A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 337 – To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar – January 31st, 2011

Last week, when the new season of RuPaul’s Drag Race began, Andy and I were mid-Trekathon. So we couldn’t really go pausing for a commemorative drag movie, even if it did have RuPaul in it. So we vowed to watch something suitable tonight. Alas, our copy of Vegas in Space hasn’t arrived yet. A true pity, since tonight’s episode of Drag Race was most assuredly inspired by it. But that’s a review for another day. When the damn DVD shows up. For tonight we have something decidedly less futuristic but no less fabulous.

Upon winning a drag competition in NYC, best friends Vida Boheme and Noxeema Jackson are set to jaunt off to Hollywood on the competition’s dime. But Vida is sort of like a louder and broader-shouldered Amelie, deriving much of her self-worth from helping those around her. While Noxeema is more than skeptical about helping out the fledgling drag queen Chi Chi Rodriguez, Vida insists on it. This is a bit of a pattern. Vida simply must help others and drags Noxeema along, kicking and screaming. The three of them head off on a road trip in a beat-up old yellow Cadillac, which you know from the start will have to break down in the middle of nowhere, and break down it does.

The town they end up in is sort of like the one in Cars. In fact, this movie is sort of Cars crossed with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. So there’s this dead end little town, with a handful of failing businesses and a bunch of locals who were born and raised there and will likely never leave. And of course they have problems, as helpfully described by the town gossip on our heroines’ first day there. And Vida being Vida, she just has to help out. After all, this town needs a drag makeover. One by one she and Noxeema and Chi Chi win over the townspeople. A few they influence directly but others they just seem to influence by their very presence. And a couple they get involved with. Not in a sexual nature, but in a friendly nature.

Each one of our queens has someone they just seem to click with. Noxeema befriends an elderly woman who’s been mute and unresponsive since her husband’s movie theater went bust. They discover a shared love of classic film, eventually trading titles and favorite actresses and through Noxeema’s enthusiasm Clara rediscovers a love of life. Chi Chi falls for the town heartthrob, Bobby Ray, and ends up giving him up, knowing that she can’t lead him on and that he wouldn’t still want her knowing that she’s really a “boy in a dress”. And in the process she befriends Bobby Lee, a teenage girl in the town who’s had her heart set on Bobby Ray. And then there’s Vida, who figures out early on that their host family is far from peachy keen. Husband Virgil beats his wife, Carol Ann, for the slightest infraction (such as putting spices in the stew) and Carol Ann denies it even when it’s painfully obvious what’s going on. And while the rest of Vida’s makeover of the town of Snydersville is somewhat fluffy (new clothes, new hairdos, a touch of drag in their lives to make everything seem more fabulous), there is nothing fluffy about her friendship with Carol Ann or her eventual breaking point with Virgil. Vida takes this particular situation personally.

There’s a side plot involving a homophobic and racist sheriff who assaults Vida and then tracks the trio down, eventually finding them and then being chased out of town by all the people Vida, Noxeema and Chi Chi have helped and befriended. But while it’s crucial for the climax and certainly involves one of the more serious situations they all get into, the true heart of the movie is in the trio’s experiences in the town itself. It’s in the friendships they make and the times they share with each other. Really, my main criticism of the film is that I think we don’t end up knowing quite enough about our three leads. We know their drag personas, but their backgrounds are merely hinted at. I think with a little more given, the personal journeys they have in Snydersville would mean even more than they do. And since that’s the soul of the movie, really, it couldn’t have hurt to have a tiny bit more than just knowing that Vida’s parents are rich and she gave up the money and posh house and all in order to embrace drag and be comfortable with herself. There are hints that her father was at least verbally abusive. She has a revelation at the end where she says she wants to go home and stand up for herself. But the lead-up to it is a bit anemic. It’s the same for Noxeema and Chi Chi, both of whom get about a line or two of background, max. Ah well.

The lack of non-drag persona backgrounds is well made up for by the fantastic presences all three leads give. I cannot say enough awesome things about all three of them. John Leguizamo is completely off the wall as Chi Chi, who’s got a sort of teen party girl thing going on in drag. Wesley Snipes is more fierce than I ever would have thought to give him credit for as Noxeema, who has an urban Hollywood hopeful persona and is not to be trifled with, thank you very much (the scene with the group of obnoxious young men is the sort of thing many girls’ revenge fantasies are made of). And then there’s Vida. I mean it when I say she’s a sort of drag Amelie. The best terms I can give would be poise and grace. Patrick Swayze totally surprised me. I knew he’d be able to pull off fabulous, but Vida is a wonderfully realized character in his hands. She is elegant and tasteful and has such a perfectly defined aesthetic and Swayze totally inhabits her. He makes this retro glamour girl real, uttering lines like “Tomorrow is a ‘Say Something’ hat day!” and making them perfect. He’s the reason I’d have loved to get more background, because his interactions with Stockard Channing’s Carol Ann hint at so much more going on in his head and past than we get to see. One does not get that sort of firmly gripped elegance overnight or on a whim and I’d have loved to see where it started.

This movie is what I believe needs to be termed “dragical realism”. Sure, it’s set in the real world, with plenty of serious real world problems. But with the magic of drag, those problems are dealt with, usually by being too fabulous and fierce to be brought down by them. And while there is certainly something to be said for the power of fierceness, I regret to say that in the real world it is merely a cure-much, not a cure-all. Sorry, pumpkins, but it’s true. So it’s really rather nice to see homophobia, depression, domestic violence and the like all taken care of with carefully draped and tucked drag. They can transform a dismal boarding house room into something far more sparkly and fantastic with some scarves and fans and they can transform a depressed pit-stop into a lively little town with some attention and hats. If only a fierce wig and killer heels could truly solve everything. I wish they did, and for the length of this movie, they do. It’s my new favorite genre, truly.

