Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Great (film) Debates vol. 55

Wow, that stunk. I really thought it would be better. . . so much better.

What film disappointed you most?

Panelist: BevfromNYC

The Kids Are Alright – for all of the hype and super liberal message – it was just an ordinary Hallmark Movie of the Week with an A-list cast.

Panelist: T-Rav

Oh, there have been so many, most of them sequels. But as for original(s), I have never been able to make it through any of the Mission: Impossible movies. I don't even know why, because they're clearly not bad movies, but I've never been impressed with them. They just aren't very interesting to me. Maybe that says more about me than the movies.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

I don't want to go with a film that had impossibly high expectations going in, so I'll say Get Low an indy regional pic starring Robert Duval about an East Tennessee moonshiner who held his own funeral as a party before he died. This had great potential, but was so damned slow.

Panelist: ScottDS

At the end of the day, I found I Am Legend to be very disappointing, especially after all the positive comments I'd read about it. I've never read the original story but it's obvious that the movie was gutted prior to release. That and the zombie CGI effects left much to be desired. It's a shame since there are great ideas on display and Will Smith is entertaining as always.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

I've got to with the granddaddy of disappointments: the Star Wars prequels. Seriously, how could they be that bad? Was this a joke? Did we offend George Lucas in some way? I don't understand.

Comments? Thoughts?

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Film Friday: Real Steel (2011)

Sports films tend to be very formulaic, and Real Steel is no exception. This film has all the usual moments as the heroes make their way to the final-act fight against the all-power enemy controlled by the vilest of bad guys. Total cliché. But you know what? The formula works, and Real Steel handles it quite nicely. This was a fun movie.

** spoiler alert **
The Plot
Real Steel is a combination father/son film and a boxing film, done with robots. It stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a former boxer who now owns a robot fighter. Kenton is broke and keeps tripping himself up at every opportunity by being rash. He accepts challenges too quickly and misses opportunities because he won’t stop to think. Kenton has a son, Max, who is being adopted by Kenton’s dead wife’s sister because Kenton doesn’t want him. Kenton wants money to make this happen and is, in essence, selling Max to the sister. Before this can happen, however, Max must spend a few weeks with Kenton. Hence, the father-son reconciliation plot is established.
Meanwhile, Kenton burns through all his money and his robots in a series of stupid mistakes made in bad fights. This results in Kenton and Max digging through a junkyard to find a new robot. Naturally, they stumble upon something special, the robot Atom. Max convinces Kenton to let Atom fight and soon finagles a match against the meanest robot of them all, the evil Zeus, designed by the nasty genius Tak Mashido and owned by the nasty heiress Farra Lemkova. We have our villains. During the fight, the voice control they use to operate Atom fails and Kenton must use his own boxing skills to guide Atom. And the winner is. . . well, I’ll let you find out yourselves.
The Formula
When I first heard about this film, I wondered what exactly they would do to make this film work. Boxing robots just isn’t naturally interesting to people because we can’t really sympathize with a machine that feels no pain and which doesn’t bleed. But the filmmakers were smart. Rather than just making this about the robots, they gave the audience the Max/Kenton reconciliation subplot, which they tied into Kenton’s robot winning. Thus, winning became important to the audience because they audience wants to see the father and son reconciled. Moreover, they cleverly found ways to make the audience prefer Kenton’s robot.

The reconciliation subplot is quite typical of father-son films. You have a son who feels that his father doesn’t care for him, and a father who must learn that his son is all he really cares about. So the film begins with the two characters about as far apart as possible to maximize the value of the eventual catharsis. In this case, Kenton is actually selling his son, and the son cares so little for the father that actually demands half the money! Could you get less love than that? Naturally, they are then thrown together and must learn to get along. Soon, they are arguing like actors in a buddy comedy as they slowly come to respect the other and finally to love each other. The moment where the respect turns to love is also punctuated with an excellent line when Kenton asks his son rhetorically what he wants from him and the son responds, “I want you to fight for me, that’s all I ever wanted!” This is a powerful moment in the film which will probably make you tear up and provides a satisfactory ending in and of itself, but the story isn’t done at that point. Instead, the fight with Zeus must still be fought.
Interestingly, the robot plot follows all the usual sports clichés, even though the robots aren’t human. The key robot, Atom, is presented as an underdog. It’s smaller and weaker than other robots. It’s not modern. In fact, they found it buried in the junkyard because no one saw any value in it. But it has one thing nobody realized. . . it can take a punch. That’s exactly what makes people like underdogs – they are seen as losers, but they have on special skill nobody cared about before. And being able to take a punch is something everyone respects.

Following the classic underdog storyline, Atom is laughed at by everyone until it wins its first fight. After that, it immediately becomes a crowd favorite, though the experts continue to laugh. This is sports populism and is common in sports stories. Each fight then plays out like every other film fight or every wrestling match, with the overmatched good guy brought down and nearly beaten before it suddenly discovers a reserve of will power and rises up to triumph over the opponent. Hulk Hogan became world famous doing this in every match he fought. Interestingly, the director even gives the sense that it is will power, rather than simply mathematics, which allows the robots to continue because the humans are cheering them on to stand back up and keep fighting. This is an important, but subtle, trick to humanize the robots.

Opposite the underdog is Zeus, the bad guy robot. Again, Zeus is the classic bad guy caricature. He’s made to appear larger than all the other robots, which makes him seem both unbeatable but also like he has an unfair natural advantage. He also wins his early matches in ways that seem unfair to the audience, such as when he knocks the arm off Kenton’s prior robot and then pummels the helpless robot into oblivion. Moreover, he was created by Tak Mashido who is presented as the arrogant, “hip” scientist who is too self-absorbed to even grant interviews and who disgustedly boasts that this challenge is beneath Zeus. Zeus’s owner is someone you dislike as well. She’s Farra Lemkova, an extremely beautiful, but cold rich woman who openly proclaims that she has spent whatever it took to buy a winner. This flies in the face of what people consider “fair” about sports, and is another example of sports populism. Zeus is primed for a fall.
Now, in truth, there is nothing evil about these villains. They don’t cheat, they don’t steal, they aren’t trying to kill Kenton or harm his relationship with his son, but they are presented a sufficiently arrogant that you won’t like them. What’s interesting about this choice of villains, however, is that they are also bland because they don’t do any of these things (cheat, steal, etc.) which allows the story to focus entirely on Kenton and his son rather than the machinations of the upcoming fight. This keeps the bond between Kenton and Max strong because the story doesn’t leave them for long stretches of unneeded subplots.

Finally, there is Kenton. Kenton is the perfect example of the modern Hollywood loveable fake-“loser.” He’s a great looking guy with a clean background and a heart of gold. He’s surprisingly capable of getting his hands on large amounts of money as needed. But he keeps failing because he’s rash and he lacks the ability to express himself to the people who love him. Both of these flaws will be solved through the relationship with his son, as his son teaches him the value of thinking through his decisions and shows him how to open up. The film then finishes with the perfect touch of redeeming Kenton’s lost career. Before the robots came along, Kenton was a professional boxer. But the robots replaced humans and human boxing ended. This is shown to be a sore spot for Kenton which makes him question his self-worth. But at the end of the film, Atom’s voice control is broken and Kenton must lead Atom through the fight with his own boxing moves. Kenton’s “outdated” skills save the day.

All of this may sound sentimental and it absolutely is, but it works extremely well. Despite the heavy-handed themes, the dialog is light enough that you never feel like you’re being hit in the face with the manipulation and the story is overall quite entertaining and fast paced. The actors have good chemistry too and the effects are excellent. But most importantly, the story feels inspiring. In every way, this film is just like a normal sports film like Rocky, despite the presence of robots, and it really does work.

I recommend this one.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Scott's Links September 2012

Scott roams the internet far and wide to ply his trade as a link dealer. Fortunately, Scott provides links free to us. Check these out. . . share your thoughts! And away we go. . .

Cable's walls are coming down

I have no more love for the cable company than you do, and it's not a political thing either. It's a 20th century business model in a 21st century reality. This multi-part feature looks at the various issues plaguing the cable industry (and its frequently-complaining customers). One thing is certain - neither side has all the answers. Yes, a pay-per-channel system would be great but there are legitimate reasons why it can't work, but that's not to say it won't happen in the future.

8 ways that judges have cited Star Trek from the bench

This one's for the lawyers! Star Trek turned 46 years old earlier this month and its power as a pop culture juggernaut shows no signs of stopping. "The saga of Starfleet has influenced how we think about ethics, morality, and the nature of civilization. Time and again, when sitting judges reach for a great metaphor, they mention the voyages of the Starship Enterprise."

10 movies we wish we'd seen in their original form

All the usual suspects are listed here, including the original cut of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons and the first cut of Dr. Strangelove which ended with a pie fight. As for me, my holy grails are the 3-hour rough cut of Planes, Trains & Automobiles (though I doubt it's remotely presentable) and the long-lost original roadshow version of The Blues Brothers, which was supposed to have an intermission!

How Hollywood accounting can make a $450 million movie "unprofitable"

This is one of my pet peeves about the film industry - its ridiculous business model. The filmmakers aren't necessarily the ones to blame, but the studios really do have some ridiculous accounting practices which have existed for years. "Creative accounting," indeed - Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom would be proud!

From Russia with Love is not unsophisticated - you are

I fear for our nation's cultural heritage. I can't count myself as typical since I'm a huge geek and I managed to grow up in a time when older films and TV shows still aired on TV. But ask a kid today about a movie made 30 years ago and you might as well be talking about the pyramids! I'll never understand the inability to engage with a piece of art or entertainment, while at the same time bearing in mind the time period in which it was made. Yes, some movies are dated - no need to denigrate them!

Why science fiction movies drive me nuts

This essay by author Cory Doctorow looks at the state of science fiction films today. He's a sci-fi guru so he's a bit biased but some of his observations are spot-on, especially the part about set design: "Let’s follow [Peter] Parker up into the labs, or rather 'labs.' Because although these are the home of cutting edge research, they look like no lab I’ve ever visited. Instead, they look like a highly polished phone-support bank, with glassed-in conference rooms around the edges that have been temporarily taken over with trade-show exhibits for new products."

What's the next technology that will change the way you watch movies?

Honestly, I have no idea what's next, though the folks interviewed for this article have one or two theories, mostly involving new innovations in visual effects: "The one thing we have not done to date is recreate a human. We've gotten close, but always an alien face. No one has made a human actor that was digital and convincing. Smeagol is great and expressive, but he's not 'human.' There has yet to be a [human] character that can stand up to scrutiny and come off as photoreal and alive."

The 13 greatest zombie movies ever made

Andrew, you'll be happy - Pontypool was given an "honorable mention." [smile] No surprises on this list and I can't disagree with any of them, though I'm no expert in the genre. Truth be told, I never considered Death Becomes Her a zombie movie. (And I'm partial to Zombieland simply because several people have compared me to Jesse Eisenberg in that film!)

Why are movies about art so frequently terrible?

Allow me to quote tip #4: "We get that artists lead interesting, often extremely troubled lives, and depicting that matters. Do not use this as an excuse to make your story all about this genius, mean-spirited, super-charismatic shining star. Sometimes, an artist is a fat, lazy schlub who can't dress and hasn't had sex in years. Related to this: not every artist who teaches at college has boffed his or her students."

Celebrating 20 years of Sneakers

Sneakers is a film I enjoy immensely. I wouldn't call it a favorite but it's something I can watch at any time and still enjoy. The folks at Slate recently wrote a multi-part article on the film 20 years after its premiere. In addition to the article linked above, this article takes a look at why people like the movie, this piece compares the characters to the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, this article discusses how the film paints a surprisingly unflattering portrait of the 60s counterculture scene, James Horner's wonderful score is dissected here, and finally, the great Stephen Tobolowsky remembers what it was like on set.

Last night's listening:

It's been pretty quiet on the film score front, at least for me. What usually happens is that nothing I'm interested in will be released... then a dozen titles I want will be released in the span of a month! I seem to be in the eye of the storm, so to speak. I've actually been listening to the Eyes Wide Shut soundtrack. I find the film (Kubrick's last film; he died just after finishing it) infinitely fascinating. As usual, Kubrick's music choices are all top-notch, from Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" to a great waltz by Shostakovich to original music by composer Joceyln Pook to a haunting piece by Franz Liszt titled "Grey Clouds." Good stuff. Samples here.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 27

Space.... is alive.... with the sound of music.

Question: "What is the best piece of music from the Trek universe?"

Scott's Answer: Gee, pick a hard one! Star Trek is what got me into film music. The one piece I can listen to over and over again is James Horner's "Stealing the Enterprise" from Star Trek III. It plays during the sequence in which Kirk and Co. hijack the Enterprise in order to find Spock while Starfleet sends the ill-fated Excelsior after them. It's exciting stuff, even if Horner liberally quotes from Prokofiev at the beginning.

Some honorable mentions (who am I kidding - they're all great!) include Jerry Goldsmith's "The Enterprise" from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Jay Chattaway's theme from "The Inner Light", Gerald Fried's famous fight music from "Amok Time", and Cliff Eidelman's "End Credits Suite" from Star Trek VI.

Andrew's Answer: Hands down, no contest whatsoever, the theme music to Voyager (by Jerry Goldsmith). Man, that's an incredible piece. I love the opening with the horns, the drums, and then the slow build. That is utterly fantastic! ENJOY!

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Great (film) Debates vol. 54

There are films and there are films, and then there are EPIC films. You know the ones, they are eighty hours long and have lots of scenery. . .

What is your favorite EPIC film?

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Ben-Hur. Amazing to watch and consider it was made in the 50s. Absolutely amazing filmmaking.

Panelist: ScottDS

Barry Lyndon. It might not have the visual scope of Lawrence of Arabia or The Ten Commandments but it's definitely an epic film, with stunning visuals and great music. I saw it for the first time almost 10 years ago and was simply hypnotized by it... and I'm not exactly known for my love of three-hour costume dramas. It truly is Kubrick's underrated masterpiece.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

I'm going with Doctor Zhivago. Fascinating topic, great characters, interesting story, tremendous scenery and a fantastic score. What more could you ask for?

Panelist: BevfromNYC

I would have to say the Lord of the Rings series of films would have to be my favorite EPIC film(s). Grand in scale, scope, and story line – a tale of band of disparate strangers thrown together on a quest to save their worlds.

Panelist: T-Rav

Maybe a bit predictable, but The Lord of the Rings, specifically The Two Towers. Probably the most panoramic and sweeping of the three, and it's where a lot of the central issues are most clearly and movingly expressed. That movie has a lot of good lines, come to think of it.

Comments? Thoughts?

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Film Friday: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

When you remake a movie, there will always be a certain amount of predictability. A remake of Planet of the Apes, for example, will not involve the humans winning or killer sharks. It will essentially follow the apocalyptic storyline. But that doesn’t excuse a film being so utterly predictable that only an idiot wouldn’t know what is about to happen in each scene.

** spoiler alert **

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot of Planet of the Apes, only it follows elements of the storyline from the awful Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In Rise, a young scientist, whose name escapes me, invents a virus which he thinks will cure Alzheimer’s. He tests this on monkeys and discovers that it makes them intelligent. He tells his boss, whose name also escapes me, who is a typical biotech CEO. He wants the project stopped when it looks like it will help people and then wants it rushed ahead when it might hurt people, all without proper testing and all while mumbling something incoherent about “profit.” Pretty standard really. The scientist gets a girlfriend at some point, whose name escapes me (in fairness, I watched the film all of 20 minutes ago, so it’s been a long time to remember these kinds of details).
Scientist-boy’s ape becomes really smart and attacks Dr. Rodney McKay from Stargate Atlantis, who seems kind of grumpy now that Stargate Atlantis has been cancelled. So the ape goes to ape prison where he gets sodomized. That’s pretty much the last thing I remember before the CGI kicks in. Suffice it to say that the ape uses magic to get more of the virus and then he and his 50 buddies overcome the entire police department of San Francisco without taking a casualty, killing all the right people in the process.

In a word, this film sucked. I know it made a bunch of money, but people who paid to see this were idiots. This is a film with no redeeming qualities. The characters are too one dimensional to be called cardboard. The special effects are cartoony, despite what people say. The characters’ actions are ridiculous. But the real killer here is predictability. I cannot recall a more predictable movie than this. . . scene by scene by scene.
From the very beginning, this film is exactly what you expect. There are no surprises in the order of events. You know he will test the vaccine, it will fail. He will take it home and try it in a moment of desperation on his sick father. It will appear to work, but then things will go wrong. You can set your watch by it. There are no surprises in terms of characters. The scientist will have a sick father who needs the vaccine. The corporate CEO will order the virus used before it is safe. The cruel kids will abuse the apes. Etc. The characters respond in each scene exactly as you would expect. In fact, this is where things really go wrong. To give you a sense, consider the scene where scientist-boy gets the girlfriend. He walks into the veterinarian’s office with his ape. She’s cute. She’s also the only XX Chromosome person in the film. You know the moment you see her what will happen. The ape will do something “cute,” which will cause scientist-boy to “shyly” ask the hot chick out. She will agree and I will slam my forehead. And that is exactly what happens and the order in which it happens. This is the problem throughout this film, there isn’t a single scene that you can’t outline from start to finish before it happens. THIS IS DULL!

And this isn’t to downplay the other problems. The actions of the CEO make no sense. Scientist-boy’s life and job make no sense – he has one of those jobs where he has free access to a truly high tech lab but no apparent responsibilities except when the dialog calls for a moment of tension with the CEO. The cops make no sense. Does anyone really think the well-armed police, including their SWAT team, can’t gun down fifty apes? These couldn’t. They shot their bullets at anything except the apes and then decided to switch to clubs. . . against 500 pound gorillas. . . for no apparent reason.
The special effects were another problem, and I think this problem actually highlights the flaw with all the thinking in this film: every effect was perfectly symmetrical. Anything the lead ape did, all the other apes did simultaneously. When the lead ape jumps out of an office building, shattering the window, another ape immediately follows with another window. Then another. And as the camera moves down the length of the building, window after window is shattered by identical looking apes making the identical jumps. . . one at a time, each in a separate window. When one ape climbs up a cable on the Golden Gate Bridge, identical apes follow immediately on all the other cables. And in the end, when the head ape is shown climbing to the top of a tree and standing on a branch near the top, steadying himself by holding the branch above as he looks longingly over San Francisco in the distance (for whatever reason), the camera pans back and with each passing tree we see another ape in the identical pose, in the identical kind of tree, on the identical branch, looking longingly at San Francisco. This is paint by numbers. This is creativity faked by people who are not creative. And that is what happens throughout this entire film. This is a film made by people with no eye or ear for storytelling who assumed they could assemble this film based purely on a formula.

This movie has no heart and it has no brain and I will not be at all surprised if it ultimately has no legs.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is Science Fiction A Genre?

Let’s play the semantics game. Should science fiction really be considered a genre? Or is it just a setting? I know science fiction fans are probably gasping right now or grabbing their pitch-lasers, but hear me out. I think this is important.

Here’s my thinking. Before we call something a genre, it should be able to stand on its own terms. For example, a romance film/book is about a romantic relation. A war film is about a war. Dramas are dramatic. Comedies are funny (though the original definition of comedy was basically just a drama with a happy ending). And so on. The point is that each of these genres is capable of defining itself and it does not need help from any other genre to create a complete story. In other words, a drama does not need to rely on a romance or a war or an action story to come up with a complete story that is dramatic. Romances, action films, even Westerns need not piggyback on any other genre either.

