This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Agony Booth review: Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

My latest article for the Agony Booth looks at a holiday film that I can only describe as a missed opportunity.
There are plenty of Christmas movies. Some deservedly become classics, while others deservedly become infamous. Sadly, Santa Claus: The Movie leans toward the infamous side. The frustrating part of this, though, is that the first half-hour of the film shows tremendous promise. Indeed, by itself, the first part of the movie could have been a classic short film for the holiday season in its own right.

The movie was produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who remain famous for bringing us the original 1978 Superman. That film was such a triumph for the duo that it’s thankfully somewhat eclipsed the poor decisions they made on subsequent films, most notably Superman III and Supergirl.

They obviously wanted to make Santa Claus: The Movie follow the same formula and structure as Superman: The Movie—I’m surprised the tagline was “Seeing is believing” and not “You will believe reindeer can fly!”—and it works (for the first half, at least) for the same reason that Superman worked; both give us origin tales filled with a sense of genuine wonder and magic as we see the title character with new eyes. Unfortunately, the second half of the film makes the same mistakes that Superman III did, both by adding unnecessary characters and hijinks and by forcing its lead to become a secondary character in his own movie.

The director of this film, Jeannot Szwarc, was picked by the Salkinds because they loved his similar work on Supergirl—and considering how bad that movie is, one wonders if the Salkinds even watched it. (Though, in all fairness, Santa Claus was well into production by the time Szwarc’s Supergirl was released to the public and became a massive bomb.)

Santa Claus: The Movie begins in the 14th Century, where a kind toymaker named Claus (David Huddleston) and his wife Anya (Judy Cornwell) are caught in a blizzard with their reindeer Donner and Blitzen. They nearly freeze to death, but are later awakened by a mysterious light and then a group of elves coming forward to greet them.

They take the couple and their reindeer to the Fortress of Solitude, uh, I mean, a magical workshop. One of the elves Dooley (John Barrand) informs Claus that they want him to deliver the toys they’re making to children everywhere, each Christmas Eve. When Claus states that this is physically impossible, and there’s not nearly enough time to do this, Dooley reveals that he and Anya now have all the time in the world. They’ll live forever, and that’s a pretty sweet Christmas gift if there ever was one.

As the couple gets acquainted with their new surroundings and their new friends, eager-to-please elf Patch (Dudley Moore) attempts to make Donner feel at home. He later introduces Claus to six other reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, and Cupid. As the next Christmas approaches, other familiar aspects of the holiday emerge, including the creation of Kris Kringle’s red suit, which is actually the second attempt after an elf tailor sews a green suit (probably a nod to some historical depictions of Santa).

On Christmas Eve night, Jor-El, I mean, an unnamed ancient elf (Burgess Meredith) shows up and basically repeats that Claus will delivers toys to all the children of the world on Christmas Eve, and then christens him with his new name: Santa Claus. With that, the sleigh is packed, the eight reindeer are fed special food which enables them to fly, and Santa gives the signal to head out to deliver presents.

As the centuries pass, Santa becomes an enduring figure the world over, shown in a montage that includes the origins of such things as the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (AKA “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”), the leaving of cookies and milk, the list of who’s naughty and who’s nice, the checking of it twice, and also, the invention of the snow globe. In fact, it seems the latter was invented by Patch, which prompts Santa to make him his main toy-making assistant.

Had the film ended here, it would be a perfect movie. Unfortunately, the film loses its momentum when we suddenly shift to contemporary times. It’s at this point that the movie decides to give center stage to a lackluster subplot involving a bitter, homeless orphan boy in New York named Joe (Christian Fitzpatrick). In a crass bit of product placement, Joe hungrily watches people devour burgers and fries at a McDonald’s for what feels like minutes on end, until he gets a free meal from a bored rich girl named Cornelia (Carrie Kei Heim).

But then it’s time for one of Santa’s annual deliveries, during which he decides to give Joe some Christmas cheer by befriending him, and later Cornelia, and flying Joe around town in his sleigh for a while. And I’m not one to expect child actors to give great performances; not every kid can be Haley Joel Osment, but these two kids don’t exactly endear themselves to us, with Joe coming off as annoying while Cornelia is just bland.

Just prior to this, we learned Patch’s new position has prompted him to come up with new things to invent. Eventually, he creates an automated assembly line machine that lets the elves make toys faster. He’s delighted by the speed at which the thing is spitting out toys, but unbeknownst to any of the elves, the machine is starting to sloppily put the toys together.

The toys begin breaking apart not long after they’re delivered, and this makes people apparently lose faith in Santa. Both Joe and Cornelia get criticized for even believing in Santa, which makes one wonder where the people in this film think the toys are coming from in the first place. This discontent with Santa leads to Patch resigning his post by saying that “red just isn’t my color”—you know, instead of simply performing some routine maintenance on the stupid machine that caused all the trouble.

With that, Patch leaves the North Pole and winds up in New York, where a toy magnate named B.Z. (John Lithgow) is being forced to withdraw all his toys from stores because they’re also displaying signs of shoddy workmanship. Patch witnesses some of these toys being taken out of a store, and mistakenly thinks they’re being sold at a fast pace.

So Patch meets up with B.Z., and after some brief incredulity on the B.Z.’s part about meeting an elf, they strike a deal to make a Christmas treat for children. This treat involves the food that makes the reindeer fly, and sure enough, when Patch delivers his new lollipop (in a fancy new flying car he’s invented), the candy immediately becomes a big hit, because anyone eating it temporarily floats. And apparently, the FDA is not too concerned about the potential side effects of ingesting this candy. Maybe they’re just as happy as everyone else thinking about the money they’ll save on gas.

The success of the lollipop prompts B.Z. to ask Patch to make a stronger mixture of the reindeer food, this time in the form of candy canes. Patch reluctantly agrees to have them ready by next Christmas, but B.Z. doesn’t want to wait that long, and suggests creating a holiday “sequel” to fill the void. Lithgow then chews the scenery like there’s no tomorrow when he plans for the canes to be in stores by March 25, announcing, “We’ll call it ‘Christmas II’!”

Oh, and what’s Santa doing during all this? He’s sulking because he misses Patch and thinks the world no longer loves him. And this is pretty much all he does until the movie’s finale.

One night, Joe decides to pay Cornelia a visit by sneaking into her house (how romantic), where it’s revealed that B.Z. is actually Cornelia’s step-uncle. Joe is caught and locked up in the basement of B.Z.’s factory, while Cornelia overhears B.Z.’s assistant informing him of a slight defect in the candy canes: they explode when exposed to extreme heat. Patch knows nothing about this product flaw, and B.Z. is planning to sell the canes anyway and let Patch take the fall.

At long last, Santa comes back into the film when Cornelia writes him a letter explaining the situation. He soon shows up via her chimney and off they go to rescue Joe.

Cut to Patch finding and releasing an initially-hostile Joe. Patch also realizes that Santa still likes him when he sees a gift Santa gave Joe: it’s a wood-carved likeness of Patch made by Santa’s own hands. Joe then stops hating Patch when he sees his fancy flying car, which Patch loads up with the (now radioactively glowing) candy canes, planning to return them all to the North Pole.

In the midst of all this, the police have (somehow) closed in on B.Z., who manages to escape capture by wolfing down as many of the magic candy canes as possible. He then leaps out of his office window and just keeps floating up into the air.

Meanwhile, Patch and Joe are heading north, unaware that the candy canes have turned Patch’s car into a flying Ford Pinto. The car’s flight is generating extreme heat, which leads to those candy canes catching fire. Fortunately for them, action hero Santa Claus (and Cornelia) show up to save them just as the car blows up.

The four return to the North Pole with the two kids planning to stay a while. (Which makes sense for Joe, since he’s an orphan, but even though Cornelia’s technically an orphan, you’d have to think that at least her nanny or the kids at school would be freaked out over her sudden disappearance.) And presumably, Patch will return from his leave of absence to finally fix his damn toy-making machine.

The movie ends with B.Z. and the remains of Patch’s car just floating off into space. At least we know he won’t be out there forever, since 3rd Rock From the Sun was only ten years or so away. And part of me wonders if this ending was meant as a demented homage to how the Superman films always ended with Christopher Reeve soaring around in orbit.

The reason the film starts to fail after the first half-hour is because the title character becomes just as irrelevant as Superman in Superman III, where the Man of Steel ends up playing second-fiddle to Richard Pryor’s antics. Here, Santa ends up being little more than a deus ex machina at the end of a story starring John Lithgow and Dudley Moore. David Huddleston certainly looks the part, and overall provides a good performance, but for being the title character, Santa really isn’t fleshed out very much or given that much to do.

Even worse, the characters the movie focuses on are just irritating. Moore certainly had great comic timing, as Arthur proved, but his character here doesn’t have anything close to the same wittiness. The jokes Moore delivers here never rise above the level of Patch’s annoying habit of using puns in his everyday speech, like “elf-control”, “elf-pity”, “elf-esteem”, and “elf-explanatory”. Oh, I get it. He’s an elf!

The only one who’s truly fun to watch here is Lithgow. This isn’t surprising, since he could already play villains in his sleep by this point and could ham it up with the best of them.