Advertisements

January 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

January 31, 2010

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar

Last Monday, while we were deep in our Star Trek marathon, one of our favorite television programs started its glorious, glamorous third season. I speak, of course, of RuPaul’s Drag Race – the greatest reality program competition ever conceived. This season needs only a guest judge appearance by Mary Murphy to encompass all of our favorite reality television competitions in a single program since we already have Santino from Project Runway as a judge and now Sutan the make-up artist from ANTM as a competitor. Fierce! In celebration of Ru’s third season of fabulous drag divas we’ve chosen tonight to watch a movie that actually features her in a small role – and one of the longest titled movies in our collection.

The movie starts with a drag competition in New York where RuPaul announces an unexpected tie win between two fabulous drag queens. The graceful and elegant Lady Vida played with panache by Patrick Swayze and the edgy Noxeema played by Wesley Snipes. Both of them have won plane tickets to go to Hollywood to compete in the Miss Drag USA contest, but Vida has other plans. She is a queen with a soft spot for problem cases, and when she comes across a dissolute young Chi Chi crying in a stairwell because she didn’t win Vida convinces Noxeema that they need to bring Chi Chi along to California. So they sell their plane tickets and buy a battered Cadillac convertible and set out for LaLa Land.

That’s just the set up though. We get a couple scenes of the ladies travelling the country (and Vida visiting her home town) but pretty soon they find themselves desperately lost somewhere in the backwood country south where they run afoul of a prejudiced sheriff, soon after which their car breaks down. They are forced to spend the weekend while waiting for their car to be fixed in the most backwards of drab and dusty towns, where everybody is practical and miserable. It soon becomes clear that this it not a road movie at all – it is a movie about clashing cultures. How will these dragalicious ladies deal with these country hicks, and how will the hicks deal with them?

When this came out there were inevitable comparisons with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but they’re not really very similar movies. Sure they both feature a trio of drag queens on a road trip (you know, that old chestnut) but they diverge pretty strongly as they get into the meat of the movie. Whereas Priscilla is about queens needing to get away from the city to learn something about themselves the ladies in this movie are much more sure of themselves and their place in the world. Particularly the ever in charge Vida, for whom the entire town is another of her problem cases to be taken under her wing and nurtured to its greatest potential like Chi Chi.

This movie is pure escapist fantasy, but it’s a tender and delightful fantasy. It takes situations that are, in our cruel real world, horrific and by the power of drag, positive thinking and pure willpower converts them into glorious joy. The turning point is a sort of magical makeover montage where to the tune of the Wonder Woman TV theme the three ladies re-decorate their drab hotel room into a colorful wonderland. Up until then there are moments in the movie where you think that dire things might happen to our charismatic trio, but after that you know that everything is just bound to turn out gloriously. From then on it’s just a fun ride as we watch the power of glamour overcome the dusty blandness of this little town.

There are a lot of laughs to be had here. Particularly in the outrageous performances of John Leguizamo as Chi Chi and Wesley Snipes as Noxeema. Swayze is all poise and elegance as Vida, so the other two have to provide much of the levity in the movie. There are also some moments of surprising tenderness. In particular there’s a fantastic scene where Noxeema brings a catatonic woman out of her dazed listlessness by talking at her about movies. Given the project that my wife and I have been engaged in for the last 336 days it should be no surprise that this struck a chord with me.

My one complaint would be that as a work of pure magical fantasy the movie sometimes feels like it is trivializing matters that shouldn’t be glossed over in such a way. The way that Noxeema overcomes a group of local hoods who seem bent on molesting her is fun, sure, but its implausibility makes it hard to accept. There’s a whole plot about a downtrodden and beaten wife (played brilliantly by the way by Stockard Channing) but the simplistic way that it is resolved feels almost like an affront to women having to deal with these circumstances. I have to keep reminding myself – this is fantasy. This is the way the world SHOULD work, not the way that it does.

I also want to say that while it is great that this movie got some big name Hollywood actors to dress up in drag and act camp, after having seen so many talented professional drag superstars on Ru’s show over the last couple years I sometimes wished that our stars could have been as glamorous and amazing as those pros. It’s an unreasonable expectation I know, and I appreciate the job that Swayze, Snipes and Leguizamo do, but I know that drag can be so much more. Still – this is more an homage and tribute to drag than an actual drag performance.

This movie was the perfect film to watch before RuPaul. It’s all about the awe inspiring power of drag and how a little self confidence can change the world. Because if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love someone else? Can I get an Amen?

January 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments

Movie 336 – Amelie

Amelie – January 30th, 2011

It’s so very strange not to be watching a Star Trek movie right now. It feels bizarre, to be honest. After two weeks of them, I feel slightly bereft without them. But I suppose I have the entirety of TNG to pop in if I want. Maybe later. For now it’s time for a movie, and we decided that sine we’ve spent the past two weeks watching American science fiction we’re incredibly familiar with, tonight we should watch something different. Something subtitled and foreign. Something one or both of us hadn’t seen before. Well, Andy’s seen this one, but I hadn’t, so it fits the bill. It’s certainly been an overhype victim for me. And I will admit now, having seen it, I was a fool to leave it so long.