But science fiction is different. Most of what passes for science fiction does in fact need to piggyback on other genres. Indeed, in most science fiction movies, what you really get is a standard drama, romance, war film, action flick or some other genre being acted out with science fiction trappings. And when you think about these films, you quickly realize that the film could easily be de-science fictioned with little change.

Now it’s true that not all science fiction falls into this category. For example, some science fiction stories are specifically about science fiction events, like the effects of time travel or cloning or alien visitation or films about the exploration of black holes, wormholes or other natural but not common phenomena. But those films are surprisingly rare and often inject subplots from other genres to make them watchable. So should science fiction be considered it’s own genre?

Why does this matter, you ask? Well, I think it matters in particular to writers who may be considering writing science fiction. Unless you’re writing a specific science fiction plot, like a time loop, then you really should learn the rules of the other genres you need to piggyback upon. I think it also gives us another way to look at science fiction and to consider why so many science fiction films fail.

Interesting, huh?
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Politics of Trek: “Space Seed”

Let’s continue the Politics of Trek series with the issue of eugenics. Eugenics is the applied science of using various practices to improve the genetic composition of a population. Although widely popular and widely practiced in the 20th Century, Eugenics fell into disrepute when it became associated with the Nazis. Star Trek reflected this moral opposition in Episode No. 22: “Space Seed.” Khaaaaaaan!
The Plot
As our episode begins, the Enterprise comes upon an ancient spaceship slowly making its way through space. This is the Botany Bay, which was launched from Earth in the 1990s, the era of the Eugenics Wars. The Eugenics Wars occurred because a group of scientists tried to breed the perfect soldiers by making them faster, stronger and smarter than ordinary people. But these “supermen” were arrogant and egomaniacal, and they rose up and conquered one-third of the Earth, over forty nations. It took a world war for the rest of humanity to defeat them.

The most power of these genetic supermen was Khan Noonien Singh. And when his empire was about to fall, he and 84 of his fellow supermen fled the Earth aboard the Botany Bay cryogenically frozen in stasis. Kirk does not know who is aboard the Botany Bay, however, because historical records from the relevant period are fragmented and incomplete. But Kirk soon learns who Khan is after Khan awakes out of stasis. Unfortunately, before Kirk decides what to do about Khan, Khan awakens the rest of his followers and they seize the Enterprise. After a struggle, Kirk defeats Khan and decides to banish Khan and his followers to a harsh but habitable planet, Ceti Alpha V, where they can build their own world, just as the British convicts at Botany Bay tamed a continent. As the episode ends, Khan quotes Satan from Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: “It is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
Why It’s Conservative
As with most Star Trek episodes, there are many small philosophical and ideological moments. For example, Khan compares Kirk to the people of his era and in the process makes the point that humanity hasn’t changed:
Khan: Captain, although your abilities intrigue me, you are quite honestly inferior. Mentally, physically. In fact, I am surprised how little improvement there has been in human evolution. Oh, there has been technical advancement, but, how little man himself has changed.
This is consistent with the conservative belief that human nature is fundamentally fixed. The fact Kirk still manages to defeat Khan adds the conservative idea that despite human nature being fixed, human nature does not equate to destiny, i.e. we can overcome our genes, our instincts, and our poor starts in life to excel.

There is also a fascinating debate between Khan and Spock, where Khan tries to defend dictatorship on the basis that dictators bring the world order. Spock rejects this.
Khan: There was little else left on Earth.
Spock: There was the war to end tyranny. Many considered that a noble effort.
Khan: Tyranny, sir? Or an attempt to unify humanity?
Spock: Unify, sir? Like a team of animals under one whip?
Khan: I know something of those years. Remember, it was a time of great dreams, of great aspiration.
Spock: Under dozens of petty dictatorships.
Khan: One man would have ruled eventually. As Rome under Caesar. Think of its accomplishments. . . We offered the world order!
Notice that Spock rejects the idea that order is superior to freedom, and he equates living under a dictatorship with being part of a team of animals. This idea is reinforced when Kirk and Scotty try to explain to Spock why Khan was the best of the tyrants:
Scott: I must confess, gentlemen. I've always held a sneaking admiration for this one.
Kirk: He was the best of the tyrants and the most dangerous. They were supermen, in a sense. Stronger, braver, certainly more ambitious, more daring.
Spock: Gentlemen, this romanticism about a ruthless dictator is—
Kirk: Mister Spock, we humans have a streak of barbarism in us. Appalling, but there, nevertheless.
Scott: There were no massacres under his rule.
Spock: And as little freedom.
McCoy: No wars until he was attacked.
Spock: Gentlemen!
Kirk: Mister Spock, you misunderstand us. We can be against him and admire him all at the same time.
Spock: Illogical.
Spock is appalled that the others could even consider the simple lack of massacres or aggressive wars as positive justifications for dictatorship. To him, the lack of freedom is the defining criteria of right and wrong, and it cannot be legitimately traded for order. This is the classical liberal belief in the moral superiority of the individual and individual freedom. And as we’ve noted before, classical liberalism is the foundation of modern conservatism. Unfortunately, modern conservatives have in recent years failed to maintain this principle in light of rising crime rates and Islamic terror, nevertheless it does remain a fundamentally conservative principle and the growing influence of libertarian conservatism suggests a return by conservatives to this principle. As for modern liberals, they invoke this principle only as situational rhetoric. Hence, things like liberal opposition to Guantanamo Bay under George Bush evaporated under Obama.

In any event, the main purpose of this episode is to criticize eugenics. The word eugenics remains in disgrace today because of its association with the Nazis, who practiced forced sterilization and mass murder all in the name of achieving racial purity. But its history is worldwide. The term eugenics was actually coined by Britain’s Sir Francis Galton in 1883, where it was advocated as a means of stopping “undesirables” in the lower classes from bearing offspring because they were viewed as lacking genetic worth. Eugenics was particularly popular among socialists and the labor party. In 1913, Britain under a Liberal government passed the Mental Deficiency Act, which proposed segregation of the “feeble minded” from the rest of society. Forced sterilization was proposed, but not implemented.

In the United States, the eugenics movement got laws passed in many states to prohibit the marriage of undesirables, such as people with epilepsy and “the feeble-minded”, and allowing the states to forcibly sterilize the mentally ill to prevent them from passing on mental illness. These laws were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1927 in the Buck v. Bell decision, wherein Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famous said, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Holmes, by the way, was a favorite of progressives, particularly for his recognition of union rights, and his decisions are credited with creating the judicial support for the economic regulation imposed by the New Deal. According to the Buck Court, the forced sterilization of the mentally retarded “for the protection and health of the state” did not violate the individual’s due process rights. Between 1907 and 1963, more than 64,000 people were forcibly sterilized in the United States.

Following the defeat of the Nazis, the idea of eugenics fell into disfavor around the world as the word eugenics came to be associated with mass murder and attempts to perpetuate racial purity. This was the period during which “Space Seed” was written, and throughout this episode, Kirk and Spock and McCoy make it clear in their tones that they find the idea of eugenics morally repugnant, although the episode does not address this in the dialog. Instead, the episode makes the point that eugenics is a bad idea. First, Kirk disputes the assertion that supermen can actually be created through eugenics.
Kirk: Would you estimate him to be a product of selective breeding?
Spock: There is that possibility, Captain. His age would be correct. In 1993, a group of these young supermen did seize power simultaneously in over forty nations.
Kirk: Well, they were hardly supermen. They were aggressive, arrogant. They began to battle among themselves.
Notice that Kirk rejects the label “supermen.” He points out that these individuals were aggressive, arrogant and began to battle among themselves. These are hardly the actions of advanced human beings. They are instead the actions of psychopaths. And what Kirk is saying is that he doubts it’s even possible to improve human beings because these so-called supermen turned out to be anything but actual supermen. This is an attack on the very idea of eugenics, which is premised on the belief that humans can be improved. And the fact that Kirk ultimately defeats these supermen suggests that the writers too rejected the notion that these were actual supermen.

Spock then adds that the problem was that the eugenics scientists failed to understand that giving these individuals superior abilities would also give them superior ambition, and that this is what made them arrogant and aggressive.
Kirk: Well, they were hardly supermen. They were aggressive, arrogant. They began to battle among themselves.
Spock: Because the scientists overlooked one fact. Superior ability breeds superior ambition.
Kirk: Interesting, if true. They created a group of Alexanders, Napoleons.
This is an interesting point by Spock, but Kirk does not discuss it. Instead, he dismisses it as “interesting, if true.” The reason Kirk says this is to let the audience know that the specific reason for the failure of these scientists is not relevant. What is relevant is that the scientists were unable to predict the result of their genetic manipulation. This is the same point already made in Episode 8: “Miri,” where attempts to make humans resistant to disease wiped out all the adults on the planet. The message here is that attempting eugenics is simply a bad idea because it’s impossible to foresee the consequences of such an attempt, and the consequences can be such that all of the human race will pay the price. Here a group of scientists created super soldiers who tried to enslave humanity and caused a world war. In “Miri,” they wiped out the population with a super virus. The consistent message is that mankind is not smart enough to tamper with nature.

Unfortunately, modern liberalism has slowly returned to the ideas of eugenics, if not the word. Modern liberals support abortion, which is being used to eliminate children with bad genes or medical conditions, and now has a several decade history of leading to sex-selection. They support genetic tampering, which many speculate will lead to the creation of two classes of humans – those who can afford to give their children superior traits and skills and those who can’t. They also support cloning, euthanasia, and population control. Each of these are ideas originally encompassed by eugenics. Star Trek would warn against each of these on the basis mentioned above, that humans simply aren’t capable of foreseeing the negative effects of such tampering. And in that, Star Trek remains conservative.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Great (film) Debates vol. 53

I will follow the Commentarama Rules. I will follow the Commentarama Rules. I will follow the Commentarama Rules. I will follow the Commentarama Rules.

What is your favorite Simpsons moment?

Panelist: AndrewPrice

There were many great moments, but the one which really stuck out to me was when Sideshow Bob was up for parole and he had "Die, Bart, Die" tattooed on his chest. When asked about this, he said it was German for "The, Bart, The!" And one of the parole officers said, "No one who speaks German could be an evil person." I still laugh at that years later.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

I am not sure since I really stopped watching the Simpson’s years ago, but that never stops me from answering any question. Okay, I really like their Halloween shows and the credits at the end.

Panelist: T-Rav

I honestly never watched much of The Simpsons growing up (my mom wouldn't let me), but there were a few moments I did see, and enjoyed. My favorite was one of the "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, when Homer goes three-dimensional, gets sucked into a weird space-time grid, and eventually falls through a black hole. Bart: "Uh, we hit a snag and the universe just sorta collapsed in on itself."

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

I have none. Don't like it and don't watch it.

Panelist: ScottDS

Oh boy. I can quote many moments from The Simpsons but picking a favorite? It might be a cop out answer but the town hall meeting in "Marge vs. the Monorail" (written by Conan O'Brien) might just be my favorite: from Phil Hartman to the famous monorail song to one of my favorite Mr. Burns moments (when he introduces himself as "Mr. Snrub").

Comments? Thoughts?

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Friday, September 14, 2012

TV Review: Face Off (2011-????)

I despise “Reality TV.” Not only is “Reality TV” not real, it is highly manipulated and sometimes even scripted, but it demonstrates the worst elements of our culture. It shows a group of contestants as they engage in cat fights and backstabbing all in the name of trying to grab a few moments of celebrity. So why am I enjoying Face Off?

For those who don’t know, Face Off is a series on the Sci-Fi Channel (yes, I still refuse to call it SyFy) which involves a group of aspiring makeup artists competing against each other in weekly challenges. They are judged by a panel of three expert makeup artists with extremely impressive track records and one guest judge who is often a Hollywood big shot.
The challenges this season have been things like designing a character for the Star Wars cantina or a Chinese dragon or a character from Alice in Wonderland who has become infected by a zombie virus. And the way these challenges work is that each artist is given a specific characteristic they must use, such as being assigned a character from Alice in Wonderland or given something nautical when they are asked to design a pirate. They sketch out their designs and set about creating molds and costumes for real life models who will wear the finished designs. Then each is judged with the loser being sent home each week.

There are several things I truly appreciate about this series which you just don’t normally see in “Reality TV”:

● First, this show is about talent, not personality. The contestants must produce incredibly high quality makeup and costumes and they are judged on their work, not on how well they get along with the others. They cannot form teams to manipulate events. Neither the contestants nor the audience vote, so this isn’t about popularity. And they never ask the contestants to rate each other, so there’s no sniping. The absence of all of this is very welcome and makes this show rise head and shoulders above other “Reality TV.”
● Secondly, the judges are experts. They know their craft and that comes across in each evaluation as they point out things the untrained eye never would have noticed. Indeed, they are excellent at telling you exactly where each artist went right or wrong, how it could have been fixed, and just how ambitious each person was. They also don’t sugarcoat their reviews which makes this show feel much more educational and much more realistic.

● Third, you actually get to see the process from start to finish. This isn’t the standard “Reality TV” show which wastes time on backstabbing, fighting and watching the contestants engage in personal conflicts in the home they share. Instead, this show is entirely about the work. Nor does this show waste time in needlessly repeating the last several minutes from different perspectives. This show is efficient and substantive in its presentation.
● Finally, you get to see some amazing work. There have been moments where my jaw dropped at what one or more of these people achieved, especially given that they only have a couple days for each project.

This is how “Reality TV” should be. This is the kind of show which gives you a look at some amazing talent and lets you see that talent at work, and it does so with only a bare minimum of personality. This is a show that looks to wow you with their achievements rather than manipulate you with the contestant’s personalities. It is the kind of show which could inspire someone looking for a career or just impress those of us who enjoy the magic of Hollywood but have never seen how it’s done.

It’s rare that I recommend a television show and unheard of that I would recommend a “Reality TV” show, but this is an exception. I recommend checking this one out.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Guest Review: Mission to Mars (2000) vs. Red Planet (2000)

By ScottDS
With Mars in the news once again, I thought it might be a good time to take a look back at the two Mars films that graced the silver screen in the year 2000: Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars and Antony Hoffman’s Red Planet. Neither film is very good but Mission to Mars is the bigger disappointment, having set its sights far higher. One thing is certain: the definitive Mars movie has yet to be made. Let’s start with Mission.

In the year 2020. . . when the first manned Mars mission goes wrong, a rescue attempt is made. The rescuers include Blake (Tim Robbins), McConnell (Gary Sinise), Fisher (Connie Nielsen), and Ohlmyer (Jerry O’Connell). Unfortunately, during the rescue, the ship is damaged and the crew must abandon ship and make their way to the resupply module orbiting the planet. Blake overshoots his approach and floats away. Knowing he can't jeopardize the mission and the crew, he removes his helmet and dies instantly. The rest of the crew arrives on Mars and finds the stranded astronaut, Graham (Don Cheadle), who has been living in a makeshift greenhouse.

He explains that a weird noise his crew had heard was actually a map of human DNA using XYZ coordinates, but it’s missing a pair of chromosomes. They transmit the information at which time a mysterious opening appears in the side of a large structure. They venture inside where a Martian appears and (silently) reveals that Mars was once covered with water but was hit by an asteroid. The Martians evacuated but one craft went to Earth where it deposited a strand of DNA in the ocean. Over millions of years, the DNA evolved into fish, then land mammals, and eventually humans who one day would voyage to Mars and be recognized as its descendants. An invitation is offered to follow the Martians to their new home. McConnell volunteers and as the others return to Earth, McConnell’s spaceship sets sail for points unknown.

[sigh] Oh, this movie. . . so much potential wasted. 2001, Apollo 13, Contact. . . these are just some of the superior movies you might be thinking of as you watch Mission to Mars. I give De Palma and his crew credit for thinking big and for trying to make a serious film and not a simple shoot ’em up. But it’s an overall unsatisfying experience. But before I go into detail, let’s now look at Red Planet.

In the year 2056. . . Earth has been ravaged by eco disasters. Automated missions have been seeding Mars with algae as part of a terraforming operation, but the amount of oxygen produced by the algae has dropped so a crew is sent to investigate: mission commander Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss), Gallagher (Val Kilmer), Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), Chantillas (Terence Stamp), Santen (Benjamin Bratt), and Pettengill (Simon Baker). Their ship is damaged on arrival by a solar flare so the crew abandons ship while Bowman stays behind. The crew is tasked with locating a habitat that had been set up earlier but their landing craft is damaged during descent. Chantillas suffers a ruptured spleen and stays behind and they’ve also lost track of AMEE, their robot assistant.

They find the habitat destroyed. Pettengill and Santen wander off where the former accidentally kills the latter during an argument. With their oxygen running out, Gallagher removes his helmet but is surprised to find the air breathable. They’re reunited with a damaged AMEE, who now perceives them as a threat. It cripples Burchenal before retreating. Bowman instructs them to use an old Russian probe to launch into orbit, except it can only hold two people. Pettengill later flees with the radio but is killed by AMEE. Gallagher and Burchenal discover a field of algae, along with indigenous insects. It’s revealed that these “nematodes” were dormant until the algae growth: they consume algae and excrete oxygen. The nematodes attack Burchenal, who promptly sets himself and the creatures on fire. Gallagher reaches the Russian probe and uses AMEE’s guts for a power source. Bowman recovers the probe and they set sail for home.
Unlike De Palma’s film, Hoffman’s film (this is his only feature credit) doesn’t set its sights so high and the crew has a more natural camaraderie, such as it is. Compare the meal scene in this film with the opening barbecue in Mission to Mars. The former comes off as natural (if somewhat stilted) while the latter reeks of artificiality: an alien’s idea of what a backyard barbecue is like. Robbins, Sinise, and Cheadle have almost no chemistry, whereas Carrie-Anne Moss – who has a wonderful air of authority and no-nonsense vibe – fits in perfectly with Kilmer and Sizemore’s shenanigans. Red Planet has characters who are actually funny and pleasant whereas Mission has one comic relief character but Jerry O’Connell comes off as an unqualified manchild. His Mission co-stars Cheadle and Nielsen are fine, Sinise is his usual likeable self, Robbins overacts (to the point where I can't even take him seriously), and Armin Mueller-Stahl plays the head of the Mars program like an old Jewish uncle! And in Red Planet, Kilmer keeps his weirdness in check, Sizemore is great as usual, Baker and Bratt don’t really register, and Stamp is entertaining as always (but terribly underused).

Mission to Mars also has some horrible exposition. It’s never a good sign when one of your lead actors has an entire paragraph of dialogue laced with “Remember when. . .” and “If X hadn’t happened. . .” etc. At least Moss’ opening voice-over in Red Planet is quick and painless. Mission comes off as much smaller than it should, but maybe that was the idea: for the first manned mission to Mars, there’s absolutely no fanfare, no sense that this is a momentous event, no reaction from the world. We’re on Earth, then we’re on Mars. Done deal. Red Planet doesn’t have that “small” vibe. In Mission, they make a big deal about training and simulations and we briefly see the astronauts’ families but it’s all so self-contained. Red Planet is nothing but self-contained. There are no other characters you wish you could see since they’re never introduced in the first place. It’s all business. Mission also has an abundance of obvious clichés and when Tim Robbins says, “Let’s work the problem!”, you think to yourself, Did he just say that with a straight face?
The story of Mission has been done before and I’m not a fan of the Chariots of the Gods? concept that early human civilization was influenced by extraterrestrial beings. Personally, I think it’s pseudo-scientific crap and I feel it does a disservice to our accomplishments as a species. To quote Gene Roddenberry: “. . .ancient astronauts did not build the pyramids – human beings built them because they're clever and they work hard.” Regarding Red Planet, I used to think the inclusion of AMEE was gratuitous. A mission to another planet wasn’t dramatic enough so they had to throw in a killer robot, too? But it works. There are also a couple of interesting discussions about faith but they don’t amount to much. Terence Stamp has a nice scene with Kilmer where he says, “Who knows, I may pick up a rock and it'll say underneath, ‘Made by God.’ The universe is full of surprises.” I’m not a religious man but I really wish the film had dealt with more of this. It’s referenced a couple of times but never pays off in any meaningful way. We also don’t get to explore Pettengill’s guilt as much as I would’ve liked. It’s hinted that the others are suspicious of him but I was waiting for a big showdown that never happened.