Unlike Superman, I can’t say if the Salkinds planned to make a movie series out of this idea. But the failure of this film proved that things tend to work out for the best, because I’m guessing any follow-ups would have sidelined Kris Kringle in favor of over-the-top villains and in-name-only comic relief. No company has decided to actually create Christmas II for real (yet), but at least we can be thankful there never was a Santa Claus II.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Agony Booth review: Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda (2000-2005)

My latest Agony Booth work looks at one of the worst sci-fi series ever.

The start of the 21st Century brought us a series which, by all rights, should have become a classic. That series was Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, which ran in syndication from 2000-2005.

The show was based on notes left behind by Star Trek creator Roddenberry. It focuses on a spaceship captain in the far distant future named Dylan Hunt whose ship, the artificially intelligent Andromeda Ascendant, gets caught on the outskirts of a black hole just as a war erupts involving his Federation-esque interplanetary society the Systems Commonwealth. The ship’s proximity to the black hole causes Hunt to be frozen in time for the next 300 years, until a crew of mercenaries then pulls the ship away from the black hole, reviving Hunt. It’s a rude awakening, however, as he realizes that not only are his rescuers intending to loot his ship, but the Commonwealth has fallen during his long nap. Eventually, he recruits said mercenaries to help him restore it.

Roddenberry’s name was added to the title to make it more viable for TV, but Andromeda wouldn’t become a reality until Kevin Sorbo, then hot off the success of playing the title character in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, agreed to play Hunt and also serve as one of the show’s producers.

The show gained more attention when Robert Hewitt Wolfe was hired on as the show’s main writer. Wolfe first gained fame by writing the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “A Fistful of Datas”. He then became a writer for Deep Space Nine until the end of that show’s fifth season.

Not surprisingly, there were lots of comparisons to Star Trek prior to the show’s premiere. Sorbo, in particular, seemed eager to compare Hunt to Captain Kirk. Perhaps this was an omen for how the show would end up sucking big time.

The show’s first two episodes, “Under the Night” and “An Affirming Flame”, do an okay job of setting things into motion. In these episodes, Hunt and his ship’s AI, represented by a holographic avatar (Lexa Doig), are ambushed by a race called the Nietzscheans, who are an offshoot of humans in the same way that Romulans are an offshoot of Vulcans. Hunt’s crew is evacuated and/or killed, and he has to contend with his traitorous Nietzschean First Officer Rhade (Steve Bacic). Hunt manages to kill him just before he and the ship are frozen in time.

Jumping forward 300 years, a ship captained by Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder) is preparing to pull the Andromeda out of the black hole’s rim at the request of the unlikeable Gerentex (John Tench). Beka and her crew, spiritual Rev Bem (Brent Stait), bubbly Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram), and sarcastic engineer Seamus Harper (Gordon Michael Woolvett) manage to get onboard the Andromeda. And wouldn’t you know it, they come upon Hunt, who intends to hold onto his ship.

Gerentex counters by revealing that he stowed a group of Nietzschean hunters aboard, led by Tyr Anasazi (Keith Hamilton Cobb). As they attempt to take the ship from Hunt, Beka and her crew begin to realize that Gerentex is too crazy for even them to deal with. When Gerentex attempts to send them all back into the black hole, Beka, Tyr and the others agree to join forces with Hunt to defeat him.

“Flame” ends with Hunt declaring his intention to restore the Commonwealth, and asking Beka, Tyr, and the others to help him on his mission. They agree, on the condition that they remain on a first-name basis.

The remaining episodes of the first season were not great by any means, but the moments of discontent and conflict between Hunt, Tyr, and Beka provided some entertainment. It was this occasional tension which allowed us to forgive clichéd-filled episodes such as “To Loose the Fateful Lightning” (in which annoying children attempt to take over the ship) and “Star-Crossed” (the inevitable “Andromeda falls in love with another AI” tale).

The first season finale, “Its Hour Come ‘Round at Last”, was also entertaining. That episode involved Andromeda going berserk and sending the crew into a fight with Rev Bem’s people, the Magog. The season ended with the ship crippled, Tyr and Harper captured by the Magog, Rev going off to find them, and the rest of the crew down for the count.

The second season premiered with “The Widening Gyre”, in which the crew is reunited and escapes, but not before Hunt uses a nova bomb, which is powerful enough to destroy a sun, on the Magog World Ship, a massive spacecraft that’s actually made up of interconnected planets. This damages the ship, but doesn’t destroy it, and as Hunt notes, this makes a restored Commonwealth all the more necessary in order to combat it.

Alas, all of this development was rendered moot afterward. This is because, like Star Trek: Voyager, Andromeda basically jettisoned its premise by its second season and was content with simply being an action show, with an ineffectual captain to boot.

It was during this season that Tribune Entertainment, which distributed the show, decided to give Wolfe his pink slip. Sorbo personally explained that this was because Wolfe’s scripts were too intelligent. He also said the show would become more episodic, claiming that this was closer to Roddenberry’s original vision. Also, to better ensure that the show would be a copy of the original Star Trek series, Sorbo announced that Hunt would be getting more love interests, citing how Kirk always had a love interest. (Never mind that Kirk-as-ladies-man was just one aspect of his character, and not the whole reason he was such a heroic figure.)

Coincidentally, Brent Stait left the series during the middle of the second season, because he was developing an allergic reaction to the Magog makeup he was wearing.

Sadly, fans’ fears that the show would go south after Wolfe’s departure proved correct, as the show became a mindless hour of action each week. For example, the second season episode “Lava and Rockets” had Hunt pretending to be Kirk by engaging in an arbitrary romance. But that’s where the Kirk similarity ends, as Hunt does nothing heroic in that story, unless you consider hijacking innocent vessels heroic. In addition (and here’s where the comparison to Janeway comes in), Hunt’s crew clearly views the man as a god. Though I guess at least that makes Hunt different than Hercules, who was half-god.

A worse offender is the later episode “The Things We Cannot Change”, in which Hunt is rendered unconscious, but in his mind he’s living a happy family life. In other words, this episode was basically the great TNG episode “The Inner Light”, but with none of the power and nuance of that tour de force.

Oh, and the original premise of rebuilding the Commonwealth was quickly resolved in the second season finale “Tunnel at the End of the Light”, in which a new Commonwealth is formed and Hunt turns down the offer to lead it, because it would be too much work and prevent him from sleeping with lots of women. We also get new aliens attacking our heroes with, you guessed it, no consequences for the rest of the series.

Sure, there was still the occasional mention of this new Commonwealth, as well as that big-ass Magog ship. But that became just as much of a footnote as showing Voyager struggling to survive, because we can’t allow anything to overshadow heroics such as blowing up crap and bedding women, can we?

The emphasis on how awesome Dylan Hunt is led Keith Hamilton Cobb to leave the show after its third season, even though Tyr would later return to randomly sleep with Beka and then randomly get killed. In his place, we got the return of Steve Bacic as a descendant of Rhade.

Not surprisingly, the show, again like Voyager, lost viewers with each passing season. In fact, the show was originally supposed to end with its fourth season finale “The Dissonant Interval”. That story proved that Hunt was indeed Captain Hercules, when it was revealed that his father was a god-like being while his mother was mortal (even Janeway couldn’t make that claim). Also in this episode, most of the characters are supposedly killed off, but because of a deal Tribune made with the SyFy Channel, the show inexplicably got a fifth season in which, surprise, the crew was still alive.

I’d go into what happened in the show’s final season, but it’s just as nonsensical as the previous three years. Not that it mattered much, since most viewers gave up on the show by this point anyway.

Regarding the other cast members, the only one who managed to stick out was Cobb, because (for the first season, anyway) he played the only character willing to stand up to Hunt. One could call him a cross between Worf (in that he’s a warrior) and Garak (in that he has his own mysterious agenda). So it’s not surprising that Cobb elected to jump ship once he realized that his character was starting to become as much of a Hunt-worshipper as the rest of the crew.

In fairness, the seeds of this Dylan-worship were sown from the beginning, when it was revealed that Andromeda herself was in love with Dylan. What she sees in him, I don’t know, as he’s downright rude to her on plenty of occasions.

Needless to say, none of the other cast members were particularly noteworthy. I mean, even Voyager had Robert Picardo’s Doctor and Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine to occasionally give things a bit of a spark. Speaking of Seven, this series’ version of her is the title character, in that she wore revealing clothing, but unlike Seven, didn’t have much personality.

After Andromeda was put out of its misery (and ours), Sorbo changed career directions by starring in Christian-based movies, such as God’s Not Dead. Fine, but what irks me is that he eventually said that removing Wolfe from the show was a mistake, which begs the question of why he championed it so much when it originally occurred. In recent years, Sorbo has also claimed that Hollywood stopped giving him roles because he’s a Christian, and the fact that he’s simply a lousy actor has nothing to do with it.

To draw another Voyager comparison, the few fans Andromeda still has claim that the show was good for what it was. But this excuse raises the question of why the show would go through all the trouble of establishing a unique premise if said premise was just going to be tossed out and replaced with never-ending emphasis on explosions, nonsensical adventure, and how awesome the captain is.

