Monday, August 31, 2009

Marvel pwn3d by Disney.

Well, Pixar did make the definitive Fantastic Four movie in The Incredibles, and Spidey and X-Men will remain at other studios due to contractual obligations, but the idea of the House of Mouse becoming the new owner of the Mighty Marvel Marching Society kind of gives me some pause.

This is the same studio which has been failing Miyazaki-sensei with their half-hearted support of Ponyo. This is a studio with a track record of neutering just about everything they touch. The angst-filled, violent world of the Marvel Superheroes is best done with an adult sensibility...this is why Sam Raimi is so effective with his Spidey movies. Would Disney sugarcoat their Marvel-based movies too much? Will Marvel superheroes start dying Disney Deaths?

There actually is some reason for hope that Disney will let Marvel be Marvel. Ain't It Cool News quotes Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada: "If you're familiar with the Disney/Pixar relationship, then you'll understand why this is a new dawn for Marvel and the comics industry." Will Quesada get the same kind of autonomy Lasseter gets at Disney/Pixar? This remains to be seen.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sackcloth and Ashes, Camo Pattern.

First, let me say that I did this as unintentional penance. I irritated a person whose talent I respect, the Dementia Radio DJ known as The All-Powerful Nateboi. As it turned out, Karma took a large chunk out of my ass. Nateboi, I am truly and sincerely sorry. I have paid for my inadvertant irritation.

I took three people, and myself, to see GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

The very talented people at SpielBay produced three videos that told exactly what was wrong with this film. However, one of the people I know - a fangirl who often gets depressed and giggles incessantly at the stupidest lines - needed a lift, and said "we don't care about the reviews." So I made the sacrifice.

At the time I wrote this I suffered a mild case of Swine Flu (H1N1). That felt better than this movie.

SpielBay talked about how the movie betrayed the heritage of the GI Joe cartoons. Fangirl giggled when she saw an animated logo for Hasbro, the copyright owner of the GI Joe franchise. It was going to be a toy movie? It was going to be fun? No.

It was a plain betrayal, not only of a toy franchise with its own backstory, but a betrayal of basic filmmaking and storytelling.

It was noisy. It was an attempt to burst the eardrums that a movie like Transformers only bruised. Explosions, beam weapons, cars crashing; it was as if someone was taking a tally of all these effects, and the more that were used, the better the movie would be.

It avoided logical sense. One of the things SpielBay mentioned was the pointless love affair between Duke, the protagonist of the Joes, and Countess, the leather dominatrix villainess of the enemy organization. It was a more pointless plot complication than I could describe. Many times, when Duke could have stopped the evil plans of the movie by killing the bitch (an insult I do not use lightly) he faltered or refused to fire, and innocents died. This is heroic action?

In the original cartoon series, nobody died; there were lots of laser weapons, no bullets, nothing like that. Boy, did they correct that. A relatively innocent blonde soldier is killed by being impaled, from behind, by a katana, with the blade piercing the notepad computer she's carrying. People are murdered throughout the film, usually in pretty ugly fashion for pretty pointless reasons. I repeat, Murdered. Not killed tragically in combat: murdered.

It makes little logical sense. In the middle of many scenes, the action stops to enter flashbacks to explain who the characters were and why they were acting this way. I complained about Speed Racer doing this. That was crystal clarity compared to the pointless, story-stopping flashbacks in GI Joe.

You'll notice I did not mention the word COBRA. That's because for most of the movie, COBRA did not exist. The enemy organization, M.A.R.S., was an international arms maker whose CEO (with a Scottish accent even worse than mine!) decided to destroy the world's three major capitals to assume dictatorial power. It is only in the last five minutes of this overlong film, when the CEO becomes the chrome-faced Destro and his mad doc assistant becomes Cobra Commander, that we finally see the COBRA logo on the side of his submarine - a logo that never appeared anywhere else in the film! It was as if someone at Hasbro suddenly woke up and said, "Hey, our villains look nothing like our action figures! Fix it, schmucks!"

