Monday, June 29, 2009

Pesci, are you okay?

A movie like no other indeed. One of cinema's legendary vanity projects, 1988's Moonwalker showed audiences Michael Jackson was truly the world's greatest dancer, singer and all-around performer. But hey, 1988 audiences were pretty sure of that already before going into the theater. What they didn't know, however, was that Michael was also the world's fastest race car, toughest robot and sparkliest jet fighter.

Did you know that? I bet you didn't. But just like my last article's subject We're Back!: A Dinosaur's story, Jackson's seminal film is but a few clicks away on YouTube as well, so you can find out for yourself.

The first 45 minutes or so -- about half the movie -- are just a selection of Michael videos. Your enjoyment of it is pretty much equal to how much you like the man's music, and let's face it: you're watching a movie called Moonwalker. You're probably eating this shit up.

By the time the more traditional narrative segment rolls by, you know you're in for a real treat about one minute in. I'll refer to this bit as Smooth Criminal, after pretty much the only song that gets performed in it. Smooth Criminal tells the story of three street urchins named Sean (white, played by son of John Lennon), Katie (girl, clutching doll) and Zeke (black, dances well). Archetypes: covered! The kids are gathered on a positively marypoppinsian rooftop and express concern on Michael's lateness. The run-down old building they were supposed to meet in is filled with noting but cobwebs, creaky doors and general spookiness. What they were meeting Michael for is never explained, but why they are concerned becomes all too clear quite quickly!

We see Michael exit a terraced house on the other side of the street, and the children excitedly climb down the building. Michael opens the door to the spooky building and a heavenly light emanates from the opening. From between some trashcans, the children look upon the scene, understandably awestruck. As the door closes behind Michael by itself, the children dare to approach the boarded-up windows. As if by magic, the club has now transformed into a roarin' twenties (thirties? I dunno) nightclub and goddamn is Michael gonna rock it. There's a spectacular dance-off with dozens of gangsters and their molls which easily stands toe-to-toe with Jackson's greats. The children outside are, of course, incredibly entertained by all this and Zeke (black, remember?) shows us how uncanny his MJ-impression is. This just raises so many questions. Were they just gonna hang around and dance in that magical 30s club with Michael? Did Michael show up late on purpose so he could dance with his summoned gangsters? Mysteries abound in this Lynchian menagerie. Well, it doesn't matter when the fascist stormtroopers out of Orwell's worst nightmares starts shooting up the place and everyone gets scattered. But oh no, the children are captured, goddamn!

Flashback time, bitches. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away Michael and the three kids are playing soccer in an idyllic meadow. There's even a dog called Skipper. Oh no, Skipper's off with the frisbee! Oh no, he's gone down a skurree cave! Oh no, it's full of icky spiders! Oh no, a secret door! Oh no, Joe Pesci! Joe Pesci? Aw yeah, Joe Pesci. The erstwhile Lamotta brother is cackling, as villains are wont to do. He is also monologueing about his dastardly plan to… wait for it… deal drugs. Michael and the kids gasp from their little hideout. Truly, not since Live and Let Die was I so shocked at the sheer audacity of a villain’s plot! Near school yards! Near playgrounds! A younger customer is a loyal customer! Pesci’s Mr. Big and his whole spider-organization are pretty much Nancy Reagan’s worst nightmare: what seems like an army dedicated solely to getting kids on drugs. The stormtroopers even have little spider-logos on their uniforms. Mr. Big is nothing if not thematically coherent. For the big finale, he even turns the globe he was cackling over (!) so the United States face the camera and REAL LIFE SPIDERS ARE COVERING THE PLACES HE IS GOING TO DEAL DRUGS TO. Personal piece of trivia: this movie, for all its anti-drug advocacy, was the first time I’d heard of several drugs. I vaguely knew about drugs as a bad entity, but not that there were such varieties as heroine, cocaine, crack, speed, etc. Thinking back, I wonder if Mr. Big was going to deal cocaine at only the most posh schools. You know, the type that has executive washrooms to do the coke in. The spider-covered globe freaks Katie out so much that dumb cootie carrier just has to scream and reveal their location. They are forced to flee as henchmen fire at them, and that’s the end of our flashback.
Now, assuming Michael was always a guy who regularly dances with ghost gangsters, why did he take time out from that to go Frisbee with some kids? I mean, that’s an eclectic schedule, right there. If hanging out and playing Frisbee with kids in idyllic meadows was all he did before that traumatic encounter, one can assume he took up a different life to escape from that shadowy organization.

“They’re looking for a guy and three kids! We better split up! I’ll rent a house in the city and you guys live on the streets or something! Don’t worry, I’ll check up on you occasionally!”

Well, phooie! Michael is very bad at sneaking around, since he is caught trying to save Katie at Mr. Big’s mountainous base. Before he is executed, he will see Katie injected with DRUGS!

“You wanna know why I do this, Michael? Huh? I just… I just wanna get everybody high, man! They’re some good drugs, Michael! Heh heh heh!”

Actual quote! What a monster! I have to say, Pesci is pretty rough with Katie. He slaps her a good ten times and even puts his high-heeled (!) foot on her back. Well, this won’t do at all! Michael transforms into a robot in a downright creepy scene of stop-motion and starts blastin’ henchmen, while taking to the skies angelically. Pesci won’t have that and mounts a huge turret gun, blasting the Michaelbot over a ridge. The children have their “Oh no he is dead!” moment, until a glorious spaceship emerges from the flames to blast the evil drug lord to smithereens.
Michael celebrates his victory over the Spider Cartel by taking the children to a live performance of him doing Dirty Diana. Roll credits.

It’s a strange movie and the final number kind of illustrates it well. Michael takes these kids to one of his concerts, and the song played is quite sexual. Now, most children listen to songs with pretty sexual lyrics. I’m aware of that. It’s just that, coupled with the retardedly saccharine outlook on childhood this movie offers, it seems a bit gauche to reward these kids who still wish upon stars with a crotch-thrusting rendition of a song about a woman who is dirty.

But I guess that is the dichotomy of Michael Jackson. His songs are sweaty, sexy, made for the dance floor, and the guy himself seems to live in a perpetual loop of E.T. Still, if you like his music, this movie will likely entertain you. There’s the magic of childhood, robots, spaceships, gangsters, stop motion bunnies, and lots of awesome music. It’s a look into the weird, weird mind of the Moonwalker himself, from my personal favorite period in his career. He looked odd, but not monstrous. I like early MJ as well, but he was just a really good R&B singer back then. With the surgery came the evolution into what seemed like a singing/dancing nobleman from the realm of Faerie.

I have not insinuated anything or made jokes about pedophilia. There's a gigantic lolfest to be mined from Michael without even touching that. Besides, making pedophile jokes can be applied to any pedophile. Michael is/was Michael. He deserves satire with a certain level of je ne sais quoi. And I am wholly on that level, sir.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, John Goodman!

I didn't know it was John Goodman's birthday, but let me tell you about the horrible sequence of events that led up to my discovering it.

There's this forum I post at, a place of wonder and bedazzlement, where gentlemen scholars discuss Aristotle and Kant. In one of our weaker moments, we were discussing the end credits to mostly 80s cartoons. Since this was so much below our usual level of conversation, we started to include intros as well. Such as this one:

Fellow poster Andy mentioned that Denver vaguely pissed him off as a kid because his species was ill-defined.

This brought me to remember We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story.

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg (as was wont to happen with cartoons in the early 90s) and released Christmas '93, mere months after another Spielberg-related dinosaur movie the name of which escapes me right now. I got this on VHS in '94 or '95. Never caught it in theaters. I watched it quite often. I mean, it did have dinosaurs in it and all. There were some things that bugged me about it even as a kid, though. Let me recount the basic plot:

A little birdie, tired of getting teased by his older brothers, wants to run off to join the circus. His mama warns him not to get in over his head, since he's not too great at flying, but he takes the leap anyway. Luckily, he doesn't crash to the ground, but instead lands on the top of a tyrannosaur's 9-iron. Astonished at the sight of a talking, golf-playing T-Rex, the birdie wants to find out what's up. Running away to the circus, eh? Well, Rex -- for such is his name -- knew a boy who wanted to run away to the circus as well. Won't you listen to his story? Might as well! See, Rex used to be a mean old dumb tyrannosaur who ate other dinosaurs. Pretty standard T-Rex behavior, you might say. But one day a SPACESHIP FROM THE FUTURE picked him up, and its benevolent commander Captain Neweyes fed him some IQ-enhancing Brain Grain cereal. The retired inventor wants to do some good for the world in his autumn years, and since he is from a time where every species of every planet (see his Jay Leno voiced comic relief alien assistant Vorb) gets along, he'd like spread a little happiness in the less illuminated age of the late 20th century. See, the captain has a radio that picks up on wishes. Since children apparently wish the loudest, Neweyes decides to grant one rather ubiquitous wish among the kids of the 90s: to see a real live dinosaur. So he's arranged that the four dinosaurs he's picked up meet Dr. Bleeb at the NY Natural History Museum for a rather extraordinary exhibition. But they should beware Cpt. Neweyes' evil brother Professor Screweyes, who was driven mad by the loss of his eye. Of course, the four wacky dinosaurs miss their appointment with the extremely near-sighted Dr. Bleeb and, lost in the Big Apple, team up with runaways Louie and Cecilia. The former of which intends to join the circus, bringing us to the apparent point of this story.

Before seeing this movie for myself, I remember Spielberg talking about it in some promotional material. "Ever kid loves a dinosaur," the Beard said, "but Jurassic Park may have been too scary for them. So that's why I wanted to tell a dinosaur story for everyone to enjoy."

Well, that was pretty cool, I thought. Even if I was 8 when I saw Jurassic Park. Sure, I was pretty scared in parts when I first saw it, but that's part of the thrill with dinosaurs, right? But it's cool for Spiel to want to give everyone the pleasure of dinosaurs. It's only years later that I understand what a fucking shark the Beard was (or at least Amblin Entertainment). Yeah, the dinosaur craze swept the nation with Jurassic Park! Shit, it didn't quite catch everyone. PG-13's a bitch. Quick, make something G-rated!

That bastion of reliability IMDb told me Jay Leno did the voice work for his little alien character three years prior to release. And granted, upon revisiting it (YouTube has the whole thing) it looks to good to be a quickie cranked out to cash in on Jurassic Park. Except for the primitive CGI buildings during the flying scenes. You remember the 90s Amazing Spider-Man cartoon with the opening credits featuring him swinging by some reeaaally shitty CGI skyscrapers? It's not quite that ugly, but it really sticks out in an otherwise slick-looking movie.

During my digging for this article I also found out, as mentioned before, that this was based on a 1987 children's book.

The artwork suggested something slightly more mischievous than the overly family friendly animated movie and after some more digging I found a pretty crucial difference in the plot:

The dinosaurs are used as test subjects for a future BUSINESSMAN who wants to sell an IQ-enhancing cereal and then dumped unceremoniously in New York.

Whoa, quite a difference there, huh? No kids, no circus, no evil brother, no wish radio. In fact, this mirrors another similar change made to Jurassic Park. In the book, park owner John Hammond is a greedy businessman. In the movie, he's a dreamer, a Walt Disney-like grandfather. Oh, Steve! It was pretty minor in Jurassic Park. Here, it pretty much destroys the movie. As a kid it was already kinda grating to see the movie treat the normal, badass versions of dinosaurs as "bad" or somehow undesirable. But hey, you're a kid, it's dinosaurs, you're not gonna complain. Hell, I told myself I liked The Lost World for years.

Andy's remark on Denver made me think of this movie and write something about how lame it was a kid. Then, I started thinking about how the movie portrayed the natural, feral state of dinosaurs as somehow undesirable. In the third act, I remembered, the evil professor devolved the dinosaurs back to their old selves to show off in his circus of horrors. The child protagonists were absolutely terrified. Even the herbivore dinosaurs were portrayed as slobbering, roaring monsters the moment they're not goofy cartoon characters anymore. And remember, these were just animals plucked out of their natural habitat to basically get reverse-lobotomized for the entertainment of the children of the 1990s. What the hell's the movie trying to say with that? Things aren't nice until they're made fit for mass consumption?

Hell, I don't mind a movie that features cute or humanized dinosaurs. This movie just tells us that that's the only way a dinosaur can be cool. Imagine if a crack team of (probably Japanese) geneticists devised a way to make hedgehogs and foxes look like Sonic and Tails and then proudly proclaimed this is the real way foxes and hedgehogs should be. So I watched the entire thing on YouTube because I was wondering how the hell they got a T-Rex to eat cereal. Does the Captain douse it in blood? Does he wrap it in a steak? Stick in a cow's butt and let it wander around prehistoric times?

Well, if you're curious: Rex is on the hunt when a spaceship knocks him in the head. It lands and Jay Leno alien flies out. It starts talking about the Rex being selected randomly to test a new product (a remnant of the original book's premise). The dinosaur, of course, doesn't understand a thing the alien says and just snaps at this pesky little fly. Leno manages to get back in the ship, as the hatch closes around the tyrannosaur's neck. Around its neck. Then, two robot arms just JAM THE FUCKING CEREAL DOWN HIS THROAT UNTIL HE TURNS DOCILE. His look even gradually changes from Jurassic Park style T-Rex to the cartoony one you see on the poster.

Rex, now voiced by our birthday boy John Goodman, is allowed on board where he meets the other three dinosaurs selected for this peace mission: a triceratops named Woog, a parasaurolophus named Dweeb (voiced by Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer) and a pterodactyl (in name only, she looks more like a rhamphorynchus with a pteranodon crest, but sounds like the UKs favorite butt of the 70s/80s Felicity Kendal) named Elsa who inexplicably wants to fuck Rex. In the ship's conveniently dinosaur-sized chill out room, the three others introduce Rex to a new and awesome type of food: hot dogs.

Whoa whoa whoa, hold up. Hot dogs? So... professor Neweyes captured four dinosaurs to show to children of our then-present. He devised a cereal to make them intelligent and friendly. But he didn't bother to make them all vegetarians? Hell, Dweeb and Woog are supposed to be herbivores! I was waiting throughout this scene for the professor to mention that they were veggie dogs or something, but nothing! Goddamn, did nobody think this movie through! And let's not forget that this reinforces the movie's (or my tin foil hat version of it) message of "There's scary stuff out there, kids, but it's cool once treated for mass consumption!" I mean, hunting and killing things is bad, but it's A-OK to eat hot dogs? Best case scenario means you're eating a cow there, Rex, buddy!

Captain Neweyes explains his plan and takes them to the Wish Radio. The children's wishes pop out as bubbles displaying looped holograms of the kids making wishes. The children are hilariously ethnically diverse, too: there's even a lil' sheik! At first, the wishes are pretty diverse too, but one wish soon becomes prevalent -- that of seeing a real dinosaur. Before that one overwhelms the others though, there's a few in the style of "I wish my sister was nicer to me". I just imagined Neweyes sifting through the children's wishes, hearing that girl asking for a better life and going LOL BORING IMA SCROUNGE UP SUM DINASORES!

When the dinosaurs miss the appointment with Dr. Bleeb (holy shit this movie is horrible with names) I can't blame them either. The Captain literally just opens the floor under them and expects them to pull a Temple of Doom with a raft. Come on man, they just barely learned English and how to eat hot dogs five minutes ago!

They meet Louie, a runaway headed for the circus, because his mom "hugs and kisses him, even in public!" Way to make your kid protagonist sympathetic, movie. The little girl, Cecilia, is pretty much neglected by her yuppie parents, so she's got a little more reason to join this ragtag group. Cecilia is voiced by Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson. Smith makes no effort to do another voice whatsoever.

In the movie's big musical number the dinosaurs walk with the Macy's parade. "Look mommy, real dinosaws!" "Dey're jus roebuts, honey." What, as if robots that advanced and gigantic wouldn't be damn impressive, especially in '93? When the song is over, they are somehow revealed to be real and immediately chased by NY's finest. Like, with guns and everything. They're even told that they're under arrest a few times. This movie's been pretty stupid so far, so I can't tell if it's supposed to be a joke or not.

The dinosaurs get separated from the kids, who end up at their circus destination in Central Park. Nobody told them it was a circus of HORRORS, however! And also run by PROFESSOR SCREWEYES (driven to evil due to the loss of his eye -- replaced by a screw)! Paraphrased:

"We wanna work for the circus!"
"Buzz off, kid, you don't know what you're saying."
"No, really."
"Really? Okay, sign this contract."
"It's blank."
"A pen?"
"Prick your finger."
"You wanna work for the circus, don't ya?"
"I guess!"

The contract then fills itself in after the BLOOD SIGNATURES have been made. Since Screweyes is from the future like his brother, I'm paying heed to that old Arthur C. Clarke quote saying "any technology advanced enough will appear as magic to primitive eyes". I mean, it would be pretty arbitrary to introduce actual magic with only about twenty minutes to go in this movie. The dinosaurs show up and tell Screweyes he's the one Neweyes (oh god) warned them about, and he better hand over those kids! No no, they're under contract now, Screweyes tells them. He promptly gives the kids Brain DRAIN, which turns them into monkeys. Brain Drain is, of course, Screweyes' counterpart to his brother's cereal. I loved how it was presented all sinister-like in pill-form so it looked more like EVIL DRUGS. It turns the children into monkeys, a pretty useless attraction for a circus of horrors, given how cute both Louie and Cecilia now look. They even have their old clothes still on!

Hell, the movie makes a big spiel about how Screweyes won't let Stubbs the clown (Martin Short, in an utterly baffling role) do his act for the crowd until he comes up with something that makes the old Prof laugh, and he never does. What the hell does he want cute monkeys for? He didn't know they were with dinosaurs, so when Rex proposes they'll take the children's place it's as much a surprise to him as to us.

Sure enough, he devolves the dinos back to their old form. They're all terrifying and shit, and Louie and Cecilia have Stubbs sneak them into the show. Cecilia constantly wonders WHY? WHY WOULD PEOPLE WANT TO BE SCARED? IT'S HORRIBLE! Goddammit movie, stop trying to prove my point. Screweyes does have a pretty impressive set-up going, even though it's more like a horror-themed Cirque du Soleil than anything actually scary. It's in this sequence that the movie tries to comfort its young viewers that it's all only make-believe. Zombie monks are shown to be guys flying through the air with masks on cables, we see the guy doing the pyrotechnics, the sound guy, etc. For a guy who's got technology so advanced it looks like magic, ol' Screweyes certainly isn't interested in pushing the envelopes of showmanship. Shit, our three good guys stealthily sneaking in are dressed as Disneyland mascot versions of Maleficent's little imps.

The dinosaurs get dragged on stage rather impressively: on a dais pulled by about twenty elephants. Inexplicably, the four dinosaurs are chained but not caged. Even more inexplicable is the fact that, feral once more, Rex hasn't killed any of his within-biting-range colleagues. Screweyes informs the audience he will now make the T-Rex do his bidding by mental suggestion! Maybe this was what Carl Denham had in mind when he put Kong on that scaffolding. It's a cool idea, in theory. Unfortunately, one of the omnipresent crows (what the fuck, I know) pecks at a button marked FLARES in the pyrotechnics control room and the bright lights break Screwy's mental hold over Rex. He's about to eat the one-eyed bastard when Louie shows up on stage and tearfully pleads Rex to "be a good guy". Of course this works, and love -- and a well-placed hug -- breaks the spell. But wait a minute... if Rex was returned to his natural state by the Brain Drain... does that mean you can just plead and cry to a T-Rex and make it friendly? No, silly. It works on ANY dinosaur! Louie and Cecilia hug each dinosaur in a montage, turning them all instantly back to their cartoon selves. The crowd goes nuts!

Neweyes shows up in his ship and tells off his brother. This gives Stubbs the balls to quit. He humiliates his boss with honking horns and other clowny stuff. The audience is in stitches. Stubbs drives off in his clown car and Neweyes and the gang take off as well. Lights fade.

"Brother no... don't leave me. When I am alone, I am so... scared of the dark."

The crows gang up on Screweyes and engulf him. For a split second, they form A GIANT CROW until they all fly off again, leaving only his screw-eye rolling on the floor. This is perhaps the most baffling Spielberg-related villain death since Dustin Hoffman in Hook. What confounds me even more is that, seconds before this death, hundreds of people were laughing at the antics of Stubbs getting his little triumph moment. They can't possibly ALL have left in that short time. If I, as a viewer, am completely flabbergasted by this event, imagine how a regular New Yorker who doesn't have all this time traveling background bullshit feels?

Anyways, the dinosaurs get brought to the museum, the kids returned to their parents, Dr. Bleeb runs what is no doubt he most profitable museum exhibit of all time and we all learn that if you hug a rainbow just right, lollipops come flying out.

I don't know what kind of lesson that little bird got from Rex' tale, but I'm 100% sure he's never visiting any circus again. I also realize that, in this universe, birds can talk. Unless Neweyes got REAAALLY generous with his Brain Grain.

John Goodman is 57 today.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What makes a man a fan?

Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion. If everyone just got along nicely, the world would be a Stephenie Meyer nov- oohhhh I went there. Everyone likes different stuff, and it's kind of pointless to get up in arms about it.

I used to call myself a fan of various things, but as I get older -- and I am a baffling 24 -- I find I can't work up the energy to get vocal about things anymore. One of the big fromages for me was Star Wars. That one was pretty much a perfect storm of reaching into my young mind. I'd seen the old trilogy on Dutch television when I was about ten. That mystical tome also known as TV guide called them classics, and it made me curious. I remember having to stay up till eleven to catch them, eventually retiring at the epically late hour of one. For some reason, the network decided Return of the Jedi was to be aired on a Wednesday instead of a Friday night, and after the amazing cliffhanger of The Empire Strikes back, being made to wait a few extra days (school night, had to tape it!) for the thrilling conclusion made it hit me all the harder. The very idea of a hero who had to resort to non-violence to win the day was completely alien to a kid reared on Die Hards and Lethal Weapons and Predators.

These were the mid-90s, and if you're somewhat movie-savvy, you remember what happened in '99. And yes, I was, of course, the perfect age for prequel-mania. It took me months, if not years, to realize that maybe... just maybe those prequels weren't as awesome as I thought they were. But those years in between them, oh! how the internet was prequel rumor central. Every dumb Star Wars forum I lurked on, every bit of "news" that Christopher Walken or Gabriel Byrne was going to be in the next one I latched on to. And sometimes I'd hear these names: Mara Jade, Admiral Thrawn, Exar Kun, ... what what? Who were these people? They weren't in any of the movies, new or old. Here's where I found out that there was a whole universe worth of Star Wars besides the movies (an EXPANDED universe, as it were) for good little nerds to consume. The only possible reaction I could have had was obviously AWESOME LET'S GET INTO THIS SHIT. Oh man, my library carries a bunch ohgodohgodohgod!

Let me use this venue to reach out to my no doubt fives of readers and reach out to everyone in my 4th year Dutch class in high school. I am sorry for doing a half hour book report on Barbara Hambly's Children of the Jedi. It was a very lame thing of me to do, and I apologize.

After having read more than a dozen of these bitches throughout my teens, I finally started reading the first one of Timothy Zahn's Admiral Thrawn trilogy on a trip to Italy when I was about 17-18. I remember finishing it, taking it back to the library and just not really caring what happened next. There's only two other books that got similar treatments from me: Dune by Frank Herbert (about 40 pages in) and Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (18 pages in -- F'lar and F'nor? Seriously?). Even though Zahn's trilogy (fantasy authors have huge boners for trilogies, almost as huge as I have for brackets) was supposed to be the "best" the Expanded Universe had to offer, I was just burned out. I was just going to see the movies from now on, and fuck this neverending supplemental shit.

I don't know exactly which one of these came first. The release of the animated Clone Wars "movie" or a friend of mine asking if I wanted to borrow a Thrawn omnibus. The former was met with a resounding ahongiveafuuuuck. Yes, technically, there was a Star Wars movie playing in theaters, but it was actually just the first three episodes of a new Nickelodeon cartoon edited together and called a movie. A movie concerning the Clone Wars, the fictional conflict set between Episodes II and III. The fictional conflict that already had a series of cartoon shorts dedicated to it: by the great Genndy Tartakovsky of Powerpuff Girls fame, no less. This new Clone Wars movie was fill-in-what-blanks-in-the-timeline-you-can moneygrubbery of the highest order, typical of this (or any) Expanded Universe. The latter was a lot simpler. An offer of giving the so-called best of the EU another shot years after the facts. I'm sorry, but total apathy. The only thrill in this kind of book is in reading about some adventures with familiar characters. You won't find any deep themes or new insights in them. If you already know that Thrawn ends up getting stabbed by his bodyguard who is seduced to the light by one of our heroes -- sound familiar? -- there's little this shit has to offer you.

The point of this Harryknowlesian derail/introduction was to give you a bit of my background as a fanboy. It was a few weeks ago, at one of my RP nights, a group member asked who was going to see Terminator: Salvation. Awkward silence followed, until someone said he was probably gonna wait that one out till it was on TV. The original fella couldn't believe it: a Terminator movie in the theater and you're not going to see it? I asked him if he'd read any reviews, which really were universally terrible. He said he'd form his own opinion, dammit!

I couldn't really fault him, to be honest. After all, a film's meant to bring about emotions, and that's a very personal process. A movie might work on you that wouldn't work on me and vice versa. Would I have enjoyed Terminator 4 if I didn't know the ugly story behind the scenes? If I hadn't the faintest of how a blockbuster came to be or of the concepts of script doctoring or MPAA ratings manipulations (and that one's an entire Wholly On The Level in itself)? I probably would. I mean, I was 14 once.

But I can't say I'm completely cured. I wish I could say I now seek out solely original, independent creations free of franchise fuckery. I do, to some extent. I'm a lot more open to new things. I don't pit "my" franchise against others. Yes, there was a dark time in my life that I tried to tell myself The Phantom Menace was better than The Matrix AND The Fellowship of the Ring. But on the other hand, I'll always click the Iron Man II article before clicking the one about Moon, for instance.

Fuck you, inner child, I'm trying to convince myself I'm cool now.

Here, have this Erick Sermon video.

Aaah yes.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Retrospective That Was Never On Time, Part 1

I'm gonna do it! I'm gonna watch every single Star Trek movie and report back here! As a non-fan, my insights shall be refreshing, eye-opening and perhaps more than a little erotic. Like Trekkies themselves, pretty much! This first installment's going to be a bit all over the place, as I've watched the first three on end and I got progressively drunker as the evening went on. The retrospective will probably be quite erratic, as it is my friend Rutger (many thanks for the above Photoshop!) who owns the films on Blu-Ray and I don't really care enough to spend any money or bandwidth on these masterpieces. But let us dive into that wonderful world of Starfleets and Klingons and monster dogs and angry latino gentlemen!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

I had seen this one already years and years ago, but I remembered precious little of it. What I did know, was that fans often disparagingly called it "The Motionless Picture". I can see why. Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Day The Earth Stood Still -- a real director, not some studio hack!) wants AWE to be the keyword in this movie. And, to be honest, he succeeds. The first time we see the Enterprise in its dock, it's glorious. For a moment, you understand how much Kirk loves her. Even Shatner's underplaying this scene. And it works. For half a minute. Then it goes on for five more. And there you have it. That’s pretty much the movie’s problem. It’s got some damn impressive vistas, it just forgets to populate them.

Original series creator Gene Roddenberry was heavily involved in this film, and his vision of the future that Star Trek was to embody was supposed to be an extremely utopian one, with everyone being politically correct and non-violent and faggy at all times. In fact, so opposed to action and adventure was this man, that in the foreword of the novelization of this film he declared the entire original series non-canon. I invite you to read this fragment, as narrated by Kirk himself.

"Eventually, I found that I had been fictionalized into some sort of “modern Ulysses” and it has been painful to see my command decisions of those years so widely applauded, whereas the plain facts are that ninety-four of our crew met violent deaths during those years-and many of them would still be alive if I had acted either more quickly or more wisely. Nor have I been as foolishly courageous as depicted. I have never happily invited injury; I have disliked in the extreme every duty circumstance which has required me to risk my life. But there appears to be something in the nature of depicters of popular events which leads them into the habit of exaggeration. As a result, I became determined that if I ever again found myself involved in an affair attracting public attention, I would insist that some way be found to tell the story more accurately."

WHO THE FUCK IS HAVING FUN IN HERE? These star treks are serious business, sir! Then again, if you’re reading the novelization of a Star Trek movie, star treks probably are serious business to you. I’d say more power to you, but shit, people who read novelizations need as little power as possible.

Aaaanyways, Galactus is coming. Okay, so it’s not Galactus, but it’s a big fucking space cloud and it just zapped a Klingon ship. Starfleet decides they need Kirk and his Enterprise crew up in this bitch. Tearful reunions abound, except for Spock, who’s been chillin’ on his home planet of Vulcan the last few years generally being a space hobo. The Enterprise itself has been under the command of captain Decker, a man played by the dad from 7th Heaven, the show where Jessica Biel got her start. Three sequels later, 7th Heaven’s mom would appear in The Voyage Home. If that’s not the universe telling J.J. Abrams to put Jessica herself in his own sequel, I don’t know what is.

This was the first time I’d actually ever seen Shatner do Shatner. It’s pretty fantastic. I mean, you hear all the jokes, you see the impersonations, but nothing beats the real thing. During an ill-advised hyperspace jump, the ship is dodging asteroids. At one point, there’s an asteroid coming right their way, and Spock’s the only one who can do something about it (for some reason). Spock’s gone catatonic, though (for some reason). Kirk is not happy!

“Spock! … Spock! … Spock! … Spock! … Spock!”

He must say “Spock” about eight times in exactly the same tone of voice. Nowadays, perhaps only Nicolas Cage could pull off such a feat of thespianism.

In the meantime, space cloud probes the ship and commandeers bald hottie commander Ilea to serve as his herald. No surfboard, so she got pretty ripped off. The rest of the movie is spent trying to convince V’ger (as is the cloud’s name) and its herald that he Enterprise should not be destroyed, while simultaneously trying to get at the heart of this nimbus weirdus to see what exactly makes it tick. Not exactly the most dynamic fare, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Still, you have to admire the balls in making a huge and expensive space movie using well-known characters the year after Star Wars was released and not make it this big action spectacle.

NEXT UP: The Wrath of Khan!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Why you do that, Cage?

Look at him. Look at his serious face. He's like a chimpansee. I'm not saying he looks like a chimpansee, but going to see a Nic Cage movie is like being in an enclosed space with a chimpansee. You never know what's going to happen. You never know what those crafty eyes are thinking, what that primal intelligence is calculating. He might leave you alone and eat some bananas. He might fling poo at you. He might rip out your jugular. So too with Nic Cage. You might get a Leaving Las Vegas. You might get a Face/Off. You might get a Ghost Rider. Or you might get a Knowing. I think my hair still smells.

By the way, let me preface this by saying a ticket to this movie was bought for me by a friend who was pretty much forced to see this and was in desperate need of entertaining company to see it with. To that very friend, I'm sorry I slept so much.

Knowing is a movie that fits in a long line of movies and TV shows that a friend of mine once called "mystical mumbo jumbo". If I were to hazard I guess, I'd say that its current popularity was jump-started by the success of Lost. How do you make good MMJ movie/show? Simple! Take a premise that is mysterious and vague. Then get your protagonist(s) really worked up about it. They should yell more as the movie progresses, even though it's not always 100% clear what everyone's yelling about, or its importance.

In Knowing, Nic Cage is an astrophysics professor yelling about a little piece of paper with numbers on it. Those numbers were written down by a creepy little girl in 1959, and buried in a time capsule. Their spookiness is cause enough for concern, like any decent astrophysics professor would note. But woe on us all, the little girl was stopped by her teacher before she could finish the sequence of numbers the voices in her head were reciting.

At one point, Nic deduces that one particular sequence of numbers coincides with OMG 9/11 and 2996, apparently the death toll of that fateful day. So he starts looking up other shit and whaddya know? Disasters! Dates! Death tolls! Bejaysis and begorrah, 81 people will die in a few days! That really begs the question: what's a big enough disaster to be on the list? I'm guessing 80 is the minimum here, cuz that list was about 2 pieces of A4 paper long and anything below that just seems like being overly thorough.

Horror! The whisperers also occasionally visit Cage's son, apparently to make him finish that damn list. At this point I know what the list does, I just don't really understand why the whisperers feel the need to finish it.

The whisperers are aliens. I didn't put spoiler warnings up because this movie looked like a turd from the first trailer and if you thought it looked good for even a goddamned fucking second you deserve to be spoiled. Punched as well, but I can't punch you through the internet and like any internet tough guy I would probably be very polite in real life to anyone I insulted online. The whisperers are aliens who like to dress up like Spike from Buffy and they whisper fucking numbers and some people pick up those numbers in their brain and feel compelled to write them down. I guess the logic would be that THE WORTHY get to sidestep all that shit that might happen to them and find the location where the aliens pick them up to start a new life off-world. Okay, I guess.

But Nic Cage is the only one who figures it all out. And the Spikes kidnap his son and the daughter of love interest Rose "No Use Crying Over Spilt Padmé" Byrne. They kidnap them. Cage gives chase, but is ultimately told by the aliens he ain't on the guest list. Tearful goodbyes abound as it is the two children (and, inexplicably, their pet bunnies) that get to hitch a ride on the Chariots of the Tards. Oooookay.

What was the point? Why engineer that whole thing with the list if you're going to pick and choose your own chosen ones anyway? Shouldn't Cage be the chosen one? He was the only guy on Earth who deciphered the signal, and his brain wasn't even advanced enough to pick up the brainwhispers the Spikes were broadcasting. That oughta buy you a ticket, right?

God, fuck this turd. All it has going for it are some cool crashes. It's a cheap goddamn M. Night Shyamalan wannabe punk bitch of a movie. Yeah, that's right. Wannabe M. Night Shyamalan. That's like wanting to be the guy who has the 1,000+ anime DVD collection, but just not being cool enough to pull it off.

What happened to you, Alex Proyas? The Crow was pretty cool and I was even mildly entertained by I, Robot. Dude got locked up in a room with the wrong monkey.