Having seen ads and trailers and heard glowing review after glowing review, I expected something overly twee that might end up making me roll my eyes a bit. What can I say? I’m a cynic much of the time. I expected whimsical and sweet and quirky. And oh, yes, I got all of that. Sentimental too. I expected sentimental. And really, the movie is all of these things. And being all of these things, it might have been rather difficult to make it also something that entertained me. I have a low tolerance for twee. Yet somehow this movie manages to be entirely made of whimsy and sentiment and not feel like it’s sagging under the weight of too much frill and frippery.

The movie is ostensibly the story of a young woman named Amelie. She was raised in a somewhat solitary setting, taught at home by her mother until her mother’s death. She lives her life much inside her own mind, filling the world around herself with fantasies. Until one day she finds a tin hidden in her apartment and sets out to find the man who hid it decades ago when he was a boy. In doing so she opens up a whole new path for herself, finding little ways to help those around her. She sets up a coworker with a regular customer. She forges a letter to console a neighbor about her long deceased husband. She goes about a number of little quests to make other lives happier. Which is why I say the movie is only ostensibly about Amelie.

Yes, the movie is, from beginning to end, her story. It’s about this young woman and her life and how she goes from solitary to connected without losing what makes her special. That one first quest leads her to meeting her neighbors, making friends with them, finding out about their lives and little dramas. She pays more attention to her coworkers and reaches out to them. She’s always found joy in little things, but now those little things involve people, not just objects. She even finds a way to help her father without ever letting him know it’s her. In fact, most of the things she does she manages to keep anonymous. Only one person really figures out what she’s up to and then he helps her when she finds a young man and pursues him only to realize that she can’t bring herself to stop being anonymous. But in and among all of her stories are the stories of everyone else. The movie takes a step out here, a moment there, showing us and telling us the backgrounds of everyone involved. So it’s the story not just of a young woman, but of the entire intangible social network that builds around her.

To be honest, I’m still processing the movie even a couple of hours after it finished. I’m not entirely sure how it pulled itself off. While there’s mischief, and some decidedly negative attitudes in some of the characters, the focus of the movie itself is so relentlessly positive one would think it would be too much on one side for me. And it wasn’t at all. It somehow maintains this pleasant and curious tone for two hours. All the little asides and stories, all of Amelie’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, they all come together to make this movie bizarrely delightful in a way I can’t argue with. I can’t find much fault with it aside from some quibbles with tonal changes between the storytelling in the beginning and the storyshowing near the end (I like both, but they don’t quite segue as smoothly as I’d like). It is simply a lovely movie, light and sweet but not cloying, which means it defied my expectations in all the right ways.

January 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Amelie

January 30, 2011

Amelie

I bought this movie because it had the name Jean-Pierre Jeunet attached to it. Because City of Lost Children is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Something bizarre and quirky and very French I suppose, which is just what I got.

There is much that is familiar about the style of this movie. There’s the storybook opening that introduces us to our cast of characters (providing us quick views of their likes and dislikes) and lets us know what kind of world we are in. There’s the subtle use of computer effects and animation to show us the characters’ imaginations or state of mind. There’s a lot of slick camera work and manipulation of the film speed to help tell the story.

The story is that of Amelie, a dreadfully introverted and private young woman with more imaginary friends than real ones. She’s a dreamer who decides one day that she wants to do good deeds and make the lives of those she meets better, but is still too shy to actually meet people, so she starts a campaign of doing good without being detected. It’s almost like a series of related short vignettes as Amelie helps all the various quirky people in her life. Still, she is lonely, and as the movie goes on she slowly begins to open up, meeting her extremely private shut-in neighbour and learning that she can make friends. She discovers a kindred spirit – another eccentric introvert – and woos him in the same introverted way that she has been trying to help others.

The world the movie takes place in is a sort of fantastic simpler version of our world. The town house where Amelie and her quirky collection of acquaintances live is a quaint, anachronistic place with door locks that use skeleton keys and a sort of Victorian feel. But people use micro tape recorders, video cameras and cordless phones with programed phone numbers. It’s a cleaner, brighter place than our hectic modern world of cell phones and PDAs, but is clearly meant to be a sort of modern day analogue.

The entire movie relies heavily on the elfin-faced Audrey Tautou, who plays the title character. Although there is an awful lot of expository monologue over the start of the film it is Audrey’s wide-eyed wonder and terror that sells the movie. She perfectly captures and emotes that dread that a true introvert feels when dealing with people. Her isolation and her desire to still interact with people is the central theme of the movie, and without Mademoiselle Tautou I can’t imagine this movie working.

And it does work. It’s a deceptively simple story about how we can touch other lives and make the world a better place. It says something about the power of dreams and aspirations. It’s a light-hearted love story about a pair of missfits looking for comfort and not really knowing what it is they want. It’s a playful fantasy – a modern fairy tale. As an introvert myself I can’t help but sympathise with Amelie and her complex schemes.

This movie is beautiful and enchanting and strange and fun. It’s a quirky and fun way to spend an afternoon, and it was delightful to watch it again tonight. It re-enforces for me how much I love the direction of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and it was fun to once again see him working with Dominique Pinon, and it’s a great introduction to Audrey Tautou. (I think whomever was responsible for ordering foreign films for Blockbuster must have fallen in love with Audrey as well, because of the twenty or so French films we had in the Hingham store about seven starred her.) Jeunet lives in a world of vivid dreams and imagination, and it’s a treat once in a while to be able to visit that world.

January 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 335 – Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest – January 29th, 2011

Tonight we end our two weeks of Star Trek with a movie that isn’t technically part of the universe but is so obviously an homage not only to the fictional universe in the shows and movies and books, but to the fandom as well. After all, what fan wouldn’t want, one day, to find out that it was all really real? And how better to tell that story than as a parody of the entire thing, so it can’t possibly take itself too seriously? It is a brilliant bit of meta geek love with a fun plot and a clever script and a fantastic cast and scads of references for fans of Star Trek and all science fiction to enjoy.