It’s sad that the first science fiction series to premiere at the turn of the millennium held such promise, but eventually became something only Sorbo could love.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Agony Booth review: Starship Troopers (1997)

My recent article for the Agony Booth discusses the film Starship Troopers, which I felt wasn't as great as the other Paul Verhoeven science fiction movies, Robocop (1987) and Total Recall.

Starship Troopers is director Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of the 1959 sci-fi novel of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein. I must confess, I’ve always disliked this movie, but I was never really sure why. I suppose I should start by comparing it to Verhoeven’s previous excursions into science fiction: the masterworks RoboCop and Total Recall. Both of these films, like Starship Troopers, had great production values, not to mention moments of extreme violence. But neither of them would have worked were it not for the performances of their lead actors, Peter Weller and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In RoboCop, Weller plays an instantly likable policeman who’s savagely gunned down in the line of duty. He’s then resurrected as the title character, now with superhuman strength and cool powers such as the ability to look through walls. But this resurrection story has its downside, as RoboCop begins to remember the family life he lost. The most moving scene in the movie is when he flashes back to his loved ones as he walks through the home they once shared.

Likewise, in Total Recall, Schwarzenegger plays an average working man who suddenly realizes that the life he’s been living is not his life at all. For me, this is the movie that proved for all time that Arnold truly can act, because while there are action scenes aplenty, Arnold mostly wins us over with his determined and frantic performance as he maddeningly searches for answers.

It’s these performances that help make both RoboCop and Total Recall unique among the great science fiction movies, and therein lies the main flaw of Starship Troopers. It’s got lots of action and lots of beautiful women, but its cast is mostly made up of wooden actors, with the most wooden of the bunch (Casper Van Dien) as our lead, despite possessing no actual screen presence whatsoever.

Starship Troopers was likely meant to be a dark satire in the same vein as Verhoeven’s other sci-fi action pictures, but our central actor is just so blank and lacking in interior monologue that you can’t help but take the whole story at face value. And if the movie was truly meant to be satire, as many of its fans insist, it’s poorly done satire, because there’s very little in the way of actual wit or insight that might distinguish this film from other entries in the genre.

The film opens with a military recruitment film explaining how humanity has colonized other worlds in the future, but alas, this has led to contact with malevolent, gigantic bugs from the planet Klendathu. There’s a war going on between bugs and humans, with the bugs’ weapon of choice being meteors that they pull from their local asteroid belt and send hurtling to Earth.

One person who wants to make a difference in this war is Johnny Rico (Van Dien), who’s finishing up high school in Buenos Aires. He and his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), along with their friends Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) and Dizzy Flores (Dina Mayer) plan to enlist in the military after graduating. Heinlein’s original novel featured many characters of various ethnicities, but despite the Argentinian locale and last names like “Rico”, “Ibanez”, and “Flores”, the movie’s central cast looks like your typical whitewashed all-American homecoming court.

We get the gist of Rico and Carmen’s relationship from the beginning, as they clandestinely flirt in class, much to the annoyance of their one-armed history teacher and soon-to-be comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside). Rasczak is truly a barrel of laughs here, as he praises the bombing of Hiroshima and makes blanket proclamations like, “Naked force has resolved more conflicts throughout history than any other factor!”

Later, Carl shows us that he’s even more annoying than Doogie Howser when he broadcasts Rico’s low test scores to the entire campus. And if this school isn’t fun enough for you, we next get a scene in (what I assume is) biology class where students are gleefully dissecting—what else?—bugs! Specifically, “Arkellian sand beetles”. The instructor is going on about how intelligent they are, as Carmen becomes more disgusted with the entrails she’s holding, until she finally throws up and bolts.

Rico later leads his high school team in a game of Jump Ball, which appears to be a hyper-violent version of arena football that occasionally involves somersaults. He then gets pissed off when he sees rival player Xander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon) trying to chat up Carmen. This leads to a brief scuffle between the two before Rico’s team wins the game. The two men get into another tiff over Carmen during the subsequent dance. Just what we didn’t need: science fiction with a dash of Melrose Place (ironically, both Richards and Muldoon made appearances on that show). Also at the dance, we find out Dizzy has been pining away for Rico for years, but he coldly rebuffs her.

After graduation, our four main characters follow through on signing up for the military: Rico joins up with the Mobile Infantry, Carmen goes to Flight School, Carl goes into Military Intelligence (where he’ll be able to put his psychic abilities to good use), and Dizzy decides to join up with the Mobile Infantry too, just to be closer to Rico. There, they make friends with a recruit named Ace Levy (Jake Busey), who can really play a mean neon green electric violin, but the less said about that, the better.

In the middle of Rico’s training, Carmen sends him a Dear John video letter (which arrives in the form of an ultra-futuristic mini-CD). She intends to pursue a career as a pilot, which means they can’t be together. And as an added bonus, she’ll be serving under Xander (ouch!).

Next, we find Rico leading the recruits in a training exercise using live ammo. This tragically leads to the death of one of the recruits, and somehow, Rico is blamed for it. As a result, he’s flogged publicly and resigns his commission.

But then the bugs send a meteor that destroys Buenos Aires, including Rico’s entire family. Naturally, he wants to be let back into the Mobile Infantry so he can personally fight the bugs. The ensuing battles mostly involve Rico and his fellow soldiers running around in a huge pack and shooting at anything that moves, which seems like a less than ideal strategy. Eventually, Rico is wounded and presumed dead, which I think means we’re supposed to feel bad for Carmen. But whether it’s due to the kinetic tone of the movie or just lame characterization, we don’t care at all what she, or any of the others, feel about Rico’s alleged “death”.

Rico is brought back to health without much fanfare, and he and Ace and Dizzy are reassigned to the Roughnecks, commanded by Rico’s former teacher Rasczak, who’s now been fitted with a mechanical arm. Here, the three recruits bond with another soldier named Sugar Watkins (Seth Gilliam). The group travels to “Planet P” in response to a distress call, and another tired cliché is trotted out as Dizzy confesses her love for Rico and they have sex just before the next big battle, which surely means somebody’s about to die.

Alas, said distress call turns out to be a trap set by the bugs themselves. The soldiers find corpses with their brains sucked out, and slowly realize the bugs are acquiring human intelligence. Just then, the team is swarmed by bugs, and both Rasczak and Dizzy die before Rico and the others are rescued by (what are the odds?) Carmen and Xander.

At Dizzy’s funeral, Rico, Carmen, and Carl reunite. The latter, who’s now a high-ranking intelligence officer (geez, way to be a prodigy at everything, Doogie) informs them that there’s a super-smart “brain bug” which has been the one sucking out brains and directing the other bugs. Carl tells Rico that he has to go back to Planet P and capture it. Despite seeing both his mentor and his one night stand become bug fodder, Rico is more than willing to get onboard with this plan.

During the next battle, Carmen’s ship goes down, and she and Xander get into an escape pod. They crash land on Planet P near some tunnels and end up getting captured by the bugs. Carl uses his psychic powers to divert Rico, Ace, and Watkins to their location.

Carmen and Xander are brought before the huge, disgusting brain bug (which was clearly designed to look like a giant vagina). It promptly makes short work of Xander by sticking one of its tendrils into his skull and sucking out his brain (not that he was using it, anyway). Carmen proves luckier as she cuts off the tendril with a knife before she too can get her brain sucked out.

Just then, Rico arrives, and with a small nuclear bomb as leverage, the humans are given free passage out of the tunnel. The bugs then give chase, and Watkins heroically blows himself up with the bomb to allow the others to escape.

After they make it to the surface, there’s an anticlimactic moment where we learn the brain bug has already been captured. This somehow means that the bugs are no longer a threat, so I guess there’s only one brain bug, then? Carl then makes physical contact with the thing (eww!) to read its thoughts, and he triumphantly announces, “It’s afraid!” Duh, and that makes two of us, but not for the same reasons.

The movie ends with clips showcasing the brain bug getting experimented on, and Rico, Ace, and Carmen showing off their military prowess in order to encourage others to recruit. What makes this outfit unique is that the grunts are so damn shiny.

This leads right back to what is, for me, the film’s Achilles’ heel: the characters. The main characters in RoboCop and Total Recall were instantly likable, so the viewer was immediately drawn into their plights. But all the characters here do is either blow shit up or engage in silly teenage theatrics.

Starship Troopers has it fair share of defenders who claim the whole film was meant as a satire of war films. The recruitment ads shown throughout the film (each concluding with the tagline, “Would you like to know more?”) seem to bear this out, but there’s one problem: The “satire” in these ads is painfully unsubtle and just plain silly. For example, one ad shows kids “doing their part” as they stomp bugs into the sidewalk. And these are small bugs here on Earth, not the giant ones that humanity is at war with. Another ad has a captured alien slashing up a cow, a lá Jurassic Park. If this is supposed to be satire, it’s not terribly clever satire.

And outside of the recruitment ads, this movie gives us almost nothing in the way of humor. It’s been argued that Verhoeven deliberately added stupid war-movie clichés and intentionally elicited terrible performances from his actors as a way to play up the satire. But if that’s true (and I certainly have my doubts), in the end we’re still watching a dumb, badly-acted, cliché-ridden film that’s mostly indistinguishable from the movies it’s supposedly satirizing.

