is unfortunately a roadblock we cannot compete with. Maybe if we bombard them with letters? Maybe they will change their tune." -- Kristen Bell to Entertainment Weekly
It bums me out, but since Rob Thomas has also talked about this already, I'm not really surprised. I guess you could argue that the problem with Veronica Mars has always been that there's just not enough fans to satisfy someone behind a desk somewhere. (And I do include myself in that since, unfortunately and despite my curiosity, I never watched Veronica Mars while it was actually on.)
A lot of the argument against a Mars movie is that Kristen Bell is 28 now, and that they'd have to ditch the central concept of the show (the high school and college setting, the class warfare, etc) and make it "just another detective movie." But I think the writing on that show was very special, and I think as long as Veronica is essentially the same character--and as long as they don't forget to give Enrico Colantoni a lot of screen time--Thomas and Bell could pull it off.
It's unfortunate that they'll probably never get to.
A review of the films I've seen this past week.
JONAS BROTHERS: THE 3D CONCERT EXPERIENCE (2009)
The funny thing is, the Jonas Brothers are obviously all about sex. They can flash purity rings and talk about abstinence all they want, but the entire concert "experience" with these guys hangs on sexual energy. It's quite a workout; they're competent musicians, even if some of their songs sound the same, but it's the way they run around and do backflips on stage, or get close enough for the audience to touch them, sweating as they make all kinds of movements designed to ratchet up the sexual tension and drive the girls in the audience wild. I mean, Jesus, these guys rush out with foam guns and shoot their loads all over the audience. They are dry-humping (foam-humping?) the audience like crazy, and the audience is having a rapturous time. And I don't know, I think it's pretty cool--rock music, and even pop-rock, is about fucking. Talking about purity is a way to sell it so that parents will be comfortable with it. It's insidious, but it's kind of genius, too. Anyway, I dug the movie--the concert is filmed incredibly well, and the editing gets across the manic energy of the stage show. I wish they'd made these kinds of films back when there were bands that were really, really worth seeing in concert. But as I've said before, I dig the Jonas Brothers. (Maybe not as much as my wife, but, well, you know.) **** stars.
Engrossing little horror film about a woman (Rachel Nichols, very beautiful and a great screamer) held captive in her office building's parking garage on Christmas Eve by a night guard (Wes Bentley) who is in love with her. It's creepy as hell, and Nichols is very sympathetic as she tries to escape and evade Bentley and his insane mindfuck. It's pretty graphic, too, but not in a cruel way, I think. It's not the torture or the graphic quality of a lot of modern horror films that bother me so much as the cruelty of many of them. This isn't one of those. I think it sort of got ignored, but it's a fun thriller. ***1/2 stars.
PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009)
Wow, what a disappointment. What a disappointment, too, to see so many film critics and people online basically apologizing for not liking a movie they feel like they're supposed to like. I don't know what the hell has happened to Michael Mann in the 21st century, but his films just haven't been up to par (I really didn't like Collateral). You'd think this story--Melvin Purvis' pursuit of John Dillinger--in the hands of Mann would be something amazing. But it's just not about anything. There's no insight, no character--it's just stereotype of manliness vs. stereotype of manliness, portrayed by a couple of actors who have made the decision to sacrifice their talent to franchise movies like The Dark Knight and Pirates of the Caribbean which require none. And I can see Mann's themes here--that people who can't give up their personal attachments are more vulnerable, and the passing of decisiveness as the price of becoming more civilized. But Mann doesn't make those points with this movie, nor does he make any other point. Some stuff happens to people you can't tell apart because they all look the same and dress the same and their characters are so undefined and they're barely even named, and it all happens on digital film of such low quality it looks like it was shot on a camcorder, and then it's finally (finally) over. Any larger implications (the building of the Mafia, the building of the FBI) are raised but never built on, except for the (kind of slimy) moral equivocating that Dillinger and Purvis aren't so bad in comparison because, hey, they're not trying to be dictators. I think there's still to be a great version of the Purvis-Dillinger story--they've all been vaguely unsatisfying in some way, although I still think the Warren Oates movie does it best--and this didn't even come close. But at least Christian Bale looked sexy and they used the great song "Ten Million Slaves" by Otis Taylor. That's pretty much it for me. ** stars.