The similarities to Star Trek are immediately apparent when the movie opens. The subject of it all is a show called Galaxy Quest. It had a short run in the 1980s and has inspired a huge following in the world of the film. We see the ending of a cliffhanger episode as shown at a Galaxy Quest convention and it is so very cheesy and so very perfect. Backstage at the convention the cast are gathered, dressed in costume but older and a little over it all (or in one case, very over it all). There’s the respected British actor, Alexander Dane, who played an alien crewmember on the show and feels he’s been ruined by his association with it, destined to always be the weird alien who played second fiddle to the commander. There’s the token woman, played by Gwen DeMarco, frustrated by her character’s lack of purpose and the media’s obsession with her breasts. There’s Tommy Webber, who was the child prodigy character and is now grown up. There’s Fred Kwan, who seems constantly stoned and well past his glory days. And then there’s Jason Nesmith, the commander of the ship. Still super into the show even years later, with a huge ego and enthusiasm that irritate the hell out of the rest of the cast. Come on, like you can’t see the connections there.

I could go into the specifics of the show and the cast and their relationships, but really, it’s not all that complicated. It’s a fond yet mocking reference to everything Trek. Sure, we’re not talking point by point direct similarities, but they’re close enough to see. The movie starts out a little brutal, to be honest, with Nesmith going into the bathroom at the convention after spending the afternoon being beloved by the fans around him and hearing two teenagers totally rip him apart. It’s demoralizing and it’s painful and he goes back to the autograph table and takes it out on a group of young fans, exhorting them all to realize that it’s all made up. It’s all fake. If you’ve seen the SNL skit where Shatner tells a room full of faux convention-goers to “get a life”? It’s that scene. And according to the movie trivia, it’s based on something that happened to Shatner. Man, how depressing.

But it’s necessary, because the real plot of the movie is what happens when, after that, Nesmith and the rest of the cast (and the fans he snapped at) all find out that no. It’s not fake. It’s real. Dangerously and amazingly real. The cast ends up in space, helping a crew of naive aliens battle a formidable foe. The naive aliens – Thermians – have been receiving the Galaxy Quest broadcasts for years and believe they’re all real. Their entire culture is now based on the ideals of the show. And they need the help of the true crew to defeat their enemy. Of course, the cast are all just actors! But also of course they all rise to meet the challenge.

It’s full of fantastic bits of meta, like when it’s pointed out that everyone can hear what the computer says so why does Gwen keep repeating it? Well, it was built to echo the show, so since Lt. Tawny Madison repeated everything to and from the computer, Gwen has to do it too, just like her character. Stupid! But still necessary. Down on an alien planet to find a necessary item for the ship’s engines, the crew thinks they can waltz right in and grab it until Guy – an extra who’d been working at the convention and tagged along – screams at them “Didn’t you ever watch the show?!” He knows how it works, and he knows he is Galaxy Quest’s version of a Red Shirt. Nesmith ends up losing his shirt (and is mocked for it by Dane). The ship’s self-destruct stops at one second regardless of when the cancellation button is pushed. And then there are the “chompers”, which Gwen demands to know the purpose of before declaring that the episode they’re from was badly written. The movie winks constantly, knowing that every moment is that much funnier for it.

The big space battle and the cast finding themselves and growing to become a true team after years of bickering and boredom is all fantastic stuff. But the true heart of the movie for me is when they call upon the fans back on Earth for help. This is why this movie is perfect to watch not just after the Star Trek feature films but after the documentaries as well. It is a celebration of fandom and fannish pursuits. It’s that impossible wish that some day the bizarrely encyclopedic knowledge that you have of the workings of a fictional starship or the like might actually come in handy. Because after those poor young fans got snapped at and had their big plans ruined by Nesmith, he calls them up from space, knowing they can help him. Because while it was never really real for him, no matter how much he loved it, it is real to them. Justin Long plays the leader of the little crew, Brandon, and he is pitch perfect in the role.

The whole cast is excellent, really. Tim Allen as Nesmith/Commander Taggart, Alan Rickman as Dane/Dr. Lazarus, Sigourney Weaver as Gwen/Lt. Madison, Tony Shalhoub as Fred/Tech Sgt. Chen (who has some of our favorite and most quoted lines), Daryl Mitchell as Tommy/Laredo and Sam Rockwell as Guy, the extra. They all manage to inhabit these wonderfully dual/meta roles. The aliens are fantastic as well and I highly recommend checking the alternate language tracks on the DVD – but not for long. Everyone involved in this movie deserves a huge amount of credit for making it work. Because it could have fallen flat if it hadn’t been handled just right, but everything, from the big rock monster to the alien girlfriend to the final entrance at the convention? It all hits the perfect notes.

A final note: I don’t usually link to fanfiction in my reviews as it usually doesn’t seem quite appropriate. After all, there’s a ton of fanfic out there and if people want to go looking it’s not like it’s hard to find. That being said, I think there’s something about this particular movie that makes it appropriate here. After all, it’s a Star Trek parody (itself a form of fan work) where fans of a show find out that the show is real and use fan knowledge to help out. That’s so deliciously meta. And it begs for more fannish content. And so I present links to two of my personal favorite works, one of which deals with the “real world” in the movie and one of which deals with the “fiction”.
Secret Lives of the Cast of Galaxy Quest – Five scenes detailing the lives of five of the cast members and how they ended up on the show and what it did to/for them. For humor, my favorite is Fred’s.
Artificial Devotion – A fantastic piece that is more fanfic for the show within the movie, explaining just why it is that Tawny Madison has to be the one to talk to the computer. Creepy and a little sad, but excellent.