In the plus column, Michael Ironside, who was a great villain in Total Recall, is terrific as a tough-as-nails sergeant. The film also understandably turned both Denise Richards and Dina Meyer into sex symbols, and the Carmen-Rico-Dizzy triangle (which wasn’t in the book, where Carmen is just a friend and Dizzy is male) may have been more interesting had these characters possessed more personality.

Another positive is the movie inspired the less-gory, but more-enjoyable animated series Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles, which aired from 1999-2000. But then again, the movie also inspired, at last count, three direct-to-video sequels of diminishing quality, so perhaps we should call it a wash.

As is customary with Verhoeven’s movies, the violence here is extreme, to say the least. Now, I’m not the sort who gets turned off by a movie just because it has gore. For instance, I can happily enjoy a meatball hoagie while watching The Fly. But the gore here is simply off-putting, mostly because it doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose and just feels gratuitous.

But the movie is never boring and, one could say, more exciting than the 1959 book of the same name, even though Verhoeven freely admits he didn’t finish reading it before making the movie. Both the movie and the book have vastly different takes on fascism. Whereas Heinlein has been accused of glorifying war and fascism, one can pretty easily see where Verhoeven stands on the issue, with obvious Nazi allusions throughout (Doogie Hitler MD dressed up like the Gestapo, Riefenstahl-esque propaganda in the recruitment films), but allusions on their own do not make a movie great. Starship Troopers is still a mostly silly film with a weak cast, and while it does entertain, I can’t quite list it as a favorite.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

"You don't really know much about Halloween. You've thought no further than the strange custom of having your children wear masks and go out begging for candy."
-Conal Cochran.

As I once noted, 1982 was an amazing year for science fiction and fantasy films. It was also a pretty good year for horror films. In addition to Poltergeist and The Thing, two of the most successful horror franchises of the decade came out with their respective third entries. The more successful of these, Friday the 13th Part 3D, had not only 3D, but, as Friday fans will tell you, this is the one in which Jason acquired his famous hockey mask.
The other, less successful film was Halloween III. This is because the Friday film, like almost all sequels, simply covered the same ground as its predecessors. Halloween III, on the other hand, actually did something quite bold. It did not have its serial killer, Michael Myers, at all. The story was completely unrelated to the Halloween entries that have come before or since.
Halloween's director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, after Halloween II became successful, decided to leave Michael Myers behind and attempted to make the series an anthology of sorts by having each entry be a different story pertaining to the Eve of All Saints.
This film, which was co-written by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale(who was not credited), begins with Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) cutting his visit to his ex-wife (Nancy Loomis) and their two children short when a frantic man is brought to his hospital, holding a Halloween mask of a jack o'lantern. Challis treats the man, one Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry), before a man mercilessly kills him, and then kills himself.
Challis later compares notes on the incident with Grimbridge's daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). They go to her father's store and learn that his last stop was at the factory which creates the masks, such as the one Harry was holding, in Santa Mira. This factory, called Silver Shamrock Novelties and headed by Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy), is basically the reason the town is thriving and, for Halloween, the company is enjoying success with the glow-in-the-dark masks, of which there are two other versions: a witch and a skull.
The lovers' (yes, they take the time to become that) inquiries into the factory lead to Ellie being captured. Dan is likewise captured when he attempts to save her, but he learns that Cochran's men, some of whom resemble the one who killed Harry, are really androids.
Cochran then reveals his plans to kill all children on Halloween night with his masks, which he plans to have them wear when a giveaway he has planned airs on TV.
He gives Dan a demonstration of this in the film's most shocking scene when Cochran kills his salesman Buddy Kupfur (Ralph Strait), his wife Betty (Jadeen Barbor) and their (ham-handedly named) son Little Buddy (Brad Schacter).
Dan finds Ellie and destroys Cochran and his factory. But his attempts to alert authorities to the impending mass slaughter are initially deterred when Ellie turns out to be an android. After he defeats her, Dan goes to a gas station and desperately tells the networks to cancel the broadcast.
This movie is certainly not perfect. For instance, I find it hard to believe that so many kids would buy the same damn masks for Halloween. I also wonder why Ellie didn't wait until after Dan destroyed Cochran and his factory before trying to stop him.
But this movie deserves credit for trying something different in a way that no film series ever has. Indeed, the only reference to the original Halloween is seeing TV spots for it during this film.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace stated that the film may have been more successful if it didn't have Halloween III in its title. I can certainly understand that because there are some tense moments in the movie, especially the moment when Cochran kills Buddy and his family. It's also bizarre that Cochran wants to go to all this trouble just to bring back the original spirit of Halloween. I mean, Charlie Brown disliked how Christmas was commercialized, but you didn't see him try to wipe out children everywhere on December 25.
I also liked the nods to the classic movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1956). Like that film, this one takes place in a town called Santa Mira. Wallace stated that the final scene, with Dan desperately screaming that the commercial be stopped, is another nod to Snatchers.
Alas, the failure of this movie led to a return to the status quo for the Halloween series for its next entry Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers(1988). The good news is that that movie, which rightly turned its stars Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell (both of whom I've had the pleasure of meeting if you refer to the pictures below) into beloved horror icons, was quite entertaining, and its success ensured that there would be more Halloween sequels (I must confess, though, I didn't care for Rob Zombie's Halloween flicks, even though Danielle was in them).
Hence, if any film could be considered a noble failure, it's Halloween III.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Favorite Guilty Pleasure Films

We all have films that are guilty pleasures for us; I'm certainly no exception. A while back, I wrote an article on detailing five movies which are guilty pleasures of mine. Those five are:

1. Basic Instinct (1992):
This Paul Verhoeven film may top the list for me because, for one thing, it stars Michael Douglas (can’t get more A-list than that) as a detective who becomes involved with the prime suspect in a murder (Sharon Stone, who deservedly became a star with this film). Douglas is tough with his colleagues but, even when he should throw the book at his suspect, she manages to get him into bed repeatedly. The fact that the object of his desires likes romancing both genders made this film unique (among thrillers anyway) and controversial because gay rights groups protested the film, calling it homophobic. Still, as I've noted before, the stars and the atmospheric Jerry Goldsmith score make it as entertaining as Verhoeven’s best films: Robocop (1987) and Total Recall (1990).

2. Wild Things (1998):
Like Stone, Denise Richards became a star playing a manipulative woman who prefers the company of both genders. In this film, she plays a rich girl who accuses a teacher (Matt Dillon) of assaulting her. Another student (Neve Campbell) later comes forward with the same accusation. This draws the increasing interest of the cop on the case (Kevin Bacon). Just when it looks like Dillon is finished, however, we find out that there is a lot more to the story than meets the eye. The later character revelations prove as entertaining as they are contrived. All four stars are great, but the scene stealer is Bill Murray as Dillon’s lawyer.

3. Cocktail (1988):
Tom Cruise spent most of the 1980s playing roles which required him to use his famous smile extensively. The most transparent (story-wise) yet most entertaining film of his from that period is this one. He plays a down-on-his-luck bartender who is taken under the wing of a pro (Bryan Brown). His confidence regained, Cruise relocates to Jamaica, where he falls in love with an artist (Elizabeth Shue). Like all characters in films like this, we have to wonder how they make ends meet since all they seem to do is mope at home or enjoy the nightlife. What makes this watchable, though, are Cruise and Shue, who are as appealing as ever. Interestingly, Cruise’s other 1988 film was the Oscar-winning drama Rain Man. Many of his subsequent films, happily, have matched that one in terms of quality.

4. Moonraker (1979):
Let’s face it, once Bondmania kicked into high gear with Goldfinger (1964) and the budgets on all subsequent Bond films just got bigger and bigger, sending 007 into outer space was inevitable. Here, Bond (Roger Moore, in his fourth outing in the role) must stop an evil industrialist (Michael Lonsdale) from killing all human life from his space station, from which he then intends to rule Earth with his master race of people. In fairness, this film is great fun (and no more outlandish than most other 007 films) if you just remove the stupid girlfriend the writers decided to give the villainous Jaws (Richard Kiel), in the same way that It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown(1977) is as much fun as the other Peanuts specials if you remove the scenes where Peppermint Patty & Lucy blame Charlie Brown for something Lucy did. The SFX and music are first rate, and the best part is the film is never boring, unlike its polar opposite, Licence to Kill (1989).

5. Obsessed (2009):
Imagine the overrated thriller, Fatal Attraction (1987), only with the male lead (here played by Idris Elba) as a decent individual, and his wife (Beyonce Knowles) taking matters into her own hands by fighting with the woman (Ali Larter) who wants to destroy their marriage. That is what makes this one watchable. I wonder, though, how things would have played out for this couple if they didn’t have that nice big house for two beautiful women to fight in.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Agony Booth review: Do marriages ruin TV shows?

My latest Agony Booth article looks at how, in light of the upcoming nuptials on The Big Bang Theory, marriage can enhance or break a TV series.

With filming of The Big Bang Theory’s eighth season now officially underway (and with Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, and Johnny Galecki set to become as overpaid as the average Hollywood A-lister), it’s time to look at a recent important development for the show.

