A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 445 – Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland – May 19th, 2011

Last night I was having a very hard time reviewing I Am Legend, not because it was a hard movie to review but because I was having a bit of a down evening and simply couldn’t get the words out. I think I finally finished my review around 2 a.m. after railing a bit against the world in general and fantasy in particular. This wasn’t the fault of the movie. It was just a thing that gets to me every so often. Because much as I would love the world to actually be full of wizards and magic and much as I would adore all the things I’ve read and imagined to be out there waiting to be discovered, sometimes it hits me hard that they aren’t. I know it, but there’s a difference between knowing it and feeling it. Last night I felt it and it made everything more difficult. So when it came time to pick a movie for this evening I looked at the list and saw this and knew that this was it.

This is a movie about imagination and how we need it. I had a short discussion with a friend this morning about the importance of fantasy and imagination and the worlds inside our heads. She said some good things and I was heartened to read them. Things about how while sometimes we use fantasy for an escape, we can also use it as the impetus for our real world actions. And I responded that I can normally do the latter, but sometimes I need the former. I honestly believe sometimes we all need the former. Sometimes an imaginary world where things work in different ways and we can be something other than what we normally are is the world you need to believe in, even if only for a short time. Even if it’s only a small part of your mind believing in it while the rest of your mind believes in bills and groceries and cleaning all the things. Sometimes you need to have not grown up. Just for a few moments.

It’s one of the things I enjoy a lot about this project. Yes, we have documentaries and historical films that are based on real events. But we’ve got a hell of a lot more fantasy and science fiction and magical realism. And for an hour and a half or more every day I get to visit a different world and escape into it. And then after it’s over I get to come back to the real world and talk about what that other world was like. Did it manage to accomplish its goals? Did it transport me? Did I enjoy the trip? Was I supposed to? And I can say, without a doubt, that for me this movie accomplished its goals, transported me, and I enjoyed every second of it even when I was in tears.

Perhaps it’s that I picked it on a night after I’d been thinking so much on the nature of imagination and how I process it and how real it is to me and the difference in the kinds of belief one can have in one’s imagination. It’s certainly possible to say that this movie has flaws. It’s precious and a little saccharine in places and I think the last scene with Barrie and Peter was a bit much even if I do think Freddie Highmore performed admirably. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is that flaws or not, this movie struck me at the right time in the right way. It is the perfect movie to reaffirm one’s faith in the power of thought and imagination and fantasy. It is the story of the creation of Peter Pan, after all. A story within a story with that famous bit about believing in fairies.

Johnny Depp is the center of this movie, playing J.M. Barrie. And you know, that’s fitting since the man seems not to have aged in decades (were I to believe in such things, I would claim he’s immortal) and the central figure in the story he’s telling is Peter Pan, who never grew up. And I do so like Depp. He seems to have a lot of fun romping around with the family he befriends. The Llewellyn Davies boys and their mother meet him in Kensington Gardens one afternoon and soon he’s playing with them on a daily basis, inventing adventures for them to go on and joining in. He grows close to their mother, Sylvia, a widow whose mother disapproves of the friendship. It causes difficulties for Barrie as well as his wife grows jealous of the time he spends away from her though they seemed to be somewhat distant anyhow. The interpersonal relationships between the adults does impact things, since it provides a framework for Barrie’s life and the writing of the play, but it’s not what interests me most.

I did enjoy the movie’s version of the friendship between Barrie and Sylvia, because I felt the friendship between them was the product of some great on screen chemistry from Depp and Kate Winslet and it was thoroughly believable as a friendship but not necessarily a romance. It could have been and the interpretation is certainly possible. But the friendship comes first and I think it’s entirely possible to read them as just that, friends who might have become something more if circumstances had allowed. As it stands, in the movie Barrie remains married well throughout his friendship with Sylvia and Sylvia grows ill too soon after his marriage falls apart.

Really though, the movie is about the world Barrie creates through his imaginary adventures with the boys. And we see those adventures as he gives the boys a place to start and sparks them to imagine more themselves and we see the transitions from real world to imagination and back again, sometimes between shots in the same scene, multiple times, over and over, blurring the lines. They play as cowboys and as pirates and they go flying and imagine wonderful things. In the movie Barrie especially encourages Peter, who seems to be grown before his time with grief for his father and worry for his mother. He appears to have rejected his imagination because it helps nothing and here is where the movie resonates for me. With Barrie’s encouragement Peter re-embraces his imagination and starts to tell stories of his own and the world is not kind to him and it’s hard to keep believing when the world keeps insisting that believing doesn’t matter. This is where I was struggling last night. But Barrie encourages him to stick with it. Because sometimes we need to believe in the worlds in our heads.

