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.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Agony Booth review: Jaws and Taxi Driver

My latest Agony Booth work looks at two classics from the 1970s that have more in common than you may think.
In a previous article, I noted that Jaws and Taxi Driver would make an ideal double feature.

The former, based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, is about a massive great white shark terrorizing an island community, while the latter is about the mental disintegration of a lonely insomniac. So on the one hand, these two movies, which were released within less than a year of each other, couldn’t be more different. But given that both were released in the middle of the American Film Renaissance of the 1970s, it can be argued that there’s a kinship of sorts between these two classics.

I first thought of this years ago when I read a book (for the life of me, I forget the name) which made comparisons of the films of different directors.

The book stated that in Jaws, Roy Scheider’s Martin Brody reveals that, despite his fear of water, he moved to the island of Amity to raise his kids in what he believed to be a safer environment than his native New York. The Big Apple is also the setting for Taxi Driver which, the author wrote, illustrated the reason why Brody went to Amity.

In addition, both Brody and Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle are guys who aren’t looking to become public heroes. Brody is simply focused on raising his family and maintaining law and order in Amity, where he’s the chief of police. Bickle is a Vietnam vet who becomes a taxi driver simply as a way of coping with his psychological scars, even after he’s rejected by a beautiful political campaign worker named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). Although the fact that he takes her to see a porno probably doesn’t help matters.

But both protagonists are compelled to take action as their respective stories go on. Brody must take his aquaphobia head on when the shark that’s been terrorizing Amity strikes again, nearly killing one of his sons. Likewise, Bickle feels obligated to help guide teenager Iris (Jodie Foster) out of the life of prostitution she’s trapped in.

Both men also face obstacles along their new journeys. Brody and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) have quite a time convincing Amity’s mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) to close the beaches, as doing so will drastically cut into the summer revenue Amity depends on to survive during the winter. But Brody eventually talks Vaughn into paying the huge fee that shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) has asked for in order to secure his boat and services towards stopping the shark. However, Quint turns out to have issues himself, which he basically explains to Brody and Hooper by revealing that he was one of the few survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. That ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine toward the end of World War II, and nearly all the crewmen who survived the sinking were left in shark-infested waters for days before help finally arrived to save whoever was left. This mentality is what drives Quint to later burn out his ship’s engine, hence stranding the three of them in the middle of the ocean at the mercy of the shark. The beast manages to kill Quint and tear apart the shark cage Hooper is in before Brody blows it up by shooting an oxygen tank that’s in its mouth.

Bickle must contend with Sport (Harvey Keitel), Iris’s pimp. But while Brody is still able to keep his sanity in dealing with Quint, Bickle briefly loses his mind and attempts to murder presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), whom Betsy is campaigning for. It’s only after this attempt ends in failure that Bickle goes to Sport’s hideout, where he proceeds to gun down him and others. Bickle is stopped from killing himself when he runs out of ammunition.

However, both ordeals produce the same result: the protagonists unexpectedly become heroes. The shark no longer terrorizes Amity (yes, I’m ignoring the Jaws sequels and I advise you to do the same), while Iris is returned to her family.

Jaws director Steven Spielberg and Taxi Driver director Martin Scorsese first met in the late 1960s as they were beginning to direct movies. By the mid-’70s, Spielberg had attained critical acclaim with Duel and The Sugarland Express, as had Scorsese with Mean Streets and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. But both Jaws and Taxi Driver would mark a turning point in their careers, and the making of both films proved difficult.

The production of Jaws was horrendous to say the least, mainly because of the mechanical shark not working properly as the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean (where the boat sequences were shot) kept damaging it. This caused the production to go over budget and over schedule, leading some to think it would flop when it reached cinemas.

During this time, however, some of Spielberg’s friends, including Scorsese, came by the set to give him moral support. These friends even suggested to Spielberg that the shark blow up in the film’s climax. This gave the movie a more exciting ending than the book, in which the shark drowns after being weighted down, and is one reason why this is one of only two movies that I believe are better than the book (for the record, the other is The Godfather).

Scorsese had trouble finding an actress to play Iris. Many young actresses (including Linda Blair and Mariel Hemingway) turned down the role because of the subject matter, before Foster (who previously worked with Scorsese in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) agreed to take the part. In addition, Scorsese also had to deal with the MPAA, which initially gave Taxi Driver the dreaded X rating for violence.

During post-production, Scorsese reportedly obtained the desired R rating by de-saturating the blood seen in the final shootout in order to make it less prominent. Spielberg also visited him and helped edit the last 10 minutes of the movie, as well as watched legendary composer Bernard Herrmann score what became his final movie (Scorsese tells a funny story about this on the special features section of the Vertigo DVD). Sadly, Herrmann died just one day after completing his work on the film.

The success of both of these films changed the course of American cinema. Jaws brought about the summer blockbuster phenomenon, while Taxi Driver influenced the world of independent films. Hence, without Jaws, we may not have had The Matrix (I’m ignoring those sequels, too), while without Taxi Driver, we may not have had Clerks (you know, the good Kevin Smith film).

These two films each received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Original Score. Infamously, both were locked out of the Best Director category. This illustrates how the success of these movies became a double-edged sword for their directors for a time.

Jaws began the association Spielberg ended up having with escapist entertainment (which later included Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park), while Taxi Driver prompted people to associate Scorsese with more gritty fare (such as Goodfellas and Casino). This is why eyebrows were raised when they were later directing different types of films such as The Color Purple and The Age of Innocence.

But the two directors’ willingness to branch out in this manner is a reason why both are revered as the legends they are now. Heck, as far as I’m concerned, Spielberg and Scorsese have been doing those “experimental movies” that their pal George Lucas has been wasting his breath for years saying he plans to do.

However, both Jaws and Taxi Driver brought about less-than-desirable ramifications, as well.

Morons who didn’t know any better took Jaws as a message that all sharks should be hunted to extinction. As a result, there have been instances of massive shark hunting which has impacted not just the ocean, but humanity as well. Sharks keep the ecosystem in check by, among other things, keeping the zooplankton population down. Without sharks, zooplankton can increase overwhelmingly, making it impossible for people to enjoy activities on the beach. In addition, sharks have exceptional immune systems, which allow them to consume the carcinogens thrown into the ocean without being harmed. Hence, they help keep the oceans clean.

This is another reason why I prefer Jaws as a movie over the book: it clearly states that the shark in the story is not an ordinary shark! To his credit, Benchley, who co-wrote the Jaws screenplay with Carl Gottlieb (who had a small part in the movie), dedicated the rest of his life to preserving sharks before his passing in 2006. He even wrote a non-fiction book about sharks entitled Shark Trouble.

One person who saw Taxi Driver was a disturbed individual named John Hinckley, Jr. His fascination with Foster in that movie led him to take a page from Bickle’s book (including sporting the character’s mohawk) by attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981.

Shockingly, Hinckley’s attempt came close to being more successful than Bickle’s. A policeman and a Secret Service agent were both hit, while Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head. Reagan himself was shot in the chest, but happily would make a complete recovery. The other three victims survived as well, although Brady’s wound left him paralyzed, and his death in 2014 was ruled a homicide as the result of the shooting. Hinckley was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was institutionalized until September 2016. At present, he lives with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Some may consider Jaws and Taxi Driver dubious achievements as movies, but there’s no denying the impact they, and by extension their respective directors, ended up having on both cinema and the world.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Agony Booth review: Double Features

My latest Agony Booth article goes into nice ideas for double features.
Double features are almost as old as cinema itself. Before TV came around, a movie would be preceded by an animated short, a live-action short, a newsreel, and then the main feature. During the Great Depression, cinemas began to give customers two movies for the price of one in order to attract more ticket buyers. These presentations initially began with a low-budget film (the B-movie) before an interlude and then the main feature. This allowed studios that specialized in making B-movies, such as Republic, to become successful.

The revenue this generated soon led to major studios making their own B-movie features. This practice continues to thrive today, only nowadays these movies usually go straight to video (or streaming). Thanks to the advent of home video and later the internet, people can now have double features of all kinds in their own homes. Here now (in no particular order) are 10 great double features you can have at home and why I find them ideal.

Star Wars (1977)/Halloween (1978): These two films respectively rewrote the books on science fiction and horror (for good and bad, according to some) as it didn’t take long for imitators of both movies to flood cinemas in the wake of their successes. As it turns out, the villains in these movies (Darth Vader and Michael Myers) also wear what would become awesome Halloween costumes. Even the musical scores for both movies have become iconic, and rightly so. In addition, the first sequels for each film (The Empire Strikes Back and Halloween II) can make an ideal double feature since they each brought family connections into the narrative, influencing the directions of their respective franchises (again, for good and bad, according to some fans).

Hang ‘Em High (1968)/Night of the Living Dead (1968): By the end of the 1960s, Italian studios were basically churning out westerns and zombie pictures like they were pizzas. While neither of these films were Italian productions, both capitalized on that craze. Hang ‘Em High, Clint Eastwood’s first American-made western after the three he did with Sergio Leone made him a film star, involves a rancher (Eastwood) who survives a lynching and becomes deputized before hunting down the men who tried to kill him. Night of the Living Dead, an inexpensive production made in Pittsburgh, centers on a group of people who become trapped in a deserted house as reanimated corpses begin engulfing the countryside. Both movies have a gritty, harsh tone, and the fact that both premiered just after the shocking murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy may have made both films cathartic, if you will, for viewers.