The most grevious fault, I leave for last. I did not care. I did not care about the cartoonish weapons, used to produce non-cartoonish gore. I did not care about the fate of any of the characters. I did not care whether the Joes lived or died. I didn't care that the Eiffel Tower collapsed. All I care about is that this film had its box office beaten in the second week by District 9, whose budget wouldn't have bought lunch for the GI Joe crew, and this week by Inglourious Basterds.

My only occupation during this skinny-dip in a cesspool was counting the product placements hidden within the film. I found Cisco Systems logos hidden on all the spastic video screens and 3-D "holograms" in the film. Twice, the Joes pop Double Bubble bubble gum before entering battle. When the action of the finale showed a CGI polar bear, I kept trying to find the Coca-Cola bottle I was sure the bear was holding. I hope the advertisers realize their product placements in this cinematic sludge heap will do them no honor.

As SpielBay's "Shipwreck" character said, "And now you know.'s too late." Paramount and Hasbro got $27 of my money, at a time I can scarely afford it, to entertain my fangirl friend (who really loved this film; she loves fantasy, even bad ones). Plus $20 for four $5 sodas in the till of the theater. If I'd been alone, and had not been enervated by this disaster, I might have tried to sneak into Basterds to wash the bad taste out of my system. That film is typical Quentin Tarantino, it's bloody, it's violent, and mostly it's Tarantino stealing bits from older, better films. But it would be heaven compared to the Hell I actually attended.

Remember these names. If they are on any movie posters in the near future, DO NOT SEE THOSE FILMS. Do not reward these people for their betrayal of the young muse Cinema, who makes the impossible possible and the unreal real. GI Joe raped the young muse Cinema, peed on her unconscious body and left her for dead in an alley.

Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Bob Ducsay
Executive Producers: Brian Goldner, Erik Howsam
Director: Stephen Sommers
Screenplay: Stuart Beattie, David Elliot & Paul Lovett
Story: Michael Gordon (as Michael B. Gordon), Stuart Beattie & Stephen Sommers

Of all the people, especially beware of di Bonaventura. He has a slew of projects that, if there is a God, will never be made: movies based on the Asteroids video game, the Alfred Bester novel The Stars My Destination, Beverly Hills Cop IV...I can't go on.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another pointless Zemekis Zombie-vision.

Yellow Submarine? You have GOT to be shitting me!

Sadly, no.

More info from the NY Daily's scary, boys and girls.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

District 9: When Pigs Fly

The title of this review won’t make sense until you see District 9 all the way through. And if you have any kind of soul or love for science fiction, you will see it all the way through, without even bathroom breaks.

The basic story has been adequately described by other reviewers. In the present day, aliens from an abandoned and apparently dysfunctional spacecraft have been living in a ghetto in Johannesburg, South Africa for twenty years. They have been living in abject poverty, eating what seems to be their favorite food on this planet, cat food.

From the start, a lot of science fiction clichés disappear, and more disappear as the movie goes on. The aliens can’t trade their tech, because most of them can’t translate it into human terms. The aliens don’t speak our languages and we can’t speak theirs, robbing us of the crappy weird-sounding English aliens have been speaking in movies for years. And yet, we can understand them and they can understand us. Their weapons, far more powerful than Earth’s regular weapons, can’t be used by humans because it only works with the aliens’ unique physiology.

You might guess that the Johannesburg location is important, and that apartheid and racial prejudice plays a big part. But early in the film, it’s clear that America’s current Middle Eastern war is involved as well. It isn’t a world government that’s policing District 9; it’s an international corporation with more than a passing resemblance to both Halliburton and OCP from RoboCop.

The plot centers on Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who in the start of the film is a middle-management suck-up, the boss’s son-in-law and a very incompetent glad-hander. He is made head of an operation to move all the aliens, called “prawn” for their resemblance to shellfish, to a new encampment. Something happens during this process, which of course is being broadcast by corporate cameras, that gets the plot going.

More than that, I will not spoil for you. I will simply observe that the RoboCop comparison hints at the story arc for the movie. A character that starts off as a comic relief incompetent becomes a lot more. A story that is shot chaotically, with many cuts between different sources (ground camera, surveillance camera, helicopter shot) still manages to make sense. And a science fiction film that shows the most intelligence of anything made in five years still has dynamic action sequences that make logical and spatial sense.

It would be too easy to say that District 9 mixes science fiction with contemporary politics. Stories like this tend to make their characters into clichés. But here, you understand and care for the characters – even though none of the actors are known here in America at this time.

It may be too much to hope for. A few weeks ago I talked about Moon as a thoughtful science fiction film with some of the feel of Silent Running and 2001. Now here comes District 9. And although hardcore fans are still angry and muttering that “Sylar” has ruined Star Trek, the J.J. Abrams remake is more exciting than the last several Paramount “official” productions.

It may be too much to hope for, but it might be possible…that a generation of people raised on good science fiction films may be making something besides imitative, superficial tripe. We’ve had three good examples this summer.

Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope appeared in 1977. After decades where the main mode of film entertainment was despair and failure, Bonnie and Clyde being a typical film of the time, it was a breath of fresh air. But Lucas, Spielberg and many other filmmakers have been stomping over the same territory for over a quarter of a century, while other kinds of stories have gone hurting. Science fiction that referred even a little to our current world and its problems were ignored in place of flat-out fantasy.

The three recent films are all much more conscious of our world. District 9 talks about racial politics, and along with Moon talks about corporate abuse of human beings. And Abrams’s Star Trek criticizes all those Trek episodes where James Kirk cut a swath across a galaxy of females with a swing of his “captain’s log,” and treated political and military problems the same way.

It may be that we’re in for a new era of exciting science fiction. And it may be that such a thing will happen only when pigs fly…but watch District 9 and you’ll see that can happen…and in a different way than you expected.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

SyFy shows the wrong kind of "Moon."

Along with the reviewers who were lucky enough to see the film Moon in advance, I will not spoil the big secret in the movie. That's because it's familiar to people who saw the great science fiction movies of the 1960's and 1970's. This is, in a way, a tribute to those films.

To cover the basics: Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a working stiff who is the only human in a mining operation on the moon. He is not in live communication with his wife and child back on Earth, since his communications apparently must be routed the long way, from Jupiter. And as his three year shift ends, he's anxious and worried. And as an accident occurs, things start getting complicated.

I will mention that, compared to the classic thoughtful science fiction films, this one is willing to show the corporation Lunar Industries as manipulative and evil. In Blade Runner, the Tyrell Corporation operates oddly but is not sinister. The drug-running conspiracy in Outland is not corporate policy of ConAm 27, just misbehavior of some of its highly placed local operatives. Things are different this time.

Director and co-writer Duncan Jones (the son of David Bowie) made the homage almost completely perfect. Instead of CGI he shot the lunar surface scenes with models on a soundstage. The interior set could have been from 2001, down to the uncomfortable and stupid blast doors in the middle of the living space. And Sam Bell's robot assistant is very HAL 2000-like, although in the end a lot less psychopathic and not at all murderous.

Aside from that one extension of philosophy, Moon is a good film, but not a great film. I enjoyed it, but I won't own it on DVD. But while watching it in the theater, I kept thinking. "This should have been a movie on SyFy. But it's too smart for them."

The renamed Sci Fi Channel has made its own TV movies. None of them have a tenth of the thought of Moon. Most are cheap horror films with men in rubber suits and depressing, we're-all-gonna-die endings. In essence, they are all the same story, remade to excess.

Moon, on the other hand, is similar to the clever short stories that used to be published in the 1960's in science fiction magazines like Analog and and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and Galaxy and Astounding. Those short stories were primarily built on one exceptionally clever idea or plot twist.

The inability of other entities, including SyFy, to think like this is why their ratings are dropping and people are looking elsewhere. It isn't a problem of their name, it's what lies behind the name that counts. I would love to see many more movies like Moon, but it'll have to be from indie directors, not networks.