The series’ seventh season ended with Leonard (Galecki) and Penny (Cuoco) becoming engaged. As damning as this may sound, they’ve basically had a Ross/Rachel relationship for the past few seasons—you know, repeatedly breaking up and making up, and breaking up again, ad nauseam. But at long last, they’re set to make their relationship official.

While many fans of Big Bang Theory are excited, some are wary, especially because they can point to a long list of other TV shows that were cancelled not long after the decision to have two of their main cast walk down the aisle. To be honest, I’m just as concerned that Big Bang Theory may become the latest casualty on that list.

Of course, the whole notion that a show’s romantic leads should never ever get together started with Moonlighting. Once that show’s protagonists, private detectives Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and David Addison (Bruce Willis) hooked up, the wit and edge that the series was known for just died. It also didn’t help that we no longer got to see the two of them actually solving crimes, but were rather forced to endure a string of episodes that simply focused on the uncertainty of where their relationship was headed. It became the focus of the series, and we no longer got to see Maddie and David engaged in the profession which endeared them to audiences in the first place.

The fallout from Moonlighting’s cancellation may have doomed another ABC show to a premature end. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman at first seemed to be doing things right. Its second season ended with Dean Cain’s Clark Kent proposing to Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane, and the third year began with Lois surprising Clark by revealing that she knew he was Superman. This led to episodes where both characters did some of the usual romantic bantering and soul-searching, while continuing to fight bad guys. As a result, it became a truly special moment when they got engaged in the middle of the third season.

Alas, all this goodwill, which generated the highest ratings for the series, came crashing down when ABC broadcast an episode promoted as the one where Lois and Clark finally get married. But the episode ended with the audience discovering that Clark actually married a clone of Lois (allegedly, the network didn’t want them to get together for real—were they afraid of another Maddie/David on their hands?). To add insult to injury, the real Lois, who had been kidnapped by her former fiancée Lex Luthor (John Shea), got amnesia while trying to escape from him, and would stay in mental limbo for the next four episodes. I kid you not; at one point, Lois actually thinks she’s a character from a story she’s written.

During this time, Luthor, and later an unscrupulous therapist both attempted to keep Lois from Clark by trying to convince her that she belonged with each of them. In other words, fans were promised a wedding, but given Melrose Place instead. It didn’t matter that Lois and Clark eventually reunited and would marry for real in the following season (that episode was lousy too, but I digress)—the damage was done. Fans understandably tuned out, which led to the show’s cancellation a year later.

So while Lois and Clark’s producers like to say that the show lost viewers because the two leads got married, those of us who were there and lived through it know that it was because the fans were lied to, and lost interest as a result.

This kind of fan backlash is probably why so many shows like The X-Files, Frasier, Friends, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and for a more recent example, Criminal Minds take the safer route by keeping the sexual tension between its leads going for as long as possible. Criminal Minds fans love the semi-romantic interplay between Shemar Moore’s Derek and Kirsten Vangsness’s Penelope, while TNG’s fans enjoyed similar scenes between Picard and Crusher, although TNG would go a bit further into this in its final season.

Before “marriage” became a series-killing dirty word, there were plenty of shows that kept wedded bliss from lasting long to ensure a quick return to the status quo. One of the most notorious examples of this is Bonanza, where the four Cartwright men seemed destined to retain their bachelorhood. For the entirety of the show’s 14-year run, every time one of the Cartwright sons got serious with a woman, she would either be killed or abruptly die from a disease. Heck, at the beginning of the series, Cartwright patriarch Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) had already been married and widowed three times [!], with each of his sons the result of a different marriage.

More recent series weren’t immune from this cliché either. For instance, there’s a second season episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, “Return of Callisto”, in which Xena’s sidekick Gabrielle gets married, only to become a widow before the next commercial break. Xena herself would actually marry in a three-parter during the show’s sixth season, but while she didn’t become widowed, that union was basically invalidated because Xena had amnesia at the time, and her jerk hubby, the King of Scandinavia, disappeared from the proceedings as fast as he arrived (and like many of the characters from Xena’s final two seasons, he wasn’t very interesting in the first place). Needless to say, no one seemed to care that this guy was never seen or heard from again after Xena escaped with her memory restored.

In fairness, some shows work quite well with married characters. Besides the obvious family sitcoms with a married mother and father, there are also shows like the detective series Hart to Hart where its two leads, played by Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, were married from the beginning. As a result, the show entertained by giving us two detectives who just happened to be married, without having to worry about following through on any will-they-or-won’t-they subplots.

A more recent example is Sherlock, in which Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson married Mary Morstan (played by Amanda Abbington, Freeman’s real-life partner) during the third season. Given the fact that the character comes from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon, Mary works rather nicely alongside Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes without overshadowing them. I don’t know what’s in store for the show’s upcoming fourth season, but I hope that nothing is done that undermines this new dynamic. I must point out though, that the Sherlock Holmes short story “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” stated that Mary died, although no explanation is given. If the series decides to kill off Mary, hopefully it will be done in a more dramatically satisfying way.

And then there are the shows that lie somewhere in the middle, where a romance doesn’t completely torpedo the series, but it doesn’t provide many memorable moments either. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, for instance, made it a point to hook up several of its main characters in its later seasons, such as Worf and Dax, as well as Kira and Odo, but even DS9’s fans (as overly rabid as they can sometimes be) aren’t necessarily quick to list, say, “You Are Cordially Invited” (the episode in which Worf and Dax get married) or “His Way” (where Kira and Odo confess their love) among DS9’s top ten episodes. It’s also interesting to note that both of these couples were no more by the end of the series.

As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to Worf’s romances, his finest moment was in the fourth season TNG episode “Reunion”, when he avenges the death of his lover K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson). She had been introduced two seasons earlier and quickly became a fan favorite, which is why, unlike Dax’s death, her murder was a truly shocking moment (though, perhaps this is because K’Ehleyr’s murder is never mentioned in the original trailers for the episode, whereas DS9’s “Tears of the Prophets” made it clear that one of the show’s regulars would meet a premature end). But the episode itself became a classic because Worf shows us what he’s truly made of when he avenges her murder, his career be damned. (Though, not that it mattered much, since Picard just gives him a slap on the wrist.)

In contrast, Worf on DS9 does essentially nothing to avenge Dax’s death. This is one of the reasons why DS9’s final season is also its worst, because it makes Worf as ineffectual as Harry Kim on Voyager, with the same bad luck in the romance department, no less. Yes, Farrell wanted off the show, but her death, along with K’Ehleyr’s, basically made Worf a punch line when it came to matters of love. And his romance with Deanna Troi, a bizarre storyline that ultimately went nowhere, was the only one that didn’t end in horrible tragedy.

So while it’s become a common thing to say that shows jump the shark as soon as two main characters hook up or get married, there are plenty of examples where a series bucks the trend. Will Big Bang Theory be one of them? I don’t see why not. After all, if Friends can last for a full decade in spite of all that Ross/Rachel nonsense, anything’s possible. All I ask is that after Penny and Leonard exchange vows, this development doesn’t take center stage on the show at the expense of everything else fans love about it. Here’s hoping Big Bang Theory can make the most of this new development and still keep its charm.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Summer Rental (1985)

"Well, it was very nice of Hal to find the place."
"It was very nice of him to tell me that I'm cracking up."
"You are not cracking up. You just need this rest."
"Rest? Didn't we just get back from Hawaii?"
"Jack, that was our honeymoon."
-Sandy and Jack Chester.

With another summer coming to a close, I thought I'd take a look at this film from Carl Reiner and starring the late, great John Candy. Unlike Chevy Chase, Candy was always able to project likability on screen, even if the film itself was bad. Heck, I'd go so far as to say that his dual role in Nothing But Trouble (1991) may have been regarded as a highlight in his career had the movie itself not been such a piece of junk. Even when Candy didn't play a likable character, like in JFK (1991), he still projected charisma.
But Candy projects both likability and charisma here, playing overworked air traffic controller Jack Chester. After almost causing two planes to collide, Chester is ordered to take a month off. Although reluctant at first, he takes his wife Sandy (Karen Austin), his children Jennifer (Kerri Green), Bobby (Joey Lawrence) and Laurie (Aubrey Jene) and the family dog to a resort town in Florida.
The vacation doesn't exactly start on a good note, when, after a few days, they discover that the home they rented is the wrong residence, when its owners return home one night. The correct home turns out to be nowhere near as luxurious.
Jack also has to deal with pompous sailor Al Pellet (Richard Crenna), who, as it turns out, becomes the owner of the Chesters' rental home when the previous owner dies.
Al rejects Jack's attempts to be friends, which leads to Jack, a former sailor himself, challenging him in an upcoming boat race.
The Chesters, pleased at seeing Jack re-energized, help him get a boat and get him acquainted with sailing again. The family is also helped by bartender Richard Scully (Rip Torn). With their help, Jack wins the race and stays an extra two weeks rent-free.
Story-wise, the movie offers nothing new, but Candy and the rest of the cast keep things lively throughout. For those of us who have had frustrating experiences vacationing (I'm no exception), this film is also a reminder that things could be worse.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cloak & Dagger (1984)

"Jack Flack always escapes!"
-Davey Osborne.