Jaws (1975)/Taxi Driver (1976): I actually plan to go into more detail about these two movies at a later time. Needless to say, however, Jaws, Steven Spielberg’s classic film of a shark terrorizing an island community, set the bar when it came to blockbusters, while Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese’s classic picture about a loner (Robert De Niro) who ends up committing terrifying acts, did the same for independent films. One could also say they ended up coloring the public’s perceptions of their respective directors.

High Noon (1952)/Rio Bravo (1959): Two classic westerns released during the genre’s heyday. The former, in which Gary Cooper ends up facing bad guys alone when nobody is willing to assist him, was viewed as a critique of McCarthyism for the manner in which Cooper does the honorable thing. The latter, in which John Wayne fights bad guys with loyal men at his side, was viewed as a counterpoint to that argument, as Wayne’s character doesn’t spend much of the movie asking for assistance. Wayne even called High Noon “un-American”, which is what led to him and director Howard Hawks making Bravo. Regardless of political views, today both movies are rightfully embraced as masterpieces.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)/Labyrinth (1986): Both of these films involve young people who must enter a world they know from a book in order to save lives. NeverEnding Story centers on a lonely boy (Barret Oliver) reading a fantasy book, and as he reaches the end, he realizes that he’s the only one who can save a not-so-fictional land from destruction. Labyrinth stars then-unknown Jennifer Connelly as a fantasy-loving teenager who just wants to live in her own fantasy world and regrets her wish that her infant brother be taken away by the Goblin King (the late, great David Bowie), a character from the play she’s reading. She must then enter that fantasy world to save her brother, dealing with the Goblin King and his minions (created by the late, great Jim Henson). One could also say that both movies make a great argument for why reading is good.

Ghostbusters (1984)/Beetlejuice (1988): Two comedy classics involving ghosts. Ghostbusters centers on four men (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and the late Harold Ramis) who manage to make a lucrative business out of capturing ghosts. In lesser hands, Beetlejuice could have been just a Ghostbusters knock-off, but Tim Burton stirs things up with his film by making ghosts the main characters. In that film, a couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) have recently died and soon enlist the aid of the title character (Michael Keaton) to rid their home of its new owners, an act that they come to regret, as he has a reputation for wrecking havoc among both the living and the dead. Add the fact that both of these movies are hilarious and you have a great double feature.

The Terminator (1984)/Back to the Future (1985): Two time travel stories released in consecutive years. The first, which involves a murderous cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent back through time to change history by killing a woman (Linda Hamilton) before she can give birth to the man who will save humanity, was a nerve-jolting thriller, while the second, in which a teenager (Michael J. Fox) accidentally goes back in time thanks to a DeLorean his scientist friend (Christopher Lloyd) has modified, was a comedy. Both films also end up giving nice messages about the importance of believing in yourself and creating your own destiny.

Escape from New York (1981)/Blade Runner (1982): Both of these are science fiction films which show a near future with a dark, apocalyptic outlook that continues to influence the science fiction genre to this day. Escape from New York, which takes place in 1997, involves a criminal (Kurt Russell) being drafted into rescuing the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) by going into the title city (which is now a maximum security prison), where Air Force One crashed and the president was kidnapped by the dangerous criminals who now inhabit the city. Blade Runner involves a police detective (Harrison Ford) who must go through 2019 Los Angeles to terminate dangerous androids (Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy, and Brion James) who have arrived on Earth (where androids are banned) after violently escaping from an outer space colony (three more years to go as of this writing—let’s see if those colonies come about by then). Another interesting contrast is that Escape contains criticism of police and police actions (one of the characters in the film refers to the U.S. as a fascist state), while Ford’s character in Blade Runner spends much of the movie questioning himself and his actions, especially when he realizes his opponents aren’t as evil as society and his superiors have made them out to be.

Ray (2004)/Walk the Line (2005): Two biopics about music legends. Ray depicts the rise of Ray Charles (a brilliant, Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx) while Walk the Line does the same with music duo Johnny and June Carter Cash (Joaquin Phoenix and a brilliant, Oscar-winning Reese Witherspoon). Both movies do a fine job illustrating the trials and tribulations these artists went through (some of which were of their own making) as they fulfilled their dreams of making music, and thus, ensuring their places in history. Interestingly, both Charles and the Cashes passed away shortly before these films premiered, although both movies received their blessing.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)/Clue (1985): Rocky Horror (which, I must confess, I never really liked, but can understand why many do) is a musical-science fiction-comedy with not-so-subtle nods to Frankenstein, while Clue is a mystery-comedy based on the Parker Brothers board game of the same name. However, both films not only take place in mansions on dark and stormy nights, but both also feature memorable roles for Tim Curry. In Rocky Horror, he plays the doctor who was once described by Us magazine as “a bi-sexual Beetlejuice”, while in Clue, he plays a butler who ends up setting an evening of murder into motion after he invites several people over for dinner. In addition, both movies didn’t get much initial notice when they were released, but today have huge followings as well as midnight showings with audience members performing the action as it plays on screen.

HONORABLE MENTION: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)/Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985): As it’s Halloween, it seems appropriate to mention these two animated specials, which may be the most famous of all Halloween cartoons. In the first, Linus waits for the arrival of the Santa Claus-esque Great Pumpkin, while Charlie Brown ends up getting only rocks while trick-or-treating and Snoopy hunts for the Red Baron. In the second, Garfield enlists his dog sidekick Odie to go trick-or-treating with him (both dress up as pirates) in order to get more candy for himself, only for both to get caught up in a genuine ghost story (involving—what else?—pirates, which today reminds me a little of the setting of John Carpenter’s The Fog). The Garfield special actually bests Great Pumpkin in terms of having moments that make you jump, but both specials have a great deal of heart, making them the perfect Halloween treats for all ages.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Agony Booth review: November film predictions

This is another collaboration with some of my Agony Booth colleagues. This one looks at predictions for films coming out this November.
It’s time again for more movie predictions! November is almost upon us, when the studios take advantage of the big Thanksgiving holiday to roll out their more family-oriented blockbusters, while also beginning to trickle out the big contenders for year-end awards. Join us as we predict which of these movies will be HITs and which will BOMB based solely on watching the trailers!

(Read our October movie predictions!)

Our gurus this time around are Rick Lewis, Michael “Mendo” Novelli, Thomas Ricard, Rob Kirchgassner, Thomas Stockel, Joel Schlosberg, and Dr. Winston O’Boogie!

Doctor Strange (Nov 4)

After neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is injured in a car accident that destroys his career, he learns the mystic arts under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). After setting up shop in Greenwich Village, NYC, he uses his supernatural abilities to become an intermediary between the real world and higher dimensions.

Predictions:

Rick:
November is when Cumberbatch and Swinton usually go trawling for Oscars in quaint little indie films, not saving the world in capes and tights. But far be it from me to doubt Marvel. HIT.

Mendo: A HIT, obviously, though probably more along the lines of Ant-Man than Captain America. To me, at least, Doctor Strange works better as a supporting character rather than a star; I’ve always thought of him as the guy who pals around with Howard the Duck and helps She-Hulk with her legal cases. I doubt this will be as weird or wonderful as that, though.

Thomas R: As is often the case with Marvel, I see a lot of potential in the ideas on display but there’s no escaping a sense of déjà vu; in this case, it looks like they’re combining Inception’s urban dreamscapes with the portals from Thor: The Dark World, complete with obligatory nondescript villain. But it’s got the Marvel brand, so of course it’ll be a HIT.

Rob: Considering that other Marvel Comics characters have made a fortune on the big screen in recent years, there’s little reason to doubt that this will do any differently. Cumberbatch’s superstar status shouldn’t hurt its chances, either. HIT!

Thomas S: The only question here is, will it be a moderate success like Ant-Man, or a major hit like Civil War? To be honest, I’m thinking it’s going to fall somewhere in between, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s (spelled it right the first time, yes!) strong Sherlock Holmes fanbase drawing in bigger numbers. So, yeah, HIT.

Joel: It’s not outside of the realm of possibility that Marvel may get too far-out and incomprehensible for general audiences, but it’ll take more than one movie. They could even make a Howard the Duck movie a HIT at this point, and this is not a Howard the Duck movie.

Winston: I’ve been off the Marvel train since I went to see one of those movies (I think it was either Dark World or Age of Ultron) on the basis of gushing reviews, only to find out it was the same mediocre, cookie-cutter entertainment as the rest of them. And despite the allegedly “new and different” supernatural elements in this one, I expect Doctor Strange to be more of the same, and that, sadly, means it’ll be a HIT.

Hacksaw Ridge (Nov 4)

Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in 10 years is the true story of US Army medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who fought on the front lines of WWII but refused to kill or use a weapon due to his Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Historical spoiler alert: Doss saves 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa and becomes the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor.

Predictions:

Rick: Mel Gibson, WWII, true story… 15 years ago, it’d be a Best Picture lock. Now it’s nothing but red flags. BOMB.

Mendo: Will probably do very well among older audiences. My guess is that it’ll hang around for several weeks, never quite turning a profit in theaters, but do well enough on DVD and gain a permanent slot on the weekend TV circuit. BOMB.

Thomas R: Martyrized hero? Simple, folksy characterization? Graphic slow-mo violence designed to valorize suffering? This looks like a Mel Gibson movie, alright. Easy kidding aside, it’ll be interesting to see Gibson defend Christian pacifism and glorify war at the same time. I don’t know if it’ll be as big as American Sniper, but it’s bound to find similar audiences. HIT.

Rob: This movie certainly sounds like it could do well. The question is whether director Mel Gibson’s previous bad karma will affect it, especially since the trailer only refers to Gibson as “the Academy Award winning director of Braveheart.” Possible HIT!

Thomas S: And hey, it’s another trailer telling me exactly how the movie is going to end. Thanks, Hollywood! Another Oscar whoring movie I have no interest in seeing, but it’s probably going to be a HIT anyway.

Joel: Mel Gibson keeping himself off-screen and letting up-and-coming faces star in a Sergeant York for the war-weary that taps into patriotism and religiosity? And did I mention that Mel Gibson keeps himself off-screen? If anything he could possibly make can find an audience, it’s this. HIT.

Winston: It’s been long enough since Gibson’s last blowup that people are ready to give him a chance at redemption, plus the film is sure to draw in the same sizable Christian audience that turned out for The Passion of the Christ. HIT, provided no new tapes leak over the next week or so.

Trolls (Nov 4)

The biggest toy fad of the 1970s/1990s becomes a major DreamWorks animated release. Two trolls named Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) embark on a quest to save their village from being destroyed by Bergens, creatures who eat trolls. Also, the Timberlake-produced soundtrack has already spawned the #1 hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”

Predictions:

Rick: You ever order a Coke and the waiter says, “Is Pepsi okay?” Eh, no, not really. DreamWorks Animation movies always feel the exact same way to me. Rise of the Guardians, The Croods, Turbo, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Home… you can’t serve this stuff up to an audience that guzzles down Disney/Pixar and expect them not to notice the difference. Forgotten fads will do nothing to overcome that feeling. BOMB.

Mendo: Under any other circumstances, this would crush its opposition on opening weekend, because animated family movies always take the #1 spot. I predict it will place higher than Hacksaw Ridge, maybe even take the top spot from Strange if it lasts that long, but it’ll probably drop down the charts almost immediately thereafter. Unless it pulls a LEGO Movie and has a really good script. HIT.

Thomas R: Even the trailer can’t bother disguising the lack of plot; it just gives up halfway through in favor of a montage of typical DreamWorks gags and dance parties. Looks like manufactured cuteness at its most annoying, but young kids will probably love it. HIT.

Rob: This animated film is sure to please kids. HIT!

Thomas S: My God, is it time to be nostalgic for the ’90s already? I hate trolls, so I’m calling this one a BOMB.

Joel: “From the creators of Shrek” says it all: this trailer feels like it sat on a shelf since the mid-’00s. DreamWorks has moved on to better things, and so has its audience. BOMB.


Arrival (Nov 11)

Not to be confused with the 1996 Charlie Sheen film, Arrival depicts the sudden appearance of giant alien spacecraft across the globe. A team led by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called upon to translate their language, and as humanity rushes toward the brink of global war, Banks discovers there’s much more to the alien language than simple communication.

Predictions:

Rick: Amy Adams’s track record with alien saviors is spotty at best, but I’m digging the visuals here, so my fingers are crossed on this one. But what do I know; I’m one of the few who genuinely enjoyed Contact. HIT.

Mendo: I just don’t see Arrival being a huge hit. The trailer is so boring. Maybe if it wasn’t up against Doctor Strange it could carve out a nice run for itself, but this is a DVD movie all the way. BOMB!

Thomas R: Judging by the critical and commercial success of Interstellar and The Martian, Hollywood is experiencing something of a boom in smart, thoughtful sci-fi. Arrival gives every sign of following in those footsteps, with a hugely promising premise and a trailer that gives away just enough to whet our appetites without spelling too much out. HIT.

Rob: This one seems to be a cross between Contact and Independence Day. Still, Adams, along with co-stars Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner, could make this interesting. HIT!

Thomas S: First of all, congrats to Winston for remembering a time when Charlie Sheen was actually a decent actor and not a walking joke (and yes, I’m sorry he has HIV, but is anyone surprised?). As for Arrival, from the visuals to the cast to the premise, this movie looks awesome and I am soooooo hoping it’s going to be a hit. But the bitter old man in me sees that without a rockstar director like Christopher Nolan being attached to it, Arrival is going to BOMB.

Joel: There’s a lot more of a following for this sort of low-key sci-fi in the 2010s than there was in 1996. And less than a third of a budget of Independence Day: Resurgence is going towards subtler but better-looking effects. HIT.

Winston: Sure, the trailers are intriguing, but the buzz is that the film starts off straightforward but eventually turns into a complex, non-linear final act that will frustrate and confound most viewers. It apparently is less Interstellar and more Under the Skin. I’m so there, but I think word of mouth from those who go in expecting a special effects extravaganza is not going to help this one. BOMB.


Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Nov 11)

From director Ang Lee comes the story of a young soldier named Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who’s sent on a victory tour after a traumatic and well-publicized battle in Iraq. As he prepares for an appearance in the halftime show at a Thanksgiving day football game, flashbacks reveal the tragic reality of what actually happened during the battle. Also of note: this is the first major release shot in the hyper-real high frame rate of 120fps.

Predictions:

Rick: Ang Lee and football go together about as well as Ang Lee and the Hulk. BOMB.

Mendo: Being an Ang Lee film, the Oscar bait crowd will turn out for this one in full force. My Criswell prediction for this one is that it will debut at #3, just behind Strange and Trolls. HIT or BOMB, could go either way. It will be nice to see Steve Martin on screen again, though!

Thomas R: Is America finally ready for a serious examination of modern-day war heroism and how the military-industrial-media complex affects our perceptions of what that means? Perhaps, but that’s assuming Ang Lee doesn’t sacrifice his ideas on the altar of visual prowess, which Life of Pi occasionally did. It may garner some interest, but somehow I doubt it’ll live up to its ambitions. BOMB.

Rob: This film, based on the book by Ben Fountain, sounds like an intriguing tale. The supporting cast, which includes Kristen Stewart and Steve Martin, shouldn’t hurt either. HIT!

Thomas S: Ah, I feel all kinds of terrible calling this one “Oscar whoring” like I did with Hacksaw Ridge (mainly, I think, because that’s World War II, and there is the detachment of time), but I can’t help but feel cynical about the placement of its release date. It does seem to have a more interesting feel, what with the way a hero is paraded out to a celebration in front of an audience that probably doesn’t understand what he’s done or why, but I’m thinking it’s going to be a BOMB regardless.

Joel: When actors as sometimes-popular as Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel, and Steve Martin are top-billed in the credits but nowhere to be seen in the trailer, something’s amiss. BOMB.

Winston: I suppose the director of Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi, and Lust, Caution deserves the benefit of the doubt, but Lee seems all wrong for this material. The source novel reportedly has a Catch-22-like satirical tone, whereas this trailer looks way too self-serious. And while I’ll probably see it just to experience what 120 frames per second is like, I can’t imagine that being much of a selling point after Peter Jackson’s failed attempt at popularizing high frame rates. BOMB.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Nov 18)

In this Harry Potter prequel (the first of five, all based on a 128 page book), it’s 1926 and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York after a trip around the world to document (and in some cases, rescue) magical creatures. Alas, a “No-Maj” (the American word for Muggle) inadvertently releases some of the creatures, and it’s up to Newt and friends to recover the beasts and stop dark forces from provoking a war between the Wizards and the No-Maj-es.

Predictions:

Rick: G#DD@%N M#@!$RF#%$!NG PREQUELS. I HATE THEM SO MUCH. But I’ll be there opening night. HIT.

Mendo: Oh, this is going to be such a HIT, it’ll be, like, DISCOUNT HIT WAREHOUSE all up in this piece! Okay, so it’s not quite a Harry Potter movie, but dammit, it’ll have the same spirit! It’ll be interesting to see if it takes the top spot from Strange, but if this debuts any lower than #2, all bets are off for the rest of the year.

Thomas S: Have we outgrown the Potterverse? My inner child just clubbed my bitter old man at the very thought. HIT. Moving on.

Rob: I doubt this’ll do anything the Potter series didn’t already do. BOMB!

Thomas R: I grew up loving the Harry Potter books and films, but this unsolicited prequel looks bloated and unwieldy enough to make the Hobbit trilogy look restrained. Nostalgic Potter fans and their kids will likely make it a HIT, but I wouldn’t count on all four [!] sequels to materialize.

Joel: Five movies is a stretch, but as with The Phantom Menace and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the fanbase will at least show up for the first one. HIT.



The Edge of Seventeen (Nov 18)

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is having an awkward time getting through high school, which is made even worse when she learns her brother has been secretly dating her best friend. But she might be able to survive with the help of her history teacher (Woody Harrelson) and a friendship with a boy who’s just as awkward as she is.


Predictions:

Rick: Partly because modern TV writing is so rich and complex these days, poignant character studies like this just don’t bring people to the multiplex anymore. Still, the bar is going to be low enough for this to be considered a HIT.

Mendo: Believe it or not, this is the one I’m most looking forward to. Oh, it will BOMB in theaters (spectacularly, I should imagine), but the Netflix crowd will eat this one up. Future cult classic in the making!

Thomas R: Are they really still making these? I thought we’d passed the “whiny indie teenage comedy” fad roughly seven years ago. It’s apparently gotten rave reviews, but I don’t expect it to make much more than its original budget. BOMB.

Rob: Coming of age dramas are known to be hit and miss. But this one could be a HIT!

Thomas S: I legit laughed a lot at this trailer. Woody Harrelson looks awesome in this role and Hailee Steinfeld might come across as whiny but also sympathetic. I’m going with HIT here, as I think it’ll resonate with a young audience.

Joel: The target audience may have to ask their grandparents to explain the Beatles and Twins. BOMB.

Winston: The trailer didn’t wow me and I can’t really buy someone who looks like Hailee Steinfeld playing a misfit outcast, but looking at its competition, it doesn’t seem like there’s much else in theaters this month to appeal to the teenage girl demographic. Probably a low key HIT.



Life on the Line (Nov 18)

John Travolta stars as Texas power line worker Beau, who’s raising his orphaned niece (Kate Bosworth) and blaming himself for her father’s electrocution death. When a deadly storm hits, it’s up to Beau and his crew of hardworking family men to work “on the line” and keep the electrical grid running for the sake of their community.

Predictions:

Rick: This whole thing seems as unintentionally corny as its title. BOMB.

Mendo: Total dad movie. BOMB in theaters, followed by a semi-weekly airing on TNT from now until the day you die.

Thomas R: This looks like the kind of simple, working-man stories John Wayne might have done in the ’70s between two westerns. Except instead of the Duke, you get John Travolta with a beard and a Texan accent competing for which is fakest. I’m surprised this didn’t go straight to VOD. BOMB.

Rob: This movie is probably as clichéd as it sounds. Travolta’s recent track record doesn’t inspire much confidence either. BOMB!

Thomas S: Now that Nicolas Cage is making movies like Left Behind, can he and Travolta team back up to give us some more of that Face/Off-like magic? God knows both guys need a hit to reinvigorate their careers. BOMB.

Joel: If this were John Travolta’s latest periodic return to form, it wouldn’t have taken a year to reach theaters. BOMB.

Winston: Obviously, this thing is going to BOMB, I mean, who’s even heard of it before now? The truth is, I threw it on this list because it looks hilarious. A movie about heroic power line workers? Deepwater Horizon, this is not. A large number of Travolta’s films have been going direct-to-video in recent years (did you know he made a movie with De Niro?), so how this one escaped the same fate is anyone’s guess.



Moana (Nov 23)

In Disney’s latest animated outing, a Polynesian teenager (Auli’i Cravalho) goes on a quest to save her people and meets the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson). Together they travel across the ocean encountering treacherous monsters and other dangers on their way to a mythical island. Also, it’s a musical, featuring songs from Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Predictions:

Rick: Not coming anywhere close to Frozen doesn’t mean it’s not still a HIT.

Mendo: A HIT without question, but what strikes me as interesting is that people are making a huge deal out of this being a Disney movie without a love story in it (so, like Brave, basically?). Dunno why people dislike love stories so much, but like Brave, I’m in no hurry to see this one. I do love me some Dwayne Johnson, though.

Thomas S: Hey, remember that time when the Rock was making shit movies like Tooth Fairy and we thought he’d go the way of Hulk Hogan? Whodathunk years later everything he touched would seem to turn to gold. Oh, and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho sounds like she’ll hold her own. HIT.

Rob: This Disney film sounds like Kung Fu Panda set in Hawaii. BOMB!

Thomas R: I was on board until Dwayne Johnson hogged all the attention with his self-conscious jokes. Hopefully, this is another case of misleading marketing à la Frozen and this version of Maui won’t be too obnoxious. Regardless, it’s great to see Disney pay attention to Polynesian culture and it’ll likely do fine, though the Clements/Musker duo’s track record is a little spotty. HIT.

Joel: Given the roll they’re on with original animated features, any new one from Disney will be a HIT.



Allied (Nov 23)

In 1942 Casablanca, intelligence officer Max (Brad Pitt) meets French resistance fighter Marianne (Marion Cotillard). The two fall in love, but soon the government comes to believe that Marianne is really a Nazi spy, and Max may be called upon to kill her.

Predictions:

Rick: I’ve lost faith in director Robert Zemeckis, and writer Steven Knight’s last two movies (Burnt, Seventh Son) are notorious bombs. This one screams melodrama. BOMB.

Mendo: I want the WWII genre to die just as much as anyone else, but this trailer is ten kinds of sexy! A HIT with lovers of trashy romance.

Thomas S: Brad Pitt is kind of hit or miss for me, but he looks like he might be solid in this. And Marion Cotillard is a great actress. So I’m calling this one a HIT, but maybe that’s more of a hope than a prediction.

Rob: This is one of those stories that was basically old before it was new. The fact that this story is set in 1942 Casablanca only adds to the déjà vu. BOMB!

Thomas R: On paper, it sounds like the kind of story Hitchcock could have told in his sleep. Sadly, it looks like the entire cast and crew have gone and done exactly that. The Brangelina divorce might spark additional interest in the film, given the timing and circumstances, but it probably won’t be enough to save it from being a BOMB.

Joel: With Casablanca, Inglourious Basterds, and A Night in Casablanca readily available on video, why bother? BOMB.



Bad Santa 2 (Nov 23)

Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is back to his alcoholic, con-man ways as he teams up again with sidekick Marcus (Tony Cox) to rip off a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. They’re helped out by Willie’s equally foul-mouthed mother Sunny (Kathy Bates), but things get complicated when Willie finds himself falling for the charity director (Christina Hendricks).


Predictions:

Rick: It’s been way too long since the original, and way too many other “shockingly” raunchy comedies have come out in the meantime. BOMB.

Mendo: I like Bad Santa. I like the “Bad” sub-genre in general. I don’t even consider it to be that much of a red flag when a comedy gets a sequel, or if a sequel comes more than a decade after the original. (Admit it, you liked Blues Brothers 2000 the first time you saw it! It’s okay, Mendo won’t judge.) But they had to bring the kid back! Bringing everyone else back has the risk to become sad already, but now the gang truly is all here. Well, if the Zoolander series is any indicator, the first one being a bomb in theaters means this one will probably BOMB too.

Thomas S: I confess I never saw Bad Santa 1, but I’m guessing this is probably going to BOMB because it’s been too many years since the first one, and this just has the stink of desperation around it.

Rob: Sequels to comedy classics are almost never good (usually because they just aren’t as funny), so this one is on rather thin ice. BOMB!

Joel: Looks like it’s the same one joke as the first Bad Santa, but hey, that joke worked for an entire movie that time. Coming after an additional decade of terrible Christmas movies taking themselves too seriously, and PG-13 neutering all year round should make this a HIT.


Rules Don’t Apply (Nov 23)

Warren Beatty directs for the first time since 1998’s Bulworth. A project that began decades ago as a biopic of billionaire filmmaker and aviator Howard Hughes has since morphed into the tale of a 1950s actress (Lily Collins) who falls in love with her driver (Alden Ehrenreich), but finds their relationship hindered by Hughes (Beatty) and his strict rules against romantic relationships between his employees.

Predictions:

Rick: Beatty is too in love with himself to let anyone else shine, even if he’s moved the focus off Hughes himself. BOMB.

Mendo: I like Alden Ehrenreich. He was my favorite character in Hail, Caesar! (Incidentally, if you haven’t seen Hail, Caesar!, drop whatever you’re doing and watch it now.) There are a bunch of my favorite actors in this movie, to be honest, and I love that so many people want to make movies about the forgotten stories of the Golden Age of Hollywood, but was anybody asking for this story to be told? BOMB, though I’ll probably see it.

Thomas R: This is one of the worst-edited trailers I’ve ever seen for a film with so many big names attached to it. I like Warren Beatty and I love a good comeback as much as the next guy, but this doesn’t seem to be it: Sappy music, dimestore-novel romance, flat cinematography, poorly-stitched voiceover lines… This has all the makings of a BOMB.

Rob: Considering Beatty has top billing, the film doesn’t seem to know whether it’s about him or the two lovebirds. BOMB!

Thomas S: Warren Beatty’s still alive? Huh. BOMB.

Joel: He’s not playing Dick Tracy again, anything Howard Hughes-related is cinematic, and Suck.com is no longer around to make fun of him. Beatty should have a hard time messing this one up. HIT.

Winston: As with Ang Lee, I suppose the director of Reds and Heaven Can Wait deserves the benefit of the doubt, but I think this is a movie that’s been kicking around for way too long. Case in point: Beatty is now a decade older than the real Howard Hughes when he died. If there were something truly great and worthwhile here, Beatty would have already made this movie a long time ago. BOMB.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Night of the Living Bread (1990)

"Well, things are pretty chaotic right now. But we are doing everything we can to maintain a sense of normalcy. In fact, we're about to give communion."
"Communion? Doesn't that involve the use of the holy wafer? A form of bread?"
-Fr. Bryne and Jeff Drexel.


Like Hardware Wars, this is a delightful short film about a movie that unexpectedly became a major part of pop culture. It was made by filmmaker Kevin O'Brien at Ohio University.
In this 8-minute parody of Night of the Living Dead (1968), people are inexplicably attacked by slices of bread. Like its namesake, this movie begins with Barbra (Katie Harris) and her brother Johnny (Steve Herminghausen) are attacked upon arriving at a cemetery.
Johnny is smothered by the bread before Barbra takes refuge in a house along with Ben (Vince Ware). They attempt to escape along with fellow refugees Tom (Robert J. Saunders) and Judy (Gina Saunders). This includes warding the bread off with toasters and bolting the windows with sandwich bags. They also watch TV to keep up to date on the situation, only to have the power go out after learning of communion wafers attacking people at a church which is being used as an emergency shelter.
Alas, bread in a lunch bag inside the house kills Tom and the ladies, leaving Ben the only survivor until the morning when he's covered with bread as he opens the front door.
I think it's safe to say that this spoof got George Romero's seal of approval as it can be found on some DVD editions of his classic zombie flick.
Fittingly, O'Brien acknowledges Romero and others involved with that film in the end credits.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Interview with Benita Ha

For my first interview for the Agony Booth, I had the pleasure of interviewing the delightful actress Benita Ha.


Benita Ha is a Canadian actress who’s appeared in numerous movies and television shows, including X-Men: The Last Stand. She’s also lent her voice to a number of video games, and is also a nurse! I recently had the pleasure of interviewing this talented lady.

Benita, you’ve been in numerous movies, including X-Men: The Last Stand. Are there any movies that you’ve done that are your favorites?

There are movies that I’ve done which are my favorites because of the experience I had working on them. I’ve had many good times and learned so much on different film projects. One highlight was Case 39 because I worked with Renee Zellweger who is one of the most graceful, personable, kind, and friendly actors I have had the privilege to work with. To see her acting up close was a mesmerizing experience for me. Her scene with me involved her going from anger, horror, to shock and then resignation all within a span of 60 seconds without uttering a word. I’m very grateful to have had this experience and to have met her.



You also have many TV appearances to your name. Do any of those stand out for you?

Two that stand out are Mysterious Ways and The Haunting Hour. In Mysterious Ways, I played a Teaching Assistant who turns out to be an Angel. In the Haunting Hour I played a “Tiger Mom” of a 15 year old.

What inspired you to become an actress?

When I came to Canada from Hong Kong, I learned how to speak English by watching TV shows endlessly! Sesame Street, The Brady Bunch, and The Carol Burnett Show were my favorites, and quickly I knew that I wanted to be on TV someday, too. Early on, I acted in school plays and then went to theatre school. I was in love and have been hooked ever since.



Many actresses and actors try their hand at directing as well. Do you foresee yourself going into that field?

There was a period of time I considered this, but it was a brief phase and I eventually realized that my true love is acting. There are many great directors out there and I love working with them!



You’ve also lent your voice to video games. How does that differ from working on movies or TV?

Video games are fun! I don’t have to get all gussied up and try to look perfect, which is refreshing in this business. Also, I can get totally immersed physically in a way that is different than for on-screen acting. Also, I don’t have to worry about lighting, hitting my mark, or getting rained on! It’s a different kind of freedom.



In addition, you’ve been a news anchor and reporter. What is that line of work like?

I’m grateful for that opportunity and learned a lot working in the newsroom. Eventually though, I decided that I like the world of make-believe more. However, I definitely incorporate my real-world news experience into any newscaster, news anchor and reporter roles I get.



Along with acting, you are also a registered nurse. What inspired you to enter that profession?

I’m actually a Licensed Practical Nurse. Years ago, I had the opportunity to take care of an 80 year old man who was half paralyzed and I really enjoyed it. Afterwards, I wanted to continue to be of service in a hands-on way, and so nursing entered the equation. I really enjoy it and haven’t looked back since. Also, I believe the varied things I’ve seen and experienced as a nurse have added depth and helped me be a better actor.



Are there any actors, actresses or directors you’d like to work with?

I would love to work with J.J. Abrams. There are many actors and actresses who would be wonderful to work with as well. Off the top of my head, Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep.



Who would you say are your biggest inspirations in your life?

Carol Burnett is definitely one. She is a living legend and my inspiration to become an actor. She has brought so much joy and laughter to our world and it was amazing to finally see her perform live here in Vancouver this summer.



Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?

I have a few projects soon to be released. If you’re a fan of Christmas movies, Christmas Cookies on the Hallmark Channel and Falling for Christmas (originally called A Snow Capped Christmas). I also recently shot a few episodes of Rogue, which is on DirectTV.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Agony Booth review: October movie predictions

This Agony Booth article was a collaboration between me and a few of my colleagues, regarding predictions for upcoming films.
It’s that time of year again, when the summer blockbuster season is long over and the studios bring us ostensibly more sophisticated fare. Join us as we predict the success or failure of every movie to be released in October (or at least, every movie we had something to say about) based solely on watching the trailers. If you find this article enlightening, let us know; it may become a monthly feature here at the Agony Booth.

Giving their predictions this first time around are: Joel Schlosberg, Julie Kushner, Rob Kirchgassner, Susan Velazquez, Thomas Ricard, Thomas Stockel, and Dr. Winston O’Boogie.

The Girl on the Train (Oct 7)
Emily Blunt rides the train every day and spies on/fantasizes about a husband and wife she passes along the way. The wife goes missing, Blunt witnesses something terrible from the train, and you have all the makings of this year’s Gone Girl.

Predictions:

Julie: I liked this book. I remember it being the “it” book to be reading the summer it came out. I’m having a little trouble buying the still-gorgeous looking, if maybe slightly in need of a nap, Emily Blunt as the frumpy, overweight, raging alcoholic Rachel character, whose personal appearance characters both male and female aggressively deride throughout the entire story. Nonetheless, the trailer gives the film that sleek, vaguely artsy, “murder is sexy” feel that Gone Girl had, like it’s custom-made to make the viewer feel cooler and smarter for being able to tell others they saw it and “appreciated its symbolism” or some nonsense like that. So I say, HIT!

Thomas R: Emily Blunt has been on a roll these past three years, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see her score her first Oscar nomination for this. The movie itself looks like a self-serious tabloid soap opera, but given the ingredients on display (rising movie star, sensational topic, bestselling source material), it should do very well at the box office. HIT.

Susan: I’m amazed the premise of this movie is built on the blurry, three-second-long view a person has when they look out a train window. I have so many questions about this: Are the owners of the houses bothered by the noise of the train? Does anybody else besides Emily Blunt notice the blonde couple having sex in front of the open windows? What are the property values like? Anyway, enough fans of the book will buy tickets just to confirm that the book was better. HIT.

Thomas S: Speaking as a fan of British mystery programs, the trailer was utterly ruined at the sound of the first American accent. But it’ll probably be a HIT.

Rob: Blunt is always worth watching, so if the movie does her justice, it’ll be a HIT.

Winston: This might aspire to be the next Gone Girl, but director Tate Taylor (The Help) is obviously no David Fincher. Likewise, Gone Girl had a star (Ben Affleck) whose name has some marquee value, which unfortunately can’t be said for Blunt or the Poor Man’s Jennifer Lawrence (AKA Haley Bennett). Still, it’s based on a successful trashy airport novel, so expect a respectable though not overwhelming HIT.

The Birth of a Nation (Oct 7)
The title of a 1915 KKK propaganda film is repurposed for the story of Nat Turner, a slave who led a rebellion in 1831 Virginia. This film got early buzz at festivals from those looking to defuse another possible #OscarsSoWhite controversy in 2017. Since then, 1999 rape charges against director Nate Parker and his co-writer have resurfaced, causing plenty of controversy and potentially dooming the film’s chances at the Oscars and at the box office.

Predictions:

Thomas R: Given America’s current political atmosphere, this should have no trouble finding an audience. I’m wary of the trailer’s calculated Oscar-baiting, and Nate Parker’s old rape charges make it all the more uncomfortable to watch, but there’s no denying how exciting the mere idea of a Nat Turner biopic named after a Ku Klux Klan propaganda film is. HIT.

Susan: Does the potential impact and value of an artistic work outweigh the sins of its creators? The answer is debatable, but I think it becomes less murky when the work isn’t any good. This is just a trailer, but The Birth of a Nation just looks terrible. The plot seems to be a beat by beat recreation of 12 Years a Slave, and the acting is so over-dramatic that I’m surprised Nat Turner doesn’t have a halo over his head and the villains don’t have mustaches to twirl. The quality of the film isn’t strong enough to cancel out Nate Parker’s PR nightmare. BOMB.

Thomas S: Oscar Bait, but it’ll probably do better numbers than Free State of Jones. Tentative HIT.

Rob: The 1915 movie of the same name is hated for treating the KKK as heroes but praised for its technical attributes. Story-wise, Nate Parker’s version seems to be a strong counterpoint to it, although Parker’s current personal drama will likely hurt the film at the box office (à la all of Mel Gibson’s films since Apocalypto). BOMB.

Winston: Regardless of Parker’s past, Nat Turner’s story deserves to be told, but it appears this film diverges a great deal from the historical record. Also, in their rush to secure a deal, the studio agreed to give Birth of a Nation a wide release, whereas this is clearly a film that needs to open small and expand as word of mouth builds. This one will likely end up like Free State of Jones and be forgotten in two weeks. BOMB.

Voyage of Time (Oct 7)
Terrence Malick takes time out from filming beaches, swimming pools, and twirling actresses for this documentary that’s essentially an expansion of the “birth of the galaxy” sequence from The Tree of Life. This examination of the birth and death of the universe will be released in two versions: a Brad Pitt-narrated 40-minute version specifically for IMAX theaters, and a feature-length version narrated by Cate Blanchett.

Predictions:

Julie: This reminds me of one of those soporific relaxation videos they put on YouTube to help people with their insomnia. In fact, I’m pretty sure I dozed off at least twice while watching the trailer. I may very well be sleeping right now on my keyboard as I type this. BOOMMBBBBZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Thomas R: After the unintentional self-parody that was Knight of Cups, I had hoped Malick would move on to something new. “Extended National Geographic documentary narrated by celebrities” wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but I’ll stay cautiously optimistic, though I expect most viewers will skip it. BOMB.

Susan: Oh, thank God that Cate Blanchett is doing the feature-length one. Time for me to go down to my local theater and be soothed by the sweet voice of a British woman who’s more beautiful and rich than I’ll ever be. HIT.

Thomas S: Sorry, but I don’t care how pretty your movie is, if it’s not Carl Sagan telling me how the universe began then I remain skeptical. BOMB.

Rob: A documentary about the origins of the universe written and directed by the legendary Malick is sure to draw the interest of cinemagoers. But there’s a chance people may want to wait for the feature-length version narrated by Cate Blanchett, given Brad Pitt’s current divorce drama. BOMB.

Joel: It’s like those James Cameron documentaries that nobody saw, except those had James Cameron. BOMB.

Winston: The abbreviated IMAX version looks intriguing and will probably be a HIT (assuming the bar for IMAX success is rather low). The longer Blanchett-narrated version, on the other hand, sounds like 90 minutes of pretentious twaddle and will likely be a BOMB.

The Accountant(Oct 14)
Ben Affleck stars as a mathematical genius (why are you laughing?) who works as an accountant for shady criminal organizations. With federal agent J.K. Simmons closing in, Affleck decides to take on a legitimate client, and he and Anna Kendrick uncover a discrepancy involving millions of dollars.

Predictions:

Julie: Best PR advertising campaign for a major in accounting I’ve ever seen. And they said audits aren’t sexy! HIT!

Thomas R: So, this is basically A Beautiful Mind if John Nash’s hallucinations were real? It looks pretty ridiculous, and the “autistic savant superhero” stereotype is more than a little played out, but I have a feeling enough people will like it for it to turn a modest profit. HIT.

Susan: Call me crazy, but I never really thought of Ben Affleck as a “smart guy”. I just don’t buy him as a socially awkward genius and a macho action hero, especially not in the same movie. Also, Anna Kendrick looks like she wandered in from a quirky indie comedy by mistake. The supporting casts looks great, but it’s too bad the leads are so miscast. BOMB.

Thomas S: So Affleck plays a genius (Will Hunting) who can shoot and is hunted by the feds (Jason Bourne), and he wears glasses (Tom Ripley)? I wonder if later in the movie he buys a zoo or goes to Mars. BOMB.

Rob: The title character, played by Ben Affleck, is one who works for dangerous people. Intriguing setup, but, like Pitt, Affleck is currently undergoing divorce drama which may cause this film to meet the same fate as Batman v. Superman. BOMB.

Joel: I never expected Good Will Hunting or A Beautiful Mind to appeal to general audiences, but they did. By extrapolation, this probably will as well. HIT.

Max Steel (Oct 14)
Based on the line of action figures from Mattel, a teenager named Max joins forces with his “techno-organic” alien companion Steel to become a superhero and fight whatever vague sinister forces are currently posing a threat to the galaxy.

Predictions:

Julie: Okay, so basically, it’s Spider-Man… wearing a bargain basement version of the Iron Man suit, with his wisecracking trusty pal Wall-E by his side to help him get the girl and save the world. I know Max Steel is supposed to be a popular line of toys for kids who were raised in a cardboard box, and therefore are unaware of how many cooler superhero characters exist in this universe, but this just sounds (and looks) like bad crossover fanfiction at best, and blatant plagiarism at worst. Me thinks someone is about to get sued. BOMB.

Thomas R: Apparently, someone in Hollywood watched the two Amazing Spider-Man films and thought: “You know what’s missing from these? An annoying talking robot and a vaguely menacing cloud of CGI!” Maybe enough kids will drag their parents to the theater for it to make a few bucks, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for any sequels. BOMB.

Susan: Bad acting, an annoying robot who serves as comic relief, and a vague urgency to save the world? Shouldn’t this have been a Disney Channel Original Movie instead? BOMB.

Thomas S: Yeah, I liked it better when it was called The Guyver. BOMB… BOMB… BOMB…

Rob: So it’s basically the old “guy tries to live up to his father’s legacy” plotline with a superhero twist. The trailer doesn’t really offer anything we haven’t seen before, but I’m still keeping an open mind about this one. HIT.

Joel: The trailer gave me flashbacks to Jupiter Ascending, The Last Mimzy, that Ratchet & Clank movie nobody but me saw, and that annoying flying robot in Flubber. BOMB.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Oct 21)
The first Jack Reacher was a surprise hit, and luckily there are like 20 more Jack Reacher books. Tom Cruise reprises his role as the former Army Major and private investigator, who this time is accused of murder. In attempting to clear his name, he uncovers a government conspiracy and learns he has a child he’s never met (who we assume was being kept away from him by a Suppressive Person).

Predictions:

Julie: I find it fitting that the subtitle for this sequel is “Never Go Back”, which is probably what most of the audience was saying upon leaving the theater after the first movie. BOMB.

Thomas R: While not without faults, the first Jack Reacher was a fun little pulp thriller which Tom Cruise carried surprisingly well. The sequel looks completely disposable, but it’s likely to be appreciated by middle-aged dads everywhere. HIT.

Susan: I would say BOMB, but people keep buying enough tickets to make more Jack Reacher movies, so I’m sure this one will make back its budget and leave the door open for more sequels. Hey, Tom Cruise has to make money somehow, right? HIT.

Thomas S: Am I the only one drooling over a Jack Reacher/John Wick crossover movie? C’mon, Hollywood, don’t make us wait twenty five years like you did with Alien vs Predator! Oh, and HIT.

Rob: Ever since Katie Holmes divorced him, Tom Cruise has basically just been cashing paychecks with both movies like this and the Mission: Impossible series. Hence, it doesn’t really matter if this movie is a HIT, because I think Cruise was at his most interesting when he did films that flexed his acting muscles, not just his physical ones.

Joel: Unlike Tom Hanks in Inferno, Tom Cruise looks like he wants to be here. And even if American audiences are tired of his off-screen antics, the first movie’s $140 million foreign box office demonstrated a reliable international following for his Jack Reacher. HIT.

Winston: I’m still unclear as to why the first movie earned such high marks from film fans, considering it had a meandering plot that made little sense and dragged on for over two hours. But Tom Cruise is one of the few names that can still open a film, and with the 65% box office rule of thumb about sequels, it’ll probably eke out a profit. HIT.

I’m Not Ashamed (Oct 21)
Rachel Scott was tragically murdered in the Columbine massacre, and reportedly her last words were to declare her belief in God. Her family has since turned her journals into six books about Rachel and her faith, and now comes this Christian-oriented take on Columbine from the same studio that brought us the God’s Not Dead series.

Predictions:

Julie: The whole concept behind this movie makes me uncomfortable, and, honestly, feels a bit exploitive to me, not just of Rachel Scott, the first murder victim of the Columbine massacre, but of all the Columbine victims and their families. The trailer also seems to unfairly characterize, or at least aggressively shade, these murders as a religious hate crime, when what they were was a crime against humanity. I imagine that due to its controversial subject matter and strong religious overtones, this film won’t see a wide release. Though it may gain a sizable (cult?) following among devout Christians, and experience a resurgence in popularity when it inevitably finds its home on the Christian television channel circuit, commercially, I’m going to say BOMB on this one.

Thomas R: While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating a life that was senselessly taken from the world or making sure that celebration reflects the person’s deeply-held Christian beliefs, I sincerely hope the film’s examination of the tragedy’s victims and perpetrators isn’t as naively simplistic as it looks. Good or bad, Pure Flix’s track record indicates this will likely end up a HIT.

Susan: No need to wonder if it was violent video games or cruel bullying that caused the Columbine shooting. According to the Rachel Joy Scott story, all those boys needed was to love Jesus! It’s a simplistic message that a Christian audience will swallow up easily while everyone else chokes on the cheesiness. BOMB.

Thomas S: The only part of that trailer I was remotely interested in was when the woman said “chain reaction”, which is an awesome Journey song. HIT, but only because it probably has a budget of a million dollars.

Rob: God’s Not Dead was not so much pro-Christian as it was anti-non-Christian (and, for the record, I’m a proud Catholic myself). If this film actually follows through with respecting the differences of others (as Rachel, played by Masey McLain, states in the trailer) then maybe it’ll be a HIT.

Joel: Too earnest for non-ironic crossover appeal, too earnest for ironic crossover appeal, and the culture wars that would energize the base have moved on. BOMB.

Winston: This will of course be a terrible film, but even God’s Not Dead 2 made back three times its budget. HIT, sadly.

Keeping Up with the Joneses (Oct 21)
Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher (your typical schlubby guy/hot chick comedy pairing) are a suburban couple who discover that their neighbors (Don Draper, Wonder Woman) are really secret government agents.

Predictions:

Julie: WARNING: The trailer will spoil this entire movie plot from start to finish in under three minutes, thereby saving you $13.00. Don Draper, you are responsible for creating the most famous Coke commercial and jingle of all time. I expected better from you than this. BOMB!

Thomas R: Action-comedies are really hard to pull off, especially if the mix you’re going for is “Judd Apatow sitcom meets Mr. & Mrs. Smith”. The trailer didn’t get so much as a lip twitch out of me, and I doubt the movie will fare much better. BOMB.

Susan: Wasn’t this movie already made? I believe it was called Date Night. Or maybe it was Knight and Day? No, wasn’t it Killers? Either way, it didn’t do well when it was a single guy and a single gal. How does doubling the numbers make a difference? BOMB.

Thomas S: Wow, I am so glad the studio was kind enough to tell me the plot of the entire movie in that trailer, saving me two hours of my life. Probably a HIT regardless.

Rob: Think of The ‘Burbs, only with the couple discovering their new neighbors are not murderous wackos, but secret agents. The trailer doesn’t provide too many laughs, so we’ll see. HIT.

Joel: They keep making spy spoofs, but those haven’t been megahit material since Austin Powers. And it looks too soft for action and raunchy comedy fans, but not soft enough for those whose tastes are for milder sitcom or rom-com humor. BOMB.

Inferno (Oct 28)
In this sequel to The Da Vinci Code, again directed by Ron Howard, Tom Hanks returns as symbologist Robert Langdon. This time around, he and Felicity Jones must solve clues hidden in Dante’s Divine Comedy in order to stop a global pandemic.

Predictions:

Susan: It doesn’t look as fun as Da Vinci Code, but it looks more engaging than the snooze-worthy Angels & Demons. Dan Brown has enough of a loyal following to get decent box office returns. HIT.

Thomas R: If you missed watching a confused-looking Tom Hanks running around European capitals to stare at paintings with attractive young female scientists, this might float your boat. But somehow, I get the feeling most viewers have moved on to other things in the intervening seven years. BOMB.

Thomas S: Remember what I said about The Joneses above? Yeah, ditto here. Still going to be a HIT because it’s Tom Hanks, and people seem to love watching him run around spouting what sounds like authentic historical stuff.

Rob: Definitely not to be confused with the Dario Argento film of the same name. Both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons were watchable but not superb, so I expect this one to follow suit. HIT.

Joel: Tom Hanks has difficulty remembering his previous exploits in his least-loved role, and so do we. Where’s Nicolas Cage when you need him? BOMB.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Agony Booth review: Calvin and Hobbes (1985-1995)

My newest Agony Booth work focuses on my mom's all-time favorite comic strip.

It probably goes without saying that the most influential comic strip of our time is Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. While certainly not the first strip to appear in daily newspapers, Schulz made Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang an indelible part of pop culture. One reason for this was that Schulz put a great deal of himself into the strip. He projected all his emotions, triumphs, and failures into those characters, which is why so many people identify with them in one way or another. Hence, it was hauntingly appropriate that Schulz’s passing in 2000 coincided with the publication of his final Peanuts strip, which announced his retirement.

In addition to merchandising, the great success of the strip translated memorably onto TV (which included enough Christmas specials to rival Disney) and even feature films. The most recent of these was last year’s delightful The Peanuts Movie, which did better justice to its predecessors than either Jurassic World or The Force Awakens.

Naturally, Peanuts has inspired other strips. Of these, the only one which truly had the same impact on pop culture was Jim Davis’s Garfield. Like Peanuts, that strip had merchandise and was adapted for both the big and small screens. Also, who hasn’t, at some point, heard a cat described as being like Garfield?

But another Peanuts-inspired strip which proved quite interesting was Calvin and Hobbes, created by Bill Watterson.

That strip, which first appeared in newspapers in November 1985, focused on a young boy named Calvin. But unlike Charlie Brown, Calvin basically delights in not seeking the approval of other children, all the while causing mischief and with quite the active imagination to boot. The strip begins with him “catching” a stuffed tiger in the woods near his home. He names this tiger Hobbes, and soon they’re constantly embarking on adventures together, even though, to anyone else, it’s simply Calvin playing with a stuffed animal.

Calvin’s imagination doesn’t stop with Hobbes, either. He often imagines himself as such figures as superhero Stupendous Man, private eye Tracer Bullet, and space explorer Spaceman Spiff. Other imaginary excursions which end up causing real mishaps include Calvin and Hobbes using a cardboard box as a time machine in one series (which they use to go back to the time of dinosaurs) and as a “transmogifier” in another series (which Calvin uses to turn himself into various animals, including a tiger).

One could describe Calvin as being as bratty as Lucy, but with Snoopy’s imagination. Hobbes, likewise, could be described as being as thoughtful as Linus, but with a bit of a mischievous streak himself.

Calvin was named for 16th Century theologian John Calvin, while Hobbes was named after 17th Century philosopher Thomas Hobbes. This somewhat explains the characteristics of the strip’s title characters. Like his 16th Century namesake, Calvin believes he’s destined for greatness, and even views some people as beneath him. Hobbes, likewise, is a rational figure, and is willing to give consideration to others (and, unlike Calvin, doesn’t mind the opposite sex).

Indeed, many of the laughs the strips generate come from Calvin impulsively doing something he thinks is cool, despite Hobbes urging caution. For instance, there’s one series of strips in which Calvin attempts to write a report for school on bats. As he doesn’t want to go to the trouble of doing actual research, Calvin simply states that bats are bugs (despite Hobbes questioning this), and with some fancy wording and a drawing of a bat that’s simply the Batman logo with fangs, just puts his report in a clear, plastic binder, thinking he’s guaranteed an A. Calvin is then shocked that his paper got an F and promptly buries it to avoid telling his parents.

Speaking of Calvin’s parents, they’re known in this strip simply as “Mom” and “Dad”. Neither they nor Calvin are ever given a surname. Nonetheless, this fits the format of the strip fine, as Calvin never has any need to identify the two as anything other than his parents.

One could argue that Calvin gets his penchant for outrageous lies from his dad. This is because there are several strips in which Calvin’s dad lies about certain things. For instance, one strip has Dad explaining that the sun is not really big, even though Calvin read that it was. There’s also his Dad sometimes questioning if Calvin is truly his child, which is not surprisingly another aspect of the strip that drew anger from some.

The only other relative of Calvin’s we ever see is his Uncle Max. He had one brief series of strips, but Watterson then dropped him, believing that future appearances wouldn’t work given how Calvin’s parents could never be addressed by their actual names.

One character who has a surname, however, is Calvin’s neighbor/classmate Susie Derkins. These two have a love-hate relationship, to say the least. Unlike Snoopy, Calvin is anything but romantic. As is not uncommon for children his age, Calvin becomes sickened at the thought of even being near members of the opposite sex. Susie basically represents Calvin’s aversion to girls, so much so that Calvin creates a club (with only himself and Hobbes as members) called G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS).

One girl that Calvin dares not cross, though, is Rosalyn, his frequent babysitter. She wastes no time in laying down the law with Calvin, and even takes advantage of his parents’ desperation to spend time away from him by frequently asking for more money. But this doesn’t stop Calvin from at least attempting to undermine her rule. In one series, he locks himself and Hobbes in the bathroom with her school papers, which he threatens to flush down the toilet if she doesn’t get him pizza and a video player. In another clash, Calvin succeeds in locking Rosalyn out of the house so he and Hobbes can simply gorge on Oreos while watching TV shows they aren’t supposed to.

But the magic of the strip is that Calvin is capable of generating sympathy as well. Despite his parents’ near-constant frustration, there are a couple of strips of Calvin spending some pleasant time with them. There are also his encounters with school bully Moe, once described by Calvin as a six-year-old who shaves. This shows that Calvin is going through that period of life that we all go through: where you get picked on and pick on others.

Showing both the good and bad of children in this manner ended up causing controversy in some circles. Examples of this included Calvin’s dismissal of girls as well as his view of school and bodily functions. In one of the Calvin and Hobbes collections, Watterson claims that the strip was even banned in some areas. He also wondered if he would be noted for being the first to use the word “booger” in a comic strip.

However, I can’t forget the bond the title characters share. They argue and even physically brawl on occasion (naturally, nobody believes Calvin when he states that Hobbes roughs him up) but the devotion they have to each other is never in doubt. This is evident in the fact that Calvin would rather spend time playing “Calvinball” (a game in which the rules are made up as you go along) with Hobbes rather than baseball with his classmates.

Watterson, who rarely gave interviews, concluded Calvin and Hobbes with a strip published on New Year’s Eve 1995. That strip simply has our two heroes going off in a sled following a nice snow-fall, which Hobbes compares to having a new sheet of paper to draw on. Believing he carried the strip as far as he could, Watterson has since retired to private life.

Another difference between this strip and Peanuts is that there was neither any merchandise nor TV/movie specials that came out of it. The only product related to this strip I ever recall seeing are car decals of Calvin urinating (with his back to us, of course).

Given the context of what the strip presented, though, perhaps this was for the best. I don’t know if I’d want a six-year-old to watch something involving a boy boasting about how disgusting his lunch is and constantly hating girls. Another plus to this was that it allowed the audience to create the characters’ voices in their own heads, just as we could do with Snoopy (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Snoopy: The Musical aside).

However, the title characters did appear in episodes of Robot Chicken and Family Guy. Heck, characters in the series Community even dressed up as them for Halloween in an episode of that series.

The strip’s influence continued in 2011 with the debut of the fan-made web comic Hobbes and Bacon from cartoonists Dan and Tom Heyerman. In that series, Calvin is an adult now married to (yep!) Susie, with whom they have a daughter, who’s now playing with Hobbes. That child is named for philosopher Francis Bacon.

Finally, I’d like to dedicate this review to Chuck, otherwise known as SFDebris. Just last month, he announced that he would stop taking review requests for his site at the end of September due to health issues. SFDebris began his illustrious web series with insightful and hilariously scathing reviews of Star Trek: Voyager. Since then, he’s looked at installments of other series (Trek and otherwise) as well as several movies and even some comics and video games. His work has always been inspiring to me. Sir, I wish you a complete recovery and look forward to the work you put out in the future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Agony Booth review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

My newest Agony Booth article looks at the latest entry in the Star Trek reboot series.
Star Trek Beyond had its premiere in July and, appropriately, was dedicated to both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. Like the two previous movies in the Star Trek reboot series, Beyond, which was co-written by Simon Pegg, has its moments, but lacks substance to place it in the same category of great science fiction as the classic series it’s based on.

The movie begins with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) negotiating with aliens who, for whatever reason, are pissed off, and in an attempt at visual humor, turn out not to be as imposing as the camera initially makes them seem. These small creatures malevolently attack and cover Kirk like they’re gremlins before Scotty (Pegg) beams him back. Kirk also gets a souvenir called an Abronath for his trouble.

Kirk next explains in his captain’s log that the Enterprise is now three years into the five-year mission it began at the conclusion of Into Darkness. He adds that, with his birthday approaching (a subtle nod to Kirk’s birthday in The Wrath of Khan), he’s struggling to find meaning in his life, away from the shadow of his father.

This begs the question of what happened to Carol Marcus, who joined the crew in the previous movie. Longtime fans know that in the original timeline, she and Kirk had a son David, who was tragically taken from Kirk by Klingons (led by Doc Brown, of all people) in The Search for Spock. But the reboot gave an opportunity to show that relationship in a new light. I don’t know if Alice Eve didn’t want to reprise her role here or not, but this was definitely a missed opportunity.

The Enterprise arrives at the awesome-looking new Starbase Yorktown, where Kirk is considering accepting a promotion. While not having Carol in this movie is a shame, we do see another crew member with a family life here, and that’s Sulu (John Cho). Star Trek: Generations revealed that Sulu had a daughter, and upon arriving at Yorktown, we see her as a little girl, with both her fathers, no less.

It’s also revealed that Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) have ended their relationship, and if that wasn’t enough, Spock receives word that his older self, Ambassador Spock (Nimoy) has died.

Not long afterward, however, Kirk gets orders to take the Enterprise on a rescue mission to a nearby nebula. An alien named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) informs the crew that her ship is stranded on a planet in the nebula. Upon arriving at the planet, named Altamid, the Enterprise encounters a swarm of small ships that quickly tear the hell out of it. The leader of these aliens, Krall (Idris Elba) boards the ship with his minions looking for the Abronath, but to no avail. As the ship gets torn to pieces for the third time in as many films (again? sheesh…), Kirk orders the crew to evacuate to Altamid.

As the ship’s saucer section crashes on the planet, Krall captures crewmembers including Uhura and Sulu. But Kirk manages to rendezvous with Chekov (Yelchin) and Kalara in the damaged saucer section. She then reveals herself to be one of Krall’s soldiers, and attempts to take the Abronath. But Kirk is one step ahead of her as he and Chekov escape by activating the saucer’s boosters. The fight ends with the saucer flipping over, crushing Kalara.

Elsewhere, Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban) are reunited and attempt to locate the others, while McCoy shows his unique bedside manner by tending to Spock’s wounds. The two later have a heart-to-heart where Spock informs him of both Ambassador Spock’s passing and his breakup with Uhura. However, it’s not clear whether they broke up because of Spock’s wish to attempt to keep his Vulcan family line going, or whether he wanted to simply continue the work his older self was doing.

Scotty turns out to be on another section of the planet, and after narrowly avoiding a fall over a cliff, is rescued from Krall’s men by Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). She informs Scotty that she escaped Krall’s prison some time ago and has taken refuge in what turns out to be the USS Franklin, a Federation ship reported missing a century earlier. We also learn that she enjoys listening to rock music in her spare time (gee, I wonder if that’ll become important later). Soon, Kirk, Chekov, Spock, and McCoy join Scotty on the ship and plot their rescue of the rest of the crew.

But Krall has managed to find the Abronath, which Kirk instructed Ensign Syl (Melissa Roxburgh) to hide inside her roomy head (that’s original). As Uhura attempts to talk sense into Krall, he uses the Abronath to complete a weapon that was created on the planet centuries ago. Krall then demonstrates it on Syl before announcing his plans to use it to attack Yorktown, and then the Federation.

Kirk and the others then launch an attack on Krall in order to transport the remaining crew onto the Franklin. But this doesn’t stop Krall from launching his fleet toward Yorktown. Spock and McCoy are able to beam onto one of the small ships and learn that VHF transmissions can disrupt the wavelength the ships operate on. As it so happens, Kayla has just the kind of transmissions needed to destroy these ships (what are the odds?). Naturally, this means that rock music is the only thing standing between the Federation and total annihilation. But I suppose this is no less ridiculous than aliens attempting to conquer the Federation with a video game in the Next Generation episode “The Game”.

As the ships are destroyed, Krall crashes into the Yorktown and blends into the evacuating populace. It’s at this point we get the plot twist that had to happen. Uhura looks at the Franklin’s logs and realizes that Krall is actually the Franklin’s captain, Balthazar Edison. She and Kirk also learn that Edison was a soldier who became disillusioned with peacetime after the Federation was formed, and that he blames the Federation for abandoning him and his crew once they were stranded on Altamid.

Apparently, the crew was able to somehow change their appearance by using technology they found on Altamid.

Kirk tracks Krall into Yorktown’s ventilation system as the villain tries to activate his super weapon. But Kirk manages to send both it and Krall into space before Spock and McCoy rescue him.

The film concludes with everyone celebrating Kirk’s birthday while staying on the Yorktown for the entire time that it takes for the Enterprise-A to get built. Not surprisingly, Kirk decides not to take the promotion offered to him, and Jayla is offered a chance to join Starfleet. It’s not clear if Spock and Uhura are a couple again, but there is a nice moment where he goes through Ambassador Spock’s things and comes across a picture of the original crew (which I guess Ambassador Spock just happened to have with him when he traveled back in time in the first reboot film). This is such a nice moment that I’m willing to forgive the fact that the pic itself is a group photo from Star Trek V.

In another nice touch, we hear the famous “Space, the final frontier…” speech with each of our seven characters reciting parts of it.

Like its two predecessors, this movie definitely has some plot holes. For instance, we learn that Jayla was able to keep the Franklin hidden from Krall by somehow cloaking it. I guess nobody managed to accidentally bump into it the whole time Krall was on the planet? Also, why did Krall wait until he just happened to come across Kirk to get the piece he needed to create his super weapon? How did he lose that piece in the first place?

I also think it goes without saying that seeing the Enterprise get ripped apart is getting very old.

In the plus column, Elba does a fine job as Krall, under makeup that makes the actor unrecognizable. The Yorktown itself is as awesome-looking as Spock flying inside V’Ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Also, Carol Marcus’s vanishing act, while a missed opportunity, did give Reboot Kirk a chance to go through a film without putting on his ladies’ man act. As I once noted, Kirk was much more than that, which is something Kevin Sorbo learned the hard way when he fucked up Andromeda (assuming Sorbo learned that lesson at all).

But again like its two predecessors, Beyond’s focus on being fun is at the expense of being something meaningful. It’s dumb fun, which more or less sums up the Trek reboot series. In fairness, Star Trek as dumb fun truly began with Voyager, specifically after that show decided to toss its premise out the window in order to put the action center stage. This decline continued with Enterprise when that series elected to do the same thing. But this makes the reboot series all the more disheartening, because the reboot was promoted as giving Trek a new lease on life. But apparently this new lease on life meant turning out movies that, stylistically, aren’t much different from all the other mindless action films that get released each summer. The fact that, unlike the original Trek movies, we don’t have to wait two years to see if Kirk comes back to life or if our crew will get a new ship, illustrates that.

While a movie or TV show being dumb fun isn’t a crime in and of itself, it’s somewhat sad that Star Trek began as smart, ahead-of-its-time science fiction and eventually became mindless (albeit enjoyable) fluff like, say, the Friday the 13th series.