Graeme Revell’s score to Red Planet barely registered with me, except when it was bad. I’m not an expert on the famous film composer Ennio Morricone but his score for Mission to Mars doesn’t quite work, to the point where I’m taken out of the film because I’m actually noticing the music, and that I don’t like what I’m noticing. I’m not saying he should’ve taken the Williams/Goldsmith/Horner route and maybe I should applaud him for doing something different. But different doesn’t always = good. And this leads to what I think are some of the biggest arguments among film music fans: Should film scores be noticeable? Should they blend in? Should they only serve the story? Should they also work as a standalone experience? I can't answer these questions.
The art direction and costume design in Mission are top-notch. The spacecraft and spacesuits all look like believable extrapolations of what we have today. The visual effects (by ILM and the late Dream Quest Images) still hold up, but the CGI Martian looks like a videogame character. Per usual for a De Palma film, the cinematography is excellent and, not surprisingly, there are some visual nods to Kubrick but I’ll let it slide! As for Red Planet, the production design is also top-notch but some of the effects don’t hold up. Ironically, the CGI AMEE animation is perfect but simpler things like the Martian surface haven’t aged well. I could be wrong but, watching Red Planet, one gets the impression that there was a lot of footage left on the cutting-room floor. The crew’s introduction is rather rushed and a couple of times during the film, we flashback to earlier conversations (along with snippets we missed the first time around). I wonder if this was intentional, or if the filmmakers were trying to save their own asses.

Like I said above, I believe the definitive Mars movie has yet to be made. But it will be made one day, by a filmmaker with a singular vision. (If it’s James Cameron, I hope he brings in a co-writer!) And hopefully, unlike Mission to Mars, it will give humans a little more credit and, unlike Red Planet, more humans will actually survive the trip!

“F--- this planet!”

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 26

Some leaders are born, others are made. Some are just written into the script. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard is one of these options. :)

Question: "What is Capt. Jean-Luc Picard's best quality as a leader?"

Andrew's Answer: I'm not a big fan of Picard's leadership. He is often ineffective and makes wrong decisions, and if it weren't for the fact he's the hero, his crew would be dead many times over. But he does display two things I really like. He's not afraid to get input from his staff, which too many self-described leaders don't do, and more importantly, he's patient. Patience is the true key to leadership. Never jump to conclusions. Don't act rashly before you know the real score. Don't act on rumor or emotion. He's patient and that's a great quality any solid leader needs.

Scott's Answer: I answer this question knowing that: a.) Captain Picard isn't the most popular guy 'round these parts, and b.) TNG was my original gateway into Star Trek. Having said that, I for one like Picard's skill with diplomacy and rhetoric, using force only when needed. There's a place for cowboy diplomacy but there's also a place for reasonable discussion. I must also point out that Kirk was Kirk from the very beginning, as if spawned fully-formed from the head of Zeus. Picard, on the other hand, grew over time. Not a lot, mind you, but it's noticeable. (He doesn't speechify nearly as much in later seasons.) I don't know if this was because of new writers constantly coming in, or Gene Roddenberry's declining influence, or Patrick Stewart's request for more fun and action for his character... but the answer probably involves all three.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Great (film) Debates vol. 52

War! Hooah! What's it good for?! Well, it does make for good films.

What is your favorite war film?

Panelist: ScottDS

This is a tough one but I would have to say Apocalypse Now which, of course, is so much more than a war film. I first saw it a long time ago and years passed before I bought the DVD. Watching it again, I had forgotten just how insane the film is, and I mean that in the best way possible. The plot itself is rather straightforward - X goes to Y to kill Z - but the way in which the plot unfolds (in other words, the story) is what makes the film unforgettable along with the hellish tales of its production. I'm not good with serious film/literary criticism so I will leave it to others to chime in with their opinions on the film's various metaphors and messages. "Terminate with extreme prejudice."

Panelist: AndrewPrice

There are many excellent war films and probably a dozen or so which could easily claim the top spot. But I'm going to pick The Great Escape. Not only was this a fascinating film with great writing and a tremendous collection of great actors, but it didn't insult the audience's attention by making the Germans halfwits, by downplaying the dangers to the prisoners, or by turning the whole thing into a video game. This is an excellent dramatic film.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

Okay, you know what I’m going to say, but it’s awfully nice of you to ask. Gone With The Wind. It is primarily a romance, but the war is seen as it relates to the women at home who must carry on while the men are fighting the war.

Panelist: T-Rav

After some soul-searching, I went with Black Hawk Down, not just because I haven’t seen some of the older stuff such as The Longest Day, but because there have been precious few movies in the post-Vietnam era which really try to present members of the military as unambiguous good guys. The soldiers here are family men, average Joes, and yet heroes at every point when under fire. It’s an extremely realistic, straightforward portrayal of battle, with great performances by the cast (especially Josh Hartnett and Eric Bana), and decidedly anti-nihilist in its message. For all that, I think it will stand the test of time as one of the best in the genre.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Probably Gettysburg, but I do love Run Silent Run Deep Classic cat and mouse game. If we go mini-series, it doesn't get any better than Band of Brothers. My reasons for Gettysburg are probably laid out in that review I did awhile back :)

Comments? Thoughts?

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Film Friday: The Frighteners (1996)

The Frighteners is one of those movies. It’s a quasi-comedy, quasi-horror film with a lot of great elements and I want to like this movie. But I can’t. . . not enough. Here’s where it fails.

** spoiler alert **
The Plot
Frighteners is the story Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), a former architect who now makes a living as a con-man psychic. Giving the story a twist, Bannister really can see the dead and he has made a deal with three spirits who help him hustle the local community by causing hauntings so he can swoop in to ghostbust the newly infected location for a small fee. Bannister is able to see the dead because he had a near-death experience when he drove off the road during a heated argument with his wife. She was killed in the crash.
As the story opens, the local community is struggling to understand a series of unexplained deaths. Each of the victims appeared to be perfectly healthy until they suffered sudden, massive heart attacks. One such victim is Ray, a jerk of a human being who has had a run-in with Bannister. Bannister agrees to help Ray and Ray’s wife Lucy connect so she can ask some questions about lost money. Lucy admits that she was never happy with Ray and she begins to fall for Bannister. That’s when Bannister sees a Grim Reaper-like figure. This is the being that has been killing people.

Bannister starts chasing the mysterious figure, but soon becomes a suspect in the killings and an eccentric FBI Special Agent (Jeffrey Combs) is brought in to question Bannister. This man is a specialist in cults and is more than a little insane. At that point, Bannister discovers that the Grim Reaper is actually Johnny Bartlett (Jake Busey), a noted local serial killer, and he and his still-living girlfriend have decided to continue their killing spree. The rest of the film involves Bannister and Lucy trying to stop Bartlett while avoiding the insane FBI Agent.
Why This Film Doesn’t Work
This film proves the adage that a successful film must be more than the sum of its parts. Indeed, if we just look at the parts of this film in isolation, you would think it would be a top ten film. Check out these elements:
The Pedigree: Directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame and produced by Robert Zemeckis, the director of the Back to the Future series and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Frighteners’s production team is stacked with talent who are more than capable of making this kind of half-comedy, half-serious film.

The Actors: Michael J. Fox is one of the most likable actors of the 1980s and 1990s and he leads the cast. His presence alone should guarantee a solid movie. Add in excellent supporting actors like John Astin, R. Lee Ermey, and Jeffrey Combs and you’ve got a solid cast that should make for compelling viewing.

The Effects: Peter Jackson’s visual effects company, Weta Digital, handles the effects and does an excellent job. The reaper figure is amazingly intimidating and intense. His ability to move beneath solid surfaces is creepy beyond belief. The ghost effects and how flawlessly they are mixed in with the live actors, plus the death effects and the numbers that appear on foreheads are all truly superb. Even the presentation of Hell is unusually well-done.
The Soundtrack: The Danny Elfman soundtrack is solid, as is the remake of “Don’t Fear The Reaper.”
So this film has a lot going for it. Yet, it never quite hits the mark because the film never decides if it wants to be a comedy or a horror film, and that confusion keeps the film from being effective as either. Moreover, there are numerous problems with the writing which keep undercutting the story.

In many ways, one cannot help but compare Frighteners to Ghostbusters. Both involve ghostbusting and both straddle the line between comedy and horror. But this similarity hides a critical difference. Ghostbusters chose to be a comedy and made sure that each scene was played for laughs. It maintained a steady lighthearted tone floating just above a fairly heavy drama which let audience recognize the drama as driving the story but the humor as the true purpose of the movie.

Frighteners, by comparison, is not so clear. Frighteners vacillates back and forth between comedy and drama, with some scenes meant one way and others meant the other. Moreover, some characters are played for comedic effect no matter what scene they are in, until they suddenly aren’t played for comedic effect anymore. This is jarring and confusing and it results in an uneven movie that is incapable of developing a flow or a consistent tone. This means the audience can’t get its bearings to know how to judge the film scene by scene because they’re never sure if they’re supposed to laugh. Consequently, the jokes aren’t funny because it’s never clear they are meant as jokes and the drama isn’t tense because it’s never immediately clear that the scene is meant to be dramatic. Also, in the last thirty minutes, the film loses all pretense of being comedic and the entire tone of the film unexpectedly changes for the negative.

This problem is made worse by numerous mistakes in the writing. Some scenes don’t seem to advance the plot, such as his failed con-haunting of a rich woman. Too much of the movie feels too narrow in the sense that everything seems to happen to Bannister and it happens in a way which feels forced. But the biggest problem is really the lack of any sense of relationship between the characters.
Bannister has three ghosts who have agreed to work for him. But it’s never made clear why they do this. There is nothing they gain from this and if it’s friendship they crave, then Bannister is a horrible friend. It would have helped to see some warmth between them. Bannister and Lucy’s relationship isn’t much better. We’re told they fall in love with each other, but there’s little that shows this. Mainly, they seem like two people who are trying to help each other solve a problem. Moreover, there’s a very poor decision made by the writer when Bannister temporarily ends up in Heaven. When he arrives, he meets his former wife and they appear to be deeply in love with each other. She tells him it’s not his time yet to die and sends him back after suggesting she will be waiting for him. This is all well and good, but what does this do to the relationship with Lucy? Basically, it makes her into an affair.

The ending is a problem too. This is one of the earlier films I can recall which basically shut down the plot with about thirty minutes to go and turned the rest of the film into an elongated chase scene. This is sadly par for the course these days, but that doesn’t make this right. When a story based on the likeability of various characters ceases to be about those characters and instead becomes about a small group of people chasing each other through an abandoned hospital for thirty minutes, something has gone very wrong. And while the film interjects various goals for the characters throughout this chase, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s simply dull to watch people chase each other.

This is why I can’t like Frighteners even though I very much want to like this film. It has some excellent pieces, but those pieces are assembled poorly.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Forgotten Films

Last week, in one of the discussions, the film Ice Pirates came up. This was a silly but quite enjoyable film which never made it big and has all but been forgotten. Nevertheless, those of us who recalled the film had good things to say about it. Rather than discuss some weighty film topic today, why doesn’t everyone share some of their favorite forgotten films?!

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 25

Everybody love the headliners -- Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Picard, Riker and Data. Why? Because they get top billing. They get the cash, the chicks and the best quarters too. But sometimes the little guys need love too.

Question: "What secondary character would you most want to have dinner with and what would you discuss?"

Andrew's Answer: All right, you're not going to believe this one, but I'd like to meet Guinan (Whoopie Goldberg). I thought her character was all around pretty neat. She clearly had an interesting history. She had great stories. She was very insightful. And she proved several times to be an excellent dinner companion. In terms of what I'd want to discuss, it would probably just be the history of the galaxy as she knows it.

Scott's Answer: Of all the people in the 23rd and 24th centuries, my answer most closely resembles a person from the 21st century: Lt. Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz). He appeared in several episodes of TNG and Voyager. He was one of the few "ordinary" people we saw in the so-called "enlightened" 24th century. He had bad habits and obsessions and nervous tics and he was bad with women... but at the end of the day, he just needed someone to talk to. I think it would be interesting to have a conversation with him, not to mention I'd get to ask him, "So, what was it like being a genius for a day?"

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