One of my colleagues recently posted an article about the best movies of 1984. Indeed, the many gems which came out that year include Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Splash, The Terminator, Starman, Tightrope, Romancing the Stone, Beverly Hills Cop, The Last Starfighter and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Another great movie which came out that year was this thriller, which, one could say, capitalized on the home video game craze that was beginning to take hold of many households, but, unlike the notoriously awful House of the Dead (2003), it did not exclusively depend on it to tell its story.

Davey Osborne (Henry Thomas) is a boy who recently lost his mother and has trouble connecting with his hard-working father Hal (Dabney Coleman). This is why he spends his time on role playing games, specifically Cloak & Dagger. The game's hero, superspy Jack Flack (also Coleman), even pops up to give Davey advice.

One day, Davey's friend, video game store owner Morris (William Forsythe, yes, that William Forsythe) sends Davey and his friend Kim (Christina Nigra) on a errand. It is during that run that Davey witnesses the murder of a man who gives Davey an Atari Cloak & Dagger game cartridge, telling them that it must not fall into the wrong hands. But the authorities, Kim and Hal don't believe Davey when he tries to tell them what happened.

It's not long, though, before Davey finds himself being chased by spies led by a man named Rice (Michael Murphy). At one point, they attempt to get the cartridge from Davey by kidnapping Kim, but he is able to save her with Jack's help. However, Rice manages to kill Morris and plant a bomb in Kim's walkie-talkie (yes, before cell phones dominated society, there were walkie-talkies) before Davey is kidnapped by a seemingly-friendly couple (John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan) who are confederates of Rice.

Eventually, Davey escapes and kills Rice after Jack tricks him. This angers Davey as he did not want to really kill anybody. His anger then turns to sadness as Jack vanishes, but Jack's voice encourages him to save Kim. Davey intercepts the couple who take him hostage and board a plane. But Hal, having heard about the killing of Rice, manages to sneak on board the plane when they demand a pilot. He and Davey manage to escape before the bomb goes off, killing the couple.

Some critics called this film 'Hitchcock for kids.' That certainly can't be a coincidence as its director, Richard Franklin, previously directed Psycho II (1982) and McIntire played the sheriff in Psycho (1960), while Nolan voiced Norman Bates's mother in the same film.

Thomas is every bit as good here as he was in E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) because, as in that film, he is playing an ordinary fun-loving kid, who winds up being involved in something overwhelming. Murphy is, at times, downright scary as Rice, especially in the climatic face-off between him and Davey, where the latter tells him that he does not want to kill him, but Rice simply says he wants Davey dead.

But the scene-stealer is Coleman, who is wonderful as both Hal and Jack, giving both characters subtle differences. One could easily see this dual role as Davey's desire to have his father in his life and the end when father and son emerge victorious and embrace will certainly bring a tear to the eye.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Finding Forrester (2000)

"Did you ever enter a writing contest?"
"Yeah, once."
"Did you win?"
"Well of course I won!"
"You win like money or something?
"Well, what did you win?"
"The Pulitzer."
-Jamal Wallace and William Forrester.

The great Sir Sean Connery officially announced his retirement from acting in 2003, the same year that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was released. Connery was unhappy with the making of that film, which led to his decision to retire. The movie was surprisingly dull, but Sir Sean was perfect casting as Allan Quartermain. If the film does indeed prove to be his final screen appearance, at least history will be able to say it was a great part, even if the movie itself couldn't be called that.

Before Gentlemen, though, Connery had a wonderful role in this movie as the title character, reclusive writer William 1Forrester. On a dare by friends, teenager Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) goes into Forrester's New York apartment and, after initial hostility, Forrester offers to help Wallace with his writing skills.

This leads to an improvement in Wallace's grades at his school, as well as suspicions of plagiarism from Wallace's professor Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham), who is an acquaintance of Forrester.

After turning down Wallace's invitation to watch him play a basketball game at Madison Square Garden (Forrester's anxiety issues keep him from being part of a crowd), the recluse agrees to meeting with him at Yankee Stadium late on night. It is here that Forrester tells him of his personal family drama, which led Forrester to writing his book Avalon Landing.

The two fall into conflict, though, when Wallace uses the beginning of one of Forrester's essays in his class, even though he promised him that the work would never leave his apartment. This leads to Crawford accusing Wallace of plagiarism, although Wallace is told that the charge will be dropped if he wins the state championship, which he does not!

But this does not stop Wallace from writing an essay to Forrester about friendship, which Forrester receives thanks to Wallace's brother Terrell (Busta Rhymes).

This leads to Forrester reading the essay himself at a school contest, which results in great applause from the audience. He also reveals to Crawford that Wallace had permission from him to submit his previous essay. As a result, the plagiarism charge against Wallace is dropped, to Crawford's chagrin.

A year later, Wallace learns that Forrester died of cancer. His lawyer (Matt Damon) informs Wallace that Forrester has left him the manuscript for another novel and wants Wallace to write the foreword for it.

When the movie was released, Connery told Roger Ebert that the movie was similar to his classic film The Man Who Would Be King (1975) in that, at its heart, it was a story of friendship. Indeed, the real meat of this story comes from the friendship which forms between Forrester and Wallace, in the same way that King's greatness comes from the friendship between the characters played by Connery and Sir Michael Caine.

It is also nice seeing Connery share the screen again with Abraham, as the two previously acted together in The Name of the Rose (1986).

The only complaint I have with the film is that Anna Paquin doesn't have much to do as Wallace's classmate Claire Spence. I suppose this was better, though, then having her and Wallace go through the motions of often found in dramas about schools.

I must also say that this movie, while given limited release, redeemed its director Gus Van Sant as his previous film was the ill-fated remake of Psycho (1998).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Agony Booth review: Marvel’s Transformers G1 Comic (1984-1991)

My recent review for the Agony Booth looks at the comic Marvel put out centering on the Transformers during their (pre-Michael Bay) height of fame in the 1980s.

Like many of my generation, I grew up loving the Transformers cartoon during the mid-to-late 1980s. After all, these were robots that could turn themselves into cars, planes, weapons, and even dinosaurs! What’s not to like here?

Hasbro introduced the Transformers in 1984, one year after a similar line of robots called the GoBots. Those toys were made by Tonka and also had a cartoon, which ran from 1983 until 1987. However, the GoBots faded into obscurity, while the Transformers increased in popularity, and Hasbro bought out Tonka in 1991.

Unlike Star Wars, the Transformers toys came along before the cartoon (the same applies to other lucrative Hasbro properties from the 1980s, like G.I. Joe and My Little Pony). Perhaps this is why the cartoon hasn’t aged well. Yes, you could say that about almost any animated show from that decade, but Transformers has actually aged worse than most, because its lapses in logic are even more bizarre than, say, Bugs Bunny climbing into a hot stove when he discovers a party going on inside.

For example, the Transformers series began with the three-part installment “More Than Meets the Eye”, which introduced the Autobots and the Decepticons, and showed us how their war took them from their home planet of Cybertron to Earth. It ended with the Decepticons presumably vanquished and the victorious Autobots preparing to return home. But in the very next episode, the Autobots are still on Earth, apparently with no plans to leave, even though they’re (initially) unaware that the Decepticons are still around.

Still, the cartoon proved popular enough to spawn an animated feature film in 1986. But alas, Transformers: The Movie ended up sucking hard, despite a great voice cast that included Leonard Nimoy, Scatman Crothers, Robert Stack, and the legendary Orson Welles in his final film role (which is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard).

The movie was as logic-free as the cartoon, but the main reason the fans (myself included) hated it was because of the arbitrary way it killed off not only Autobot leader Optimus Prime, but other beloved characters as well, including Starscream, who was always a good source of laughs on the show for how he constantly challenged the authority of Decepticon leader Megatron.

Actually, it wasn’t even the fact that those characters were killed off; it was more that they were killed off in lousy ways. For a good analogy, just think of the way James T. Kirk was killed off. In other words, their deaths had absolutely no relevance to the plot of the film, which had the Transformers dealing with a huge-ass Transformer named Unicron (voiced by Welles) who could transform into a planet. We now had a new boring Autobot leader named Rodimus Prime, and a resurrected Megatron (rechristened Galvatron) who, despite sounding like Spock, just wasn’t fun to watch without an underling who was batshit-crazy enough to challenge him.

So while I certainly don’t regret the time I devoted to collecting the toys, the cartoon is not something I’ve gone out of my way to get on DVD.

But at the same time the cartoon was on the air, Marvel Comics began publishing a Transformers comic book series. It started as a four-issue limited series (complete with an appearance from Spider-Man in issue #3) detailing the robots’ war and their arrival on Earth and Optimus Prime’s attempts to stop Megatron while protecting humanity, with a few slight tweaks (the Autobots’ nerdy human pal Spike is named “Buster” here).

Strong sales prompted Marvel to continue the series beyond issue #4. Which is why that particular issue ends on an unexpected note, with the remaining Autobots, having triumphed over the Decepticons, suddenly getting blown away by Shockwave.

The first few issues of the regular series dealt with Autobot medic Rachet, who was taking Buster’s dad Sparkplug to the hospital during the events of issue #4, as he attempted to rebuild his friends. Meanwhile, Megatron has to contend with Shockwave usurping his command.

Optimus and the other Autobots are eventually restored, but they have to deal not only with the Decepticons, but with other adversaries. One of these is a woman named Josie who, in issue #6, is horribly injured and paralyzed by Shockwave. However, Josie re-emerges stronger than ever by attaching electronic implants to herself and becoming a supervillain called “Circuit Breaker”. She then embarks on a mission to eradicate Transformers on both sides. Many of her victims are Autobots, although this plot point proves effective in issue #23, when she has to deal with the Decepticons Runabout and Runamuck.

In addition to this title, there was also a four-issue miniseries in which the Transformers shared the comic page with G.I. Joe, although that series is pretty ho-hum.

Unlike the cartoon, there were plenty of running plots in the comics which eventually came together, including numerous trips to Cybertron, which introduced us to other Autobots and Decepticons who later found their way to Earth.

One of these recurring plots occurred when the Headmasters were introduced, in another four-issue series. In that series, a group of Autobots, led by Fortress Maximus, and a group of Decepticons, led by Scorponok, take their conflict to the planet of Nebulos. Once there, Transformers on both sides agree to be partnered with natives of the planet to become either “Headmasters” (basically, a Transformer whose head transforms into a person) or “Targetmasters” (the same, only with the person transforming into a weapon).

They later join the Transformers on Earth in issue #38 after receiving a distress signal sent by Goldbug (the reincarnated form of the Autobot Bumblebee).

This leads to Optimus Prime—who was destroyed in issue #24 thanks to a video game, a WTF? moment if ever there was one—being resurrected in issue #42 as a “Powermaster” (in this case, a Nebulon partner transforms into his engine).

However, the series’ crowning moment came with its double-sized 50th issue, in which Decepticons Ratbat and Scorponok attempt to obtain the Underbase, a super-powerful database that Prime sent into space centuries earlier. However, Starscream manages to get the Underbase first and becomes powerful enough to wipe out all Transformers on both sides, until Prime tricks him into basically ODing on it. In a nutshell, this issue was everything Transformers: The Movie should have been: the stakes were much higher, and many plot elements of the series came together beautifully.

That issue could have concluded the series in a reasonable and admirable way, as none of the subsequent thirty issues reach this level of greatness again (for instance, Prime dies and returns to life yet again during this period). But there are still some good moments, such as Megatron returning in issue #56 (after presumably dying in #25), only to be caught in an explosion that merges him with Rachet, à la The Fly.

It’s also nice when Circuit Breaker finally gets even with Shockwave in issue #69. We even get to see Unicron, as well as a face-off between Megatron and Galvatron, which I suppose means the 1986 film wasn’t a total waste of time.

The series ended in 1991 with issue #80 (which amusingly bears the cover caption “#80 in a four-issue limited series”), in which Prime announces that the Autobots have won and can return to Cybertron.

Most of the series came from the pen of Bob Budiansky, who was the main writer until issue #55. The rest of the series came from writer Simon Furman, who wrote the Transformers comic in the UK, which readers on our side of the pond were able to get a look at via issues #33 and #34.

The series did suffer from some of the same ludicrous plot points as the cartoon. For instance, both Prime and Bumblebee died and came back almost as often as Kenny from South Park (though Prime and Bumblebee were a lot less annoying). In another issue, Buster thwarts a Decepticon’s plan to brainwash humans with (I kid you not!) a car wash.

Plus, there was the killing off of many of the Transformers in issue #50, which was done, like in the 1986 film, solely for the purpose of introducing new characters into the mix, even though it was done in a more dramatically satisfying way. In addition, Buster was basically Spike until, lo and behold, Spike himself was introduced as Buster’s big brother, and inexplicably became an Autobot leader when Fortress Maximus’ original partner Galen was killed in issue #38.

But overall, the good in the series outweighs the bad. One of the best moments is in issue #4 of the Headmasters miniseries, when Scorponok’s partner Lord Zarak realizes that his bonding with the Decepticon is slowly taking his humanity from him. This revelation leads to him freeing the partners of the Autobot Headmasters (who were captured in the previous issue) before Scorponok’s influence completely overtakes him. This plot point made Zarak a somewhat sympathetic and even tragic character (another nod to The Fly?) because moments such as these were rarely (if ever) seen on the cartoon.

The series presenting these kinds of issues, as well as conflict within the camps of both Autobots and Decepticons, is ultimately what made this series different and more interesting than the cartoon.

Even when the series officially finished, its continuity would be picked up just two years later when Marvel published the Transformers: Generation 2 series, and later, the Regeneration One series.

So, while people today may automatically think of the dumb, annoying Michael Bay films (starring the dumb, annoying Shia LeBeouf) when they think of the Transformers, this series proved that something dramatically intriguing can be mined out of its premise.

Happily, the series has been reissued in collector’s volumes, available now from IDW Publishing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Theater of Blood (1973)

"For thirty years the public has acknowledged that I was the master, and that this year my season of Shakespeare was the shining jewel in the crown of the immortal bard!"
-Edward Lionheart.

I recently wrote a review of the terrific comedy, Billy Shakespeare. The film, written, directed and co-edited by Deborah Voorhees, shows how we'd react to history's most famous playwright if he emerged in contemporary times.

Watching that film prompted me to look at another, more sinister look at Shakespeare. Theater of Blood tells the story of actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price), who, after apparently taking his own life two years earlier, sets out to kill all the critics who denied him the best actor of the year award.

Lionheart, aided by his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) and a group of tramps who nursed him back to health following his suicide attempt (Lionheart's fan club?), goes about these grisly tasks by re-enacting death scenes from Shakespeare's plays.

His first victim, George Maxwell (Michael Hordern), is stabbed to death by said misfits on March 15, a la the killing of the title character in Julius Caesar.

The next victim, Hector Snipe (Dennis Price), like Hector in Troilus and Cressida, is impaled through the heart with a spear before being dragged by a horse.

Lionheart next drugs Horace Sprout (Arthur Lowe) and his wife (Joan Hickson) to sleep before decapitating him, leading to his Mrs. getting the same wake-up call that Imogen did when she awakens to see Cloten in Cymbeline.

But Lionheart is not above taking dramatic license with the text he holds so dear when he permits Trevor Dickman (Harry Andrews) to be killed in order to satisfy the bloodlust of Lionheart's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

He also takes advantage of Oliver Larding's (Robert Coote) love for alcohol when he drowns him in a vat of wine, a la the Duke of Clarence's demise in Richard III.

The one critic Lionheart purposely does not kill is Solomon Psaltery (Jack Hawkins), whom he ensures goes to prison when he tricks him into killing his wife in a jealous rage, a la Othello.

Lionheart's plans begin to slightly derail when he attempts to kill Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) by re-enacting the sword fight between Tybalt and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Devlin, who has begun to suspect Lionheart as the murderer, fights admirably, but admits defeat when Lionheart overcomes him and basically tells him to get it over with. But Lionheart then decides to spare him for another time.

However, Lionheart's temporary mercy is not extended to Chloe Moon (Coral Browne, who later became Price's wife), whom Lionheart electrocutes with hair curlers as a modern-day version of Joan of Arc burning at the stake in Henry the VI: Part I.

Lionheart then kills Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley) by forcing him to eat his two poodles baked in a pie, just as Queen Tamora ate her children baked in a pie in Titus Andronicus.

He then attempts to kill Devlin again by taking him to a theater and threatening him with hot pokers in his eyes, a la the blinding of the Earl of Glouchester in King Lear, unless he announces Lionheart as the winner of the Critic's Circle Award.

Fortunately for Devlin, the police arrive in time to save him. Lionheart sets the theater on fire. When Edwina is killed in the confusion, Lionheart takes his daughter to the top of the burning building and quoting the end of Lear before falling to his death.

Some have noted the plot similarities between this film and The Abominable Dr. Phibes(1971), which also starred Price. In that film, he played the title character, who goes about killing the doctors he blames for the death of his wife by re-enacting the curses depicted in the Old Testament.

This film, while gorier, has more of a sense of humor. One could often tell the fun Price was having in many of the films he did, and that is probably never more apparent than it is here. He also has a wonderful supporting cast to back him up.

This film could be viewed as the precursor to Scream (1996) in that its killer commits his horrific acts using something he loves as inspiration (Devlin, at one point, tells Edwina that her father may have been praised more if he had done more than just Shakespeare).

Thankfully, this film never had the increasingly awful sequels Scream had.

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Unfinished Life (2005)

"You wanna know what I dreamed last night?"
"I dreamed you weren't such a miserable son of a bitch."
"That's not dreaming, that's wishful thinking."
-Mitch Bradley and Einar Gilkyson.

Since this Sunday is Father's Day, I decided to take a look at one of my dad's favorite films.

This story centers on Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez), who asks her estranged father-in-law Einar (Robert Redford) if she and her daughter Griff (Becca Gardner) can move in with him after Jean's latest romantic relationship ends badly.

Einar rooms on his Wyoming ranch with his partner Mitch Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who was attacked by a bear one year earlier and who is now cared for by Einar, who does so out of guilt as he was drunk at the time of his attack.

Although the death of Mitch's son, Griffin, put a rift on his relationship with Jean, he and Mitch soon befriend Griff. At the same time, Jean becomes smitten with the local sheriff (Josh Lucas), who manages to put the bear that attacked Mitch in the zoo.

Alas, Jean's last boyfriend Gary (Damian Lewis) tracks her down and causes trouble. Likewise, the bear is freed at Mitch's insistence.

After some (admittedly predictable) drama between Einar and Jean, he basically throws Guy out of town, while Mitch has a final face-to-face with the bear before it flees into the mountains.

Hands down, the pleasure of this film comes from the pairing of Redford and Freeman, two lions in winter if ever there were any. The funniest moment in the film is their reply when Griff asks them if they are gay.

Most everything else in this movie pales in comparison to seeing these two legends share the screen.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Stay Tuned (1992)

"Boy, this is strange!"
"Strange? I'm an animated rodent wearing high-heel running shoes. The word 'strange' is somehow lacking."
-Roy and Helen Knable.

Today is my sister's birthday, so I've decided to take a look at one of her favorite films. She and I are both fans of the great John Ritter. I was working at Borders when we got the news that he unexpectedly passed in 2003. Not long afterward, my sister asked me if I could get a DVD of Stay Tuned, which we had seen a few years earlier. It didn't take me long to get a copy for her.

In this film, Ritter plays Roy Knable, a Seattle man who, when not unhappily working as a salesman, passes the time by simply watching TV of all kinds, whether it's sporting events, soap operas, or just a good old action film. This time in front of the TV begins to anger his wife Helen (Pam Dawber), although their kids Diane (Heather McComb) and Darryl (David Tom), who also narrates the film, don't seem as neglected.

Soon after Helen smashes the TV, Roy is visited by the mysterious Mr. Spike (Jeffrey Jones), who gives Roy an up-to-date satellite system with 666 channels and programming such as Three Men and Rosemary's Baby, Northern Overexposure and My Three Sons of Bitches. When Helen sees the new system, she attempts to leave Roy before the systems satellite dish sucks them both into Hell Vision, which is basically TV hell.

Their first stop is a game show where the penalty for giving the wrong answer is death. After surviving that, they encounter Spike's former employee Crowley (Eugene Levy), who informs them that Spike arranges for souls to be killed in this world, but that they can leave if they survive for 24 hours.

As Roy and Helen go through various programs such as Duane's Underworld (which is much funnier than Mike Myers's 2008 film The Love Guru), Darryl and Diane (who were both out when Roy and Helen vanished) learn that their parents are prisoners of TV and manage to help them from the outside.

This leads to Spike honoring his contract with Roy by returning him home but not Helen, as she did not sign any contract. Roy, armed with his own remote control, save Helen in the western setting Spike trapped her in and goes through scenarios involving Star Trek: The Next Generation (prompting Roy to go "Holy Shatner!") and, the perfect in-joke for this film, Three's Company (although it'd have been nice if there had been a similar nod at Mork & Mindy), before he and Helen come home, leaving Spike and the mercy of their neighbors' mean dog, who got sucked into Hell Vision after the Knables returned.

The whole cast is pleasant and the TV scenarios are fun, but, hands down, the best moment of this film is the sequence where Roy and Helen are cartoon mice being chased by a robotic cat. The sequence, animated by Looney Tunes legend Chuck Jones, makes one wish that more of the film could have built around it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spielberg and Lucas: Then and Now

My recent review of War of the Worlds prompted me to take my own look at how its director Steven Spielberg and his friend George Lucas are both wrongfully blamed for creating the blockbuster mentality that Hollywood in currently engulfed in, as well as how they both hold up today as artists.

If my review sounded like I have Spielberg-bias, well, so be it. Along with Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, Spielberg is probably the only director who came onto the scene in the 1970s who basically still commands the same respect today.

One reason for this is that, unlike Lucas, Spielberg still respects the people who brought him the cachet he now enjoys. For example, even before he publicly apologized for unnecessarily tampering with his classic E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Spielberg ensured that the original version of that movie would be available for the public. Heck, he even apologized for his part in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). In the documentary The People vs. George Lucas (2010), film critic Rafik Djoumi commented that the disdain for Crystal Skull was more directed at Indy creator Lucas, rather than Spielberg.

Indeed, before Crystal Skull, Spielberg made his great, controversial drama Munich (2005), which scored him his sixth Oscar nomination as Best Director. Since Crystal Skull, Spielberg has gone on to direct War Horse (2011), The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and, most importantly, Lincoln (2012), which earned him another Oscar nomination for directing. At the same time, fan disdain towards Lucas continues due, in large part, to his stubborn refusal to allow the original versions of the original Star Wars trilogy to be available on blu-ray.

One of my colleagues recently posted an interesting article about how the success of Spielberg's Jaws(1975), which deservedly became a classic and a big moneymaker in spite of the incredible difficulty Spielberg and company had in making it, told Hollywood that summertime was the best time to put out the big budget escapist films. Star Wars took that even further by saying that films with special effects were certain to bring in the cash, regardless of the story.

A previous article on the same blog made an interesting comment regarding an article in GQ magazine a few years earlier. It stated that Top Gun (1986) may actually deserve the blame that some unfairly put on Jaws and Star Wars in terms of how movies are not only made but marketed. The trailer for that film basically tells the whole story and watching the music videos for the film's songs such as Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away is pretty much the same as watching the film itself since the scenes in those videos are the same as those in the movie itself.

What's interesting, though, is how Spielberg and Lucas went off on separate paths once Jaws and Star Wars came out. The making of both movies proved quite the ordeal for their respective directors. Spielberg, though, would go on to direct a number of great films after Jaws, starting with the science fiction drama Close Encounters of the Third Kind(1977). But his reputation as a escapist filmmaker probably emerged during the 1980s when he directed the first three Indiana Jones films and E.T., as well as produced such films as Poltergeist(1982), Gremlins(1984), The Goonies(1985), Back to the Future(1985) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit(1988), as well as the anthology series Amazing Stories (Spielberg directed a few episodes of that show). This perception may have cost him Oscar nominations for directing both The Color Purple(1985) and Empire of the Sun(1987). Happily, Spielberg would get Oscar gold for both Schindler's List(1993) and Saving Private Ryan(1998).

In contrast, Lucas would swear off sitting in the director's chair for over two decades after Star Wars, although he was very much involved with making both The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). He would continue to score by producing the Indy films, as well as Labyrinth (1986). But Jurassic Park (1993) would bring him back into the directing fold when he saw the great work his company, Industrial Light and Magic, had done for that film.

As a result, Lucas decided to direct all three Star Wars prequels himself. I don't need to remind anyone of how disappointing they all turned out to be. However, the seeds of disappointment were probably sewn in 1997, two years before the release of the first prequel The Phantom Menace. Star Wars turned 20 that year and Lucas decided to commemorate the occasion by not only re-releasing the movie, but by adding certain CGI-tweaks to the movie, which resulted in the Special Edition. These changes included the now-infamous way Han Solo shooting Greedo was redone.

But even this 1997 re-release wasn't the definitive edition of the original trilogy, according to Lucas. When the films hit DVD in 2004, there were even more changes, such as Jabba looking even more ridiculous than in the 1997 edition, and, even worse, inserting Hayden Christensen into the end of Jedi. Yet, Lucas still wasn't done because when the movies hit blu-ray in 2011, there were (yep!) more changes, such as Vader suddenly giving the patented Star Wars "NOOOO!" before he tosses the Emperor down that shaft.

I've made peace with the fact that the prequels were disappointing (I am still a Star Wars fan but have never purchased the prequels on DVD) and I'm also fine with the unnecessary changes George claims were always in his head when making the original films. All I, and others ask is that the original versions of the first trilogy be available on blu-ray in a nice pristine state (I must confess, though, I'm happy with the 2006 DVD versions, even though I can understand why some fans are not). Now that Disney owns Star Wars, maybe they can be talked into doing this.

Many were understandably upset when we heard that walkie-talkies were going to replace guns for the climax of E.T.. However, as far as I know, there was never a petition for Spielberg to restore the original version of the film because he had already announced that it would be available on DVD. In contrast, Lucas has repeatedly stated that the updated original version of the original Star Wars trilogy is the ONLY version and, shockingly, that it would cost too much money and time to release versions of the original theatrical cuts.

The fact that anything is too expensive for George just makes me laugh. When Red Tails (2012), which Lucas produced, was released, he announced, not for the first time, that he was going to retire from making movies like Star Wars and focus on smaller films.

It's ironic that we have yet to see any of these smaller films, while Spielberg has made a number of non-blockbuster movies.

Hence, I'm always looking forward to seeing the next Spielberg movie in the cinema, but go into a new Lucas picture with reservations. For his part, Spielberg defends Lucas and his rights to change the Star Wars films. I can't entirely disagree with that stance since they are friends and the movies do belong to Lucas. It is noteworthy, though, that Spielberg has basically moved on from the success he achieved in the 1970s, whereas Lucas is virtually milking his own 1970s success for all he can.