January 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Galaxy Quest

January 29, 2011

Galaxy Quest

How else could we possibly conclude our Star Trek extravaganza than to watch this hilarious, wonderful, meta masterpiece? It may not be a Star Trek movie, but this movie, especially after the fun of Trekkies and Trekkies Two, is clearly a giant love note to Trek fans.

Indeed the movie begins at a fan convention. It’s full of folks in uniforms and dressed as various aliens buying merchandise and waiting in lines to get signatures from the fans of the show. Of course in this movie the show is not Star Trek (in spite of the many resemblances) but is Galaxy Quest – a cheesy 1980s program about the adventures of the NSEA Protector and her crew. There’s the brash captain, the young pilot, the sexy communications officer, the brilliant engineer and the alien science officer. As we join the actors who played these parts back in the day it is eighteen years later. They are washed up has-beens working the con circuit with no particular careers to speak of. Jason Nesbith in particular (who played Commander Taggart on the show) is caught up in his own legend. As one of his co-stars puts it: the fans love him – almost as much as he loves himself.

The twist here is that far off on the other side of the galaxy a naive race of aliens called Thermians have been watching the old Galaxy Quest programs and are under the mistaken belief that all the events portrayed in the show were historical fact. They have built their civilization and technology on what they observed of Galaxy Quest, and as a result there is a real Protector with a real beryllium sphere and real energy armor and real transporter pods. When their civilization is threatened by an evil overlord they turn to Jason Nesbith and his fellow actors, thinking that they are the actual Commander and crew they have seen so much of in the “historical documents.”

The joy of this movie is that it is the dream of every sci-fi fan. Everything that was on the old Galaxy Quest program turns out to be real. What if it turned out that all those unimaginative thugs throughout the lives of every fan with their “get a life” taunts about what a waste of time your dedication to your fandom is ere actually completely wrong all along? What if you could actually take part in the adventures you’ve always felt were more important than reality anyhow? It’s just spectacular to see these washed up actors discovering that they actually have it inside themselves to be the heroes they used to portray. There’s a dedicated young fan of the show played by Justin Long who seems to be directly modeled on Gabriel Koerner from our last two movies – and he gets probably the most enviable character arc since his lowly nerd is actually able to save the crew of the Protector using his knowledge of the show. Every fan’s dream.

This movie is packed with wonderful performances and memorable moments and lines. Tim Allen is wonderful as William Shatner Jason Nesmith. Alan Rickman is perfectly cast as the weary Shakespearean actor Alexander Dane – who portrayed the alien on the bridge (apparently a sort of combination of the logic of a Vulcan with the nobility of a Klingon.) His complete disdain for his character’s catch phrase not only makes for some laughs at the start of the film, but gives the movie one of its most touching and tender moments near the end. Sigourney Weaver plays the only female member of the bridge crew, and her character is well aware of how stupid and demeaning her role is. One of my favorite parts of the whole movie is Tony Shalhoub as the perpetually stoned and completely unflappable Fred Kwan, who is unfazed by the discovery that there are people who believe the role he once played was real. I’ll admit that I never watched Monk while it was on TV, but I was tempted because I so loved Tony’s performance here. He has most of the best lines and deliveries in the movie. Then there’s my other favorite part – Sam Rockwell as Guy, the character so unimportant that he doesn’t even have a last name. In one of those self-aware bits of humor that makes this movie so great Guy is perfectly aware that since he is the only human who is not a member of the bridge crew he is expendable and will probably die at any moment. Sam Rockwell is just fantastic in every role I’ve ever seen him in from this to Zaphod Beeblebrox to the trapped space miner Sam Bell to Iron Man’s nemesis Justin Hammer to anti-Nixon journalist James Reston Jr. Go read some of our other reviews – Sam Rockwell is all over our collection and discovering him as an actor has been one of the joys of this project.

I once kicked a hole in a wall because my sister teased me by telling me that something I cared deeply about was just fantasy. Of course I know that – I knew it then. I don’t think that there are many fans of anything who cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy (hint: reality is unfair and difficult to win at) but I also don’t think there are many fans who don’t wish deep in their heart that what they love and obsess over was actually real. This film is an exploration of just how wonderful it would be if that were true. (For a darker and much more upsetting take on the same basic theme I recommend Lev Grossman’s The Magicians: A Novel.)

January 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 334 – Trekkies 2

Trekkies 2 – January 28th, 2011

I think that by this point it should be rather obvious that Andy and I are most definitely Trekkies (that’s the term I was raised with and it’s the term Roddenberry used and that’s the entirety of my reasoning). We bought Star Trek V specifically for this project. We watched it! We have spent the past two weeks watching a Star Trek film every night. After Wrath of Khan we put in the reboot even though it was late and we’d be watching it for this project in the next week. After some of the TNG movies we put in episodes from the series. We even watched one (Masks) before we put in tonight’s movie. We don’t do cons or collect stuff (though I do have a few action figures from early in TNG’s run – I played with them and they are not mint in box) but let’s face it, these fandom documentaries speak to us because we fit right in.

Seven years after the original documentary Denise Crosby returns to guide us through even more Trek fandom. This time we get to leave the US and meet fans in other countries, see how they show their love of the show and visit their conventions. We also see more of the US and get to revisit some familiar faces and meet plenty of new people. More aspects of the fannish universe are explored and there’s some meta commentary where the fans in this documentary talk about the portrayal of fans in the first one. And once again, while Crosby is the one going around from country to country – in theory – the focus is mostly on the fans themselves, which is just perfect in my opinion.

This documentary really does make an attempt to show a wide variety of geographical areas. They travel to several different countries and talk to fans in each, both at conventions and not at conventions. They visit stores selling merchandise and they visit homes full of posters and tapes and figures. It’s fantastic, because it quickly becomes apparent that there are some wonderful differences in terms of cultural influences and some amazing similarities in terms of the overall tone and sentiments. Every group of fans seems to have imbued their activities with parts of their culture, making it distinct while keeping it immediately recognizable as Star Trek

They start in Germany and it’s largely like what’s in the first movie, but in German and with German accents. Then it’s off to London where we meet a dude who’s constructed an elaborate set in his flat. The flat would be difficult to live in, but it’s amazingly intricate. Then to Italy, with more conventions and fans and cosplay and oh, the food. We visit Brazil, where a publisher of Portuguese language Trek items says “This is a wonderful way to be crazy.” They go to France, where it still seems like it’s not terribly accepted as of the time of the movie’s filming but people love it anyhow. Still, I would love to have a Star Trek quiche party. Australia gets a visit too, and Serbia.

The bits in Serbia are really the most inspiring to me. The fans there talk a lot about the show being a symbol of hope for them. They visit the first Star Trek convention in the area and I am not ashamed to say that it brings tears to my eyes. The fans there are just so amazed and thrilled to find each other and have the opportunity to get together. What’s really wonderful about all the countries they go to and all the people they talk to from all the cultures represented is that they’re all saying the same thing. They use different worlds and different languages, but they’re talking about loving the ideals and finding a space where they can be comfortable and enjoy being who they are. And in every country there is a feeling that having Star Trek is a hugely positive thing.

And there’s still plenty to explore in the US too. We visit with Daryl Frazetti and his cats, we see Barbara Adams again, and oh, oh there’s more Gabriel Koerner! He’s so much more aware of himself here, looking back on his teen years with fondness but also knowing that yes, he was, in his own words, socially oblivious. But he’s done well for himself, working on CG stuff professionally and married and all, so who cares, really? There’s Star Trekkian Shakespeare, filking, more conventions. There’s a whole section on the charity work done by fans and fan organizations as well as the cast and crew.

One major difference I noticed between the two documentaries is that while this one does have quite a few little bits and pieces from various cast members, they’re mostly newer cast from the newer shows and the clips are short. They’re little reactions to questions, not longer musings on the general topics. And I don’t mind that. After all, we did get thoughts on the show and the universe from quite a few of the bigger names in the first documentary and in this one we get some people who weren’t a part of it all yet. But we also get a whole lot of fans, and the title of the documentary is a reference to the fans, so that’s fitting.

There’s also a lot of focus on fan creativity. It’s not just about wearing uniforms and going to conventions and having parties and watching the show. It’s about making fan movies – and there are several, in different countries. It’s about filking, which gets a good little clip. Fanfiction is mentioned again and shown to be more than just the Kirk/Spock stuff (I mean, come on, there’s got to be some Chekhov/Sulu too, right?). They talk about the roots of dressing up for conventions (check out Forrest J. Ackerman dressed up for the 1939 WorldCon) and really get into the world of fan art and all the myriad ways people express their creativity and funnel it through the Star Trek universe. There’s a whole section on Trek-themed rock bands in Sacramento. My personal favorites are Warp 11, who seem pretty rockin’ to me, and Stovokor (a Klingon metal band – perfect, right?).

Overall I think a second documentary had to be made. There’s just so very much out there. It says something to the phenomenon that is Star Trek that there is such a vast amount of fandom around the world. It’s inspiring and comforting and thrilling to so many people and they love it so much – we love it so much – that it’s impossible to hold back. There’s a whole extra hour of footage on the disc! We watched it after we finished the documentary and loved every additional minute. It’s just wonderful to see so many people enjoying it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s still enough unexplored fandom out there to warrant a third installment, though who knows if it would ever get made. Still, if it does I’m sure we’ll watch it. We’re just like that. We’re Trekkies.

January 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Trekkies 2

January 28, 2011

Trekkies 2

As with yesterday’s loving look at those eccentric fans of Star Trek this is a series of interviews with Denise Crosby at conventions. But this movie leaves the comfortable confines of North America and explores Star Trek fandom across the globe. Yes, we catch up with some of the break out stars of the first Trekkies movie, but it’s the international fans that make this movie special.

There’s just something so cool and surreal about people in Star Trek uniforms speaking German, Portuguese, Italian and French. Fandom transcends all borders and boundaries. People dress up as Klingons in every country in the world apparently. There’s something surreal and comforting about that, which is what this movie is trying to convey I think.

This movie came out seven years after the first Trekkies movie, so part of the fun is re-visiting the BNFs featured in that film. Barbara Adams doesn’t seem to have changed at all. Except that she’s been promoted from Lieutenant Commander to Fleet Admiral. She’s still working in the print shop. She’s still wearing her uniform and spreading the word of Star Trek. We also get to see Gabriel Koerner and his lovely wife – proof, he points out, that nerds do sometimes get laid. Note also that he did the visual effects and starship flybys on the DVD menus and in the film.

The most emotional moment in the film is when Denise attends the first ever Star Trek convention in the Balkans – the former Yugoslavia. One attendee says that there had been some doubt that a Serbian Star Trek convention could actually work because, he says, every Serbian Trek fan thought that he (or she) was the ONLY Serbian Trek fan. It’s a beautiful moment captured on film to have all these closet nerds discovering each other. It perfectly depicts the sense of community that fandom engenders and how sharing their love for this seminal sci-fi series can help to bring people together. The notion that Star Trek helped so many people through hardship brings tears to my eyes. One fan talks about how so many people find themselves when in times of trouble longing for some golden past that probably never existed, and contrasts that with the Star Trek fan’s tendency to look forward to a better future instead.

We get to see a lot of fan productions in this movie too. In German. In French. There’s a fantastic looking Star Trek adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Gabriel Koerner is producing a Star Trek spoof in his free time (and I keep expecting Wil Wheaton to walk on to his set.) There’s an earnest but amateur German production that involves a meeting between TNG and classic Trek captains. (I was amused to not that although most of the German production was in German, the Klingons still speak Klingon – which is its own language and apparently is not changed no matter what language the rest of the show is translated into.) There’s a movie set in the old west where the co-captains of the USS St. Paul have to battle a backwards and corrupt sheriff. And everybody seems to have a trailer for their work. (A couple of trailers are featured on the DVD.)

There’s a great sequence that follows the Sacramento Star Trek theme band movement. There’s the classic Trek band No Kill I (taking their name from the thoughts Spock reads from the Horta.) There’s also NKI: The Next Generation and NKI: Deep Space Nine. The best actual songmanship seems to come from Warp 11 – and I’ll admit that I am tempted to dip into the internet and see what songs of theirs are available for download. Then there’s the Klingon metal band Stovokor – they are simply awesome. Really, how could a Klingon metal band go wrong? We also are treated to a much better representation of the filking phenomenon than in the first movie. Here we actually get some quick excerpts from real filk artists, and their songs are haunting, silly, and catchy.

Really this movie is just more of the same from the first film. More interviews. More costumes. More fans. More people brought together by a shared love of Star Trek. If you end up watching this DVD be sure you look at the deleted scenes. Just select “play all” because there’s an entire extra movie worth of material to watch. We put it on because we like to watch special features and fifty-five minutes later we were still smiling and laughing along with the movie. As with our Star Trek extravaganza as a whole, we simply didn’t want this movie to end.

January 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 333 – Trekkies

Trekkies – January 27th, 2011

As of last night we watched all of our Star Trek feature films. All of them. Every single one. But our two Trek weeks aren’t over, since we’ve also got documentaries! We discovered this when I was in college and I’ve got to say, it struck a chord with me right away. It’s a documentary not just about the fans of the show(s) but also about the whole phenomenon of Trek fandom. It touches on lots of different aspects of fannish activity, from conventions to clubs to cosplay to collecting. It’s a big world out there and this documentary tries to at least give a wide sampling of what the fandom has to offer.

I am of mixed opinion on Denise Crosby, who was one of the producers and who acts as a sort of guide through the movie. I remember loving her character, Tasha Yar, when the Next Generation series started and I was crushed when she left the show. Later on when I learned she’d asked to be written out? I admit, I felt put off by her. And then she got written back in when she approached the producers later on. It just feels like she regrets leaving in the first place because of how big it’s gotten and desperately wants to be a part of it all. Then again, in her place, looking in on something like this? I’d want to make myself a part of it again too. Still, she spends much of the show looking shocked and bemused like she’s not quite sure she really wants to know how far some of this stuff goes.

Through the course of the movie we meet quite a few fans and many of the cast members of the various shows. There are interviews and conversations and the interviewees are often the ones narrating what’s being shown on the screen. There’s Barbara Adams, who’s known as Commander at her workplace in a printing shop and who wore her Starfleet uniform when she had jury duty during the Whitewater trial. There’s a dentist and his family who’ve turned their office into Starbase Dental, full of props and sci-fi decorations. They all wear costumes too, including a full Troi wig for the dentist’s wife and assistant. There’s the kid who dresses his cat up (the cat seemed to be totally cool with this so I’m not criticizing) and enters him in costume contests at cons. There’s the guy who builds Trek-based electronics gizmos. There are a huge variety of cosplayers who do everything from Klingons to Andorians to Orions. There are Borg and Vulcans and Bajorans and a number of Starfleet officers of various positions of canonical basis (or not). And then there is the fan we consider the star of the movie. Gabriel Koerner.

Let’s get this straight: We love Gabriel Koerner. I wasn’t just like him when I was a kid, but I was a fan and I was a socially awkward teen and I had friends like him. In this movie he is a 14 year old Trek fan who is invested and fascinated and thoroughly versed in his hobby of choice and man, I loved him from the moment I saw him. I was also fascinated to realize that in the photos they show of him as a kid, he looks a great deal like the kid they got to play young Spock in Star Trek. But yes, Koerner steals the show. He plays ambassador to the Trek fandom and he does a wonderful job. He’s a nice fan. He’s young and enthusiastic and bright and he seems well aware of what the fandom entails, unlike Crosby, who seems somewhat shocked at a couple of things she hears about.

There are certainly some TMI moments in this documentary. A couple of things people unfamiliar with fandom (any fandom) might be taken aback by. Slash fanfic, for one, though by now folks on the internet should be aware of it, if not familiar with it (at one point a dealer at a convention asks Koerner how he knows so much about the action figures they’re trading and Koerner explains ‘I’m on the internet.’ Bigger deal in 1997 than now). Cosplayers explain how it helps their personal lives, there’s some rather tasteful but certainly sexual fan art shown. To me, having spent a goodly portion of time online following various fandoms, it’s nothing terribly unusual or surprising. But it’s new to everyone at some point and for anyone who hasn’t dabbled in a fandom of some sort, it’s probably somewhat revelatory.

What this documentary does very well is show the fans in it in a very sympathetic and fond light. After all, one of the big themes of the documentary as a whole is how everyone is welcome in a world like the one in Star Trek and how for people who feel marginalised elsewhere, something like the Trek fandom is an enormously welcoming thing. There’s a group of women interviewed at one point who explain how strange it is to come to a convention and feel normal and go home after and realize they have to not act like themselves. The whole thing is saying that this is a safe place for people. A comfort zone, if you will. And I like that. I’m not a big con-goer, but I’ve been to a couple that felt like home. In particular, PLA (the Public Library Association), WorldCon (World Science Fiction Society) and PAX East (Penny Arcade Expo on the East Coast). Walking into those conventions felt like walking into the midst of the best party ever. One where the people all speak my language and get me. I can only imagine that’s what Trek cons are like. I can’t say for myself since I’ve only ever been to one and oh, it was the saddest convention in all the land. One room, with a ring of tables at one end and a tiny stage at the other end. We didn’t stay long but I wish I’d been old enough at the time to stick around, because even though it was tiny and all, I think I still would have enjoyed myself.

I remember quite clearly training my fingers into the Vulcan greeting when I was a kid, but while my parents are fans and called themselves Trekkies, it was always with a bit of a laugh to it. After all, we weren’t like those people who dressed up and went to conventions! But then, what’s the big difference when you know episodes by heart? A friend of mine, who will remain nameless, is a big Star Trek fan. A mutual friend introduced us by telling him “Hey, she’s a Star Trek fan too!” and he all but dove over a table (and if you’re reading this, my friend, don’t deny it). So we showed him this documentary and he protested a bit, claiming he wasn’t a Trekkie and no, no, he wasn’t like “those people” on the screen. And then we reached a bit with a guy who built himself a working version of Christopher Pike’s chair from the original series. And immediately he commented “That light’s in the wrong place!” Not a Trekkie indeed. Who cares, really? Gabriel Koerner says it best when he states that he calls himself a Star Trek fan and leaves the debate about Trekkie and Trekker to others.

Aside from Koerner, I think my favorite parts of the movie are some of the stories told by the cast members. They all seem so awed to be a part of something this big, and thrilled with some of the things that have come of it. James Doohan tells a story about a suicidal fan who came to see him at several conventions after writing him a letter telling him how she was feeling. Coming to see him helped her through a hard time and she eventually went and got an engineering degree. There are stories of fans seeing themselves represented by the diverse cast and being inspired. There are stories of fans seeing the possibilities for the future and doing things to make that future happen. There are so many stories. It’s fantastic. And yes, some of them are funny, like the fan who sent a ridged Klingon condom to the producers. And there are funny moments, like the Klingons going to get some fast food for lunch. But it’s all done with love, because the fans so clearly love the show. How could you really make fun of that? Especially when they state so clearly why it is that they love it. It’s because the show has such wonderful ideals and such a hopeful view of the future. It’s because it’s inspiring and, as Majel Barrett says, Star Trek is a 20th century mythology. That’s certainly worth some respect.

January 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Trekkies

January 27, 2011

Trekkies

We have watched all of our Star Trek movies now, but we have other Trek related movies to watch. Like this documentary about fans of the various Star Trek franchises. I don’t recall how we discovered this movie – I think we must have had it at TLA Video and Amanda and I rented it and watched it because we liked the idea of a movie all about Trek fanatics. Instantly we fell in love with this movie. It pokes fun at the fans a little bit, but it’s kind-hearted good natured fun. It also has a number of rather touching stories as well, about how fandom actually helps people.

The movie purports to star Denise Crosby, but in fact it is responsible for the rise to fame of a young and enthusiastic fan names Gabriel Koerner. Denise does interview a number of the stars of Trek and some of the more frightening fans (she has a slightly bewildered look on her face a lot of the time,) but Gabriel’s unfettered joy as he shows off his collected toys, introduces us to his fan club, and invites us along to a convention is infectious. He shows off some impressive CGI work that he was putting together for an amateur movie his club is putting together. He takes us to the dealer tables as he trades some figures. He just seems like a fun guy to hang out with, not so different from myself as a youth.

I’m not a habitual con goer myself. Oh, I admit that this year I have planned my spring break around Pax East – the big video-game convention – but aside from Pax last year and one Worldcon sci-fi convention I’ve not been to any other conventions. But I can completely understand the appeal. Everybody wants to meet and talk to people who enjoy the things they enjoy. I really respect all the cosplayersthey interview here – people with some quite elaborate uniforms and costumes and make-up. That looks like a lot of fun.

This is a simple but well put together documentary. It is almost entirely interviews with Star Trek fans of varying degrees of intensity. There are also some anecdotes from cast and crew of the various shows, and some of those are truly moving. But it’s the regular fans I love. The woman who wore her starfleet uniform as a juror. The couple who run a Star Trek themed dentist’s office. The group of Klingons who do community service. And of course Gabe with his uniforms and his father’s shuttlecraft van and his Star Trek fan group. Of course the movie concentrates on the most colorful and blatant of fans that the film-makers could find, but they aren’t held up for ridicule – they’re treated simply as people passionate about something they believe offers a better vision of what life can be. Star Trek is depicted as a source of inspiration more than anything else.

I see this as a fun little film full of people that would be a lot of fun to be with. I may not go to Star Trek conventions myself, but these people are folks I respect. Amanda and I planned to cosplay at the last convention we attended but were never able to fit it into our busy lives. It takes dedication to live your life the way these fans do. It takes money. It takes time. These people are living a dream, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them doing it.

January 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment