30 June 2005

For what its worth, the remake of War of the World is good from the visual point of view; the effects are great. And because it’s a popcorn film, it fills that quota with action galore, very little story and not much else. Oh, sure, we have a small story about a father’s redemption, but beyond that, there is not much more in the way of characterization.

The script follows the structure of the original book, but unlike the 1953 George Pal produced version, this film concentrates on one family fleeing the invasion from outer space (though, the aliens are not from Mars) and not the military. Tom Cruise once again proves to the world that he’s Tom Cruise, Mega Superstar. He’s essentially playing himself, as he does with every other role he does, and for me, this is a distraction. The film tries to give him a emotional arc, but the heavy-handed opening, where they make it so obvious that Ray is a bad dad, the film loses some of that arc because the ending has already been dictated.

Dakota Fanning, however, shines, as she does with most of roles. A female version of Haley Joel Osment, the 11 year-old’s wide eyes shows the terror of what is happening. Her visceral performance is what makes the film work. And while Justin Chatwin is good as the rebellious teenage son Robbie, but he is not essential to the film, and easily could’ve been dropped from the script. This film really is about a father and daughter, anyways. As is, Robbie vanishes half-way through the film and is almost completely forgotten. And Tim Robbins shows up late in the film, as a nut case survivalist and his role is rather pointless. It was as if the writer decided that just having Ray and Rachel by themselves could not hold the segment were the aliens investigate a house (in a scene that is very reminiscent of James Cameron’s The Abyss) together. And Miranda Otto is wasted in limited role as the Mother and ex-wife of Ray.

The film works, despite some flaws. Under the deft direction of Steven Spielberg, the movie runs a roller coaster of action, but it is hampered by some plot holes. I mean, isn’t it convenient that despite all cars that have been effected by the electro magnetic pulse blocking roads, that Ray and his family can still drive on the expressway without running into a jam or bottleneck? Or isn’t beneficial that after spending the night in his ex-wife’s house in Boston, that there is a local TV station van parked near the house (where a plane has crashed) that becomes exposition central? And the dues ex machina ending -while maybe original in the novel and even the 1953 version- does not work here.
The visual effects are impressive, and the new tripod designs of the alien ships is very close to H.G. Wells vision (and they reminded me a lot of The Tripods, a British TV series from the 1990's that featured aliens who live in similar ships). The death ray is cool and a bit frightening, but the aliens themselves look like distant cousins of the ones featured in Independence Day.

Overall, the film is worth seeing. Spielberg is a great director, and knows what he’s doing. The astonishing thing about this production is how quickly it was done. Filming began only last November, and its in theaters only 7 months later. Very impressive. And in a quick, almost unnoticeable scene, we get a quick cameo from Gene Berry and Ann Robinson, the stars of the original film. And despite some questionable scripting and not much in the way of characterization, its still worth a look. Just don’t expect anything original. But, hey, that’s Hollywood these days.

23 June 2005

Mom reaches 70

Today my Mom turns 70!

It boggles the mind for me to understand this. I don't even remember when my grandmother turned 70. Of course, I was 14 when she did, but that was 29 years ago. Numbers. My sister, who turned 44 at the end of May, keeps on saying that that's all it is, a number. I do feel that at times we as American's become too much aged obsessed. And while men are effected less than women, we are still defined by that number. It's worse in the gay community. I'm 42, but in gay years that's like a 120. Or even worse in Hollywood.

Anyway, she's 70. Its not old, and she looks much better than her mother at the same age. As matter of fact, with the exception of my older brother, all of my siblings are aging fairly well.

But I want to wish my mother a Happy Birthday! And while I always hoped for a better relationship with her, but I love her and honor her the best I can.

May her God go with her. Love you


22 June 2005

The Sci Fi Buzz

Just days before the June 18th first season finale of the new Doctor Who TV series, the BBC announced that the show has picked up for a third season (with a possible fourth season already being discussed). This comes as a surprise for many, despite the huge success the revival has been. When Doctor Who returned to the BBC back in March, it brought in some of the highest ratings in that time slot ever, knocking out a popular variety series that dominated the early Saturday evening schedule. Three days later, the BBC said they were picking up the show for a second season. The show has retained its #1 slot since then and despite series star Christopher Eccleston decision to leave after only one season (with David Tennant taking over), the network seems very confident that show will continue to be the hit it is. Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk) will remain the showrunner (and write 6 of the planned 14 stories) for the second season, along with Billie Piper as companion Rose who has now been confirmed will stay through the next 14 episodes of season two. Expect Russell to resurrect the Cybermen next season, also, and maybe a possible guest appearance of Elizabeth Sladen as everyone’s favorite Sarah Jane Smith, along with K-9. Production on the new season begins in July, with the first episode airing at Christmas (which will resolve why the ninth Doctor regenerates into the 10th). The other 13 will begin airing in March 2006. There are still no American distributor the series, but despite that, the BBC is planning to release the show on region 1 DVD -and people with region free DVD players can now get the first three episodes from Amazon.co.uk. The boxed set of the season will be released in the UK this November, so it should see a release here in the States sometime after that.

If not already noticed, but with NBC/Universal now owning the Sci Fi Channel, it has found an outlet for most of its genre shows. Thus, in a little corporate synergy, the cable net will begin airing Joss Whedon’s cancelled FOX series Firefly, to begin on Friday, July 22 at 6pm, followed by new episodes of Stargate: SG1, Stargate: Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica. Sci Fi will air all 14 episodes produced (including three that were never broadcast) and in the order that they were supposed to air. As most know, when FOX aired the show, it began with episode 3 and then they showed the rest out of order, with the 2-hour pilot actually broadcast as the last episode. Of course, all of this re-airing will lead into Universal’s release of the big screen sequel, Serenity, which hits theaters on September 30.

In a huge move that could net over a 109 million viewers, Universal and its nine networks (that include NBC, SCI FI, USA Network, Bravo, Telemundo, CNBC, and MSNBC) will preview the 2 minute 30 second teaser trailer for King Kong, Peter Jackson’s follow up to his Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. It will air on Monday, June 27 from 7:59 to 8:02pm. King Kong, which tells the classic tale of the gigantic ape captured on a remote island and brought to 1930s Manhattan where he meets his tragic fate, stars Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell and Adrien Brody and will open in theaters worldwide on December 14, 2005

Quick Notes:
Lucy Lawless has signed on for a multi-episode run on Battlestar Galactica playing a journalist...Scot Armstrong (Old School, Starsky & Hutch) has been signed on by New Line Cinema to pen Elf 2. While Will Ferrell has yet to signed, expect the studio not go forward until they do...James Cameron, who has kept busy despite not helming a film since 1997's Titanic, may delay production on his long gestating Battle Angel to film Project 880 first...Terminator 3 director Jonathan Mostow will helm the umpteenth reworking of the Disney film The Swiss Family Robinson...Critics be damned, despite earlier claims that Disney would not produce a sequel unless it had a impressive concept, the Mouse House and Jerry Bruckheimer have hired writers to begin work on National Treasure 2...Laurence Fishburn, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Keri Russell have all joined the cast of Mission: Impossible 3...Alan Cummings has confirmed he’ll not be Nightcrawler in X-Men 3, as Fox has decided not to pick up his option. While he had a contentious relationship with former director Bryan Singer on X2, he was also very verbal about the laborious make-up process. The current script does have Nightcrawler in it, so expect the role to be recast...While not the strongest actress, she did hold her own in Batman Returns, but don’t expect Katie Holmes to return for the sequel, TV Guide reports...Sarah Michelle Geller has signed on to do a big screen adaptation of the video game American McGee’s Alice...Disney has announced that summer 2007 will see the release of Toy Story 3, which will not be done by Pixar.
Veteran character actor Lane Smith, who genre fans will remember as Perry White in Lois & Clark: the New Adventures of Superman, died June 13 at his Los Angeles home after losing a battle with the neuromuscular disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, reported the Associated Press. He was 69. During the 1970's and 80's, the actor guest starred on many TV shows and appeared in such classic films as Rooster Cogburn, Network and My Cousin Vinny. He also had other genre appearances on V, the 1986 versions of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy and King of the Hill.
DVD News:
20th Century Fox has announced a direct-to-DVD Family Guy movie, set to debut on September 27. Called Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, its an 83 minute tale that follows Stewie’s search for his real father. Expect the usual behind the scenes stuff, including deleted scenes, still galleries, animatics and a commentary by creator Seth MacFarlane.

16 June 2005

Batman Begins

Entertainment Weekly, in one of their latest issues, proclaimed the return of the sequels. And while I think they really never went away, this summer has manifested Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and the rebooting of Batman. With X Men 3, Mission: Impossible 3, Indiana Jones 4, Spider Man 3, Shrek 3 and Harry Potter 4 all in the pipeline, maybe they’re back in a bigger way. Still, I think 2005 is turning out to be the summer of remakes, with The Longest Yard, Herbie the love bug, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bad News Bears, House of Wax, War of the Worlds, and TV remakes of Bewitched, The Dukes of Hazzard and The Honeymooners. The problem I have with this trend is they’re remaking good films. All, so far, have been unnecessary. But, as creatively bankrupt Hollywood is, this is what is now shown as entertainment.

Batman has been the jewel in Warner Bros. crown since Tim Burton’s 1989 version hit the screen. While the campy 1960's series had its charm, this new version was darker, cynical and mean. Burton’s sequel, Batman Returns, was equally as dark as his first, but he did stumble with much more interesting villains than further exploration of Batman/Bruce Wayne psychology, which has always fascinated the comic book fans. That duality was missing from surprisingly two later films, which veered into gay high camp -much more than the TV series - that almost ruined the careers of George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell. Val Kilmer’s Batman just opened the door for the actor to take on even loonier roles.

Now eight years after Batman and Robin, indie director Christopher Nolan, along with comic book fan/writer David Goyer have rebooted the franchise in the best possible way. Nolan’s attention to characterization, the look into what scares you and how to make it work to your advantage shines through. While it less cynical than Burton’s two films, the movie illustrates how easily corruptible people are. This is, of course, a movie staple. Man is basically evil, easily debased. Bribes are passed out like Halloween candy and the good guys are few and far between.

The movie recounts much of what’s already been established in the first film, Bruce Wayne’s parents are murdered when he is a child and he feels guilty for their deaths. His company, Wayne Industries is trying to help the less fortunate, only to discover a cancer is growing. But where the two films split is that Nolan shows how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, and its that connecting of the dots that makes the film work as different take than Burton’s.

Bale is wonderfully cast as Bruce, who is on a search, a mission, to try and help the helpless and put a stop to evil. In someways, it is a silly notion. What can one guy do? That is the central premise of the movie world and of the real world. Most don’t, of course, have the unlimited resources of a Bruce Wayne.

Michael Caine takes over the role of Alfred from Michael Gough, and his performance is surprisingly gentle, dedicated and yet never submissive. Gary Oldman, always the bigger-than-life villain in other films, is meek and well played. As one of the only cops not on the take, he still makes the character believable without seeming to be goody-two shoes.

Liam Neeson, who still seems to be channeling Qui-Gon Jinn with these last two roles (the other being Kingdom of Heaven) spouts Yoda-like mentor phrases, but he still comes off well. The rest of cast, led by one of my favorite actors Morgan Freeman, shines brightly into Gothams dark corner.

My one small quibble would be how oddly the film changes streams. Even at over 140 minutes, the switch from learning about who he can be and being what Gotham needs, is a bit jarring.

Finally, despite some digital landscapes and the narrows added to skyline, my hometown of Chicago looked good, along with the standard police chase.

It’s been reported that Nolan and Goyer have hashed out a trilogy stories, but neither Nolan or Goyer have any obligations to sequels, unlike Bale who will be back at least two more times. But with the set up at the end for a possible battle with the Joker, you know Warners will sweeten the pot and let Nolan return.

10 June 2005

Trek's final trek?

Who is to blame for the end of Star Trek after 18 years? The fickle fans? Brannon Braga? Rick Berman? Paramount? It’s easy for some -including me - to blame all of the above. For no one person can truly be held responsible. When Star Trek returned to TV in 1987 -after being off for 18 years (though 4 motions pictures had been released by then) it opened big. Still, for some The Next Generation (TNG) did not carry the same charm as The Original Series (TOS). And it would take two full seasons before TNG settled in an became the classic show it is now remembered for. But if there can be one fault amongst the praise of the show, was its lack of conflict, and where "high concept" story telling pushed characterization to the corner. Deep Space Nine (DS9) was launched in 1992 -half way through TNG’s fourth season. The show was different from both TOS and TNG insomuch as the aliens had to come to a stationary location versus the two previous shows where "exploring new worlds" was its mantra. DS9 really sparked a debate among fans, especially TOS ones who were finally warming up to TNG. For some, DS9 was diametric opposite to Roddenberry’s ideas. And on the surface, that could be true, but scrape away the surface and DS9 was holding forth a lot of Roddenberry’s utopian beliefs.And like TNG, it would take DS9 two full seasons to find its sea legs, but once the conflict between the Federation’s secular universe and the Bajoran religious views took center seat (along with political intrigue and the Dominion) and characterization was enhanced (executive producer Ira Steven Behr once said that, ultimately you learned more about DS9's recurring cast than its main ones) that the show became a hit. Still, DS9 was never the hero TNG was. And as plans for a third spin-off began, eventually the show would become a red-headed stepchild. It was 1994 when most felt Trek of the later half of the 20th century hit its pinnacle. TNG had ended its 7 year run and was headed to the big screen, DS9 was pulling in solid, if not spectacular numbers and Paramount was launching its own broadcast network and would be using a new Trek series as crown jewel at the center of its enterprise, if you can excuse the pun. Voyager (VOY) was a return to the old naval romance of TOS, but that was about as close as they were going to get. I’ve always felt VOY was never really intended for the hardcore Trek fans. This show was to be for the absentee viewer and the straight, white male viewer who placed violence and sexuality above characters. Where "high concept" stories replaced logic and reason and where continuity established in TOS, TNG and even DS9 where ignored. For here, it will be argued, Star Trek’s slide really took hold. The franchise, it seemed, was everywhere. Generations was released in 1994 to good box office returns and tepid reviews, and in January 1995, VOY premiered (while DS9 was chugging away in syndication). First Contact was released in 1996 to great reviews and huge box office receipts and then Insurrection in 1998, which again came with lukewarm appraisals and moderate returns. DS9 would end in 1999, leaving just VOY as the sole Trek series and a shrinking audience. When VOY ended in the spring of 2001 (a some what entertaining series, but not the next step in Trek’s evolutionary life), Paramount was already at work on the next spin-off, a series set between the events of the TNG movie First Contact and TOS. Ideally, this seemed like a goldmine of story telling possibilities. Not much of the early Starfleet and Federation years were nailed down, so here was an opportunity to do that. But Enterprise (ENT) never lived up to its potential. And while its ratings were strong by UPN standards, well over 10 million viewers, many began to feel the bait and switch that plagued VOY through its seven years. Plus, both Braga and Berman were basically rewriting Trek lore, ignoring already established canon in favor of not confusing those absentee viewers. Quickly -more so than on VOY -the show was losing viewers faster than rats jumping out of a sinking ship. And based on the up and down first two seasons of TNG and DS9 (and all of VOY), you would’ve thought someone would’ve stepped in and said this is what needs to be done. And on one part, I can see why Paramount never really pushed Braga and Berman to change, as Trek was still bringing in millions, despite a large fan base who were fed up the two B’s style of sex and violence over making the last two series about the characters. To them, all they heard was the cash register ringing. Plus there was a small group of fans who were dedicated to keeping Trek alive, even if it was life reserve. In the meantime, the fourth Trek movie featuring the cast of TNG was released in 2002 and despite a strong opening weekend, it was doomed to fail at the box office due to being sandwiched between two of the most anticipated movies of the Christmas season, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Had Paramount been smart, Nemesis (while a good film) should’ve been held off until February 2003. I believe then, despite some bland reviews, it could’ve done better and reassured another movie. But its combined one/two punch of big blockbuster movies and the sad reviews, was the final nail in Trek’s coffin. While Nemesis failed to light a fire under the movie franchise, ENT was losing viewers by the millions. Its second season saw a few things that really angered the fans, as Archer and his crew tangled with the Borg, the Ferengi and the Romulans long before TOS and TNG did. The back door excuse that continuity was maintained was that the crew never learned of their names (though the Borg issue remains very muddled). Brought back for a third, and somewhat controversial year, ENT was going to do a season long arc, filled with continuity and characterization that a lot of fans had been screaming about. But, we where baited again, and ended up getting zoinked again. Brought to the brink of cancellation by UPN by the end of its third season (and a loss of 2 episodes), it’s 13 million viewers reduced to 2.5 to 3 million, Paramount cut the series licencing UPN paid for the show in half. The show was regulated to Fridays for its fourth year, and reduced to 22 episodes this season and a new show runner was brought in. Manny Coto’s job was daunting, and he did an admirable job of trying to correct a lot of Berman and Braga’s misguided attempts at re-imaging the franchise to their own personal views. But it was too little too late, as the saying goes. While the show was officially cancelled in February of 2005, it would finish out its season. So who’s to blame? Both Berman and Braga were aware of the issues of continuity, but felt that if the adhered to it too much, then the show could not work. They continued to believe that Trek viewers -at least the newer, younger ones (and, admittedly, the group advertisers like) - were only concerned about the how weird the story was and if it had half naked females parading around. This misstep by them, by fulling ignoring the fans who had watched TOS, TNG and DS9, was increasing ENT’s end week by week. Paramount can be blamed also, for not stepping in sooner. Berman and Braga’s now almost incestuous relationship with Trek caused then not to see the forest for the tree’s. Plus, as noted, Trek was still shaking out money. Had they realized that fan base was deeply divided, and had they analyzed who was not watching Trek anymore instead of small band who were, maybe something could’ve been done. Then again, maybe its doom was already sealed by the time Insurrection came out in 1998. And then there is the fan base. They too can be blamed for this, as this schism did not begin with ENT. It really started with VOY. As a network show, VOY had different standards to live up too than it’s syndicated brothers, TNG and DS9. Racier plots and emphasis on action and violence became the criterion, while a device called the Temporal Reset Button was used week after week. And while TRB is a useful tool, but to rely on it for every episode got you caught in a never ending loop of Easter Peep type stories; all full of air with no substance. Plus, people who were in there teens or early 20's when TNG premiered were not 15 years older, wiser and now considered less desirable by the advertisers. ENT was, I guess, designed for the guys and girls who were the same age as the ones who saw the first season of TNG. But these new groups of kids, now brought up on a diet of science fiction being everywhere, felt Trek was a dinosaur. So all that remained, in the end, was a few really dedicated fans who felt that, yes the show was not as good as it could be, but it still needed to stay on because it was Star Trek. I will concur to a point, but that’s mostly because I hate reality shows and procedural dramas that have overtaken the air waves. Give me a good science fiction story that challenges the mind, then I’ll watch. I once read that science fiction is a dangerous genre, for it can be seem as anti-Christian and anti-establishment. It brings up thought provoking ideas and presents a possible world were there is no hatred, no poverty, and no religion. It’s the possibilities that scare people. But even as Star Trek has framed a lot of peoples lives, such as wonderful idea of a utopian world and taught us some good values, it has entertained us for nearly 40 years. Trek needed to go away, as the success of the recent re-imaged Battlestar Galactica and BBC’s revival of Doctor Who has proved. If you take it away, let the desire build again, and then return it to the airwaves, you’ll get a better response. Many have said it could be 3 to 5 years before Trek returns to TV. And while an 11th film is in development (and reported to be set between ENT and TOS with an entire new cast), even that is not going to get made for several years, if ever. Plus, Paramount has to heal the schism with the fans. Manny Coto has said he has an idea for another Trek series, set sometime after era’s of TNG, DS9 and VOY, but in the end, it will be the fans who make it a success. They will need to come together and help Paramount decide that you can have your sex, you can have your "high concept" stories, you can have your TRB’s (occasionally) but you need a show built around appealing characters, where the show is about them versus a ship or some run of the mill alien. Despite being cancelled in 1969, TOS survived. Syndication brought a whole new audience. And animated series in 1973 continued its legend and a 1979 motion picture revived it completely. It is a survivor in all sense of the word. It will survive this latest issue. And that’s what makes it so memorable.