I loved how the movie combined the real with the fantastical. I loved the development of the imaginary stories into the play and then into a world where Barrie, Sylvia and the boys can just walk out to. Visually it’s absolutely amazing and Depp, Winslet and Highmore (as Peter) are all fantastic and carry the emotional weight well. As I mentioned, the last scene between Barrie and Peter felt a little much to me. It dipped into telling in a movie full of wonderful examples of showing. But I blame the script there, because the emotion in the scene was well done and I credit Highmore for pulling off the tears just right. Better than that though is the play itself, which is performed very nicely within the movie. I admit, I totally love the gimmick used in the movie where children were seeded through the theater to prompt the adults into reacting the way they should. And I love all the theater scenes in general. Dustin Hoffman as the theater owner has some fantastic moments and steals a lot of his scenes. It adds some humor to a movie that has a lot of moments that invite you to cry, such as the play performed in the Llewellyn Davies living room and Barrie realizing that the eldest of the boys has had to grow up right before his eyes.

There’s definitely a sentimental feel to the whole production here and I can appreciate how that might turn some people off. I, on the other hand, needed that tonight. I needed to see people feeling better because of something outside of reality. I needed to see lives transformed by the wondrous and amazing. And that is precisely what this movie shows and it shows it well. It has some fantastic acting from everyone in the cast and it has some beautifully written lines and it has a stage play and some amazing camera tricks and theatrical effects used outside of the theater. It’s beautiful and quiet and heartbreaking and affirming for me all at the same time.


May 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 383 – Shrek Forever After

Shrek Forever After – March 18th, 2011

I’m going to be honest here: I wasn’t ever expecting to watch this movie. That’s because until today we didn’t own it and I had no idea Andy had ordered it. And he’s very lucky that the quality of this one is a good deal higher than the last one because otherwise we would have some things to talk about. Actually, we did have some things to talk about. Namely, a new rule that states that from now on any movie purchased by one or the other of us without notification and approval of the other can be treated as an unsolicited addition. Which means not necessarily watched for the project. And after last night’s muddled mess, I think I was well within my rights to question the inclusion of its sequel.

And as I said, Andy is lucky that this one is better. It’s a good deal better, actually. There’s no attempt at split plots here, no wasted possibilities of entire genres of jokes. It’s decidedly darker than the first three, with a well-worn plot device driving the action, but my biggest complaint isn’t any of that. It’s the beginning of the movie. Because the whole point of the plot is that Shrek has to get to a point where he’s susceptible to someone making him a deal where he’ll end up in a world where he never existed. So the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the movie (and oh does it feel longer) are devoted to making the audience feel like Shrek’s life is really, truly, horribly, excruciatingly torturous. Instead it just reinforced my decision to never have kids. Especially little ogre triplets or mutant donkey dragon babies.

Shrek and Fiona are living together in the swamp with their babies and Donkey and his kids come for dinner and it’s an endless succession of days full of dirty diapers, baby puke, household chores, no time to rest, broken furniture, chaos and so on and so forth. It winds into a frenzy, with Shrek growing more and more frustrated and trapped and desperate until the triplets’ first birthday party where he totally loses it and storms out after roaring at all the guests. In his moment of weakness Shrek is tempted by Rumplestiltskin and signs away a single day of his life in return for a day where he gets to be a regular ogre again. Except, as we all know, Rumplestiltskin is all about the fine print and swipes the day Shrek was born, thereby making him not exist. And thus Shrek has to find a way to get out of his contract before the day is over.

Really, it’s your standard It’s a Wonderful Life rip-off but with Rumplestiltskin instead of Mr. Potter and instead of his wife being a spinster librarian in the alternate non-Shrek world she’s a kick-ass ogre resistance leader. Which, wait, this is a bad thing? Okay, so the reason she’s an ogre resistance leader is because without Shrek around (and apparently without Charming either) Fiona had to rescue herself. And since Rumplestiltskin has taken over Far Far Away and started hunting ogres, well, she’s got quite a group to lead. Not the ideal circumstances, but damn if it doesn’t make for an incredibly awesome role for Fiona in this movie. This is what I wanted from her and the princesses in the third one. She is consistently bad ass every step of the way here and I love her. I love her to pieces and this one thing is the primary reason why I cannot remain mad that Andy bought this without telling me. Self-rescuing princess who leads a barbarian horde and rejects unwanted romantic overtures with a boot to the butt? Yeah, I like her.

Sadly, that version of Fiona is doomed to be a limited time offer, since Shrek’s whole mission in this plot is to slip through the loophole in his contract and get back to his real life where Fiona is still awesome but not quite so bad ass. It’s a pity that she couldn’t go on being the ass whupping ogre leader she was even after Shrek headed back to his own reality. And normally I’d be championing a new branch of canon and all, but the movie makes it quite clear that no, it doesn’t last past Shrek’s departure. Alas. I can understand why it would be a sad world to leave running, what with the true love aspect for Shrek and Fiona, and as I said it’s a dark world in general (oh, Gingy!) but still, alas.

I appreciate that this movie did the It’s a Wonderful Life thing the way that it did it. Sure, it’s familiar, but that’s what makes it a good vehicle for something like this. We know these characters. We know this world. We know how it all works. Seeing their alternate selves makes this a parody of what was already a parody, which is a nice little level of meta. And I like some of the alternates! Donkey’s still Donkey, obviously, and I’ve made my feelings about Fiona clear, I hope. But then there’s Puss. Who is a bit chubbier and less swashbuckling but no less awesome. He reminded me quite a bit of one of our own cats and of my mother’s last cat, on whom some of Puss’s actions could have been modeled. I liked the new characters of the huge ogres and I liked the witches and I even liked Rumplestiltskin as a bad guy. And then there’s the Pied Piper, who is totally the Boba Fett to Rumplestiltskin’s Darth Vader. I get why the beginning was so exaggeratedly painful. I just wish it had been more painful for Shrek to live than for me to watch. But then the movie gave me Fiona, Queen of the Ogres, and for that alone I’m actually glad we own it.

March 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 365 – Be Kind Rewind

Be Kind Rewind – February 28th, 2011

It’s hard to believe but tomorrow is our one year anniversary, which means that as of today we have watched a full year’s worth of movies. That’s a lot of movies. That’s a lot of good and a lot of bad and a lot of in between. And for me it’s been a lot of movies I’d never seen before and might not otherwise have watched. Tonight’s movie, however, was one that I’d been meaning to watch since it came out. And when thinking about what would make a good movie to mark the end of a year of movie watching this came to mind. After all, it’s not just about movies, but it’s about a lot of movies. It seemed fitting.

As Andy and I have mentioned, we worked at a video store when I was in college. It was a local chain and it was a bit of an idiosyncratic place with hand-written signs and staff members who took breaks to play video games. It was a local institution, with regular customers who came to us because we carried what no one else did. We were the sort of store that would make the effort to respool an entire videocassette onto new reels if it was something out of print and got broken (yes, I did that). So I have a soft spot for a movie that features a tiny little video rental place. It’s my sort of store. And so, when the plot of the movie becomes apparent, and you know that this quirky little video store is in a building scheduled to be torn down in the name of progress, well, I’m a sucker for that too. But of course, that’s just the impetus for what is the point of the movie.

The point of it all is movies. People who love movies. Having fun with movies. Having fun at the movies’ expenses. When a wacky plot device causes Jack Black’s character, Jerry, to become magnetized, he erases all the movies in the store just by being near them. This is absolutely horrific to me. And I say that as someone who might well have applied a strong magnet to a particularly annoying trailer tape when I worked at a certain video store that was not the one mentioned above. Magnets and videocassettes are not friends, kids. And thus we get to the gimmick of the film, which is that Jerry and Mike, played by Mos Def, have to find a way to replace the movies and keep the store open while the owner is away. So they record their own movies. They do fantastic no budget remakes of things like Ghostbusters, using tinsel on fishing rods as the proton streams and things like that. They make Rush Hour 2 with the help of some neighborhood kids and a jungle gym. And people like them. They want more. And they’re willing to pay $20 a pop for them. With the help of Alma (played by Melonie Diaz, whom I have fallen in love with now), who works at a local dry cleaner, they start to make more movies. They sign up new members. They make even shorter movies starring the new members so they can increase production and not lower prices.

There’s a fantastic shot that’s either all one shot or a very well pieces together series of shots where the camera pans around as the group make movie after movie after movie, skipping from set to set to set. It’s hilarious and to really get it all, you have to love movies. You have to know movies. If you do, it’s just flat out amazing. The trouble is that obviously the fun can’t last forever. The boss, played by Danny Glover, comes back and has a plan to switch to DVDs to save the store, then some lawyers show up and say they’ve got a court order to destroy all the tapes and okay, let me pause for a moment here.

Now, while I have no doubt in my mind that studios would be pretty ticked off by a store renting out remakes of their movies, this is not precisely now copyright works. My best guess is that the store’s use of the movies’ plots and characters and so on would end up violating enough to not fall under fair use when it comes to renting such things out (impact on market value is an issue here and I don’t know if the parody part would be enough to cancel it out) but without a court case and arguments about it all could they really seize the tapes and run them over with a steamroller? Really? Seize them, maybe, but they’d be evidence and need to be scrutinized. Copyright law is murky at best and certainly the fair use stuff makes for less than clear cut answers, but man, when Sigourney Weaver’s lawyer character mutters that they’re being made to look like the bad guys, well. There’s a reason for that. They are.

The problem with the movie is that it takes all this fun stuff with the movie parodies and stops it cold as soon as the lawyers show up. There’s all this fun with ketchup being dumped on a fake Carrie’s head and people lining up to get the chance to make their own movie and the neighborhood pulling together in this bizarre way. And then no. The end. No more. And so since that doesn’t really give us any closure, the movie has to keep going, veering off into a completely different direction, towards a documentary about a jazz musician named Fats Waller and the completely falsified history the people in the city of Passaic give him. There are mentions of him in the beginning, and about how he was supposedly born in the building the video store was in. Mike and his boss love him and idolize him and take a lot of pride in their connection to him. But it’s all in the background. In the far background. Because the movie flat out forgets about him for about an hour while Mike and Jerry run around in cheap costumes while Alma directs and films. And then oh hey, we can’t make our parody movies anymore. Let’s make a fake documentary with the whole neighborhood!

The weird thing is, that part is fun too! It’s really amazingly awesome to see this whole neighborhood get together and build sets and props and improvise the hell out of everything. It’s creative and funny and the story is outrageous and everyone seems to have a great time making it. But it’s such a completely different feel from the first section of the movie. And then when everyone gets together to watch the final product the demolition crew shows up to tear down the store and it all feels like it happened very quickly. It’s choppy and weird, but touching at the same time, which I find confusing. Still, overall I really enjoyed the movie. It’s paced oddly but while the parts don’t always fit together well, they’re each great to watch. And while the movie definitely didn’t make me like Jack Black (whom I find horribly irritating much of the time), it made me love Mos Def even more than I already did and it introduced me to Diaz, so I’d say it more than evens out.

February 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 1 Comment

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

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

Movie 310 – Living in Oblivion

Living in Oblivion – January 4th, 2011

Today is Andy’s birthday so I told him hey, I got to pick what movie we watched on my birthday, you should pick what movie we watch today! The thing is, while I had twelve movies to pick from, which made things nice and easy, he had a lot more to look at. And we both had today off, so if he’d wanted to watch Seven Samurai today then we totally could have. We had the time. But instead he picked this, and I’m not surprised. It’s a movie about making a movie, which is wonderfully perfect for our project. Neither of us have ever been directly involved in film-making, but as one might guess from this project, we love movies, big and small. A movie about making a movie? Yes, please.

We first saw this back when I was in college and we were both working for a local video store that specialized in the stuff you couldn’t get at the big chains. I don’t remember what it was, specifically, that made us pick this up and take it home one night, but I suspect it was Steve Buscemi’s involvement. Regardless, we loved it. It’s a strange little meta film (and for an extra level of meta, there’s commentary available on the DVD), but it’s also a lot of fun and has some terrific performances.

By far, the star and best performance in the movie is Steve Buscemi as the beleaguered director, Nick. Nick’s trying to make a movie that seems like a major labor of love. It’s his and he’s thoroughly invested in it. And when things start to go wrong, and oh do they go wrong, he has to figure out how he’s going to deal with it or, well, quit. The thing is, while on the surface the things that go wrong seem a little outrageous, I do not doubt for a moment that such or similar things actually occur in a business like film. Crew members getting sick mid-scene? Cast and crew sleeping together and creating a tangle? Random family members showing up on set? A cinematographer with an eye patch? Yeah, sure. All thoroughly believable. As are the exploding light, exploding smoke machine, and exploding director (that last is more exploding in catharsis than actual smoke and flames, but the other two are literal).