WHAT GOES UP (2009)
Steve Coogan as a journalist who keeps making up his stories and is sent to a small town on the eve of the Challenger disaster to do a story about Christa McAuliffe. Instead, he gets drawn into the suicide of an old friend, a teacher whose students--all of them outcasts--mourn him in their own way. Coogan is always good, and some of the students--particularly Hilary Duff as the girl in love with her teacher--are interesting. But the movie never really comes off. I think this is a movie that really wanted to say something, but couldn't quite figure out how to. **1/2 stars.
CARMEN JONES (1954)
Modern updating of Bizet's opera about a man jealously driven to possess the beautiful Carmen. Dorothy Dandridge, whom I'd never seen in a movie before, plays Carmen Jones, with Harry Belafonte as the soldier who loves her, and they are both excellent. Their singing is dubbed because the music of the opera remains intact (and it's quite the vocal heights the singers reach). Beautiful to look at, beautiful to listen to, and well-acted indeed. **** stars.
DR. SEUSS' HORTON HEARS A WHO! (2008)
I hate when movies like this happen: the animation is excellent, but the story leaves so much to be desired. I really despise these attempts to make Dr. Seuss "relevant" to adults by taking poetic messages of loyalty and open-mindedness and turn them into heavy-handed, simplistic faith allegories and midlife crisis symbolism. But at least there's the requisite fart jokes and fucking dancing animals for the kids. Some of the vocal performances are quite good--Steve Carell, Carol Burnett, and Will Arnett especially--and the design of the film itself is wonderful. But it's a hollow experience that goes with the magnificent visuals and the excellent animation. Christ, how can Jim Carrey still mug at the camera when you can't even see him? ** stars.
GONE BABY GONE (2007)
Casey Affleck stars as a detective hired to find a missing child whose mother (Amy Ryan) is a junkie. Of course, as he gets deeper and deeper into his investigation, he finds all kinds of corruption and sickness in his town. Ed Harris has a great role as a hardass cop. I found myself riveted to this movie--I think, in many ways, this was the movie Mystic River could have been if it hadn't been so self-serious. This is a tight, competent crime movie which hangs on moral decisions which are actually argued. **** stars. Ben Affleck directed; I hope he gives up acting and just focuses on directing.
It's pretty much what you think it is, but worse. None of the kids in the movie can act worth a damn, even as we're supposed to be impressed with their friendship and with the fact that they're all apparently good at everything they ever try. The conflict is manufactured, and the film's anti-clique stance seems particularly hollow--the argument against social stratification is weak-willed, since they only thing they can come up with is that it's somehow crazy, CRAZY, for kids who have similar interests to hang out together at school. Chelsea Staub, as queen mean girl Meredith, is the only actor who gets it, and she is fantastic. She's as good as Ashley Tisdale in the first and especially second High School Musical. It's too bad it's in such a crappy, crappy movie. * star for Staub.
RESCUE DAWN (2006)
Werner Herzog's fictional version of his documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, with Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler, a German-American pilot shot down in the early days of the military escalation against Vietnam and held in a prison camp. It's a hard film to take sometimes. It's not badly-made--not by a long shot--but the way Dieter has his humanity constantly stripped from him until it's nearly gone is very hard. I wept when this movie was over, just because I was so relieved. Bale's performance in this movie as a man who tries to keep his almost blind hope that things will work out, eventually transforming into a shell determined only to survive, is very powerful. Some of the imagery--particularly the flight and crash sequence--is breathtaking, and Herzog's larger idea of men who face desperation in the defiance of nature, one of his biggest themes, is ever present. Jeremy Davies' performance didn't bother me as much as I see it has others, but he does seem to be auditioning here to play Charles Manson in a different movie. **** stars.
I'm so torn on this movie. I've made no secret of my hatred for motion capture, and this movie doesn't do much for it. I don't quite get the point of it. Once again, it's not animation, and looking at this film makes you painfully aware of the limits of motion capture special effects, since the creatures born of pure animation--or motion capture enhanced with animation--are astoundingly good (I'm really only referring to Grendel and the Dragon). And the limitations keep calling attention to themselves. Human beings don't move correctly--we're still stuck with movements that look like dead-eyed zombies floating in water. Movements are too broad, too slow. Little hair movements are too prominent, as though forelocks have lead weights in them. The focus on little details like arm hair and cloth texture do nothing to disguise the imperfections of the larger picture, like the stilted, floating horse movements or the fact that Beowulf himself never evolves from looking like a character in a video game's "cinema" sequences. Some of the faces--especially Anthony Hopkins and, in some scenes, Angelina Jolie and Brendan Gleeson--are so realistic that they look like the actors' real faces have been digitally added to the animations. But they do nothing to disguise the weird, plasticine skin or the fact that the special effects artists still can't realistically convey weight or heft or gravity. And why have the designers taken Robin Wright Penn and rendered her conventionally "pretty"? I ask only because she doesn't look like Penn at all--like they've given her a digital facelift--when so much emphasis is placed on making the characters look as much like the actors as possible (even Grendel looks like Crispin Glover). Perhaps, given some of the superheroics, Beowulf can only be satisfyingly told in animation. But this isn't animation--when you take Angelina Jolie's head and paste it on lingerie model Rachel Bernstein's body, that's special effects. Where I'm torn is in the script and the performances. First of all, some of the vocal performances are incredible. Ray Winstone's Beowulf is the best thing he's ever done--he's excellent in the role, and turns Beowulf from a heroic archetype into a human being. But his performance is constantly undercut by the constant visual reminders that this is some kind of special effects stunt. One of the supposed benefits of motion capture over genuine animation is that motion capture allows for more subtlety of expression, but that kind of mimicking of reality--instead of a consistent stylization--just forces you to think about the visual effects instead of the "performance" or the story. Crispin Glover, Anthony Hopkins, Brendan Gleeson, and John Malkovich are all good, and all let down by an unperfected gimmick that kills the illusion they're trying to build. In his earliest scenes, Anthony Hopkins' character, King Hrothgar, looks like Anthony Hopkins' head has been stuck on a neckless lump of undefined eraser. Gross. And as for the script, which is by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, it's probably the best version of Beowulf that could be hoped for. It deviates a lot from the text, but those deviations make it more immediate, more visceral, perhaps the ultimate meditation on the meaning of heroism and the loss of such heroism as the price of civilization. There's a great line that Beowulf says, something like "The time of heroes is over. It has been killed by the Christ-God, and left us with weeping martyrs, and fear... and shame." That's a wonderful line in a script that is so aware of the passing of a certain time in history and a transition to another one. But the script, too, is let down by the motion capture, as little details in the quest to create life--and not the reflection of life, as in actual animation--make the viewer all too aware that they're not being told a story, but sold a gimmick. *** stars, mainly on the strength of the script, the actors, and the sequences with Grendel and the Dragon which are truly exciting.
SEX AND DEATH 101 (2007)
Whatever. I'm so sick of comedies "about" sex; they're as hollow as the message they're pushing about love. And is this all Winona Ryder can get now? She used to be so damn good. * star.
I SHOT JESSE JAMES (1949)
Samuel Fuller's directorial debut is the story of Bob Ford, James' killer, who murders his friend for the ransom so that he can marry the woman he loves. Ford becomes a marked man--everyone wants to take out the man who took out James--and is haunted by guilt. John Ireland is good, if rough, as the tortured Ford. Not one of Fuller's best, but not a bad movie. *** stars.
THE BARON OF ARIZONA (1950)
Another early Fuller, with Vincent Price in a very good performance as a Spanish monk who forges ownership documents and marries the surviving member of a Spanish family in Arizona, making himself lord of the land and suing the US government over his "rightful" ownership. It's a true story, too. As is usual with Fuller--and one of the reasons I like him so much--the film is actually a character piece inside of a story about corruption, crime, and love. *** stars.
THE BURNING BED (1984)
This TV movie has always been kind of a big deal, and with Farrah Fawcett's passing, I thought I'd sit down and watch it (it plays on cable a lot). It's okay. Fawcett's alright in it as an abused wife, but Paul Le Mat has the more difficult job of portraying a monster and making him all too human. **1/2 stars.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
I'll probably have intermittent updates in the future when I make progress, but it's not really helping me anymore to talk about it every week. It wasn't always the easiest thing on my blog to write, and it's not rewarding anymore, so this weekly feature has been canceled.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Michael Jackson’s spiritual advisor, called in to WGN News this morning and talked about how disgusting the Michael Jackson Death Spectacle is. Now, I agree with him on the one hand—this constant outpouring of grief has gotten ridiculous. It’s turned back on itself; it’s not about grief, it’s about going to a big concert or being a part of this giant circus.
But Rabbi Shmuley goes way, way too far when he says he’s horrified that people are mourning this celebrity icon and not the man who actually died and his “quiet acts of kindness.”
First of all, we only knew the celebrity icon; Michael Jackson went to insane lengths to hide the man from the public. Yes, all we knew was the insane “Wacko Jacko” image, but he did nothing to dispel that but occasionally raise a weak voice in dismissal. And you know, that’s fine. I don’t begrudge anyone their privacy.
But it would be inappropriate for me, someone who just liked his music and his dancing and The Wiz and Thriller to mourn him as a man. I didn’t know him as a man. I have no personal connection with him. But I did have a personal connection with some of his music; and like everyone’s personal connection with any music, it was a one-sided relationship. It was about a certain place and time, a reminder of a bygone time in my life that I keep with me but don’t revere, and music that, however much anyone tries to convince me otherwise, was good. Why should I mourn a person I never knew? I note the passing of a man who produced something that was a big deal for me when I was 7 and still remains a pleasant experience.
Mourn the man? The man was an accused child molester. I don’t know what “quiet acts of kindness” Rabbi Shmuley refers to. I don’t care. Michael Jackson, the man, was an intensely private, increasingly bizarre, pathetic caricature of a human being. That was his public face, when he wasn’t hiding it behind a sheet. I don’t know who this person is that black people are calling a black icon or an important figure in black history. That person only exists in their minds. I’m skeptical of any movement led by Al Sharpton, because they’re usually about more public exposure for Al Sharpton than anything else. Alicia Keys? Please. She once said in a Blender interview that she thought the entire child molestation charge (which was not the first time he was accused) was Michael being framed by the white establishment because white people want to tear down rich black celebrities. Which just shows you she’s not firing on all thrusters.
So no, Rabbi Shmuley, the man doesn’t deserve to be mourned by the public. He doesn’t deserve to have the kind of funerary games reserved for antique heads of state. The media’s obsession with reporting every single aspect of the long, unending, Leninesque display is tiresome and asinine. As I’ve said a few times, I note the passing of a recording artist whose work brings me joy. But seeing image after image of Michael Jackson nearly dropping his baby over a railing to a hungry crowd below because he’s too childish and immature and ignorant to know you can’t hold a baby that way… I’m not going to cry over the loss of a manchild whose inability to grow into adulthood led him to endanger his child and hurt the children of others. No way.
Monday, July 06, 2009
I can't wait until we've finally run out of animal species for hacks to make talk, dance, and have 'tude in movies. Is this the only reason computer effects were invented? So that we can constantly sit through guinea pigs, chipmunks, cats, dogs, and a thousand other animals--not to mention the robots--dancing and saying retarded catchphrases? Are you as sick of this shit as I am?
I don't want to see any more animals or robots dance in movies.
The internet has been losing its collective shit for the past month or so over reports of an upcoming third Ghostbusters movie. Most of the same actors, possibly the same director, with script duties handled by a couple of guys from The Office.
I have to say, on paper, it sounds like a dream to me. Eliza Dushku might play one of the new Ghostbusters. Bill Murray held out until Ernie Hudson was given more to do in the screenplay. Ivan Reitman probably directing, which is kind of cool, even though I don't think he's made a single good movie since the original Ghostbusters--and I'm including the lame-o Ghostbusters II, which this movie could make up for if it's good. I want to be optimistic and not be one of those guys who "worries" over the quality of a movie instead of just seeing it or not.
But I already know that the internet--the depressing, cliquish, intellectually smug internet--is going to hate this movie. Completely. The way the internet hates anything. It's the same thing over and over--a sequel to a long-beloved movie comes out, and everyone's excited for a year, and then right before it comes out everyone starts getting nervous, and the naysaying begins about a week or so ahead of time, and then everyone decides on the first weekend that they despise it, and then all of those excited idiots join in the cacophony of "Waaaaah! My childhood memories mean nothing now! My childhood was raaaaaaaped! Waaaaaah!" and "Waaaaah! Why can't today's movies be as 'good' as they were when I was an undiscerning 6 year-old who thought everything I saw was great? Waaaaaaaaah!" The kind of thing that makes the internet so boringly repetitive to read.
The Phantom Menace. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Anything made by a filmmaker who has a cult following. Ghostbusters III. I hope the movie's good, but I'm not going to share my optimism for something that's going to have a lot of useless negativity associated with it just because everyone's frustrated with not being 6 years old anymore.
Because regardless--absolutely regardless--of the quality (or lack thereof) of Ghostbusters III, the self-appointed tastemakers will be too "smart" to enjoy it.
Splotchy tagged me on this incredibly bleak meme created by a fellow I don't know called JDC.
The question is:
"You wake up tomorrow and every person on the planet has vanished. What do you do?"
The replies are:
I admit it: after scanning TV and radio and driving around looking for someone, I'd do a lot of crying that day. I think the loneliness and the silence would be overwhelming. Would there be animals? Gosh, so many dying house pets. It would be just me and my rabbit, then. And with no one to maintain the power or the production of food, I'd be thinking a lot about my options running out.
By now, I think I'd be writing things down; just a record of the end of humanity. I don't know who or what will be left to read it, or will find it in the future, but it's the only way I could probably make sense of the sheer enormity of being the only person left on the planet.
Probably, I'd have moved into the local Wal-Mart by now. I could build Thumper a very large play area and have food to feed him, and a supply of food for myself (for a couple of weeks at the most). I could stock up on supplies for my eventual move (I'm not going to sit here through the winter if I'm the only person left) and use the exercise treadmills and bicycles to get myself in shape to survive.
Using my time in the Wal-Mart to get in shape and stock up, I'd have stolen someone's SUV by now and be filling it with tents, weapons (for possible hunting), fishing gear, seeds, notebooks, and other items I could use. Probably some books, too, to fill time. Assuming Thumper is still alive, I'd be getting gear ready for him, too--a collapsible cage, something for him to travel in, lots of food and hay--because I'm not abandoning him. A bicycle and some tires and an air pump and tire repair kit. Car supplies. Some CDs for the journey. Gas will be in the pumps for a while, so I think we can make it into California before winter. I'd gather up as much food and water as I could carry and prepare to scrounge what I can along the way.
I've always liked boats; when I get to California, Thumper and I can locate a sailboat and take off west. Maybe someone will be alive out there. Maybe it will be just me. I suppose I'll just keep going and writing and reading and killing time until I die. What else is there?
I tag MC.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
I just read that Bob Bogle of the Ventures died a couple of weeks ago. "Walk, Don't Run" is one of the best instrumental rock tracks ever, and it's about time I had it up. I remember this one from way back; my dad used to play bits of this and "Pipeline" on his electric guitar. This is a cover of a Chet Atkins song Bogle knew from an LP; this single was turned down by every record label before being self-released (by bass player Don Wilson's mother) in 1960. It got them a distribution deal and made it to number 2 on Billboard. I don't know if people really consider this surf rock or not, but it's always sounded like it to me.