While I love the movie as a whole, I have to say one of my favorite things about it is how it begins and how it incorporates a gimmick that could otherwise be a little tired. We all know the “It was just a dream!” trope (warning, that is indeed a tvtropes link and it will eat your life), but the movie plays with it in a nicely clever way. For one, some revelations and events from the first dream sequence are carried over into the second, which another person is having. And at the end, when we aren’t seeing a dream at all, there are things still carried through. The cinematographer’s eye patch, for one. It gives the dream sequences a touch of reality that the characters really do know each other and what’s going on well enough that their dreams are somewhat accurate about many things. But then it’s all turned on its head at the end while the cast and crew film a dream sequence that is so very cliched that one of the actors calls Nick out on it. Said actor is played by the fantastic Peter Dinklage, and I can only imagine that his speech about having little people in dream sequences was terrifically cathartic for him.

My one quibble about the movie stems from how it was made. The original concept for the film was only the first section, ending with Nick’s explosion and realization that he’s totally wrapped up in the project. Writer and director Tom DiCillo has said that it was inspired by his own life and I can believe it. And the first section is noticeably different than the others in that the on-screen stuff is all in color while the off-screen is in black and white. The effect is startling and I like it, but then it isn’t carried through in the rest of the movie. But the rest of the movie was filmed well after the first section, after DiCillo realized that there was no real venue for a half hour film. Too long to be a short and too short to be a feature, he either would have had to edit it or expand it. After raising the money to expand it, that’s what he did, and I’m glad he did. But it means that the first part has a few things that don’t quite match up with the rest. Then again, it could have gotten to be too obvious and too tired had it been used for the whole 90 minutes. It’s just one of those things I wish had been done slightly different.

In the grand scheme of things, however, it’s a fantastic little movie. Catherine Keener is the female lead and she’s fantastic, playing both her role as an actress and playing the actress playing a role, in and out of dream sequences. It’s fun to follow once you know what’s going on, but it’s also a great performance regardless. Steve Buscemi is, as I said, wonderful. And everyone involved seems to have been really invested, in some cases literally, having put in money to help the film get made and receiving a bit part as a thank you. The movie has a sort of “we’re all in this together” feel, much like the movie being made in the movie, which is utterly perfect. It was great to see it again after so many years, and know that it really is still as good as I thought it was when I first saw it.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 270 – Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie – November 25th, 2010

Once upon a time, back when MST3K was on Comedy Central and they were still airing it at a decent hour instead of 2-4 in the morning, US Thanksgiving was marked by the Turkey Day MST3K Marathon. It varied in length, but a few years were over 24 hours, starting the evening before and going through the night until the following midnight. I was really the only MST3K fan in my household, so any time I got to watch was in between helping with the meal, eating, and being sociable with family. And then Comedy Central sort of abandoned the idea, and then MST3K moved to SciFi and they did a short marathon one year but it was never quite the same. We’ve done Turkey Day marathons of our own, reconstructing what we can of some of the older ones from our own collection. This year, however, we decided to pick the one MST3K item in our collection that qualifies for this project.

I’m not sure if I’ve explained the importance of MST3K to myself and Andy in previous reviews. Please excuse me if I have. We’ve got 269 reviews behind us and I might well have mentioned it before but it’s really quite relevant here. While Andy and I didn’t meet because of MST3K, we certainly got to know each other better because of it. I’d brought some tapes to school to loan to a friend (one of them was Cave Dwellers, with Ator from Ator the Fighting Eagle, actually) and he saw them and asked whose they were. We hadn’t spoken much before that and it sparked a great conversation and many more followed. Once we started dating it was an easy conversation topic. Andy bought me an MST3K t-shirt and stickers for Valentine’s Day one year while we were dating (the shirt has now been signed by most of the cast). We used to stay up until 2am to watch episodes together and we both joined the fan club. I know a hell of a lot about a few television shows (The Avengers and The Prisoner come immediately to mind) but MST3K is my thing. I’ve seen live shows, gotten stuff signed, had my picture taken with the cast, gone to a miniconvention (missed the Conventio-con-expo-fest-a-ramas due to college). I love the show and so does Andy and it’s something we’ve shared since well before we started dating. So when this movie came out? We were there in the theater on opening night.

Ultimately I think we saw this movie three times in the theater (and once in a small theater during the overnight movie marathon our high school did every year). Once was opening night, once was with Andy’s father, and once was with a friend of Andy’s. Prior to seeing the movie we’d seen a lot of the show and we knew it quite well, so we weren’t going into this blind. I honestly don’t know how many people went to see the movie in the theater who didn’t at least know how the show worked. I imagine it would be a little confusing if you had no idea what to expect. But then, this movie wasn’t made for those people. It was made to bring MST3K to a big screen. The sets are bigger, the camera gets to move around, everything just feels a bit more expensive. Including the movie Mike and the Bots riff on.

I’m going to break this into a couple of sections, because this is a bit of a unique movie to review. Really, it’s two movies. There’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, and then there’s This Island Earth embedded in the middle of it. The format of the show is echoed in the movie, meaning that there are breaks in This Island Earth for Mike and the Bots to goof off on the satellite, and then the bulk of the movie is made up of them watching a film and making fun of it. Every MST3K episode has a movie in it, and when it comes to the television show, the vast majority of them are either laughably or painfully bad.

So let’s talk about This Island Earth. It’s actually kind of a sci-fi classic. I know around when they were making this movie there was an ad played on Comedy Central where Mike Nelson commented that the movie wasn’t really very classic and mocked it a bit. And I get where he’s coming from. There’s ridiculous pseudo-science and the aliens have these bizarre foreheads that no one comments on and there’s the rubber bug alien who’s wearing what look like khakis and yes, it is all very silly to watch it now. That being said, compared to some of the other movies they’ve done? It’s a masterpiece! Sure, the acting is overdone and I find the main character, Cal, to be about as emotive as a brick. The plot is somewhat lacking and the climax doesn’t really resolve anything. Aliens kidnap two nuclear scientists in hopes that they’ll be able to help find a way to fuel the alien planet’s defenses, but when they arrive an attack is in progress and the humans go down to the planet just long enough to say hi to everyone before they escape and the planet’s destroyed. It’s fairly perfunctory and kind of pointless. So I get it. But really, it’s at least five or six rungs up the ladder from something like The Giant Gila Monster or The Creeping Terror. But really, that works for a theatrical release. In the event that a casual viewer of the series, or someone who doesn’t know the series well at all went to see it, this wasn’t one of those movies that the riffing only makes barely tolerable. It’s a big cheesy 1950s sci-fi adventure and they mock it just enough.

One of the first things I noticed about the movie riffing in the movie was that it was slower paced. This was intentionally done, actually. Since this was a theatrical release, they realized that people would be watching it with other people, and not in an environment where they could videotape it and play it back to catch things they missed. It wasn’t going to re-air unless they paid to see it again, and it would be the same potential situation all over. People would, hopefully, be laughing. And if the jokes came in faster, things would get missed. Consequently, to a fan of the series it may seem to be a little less packed to the gills with references and prodding and the like. Because it is, but that was so everything could be heard. Granted, there were still things I missed in my first viewing, but not so many. That, and the shorter running time than most episodes, mean we don’t often put this in, choosing one of our many episode DVDs instead. But the riffing in this movie is still top notch stuff. There are jokes we reference all the time and moments we love. And they even riff on their own credits, which is fantastic.

When it comes to the stuff on the satellite, I am of two minds. I do love the expanded sets and additional views of the satellite’s interior. I love seeing Tom’s room and watching Mike use the manipulator arms is great. But much as I enjoy the bits that come in lieu of commercial breaks, it feels kind of weird to have them there for no reason. But I can’t complain too much. There’s some great stuff done in the breaks on the satellite. It’s really a pity they couldn’t use this set again, with the giant hamster wheel and Tom’s underwear collection and Crow’s hole in the hull (patched with a helmet). Then too, there were plenty of little jokes for the fans hidden in there, like Mike reading a copy of the old fan club newsletter, and the manipulator arms being named “Manos” and the little curl on the forehead of a mask on the last door to the theater.

When you get down to it, like I said before, this is a movie made for fans of the show. It was fantastic fun and I’m sure the Best Brains crew had a great time making it. Bigger sets, more expensive cameras and sound equipment, a bigger budget for rights to a film to riff on. Those are all great perks of a theatrical release. It was a thrill to see it in the theater. It made my geeky little heart so glad to sit there next to Andy, in a theater full of my fellow geeks, and see my favorite characters up there on the big screen. And tonight it was great to watch at the end of a Turkey Day full of good food and family. Happy Turkey Day to all.

November 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment