ReelReviews #134: Overlord (2018)

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NOV 20, 2018: Overlord

 

You ain’t never seen a World War II movie like this.

 

“Overlord is a unique cinematic animal, yet somehow cobbled together from bits and pieces of other cinematic troupes.  The movie starts off as a gritty, hyper-realistic war drama, and eventually becomes an over-the-top fantasy horror film by its third act. What was amazing for me is there wasn’t any jarring effect here, or sudden “twist” that caused the film to change direction. The whole movie works as a natural progression to that point and flows naturally, which was remarkable to me since the two genres shouldn’t mesh at all.

 

Trying to describe the movie itself without ruining the story for future audiences is a very difficult task. The best way to do so is thru allegory. Katie Walsh, a professional film critic with the Tribune News Service, noted “If anyone ever wished ‘Saving Private Ryan’ were more of a B-movie splatterfest, this movie is for you”.  I think she summed up my interest in this film quite well. I appreciate Saving Private Ryan for what it was – an ultra-violent, raw World War II tale— though it’s not my kind of film. ‘Overlord’ has the same tone and setting but ultimately delivers something more akin to “Evil Dead 2”, which IS my kinda movie.    Another critic compared Overlord to “Inglorious Bastards meets Saving Private Ryan meets Resident Evil”, which likewise I think gives audiences a good idea what kind of movie they’re in for.

 

Other films have tried to pull off this type of story, but I’ve never seen it done well.  When I fell in love with the film Let Me In, I noted that it was the kind of film that Twilight WISHED it could be – Let Me In wanted to do a tragic romance angle between a vampire and a human, and completed nailed it. In this case, think back to the ill-fated movie adaptation of DOOM from about a decade ago. It knew what it wanted to be, it just failed miserably at doing that.  Overlord, on the other hand, pulls it off beautifully. In fact, with perhaps a few minor tweaks to the script, Overlord could have been a movie adaptation of Wolfenstein 3D (the brutal fighting against NAZIs make it in the ideal setting), and we might have gotten a rare example a good video game adaptation. One final good comparison along the allegory route is the kind of movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter wanted to be.  We all know what they were aiming for: make the historical 1860s civil war setting very realistic and believable, but at the same time, find a way to center the plot around traditional vampires, and make the two mesh well together.  Again, Abraham Lincoln failed miserably at this (even though I liked the movie overall).  Overlord, on the other, excels at it.

 

But enough with the allegorical comparisons, let’s get back to the movie itself. It was delightful for me precisely because I hadn’t read anything about the movie before I saw it on the big screen. For most of the movie, I was convinced this was indeed, a straightforward historically accurate World War II drama, albeit with fictional characters.  Having recently watched “Darkest Hour”, I got a similar vibe from Overlord. Overlord is first and foremost a war drama, with the fantasy horror stuff woven in as icing on the cake. Much of the film’s production is spot on, from the casting, acting, set designs, costumes, etc., to recreate World War II in excellent detail. In fact, you could capture several stills from the movie, put them black & white, and it probably match actual World War II images quite well.  And while Overlord is quite dark and extremely graphic, it’s not the kind of film that will suck all the joy out of you, as the characters are fun and the story is compelling and holds your interest.  Surprisingly, this film is from much the same team working on the Star Trek reboots: Bad Robot is the production company, J.J. Abrams is the producer, and the screenwriter is Mark L. Smith of ‘The Reverence’ fame – the same guy recently hired to pen Quentin Tarantino’s pitch for Star Trek.  If this is the kind of material they’ll give us, someone in Hollywood needs to scrap the proposed Chris Hemsworth Star Trek movie and move right into the Tarantino project.

 

I did have a few minor nitpicks with the movie. There was only one major historic inaccuracy, and that is the film has a major element of white soldiers and black soldiers serving side-by-side and working together, when in reality the U.S. military was still segregated at that time and wouldn’t be desegregated until Korea.  Overlord also has many things I dislike about war movies – chaos, endless shouting, and firefights, which make it especially hard to follow at certain points in the film, and often during the climax. Still, this was most likely done to reinforce that war is hell, and it fit the movie.

 

I’d recommend Overlord even if war movies and gross body horror isn’t your thing.  It stands out as a cool experiment in Hollywood history that does something cool with these tired genres. You ain’t never seen a World War II movie like this.

 

***  out of ****

 

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ReelReviews #132: Universal Horror Trilogy

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OCT 31, 2018: The Wolfman (2010)/Dracula Untold (2014), The Mummy (2017)

 

 

Nothing seemed like a better movie marathon for Halloween than Universal’s three separate attempts in the last decade to revive their iconic “Universal Monsters” heyday from the 30s and 40s. Sadly, this wasn’t much of a treat at all, but it was certainly a trick. I went into the experience knowing all three movies were considered “bad”, but perhaps they could have a “so bad its good” feel and leave me laughing at how silly and campy they were.  Alas, that is not the case. These films are just bad.  The weird thing is it’s not like one director or one creative team worked on remakes of The Wolf Man, Dracula, and The Mummy, and kept proving they suck at it.  Nope, this was three completely different attempts, and all of them sucked for different reasons. So what went wrong? Let’s take a look.

 

The Wolfman (2010)

In some ways, The Wolfman (2010) might actually be the “best” of the three attempts, which is oddly ironic since it was so poorly received at the time and landed with a thud. Looking back on it now (and especially comparing to the later attempts to revive Universal Monsters), there is much that “The Wolfman” gets right: the cast is solid and well selected for their roles (and for those who bash me when I’m criticize casting that changes a character’s ethnicity, let me say proudly that the Hispanic actor Benicio del Toro very convincingly plays the role of Welsh-American character Larry Talbot, which had been originated by Lon Chaney Jr.), the updated makeup by Rick Baker is faithful to the original Wolf Man design while bringing the effects into the 21st century, it is perhaps the ONLY one of the three films to correctly understand and embrace the “gothic atmosphere” that was a central part of the original Universal Horror movies, and it is faithful to the original story. So what went wrong? Basically everything else. The biggest problem is the film is insanely boring (as I started to tune out while watching it originally in 2010, and did so again while trying hard to give it a second look now) and the film is way too predictable and cliché, especially if you’ve seen the 1941 original movie and know what’s going to happen. Considering the film had never been remade before and that nearly 70 years had passed since the original, you’d think they could come up with something more thrilling and provide more twists and excitement into this story.  The film is basically just adequate and “acceptable” and that simply made it forgettable and meant it failed to generate a profit. As such, Universal basically decided to bury any memory of the movie and decided to start over from scratch when it came to reviving iconic horror characters. The end result was….

 

Dracula Untold (2014)

I had never seen “Dracula Untold”, and comments I had heard about it left me really pessimistic about the premise.  “It’s like the true story of Vlad the Impaler, except they change it to make it exciting for teenagers, like inventing the idea he had mystical powers and stuff”. Ugh. I was not looking forward to that.  Surprisingly, the premise of the movie is ACTUALLY the best part! It’s everything else that’s bad.  “Dracula Untold” is not a remake of Dracula, nor is it an attempt to do a biographical film about the real life figure of Vlad the Impaler. It IS an attempt to do a new “origin story” for Dracula, and it is a clever attempt to weave a real life historic setting and people with completely fictional vampire mythology. As a result, it’s basically in the genre of “historic fiction”. In that respect, it actually works and is the kind of movie I would probably write.  The entire film is basically the whole prologue in the 1992 film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, aside from the fact that Francis Ford Coppola told it much better in five minutes than “Dracula Untold” did in two hours.  Of the three movies, I had the most “fun” watching this one, but it is not a good movie, nor does it work well as a springboard for a sequel or a franchise, though it desperately wanted to be one (and even ended on a forced “cliffhanger” that was an obvious setup for a sequel we never got) The climax really hurt this film for me, as the film resorted to ridiculous stuff like dubbing in lion-like growls to portray the characters that had now been turned into vampires, and the film obviously suffered from studio tampering that turned what was meant to be a stand-alone film into a “To be continued” first installment.   I felt this film would have worked great if it hadn’t been so sloppily executed. But since it failed, Universal Studios decided to disavow it and decree another film would be the “start” of their new monster universe, and thus was born…

 

 

 

 

The Mummy (2017)

Why, Universal, Why? This is the first film since the 2005 remake of House of Wax that I put off watching for months (because I knew it would suck, and then decided “eh, they’re not gonna make a sequel anyway, might as well see why it sucks so much”) and instantly regretted subjecting myself to that.  “The Mummy” is the last and certainly the least of the attempts to revive Universal Horror.  The fact they are remaking a movie NOBODY wanted remade AGAIN is oddly enough, perhaps the least the film’s problems.  I was surprised that this film is actually nothing like the story of 1999’s The Mummy (with Brenden Fraiser), nor any previous “Mummy” for that matter – including the 1932 original.   Film studios seem to be very much confusing reboots with remakes these days. (This film is very much a total reboot of The Mummy franchise, whereas a film marketed as a “reboot” like Man of Steel is just a worthless remake/ripoff of Richard Donner’s Superman I & II) The biggest problem with The Mummy is the film is basically made by some Hollywood committee with a laundry list of things to do. Objective no. #1 for them was to copy the “format” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and create a “shared universe” of their own, which basically means we get an over-the-top CGI infested action movie with lighthearted comedic elements, instead of an actual horror film.  There are actually some legitimate “jump” moments and creepy scenes (two effective moments are a scene where The Mummy is attacking them on a speeding jeep, and another where corpses come alive and swim after them in the water), but overall this is NOT a “horror movie”.  People also blamed Tom Cruise for this movie flopping. While it seems he phoned in his performance and basically gave us the “generic Tom Cruise action movie” performance (complete with mugging the camera, giving smart ass dialogue, and doing the charming Tom Cruise grin), I don’t blame him because that’s what he was told to do.  Tom Cruise CAN do legitimate Gothic horror (screen “Interview With The Vampire” for an excellent example, but he wasn’t called upon to do that here.  The other two “lead” actors, (Sofia Boutella as The Mummy and Russell Crowe as “Dr. Jekyll” actually gave good performances as well (Crowe made Mr. Hyde completely different and even changed his accent to a cockney voice), but were neutered by the crappy script they had.  Alex Kurtzman was responsible for this abomination, and has quickly become one of my LEAST favorite Hollywood writes.  If you want to know why I have zero faith in a new “Jean Luc Picard” Star Trek series, look no further than the fact Kurtzman is in charge of it. I was done with “The Mummy” after about 45 minutes into the movie, but it kept on going and annoying me for another unbearable hour or so. This is one you should definitely skip.

 

So, after viewing this trilogy of crap on Halloween night, here’s my final scorecard!

 

 

The Wolfman (2010)

** out of ****

 

Dracula Untold (2014)

*3/4 out of ****

 

The Mummy (2017)

* ½ out of ****

 

ReelReviews #130: Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth

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OCT 7, 2018: DOCTOR WHO: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH

 

The Doctor Is In!  Like the television series itself, this review is a much belated house call to Doctor Who fans. By the time my review is posted, there will be no less than THREE new episodes with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor (sorry, Whovians, I’ve only seen the first episode, so that’s all we’re covering today) and well over a year since I last blogged a film or television review of any kind. So what prompted the end of this long hiatus? When a sci-fi franchise makes a major shakeup after 50+ years on television, people are bound to notice. Doctor Who demands a response from “the fans”, so having stuck with the franchise for over a decade in my own right, it’s time to chime in.

 

“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” cannot be analyzed without first addressing the glass-shattering element in the TARDIS now. Namely: it’s the WOMAN that fell to earth (and not 1976 David Bowie movie, of course).  Since 1963, Doctor Who has always been played a male actor.  When Jodie Whittaker’s casting was first announced, my initial reaction was sadness. This is not because I’m not some mean nasty misogynist pig who thinks only guys should play the lead in an action-adventure franchise, but because Doctor Who was suffering from some serious burnout and franchise fatigue at the time, and the attempt to swap the character’s gender at that particular place and time came across as a desperate attempt to create “buzz”.  The nature of Doctor Who itself (the character is a time-traveling alien who can regenerate every cell in his body after suffering a fatal injury) makes it easy to have an “in-universe” event occur that turns the Doctor female, but the fact the role had been played a man since its inception – and had no less than 13 different men in the title role over the years – meant the timing of the whole new “Female time lord saga” is awkward since the character is pretty much solidified in viewers heads as a male figure, and now just amounts to sheer political correctness.  To maintain credibility of the franchise, there would have to be some serious attempt to justify this radical change with the lead role. Why, for example, weren’t at least half the previous incarnations of the Doctor female, if there was a random 50/50 chance the Doctor could regenerate as a woman at ANY time in the past?  For me, plot holes like that meant that Doctor Who had serious problems getting this revamp off the ground.

 

The lead up to the new Doctor’s debut likewise had a lot of the issues that have plagued other long-running sci-fi franchises trying to stay “relevant”.  The marketing for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor was very reminiscent of the Ghostbusters “reboot” (e.g. if you say ANYTHING negative about the new version, it’s obviously because you’re sexist and hate women!) As a male viewer, this type of emotional blackmail essentially has a lot of critics walking on eggshells in the era of the #MeToo movement. I firmly believe that the “Ghostbusters” reboot, despite the fact that the overall consensus was that it was mediocre – got mildly “positive” reviews from professional critics simply because they were afraid of being called misogynist pigs if they said anything negative about the film overall.  There seems to be a trend in modern society that film and television producers will try to shield themselves from criticism simply by changing a character to be female, gay, an ethnic minority, etc., etc., and then pat themselves on the back for doing so, regardless of whether it works or fits the storyline. As I noted prior to my review, this basically means I really cannot give an honest assessment of the new Doctor without my review being tainted by people questioning my exterior motives. In short, trying to assess Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor essentially amounts to a no-win scenario.

 

So, with that long rant out the way… what DID I think of the new nuWho?

 

I actually LIKED it.

 

“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” was a decent and well written episode.  In any case, it was certainly better than the last couple of Capaldi episodes that I had seen, and it was watchable. This may not seem like much, but given that I boycotted the final season of his run (after they replaced Clara with an ugly woman with afro named ‘Bill’ and triggered me since MY name is Bill) it was a good start. Given all the trepidation going into the episode, the end results were a pleasant surprise.  Also, unlike the “WTF?” reaction I had Star Trek Discovery’s pilot, this episode at least felt recognizably like a real Doctor Who episode.  I watched the episode twice in order to take everything in, and of course, waited 2 weeks to review it, so I could let the whole thing sink in and not have some rash or knee-jerk reaction to what I had just witnessed on screen.

 

 

Of course, the fact that I overall “liked” the episode doesn’t mean it was a standout story or didn’t suffer from severe flaws. On the contrary, my response was fairly lukewarm precisely because “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” was far from the best stuff in the Doctor Who franchise.  The initial bizarre sci-fi mystery of a giant blue Hershey’s Kiss shaped thing landing in Sheffield basically de-evolved into what another critic called a “rip-off of the film Predator 2”, and looking back in the episode in hindsight, that is probably a good assessment. What seemed to be a compelling and very complex sci-fi story at first was ultimately very anti-climatic and cliché. 

 

Worse, perhaps the weakest element of this episode was the Doctor herself!  (and disclaimer, this is NOT because she was a woman, whether you believe me or not).  This episode was perhaps the first time in Doctor Who history where the strongest parts of the episode were BEFORE we met the new Doctor – the opening of the story introduced us to some very interesting new characters and sucked the audience into learning their struggles (one particular stand out moment was the one character’s frustrations at simply not being able to learn how to ride a bicycle despite the fact he was a grown adult) but about 15 minutes into the story, this got sidetracked by Jodie Whittaker showing up and conveying she is the new Doctor by doing a lame copycat performance of David Tennant (the usual “wacky” stuff where the Doctor shows up in a dramatic entrance to SAVE THE DAY and starts spouting “cool” quips about wimply-wobbly timey-wimey stuff that comes across as forced). I don’t interpret this as “bad” acting from Jodie, but simply the fact that for the last decade, Doctor Who writers have been unable to get away from the “Look! David Tennant is so hip and silly!” mold of writing the lead character. Matt Smith likewise came across as a David Tennant clone in his debut (though to be honest, he really OWNED the role from the minute he was on screen and sold it much better than Jodie, though he probably had the best premiere episode of any modern Doctor). Peter Capaldi was so different from the previous two actors that it was initially thought he’d be a real no-nonsense, badass version of the character. Sadly, that never materialized, and the writers couldn’t figure out what to do with his Doctor the first season, and eventually gave up, gave him hipster sunglasses and a guitar, and decided he should be a “wacky and silly and cool” David Tennant/Matt Smith type Doctor as well, which didn’t work for him at all (and works even less when Jodie Whittaker is playing the part). In my opinion, nuWho really ceased to be worth watching at that point. And now, sadly, despite the gender swap, the Who writers just can’t seem to get away from the same old tired template.  Many naysayers of the new version of Doctor Who were worried that the new show would be too much of a departure from what we’ve known, but in reality, the biggest problem is the opposite situation – the producers hiding behind their “landmark casting” can’t disguise the fact that they’re still giving us the same stale material from the last decade.  Perhaps instead of focusing on a woman in the lead, a better shakeup would be to have a few  female writers, directors, and producers on staff.

 

Still, the fact that “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” was mercilessly free of political correctness and lame “the Doctor has boobs now!” jokes was refreshing. I did also see one glimmer of potential with the new female incarnation of the character towards the end of the episode where one character was paralyzed by a fear of heights and Jodie’s Doctor persuaded him to jump towards her, saying “I know you can do this, I have confidence in you”, and infused the character with a nurturing, feminine side that was really the only time I could her being a unique version of the Doctor in her own right, and not “Jodie Whittaker playing David Tennant’s Doctor”.  Doctor Who should really look towards franchises like Westworld and Planet of the Apes of how to totally reinvent a decades-long sci-fi saga and stay true to its core concepts, and then they might be able to give us something truly wonderful instead of just passable entertainment. Since it’s a regeneration story, I also tend to cut them a little slack, since regeneration stories tend to always show the new Doctor a little “off” from their “normal” self, and are NOT typical of how the “new Doctor” will be.  However, even a more unique Jodie Whittaker Doctor won’t solve the problem of just bland and predictable writing. The best potential here is actually with the intriguing concept of three new companions, and FINALLY having a male companion in modern Doctor Who whose role on the show is NOT “boyfriend of the cute girl who travels with the Doctor”. Overall, this was perhaps the best script I’ve seen from new Doctor Who producer Chris Chinball. The problem is that it simply wasn’t enough. His past scripts have been underwhelming and this is not an exception to that rule. Doctor Who has lost a lot of regular reviewers in recent years, and this episode simply does not “sell me” on the idea that I “need to” come back as a regular viewer, or that Doctor Who will be fun and exciting again. Can Doctor Who truly be “great again” (sorry to invoke a cringeworthy Donald Trump phrase) or is it perhaps best left in the past?

 

 

 

 

** 1/2  out of ****

ReelReviews #113: The Orville, Ep. 1: “Old Wounds”

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SEPTEMBER 10, 2017: The Orville (pilot episode)

 

“The wait is over”.   Those words, spoken by Eric Bana’s Nero character in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, seem to resonate far more eight years later.  At long last, Star Trek is returning to television after a twelve year hiatus.  But the kicker now is that another television show has already beaten them to the punch to win over Star Trek fans before the “official” Star Trek has released a single episode.  That unofficial rival is Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville, which made its debut on Fox after Sunday night football.

 

I actually hesitated before blogging a full review, trying to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen the episode yet, and feeling that a review that appears on 9/11 might be a pretty bad time to talk about a comedy show. Still, a slew of negative reviews about Orville from ‘professional critics’ (e.g. people paid to write stuff like this) have convinced me that “the wait is over” and the time to discuss the show is now.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the pilot episode of Orville.  Is it a bit crass at times? Yes. Do some of the jokes fall completely flat? Yes. Do I wish Seth MacFarlane had cast someone besides himself to play the lead? Yes.  Still, the bottom line is the show has tremendous potential and it successfully accomplished its goal of engaging me as a viewer and making me eager to tune in next week to see what they are planning for the future.

 

There weren’t any “laugh at loud” moments in the pilot, but I hardly expect a single television episode to create the definitive humorous event of our era during its first attempt.  There were plenty of scenes that make me chuckle and put a smile on my face, and – perhaps more important – the show piqued my interest and presented a fun and engaging sci-fi adventure, even though it was saddled with the problem bogging down most pilots – having to spend half of its one hour running time introducing us to the characters and the world they inhabit before the story can get rolling.

 

Overall, you could say that “Old Wounds”, the show’s first episode, was fun but uneven, and gives us a nice glimpse of what is to come even though the series hasn’t found its footing yet.  The same can be said of the two pilots of the best known Star Trek series:  “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (1966) from the original Star Trek, and “Encounter at Farpoint” from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987). If “fun but uneven and yet to show full potential” is damning for Orville, then the show is in good company, seeing how it seeks to emulate Star Trek.

 

Talking to other Star Trek fans online, the vast majority of those who viewed the episode were glad they did so, and reported that they also thoroughly enjoyed it. I spotted only two “meh” responses from fellow Star Trek fans, and the reason both of them gave for not liking the episode was – and here is an exact quote: “it seemed they were making fun of Star Trek, so I stopped watching it”.  Gee, you think? To me, this is along the lines of tuning into Young Frankenstein and saying “Hmmm. It appeared to me they were poking fun at old 30s Universal horror movies. That irritated me. Turned it off.”

 

There was little doubt before I tuned into this show that Orville would attempt to emulate TNG era Star Trek in attempt to be a homage/parody of it. Indeed, they not only got the “look” of TNG down, but also many of the characters (Bortus, for example is a very “Worf” like character), but also the music and action beats and so on. Even some typical “Star Trek” style scenes played out, like the famous “beauty pass” where a shuttlecraft drives around the starship giving the audience an idea of its size and scope – a scene first made famous in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

 

Still, critics of Orville have repeatedly argued that people rooting for Orville on the internet are only doing so because they are blinded by nostalgia and looking for a duplicate of the old Star Trek they are “used to”. While Orville does capture a lot of that spirit (again, much of it as intentional parody, for example, there was a fun send-up of the “holodeck training programs” in TNG), it is more than just a trip down memory lane. “Old Wounds” had a nice original sci-fi story in its own right, and it certainly doesn’t try to capture late 80s/early 90s television effects or anything really cheesy like that.  It is a 2017 television show taking bits and pieces of what audiences liked best about 90s era Star Trek, and putting a clever new spin on them.

 

Orville will also be episodic TV with each episode being its own “stand alone” story.  That’s certainly good news for me, as it’s the format that TOS and TNG used, and it would work best for this show, as an episode that “picked up” right where this one left off and continued the storyline about the age acceleration device in the pilot would probably get old quickly.  It is clear the writers intend to carry on several character threads into future episodes – the main being the unique circumstance of a divorced husband and wife being forced to work together as the Captain and First Officer of the vessel.  Whether that will give the show additional gravitas and make it evolve over several years, or whether it will quickly become an irritating unfunny “comedy routine” in future episodes will depend entirely on the skill of the writers and actors as the show continues.  As it stands, this setup did have a really good payoff in the final scene of the pilot, and one that I will not reveal to readers since the episode is brand new.

 

Orville is off to a decent start. Had Orville disappointed me and turned out to be another “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (Seth MacFarlane’s obnoxious, vulgar, and painfully unfunny “western” spoof that had only one good scene — and perhaps a catchy and mildly amusing theme song), I would be the first to express my disappointment, and pray the show gives me something better the next time around. I will simply say at this point that the critics mercilessly bashing Orville from day one are simply wrong.  Orville is worth a watch and hopefully the show will grow and last a while. The real test will come when we find out what the “official” Star Trek has to show us.  I have been saying for months that Orville looks like it will be much exciting and fun for Trek fans than Star Trek Discovery will be. Nothing I saw in Orville’s first episode has swayed me from that stance.

 

 

*** out of ****

ReelReviews #112: Woo-oo! Ducktales (2017 reboot)

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MARCH 16, 2017 SCREENING: DuckTales (2017 pilot)

 

Woo-oo!  Having grown up on the original 80s Ducktales cartoon (which makes me feel freakin’ old, seeing as it was 30 years ago), I’m one of the many adults who couldn’t resist tuning into the August sneak-peek of the NEW Ducktales, thanks to the 24 hour marathon of “Woo-oo!”, (its appropriately named pilot episode) on the Disney XD channel.

 

Although the regular episodes of the series won’t start until September 23rd, the pilot premiered a month earlier and it’s only now that I’m blogging this much belated review. So what can be said about Ducktales that hasn’t been said already? Well, I’ll throw my 2 cents into Scrooge’s vault.

 

Most of the reviews I’ve seen online have nothing but glowing praise for the new Ducktales. I really liked it too, but I have to hesitate before lavishing unqualified accolades for the new incarnation of Ducktales. Compared to its iconic 1987 predecessor, Ducktales 2017 has yet to earn its place as a part of television history, nor has it stood the test of time like its previous version.  Ducktales 2017 had numerous examples of both positives and negatives, so on the whole I have to say it was a mixed bag.

 

For me, the weakest element of the new series is the completely new (aside from Donald Duck himself) voice cast.  It actually pains me to say that, since I fell in love with the new cast singing the “Ducktales” theme on YouTube and I thought it was really inspired casting to have people like David Tennant as the new Scrooge McDuck. Simply put, the new cast sounds almost nothing like the original cast, and often, they don’t even attempt to do so. It’s not just a matter of “getting used to” the new voices – in many cases, they seem wholly inappropriate for the characters, even if you welcome the idea of a new take on those characters.  Scoorge’s nephews, for example, now sound like middle-aged comedians, which is not surprising, since that’s who’s voicing them. And while I didn’t expect Tennant to try and slavishly mimic Alan Young’s Scrooge, I expected him to at least get the “crusty old miser with a heart of gold” essence of the character down.  The most I can say is that Scrooge still sounds Scottish, but that’s not surprising since David Tennant IS Scottish. Tennant’s enthusiasm for the role is clearly present, but I’m just not hearing Scrooge McDuck. Even Kate Micucci, who on paper seemed like she’d be the “most like” the original character, bears virtually no resemblance to the 1987 Webby. Strangely, the only voiceover actor who mildly invokes the style of his 1987 counterpart is Beck Bennett as Launchpad McQuack.

 

Another thing that irked me was I sincerely hoped the 2017 series would be a revival of the 1987 series – that is, even if it didn’t directly pick-up where the ’87 series left off, it would start off with Scrooge and his nephews relationship clearly established and presume that the adventures in the 80s show were canon and had already “happened”, so we’re seeing new adventures. Alas, this is a “reboot” in the true sense of the word, and that means the writers will be ignoring everything that happened in the classic 1987 series and starting over scratch. This was demonstrated from day one, as “Woo-oo!”, gives us another origin story where Donald’s nephews meet their great uncle scrooge for the “first time”, and the episode revolves around Scrooge learning to accept them. I strongly felt we didn’t need to see that.

 

Now, aside from the negatives, the rest of the pilot was superb television, IMO.  The simpler and sleeker animation style had me a little worried the new Ducktales might be aimed more for the kindergarten crowd than the original show. Nope. The new Ducktales pretty much remains an all encompassing family show like its predecessor, and shows the same mix of action, adventure, comedy, drama, fantasy, and sci-fi that made the original show so engaging. I think its rare to find that combo in kid’s shows these days.

 

 

I am reluctant to admit it, but some of the changes seem to give the show more gravitas than the original. For example, in the 1987 Ducktales, Scrooge’s archenemy Flintgold Glomheart might be mistaken for Scrooge’s brother – they look identical aside from Glomheart sporting a kilt and gray beard. Here, there is no question Glomheart looks and sounds completely different from Scrooge and they are totally different characters aside from both being Scottish billionaire Ducks.  Webby Vanderquack, pretty much a damsel-in-distress role in the original show, is much more proactive and has a lot more to do in the reboot.  Huey, Dewey, and Louis have distinctive personalities in the reboot, compared to pretty much being clones and interchangeable in the 1987 series. The revamping of these iconic characters make me look forward to what Ducktales will do with other classic characters like Magica de Spell, Duckworth, and Professor Ludwig Von Drake.

 

Aside from completely changing the voices, Ducktales 2017 has an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude and transplants much of the classic Ducktales universe over to the new show. The souped up version of theme song might be even better than the original, the humor is still sharp and will make adults as well as kids laugh, and Ducktales still has a tour-de-force, upbeat spirit of adventure and fun.

 

Finally, Ducktales 2017 ends its pilot episode with a surprise twist, and one that has yet to be explored in any previous incarnation of Ducktales, and will no doubt play an important role in the new show.

 

Overall, I’m upset that Ducktales 2017 has shown up to “override” the stories and beloved characters from its predecessor television show, but I’m excited what the future will hold for this new series once it establishes itself in its own right. Perhaps the only major problem is it seems the new Ducktales, while being wholly a “kids show” on paper, is generating far more excitement for 30 something adults these days.  Time will tell if the next generation of kids grow up loving Ducktales, too.

 

 

 

*** out of ****

ReelThoughts: What if Man of Steel was made in 1978?

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My first editorial on ReelReviews!

WHAT IF ‘MAN OF STEEL’ WAS MADE BACK IN 1978?

A constant refrain we hear from Synderverse fans is that their crappy movies only got awful reviews because people “unfairly” compared them to the earlier big screen adaptations. That is why Wonder Wonder was “fairly” rated and got a positive review, they say. If Man of Steel had been released first and made in 1978, audiences and critics would have seen IT as the “definitive” version of Superman and loved it.

So let’s examine this scenario.

Go back to 1978 and imagine Superman: The Movie was never made. POOF! It’s gone from existence. No Salkind producing team, no Richard Donner as director, no sweeping iconic John Williams theme, and Christopher Reeve remains an unknown young stage actor from Julliard.

Without that movie to “taint” audience’s views of Superman, the creative team behind Man of Steel arrives in a time machine and Warner Bros. gives them the go-ahead to film THEIR “vision” for Superman using 1978 filming techniques and actors. Zack Snyder uses a 1978 film crew to capture David Goyer’s script exactly as it originally written. 1978  actors are hired to fit Snyder’s vision for DC comics: Obscure TV actor Grant Goodeve (who is the same age as Christopher Reeve and looks very much like him and Henry Cavill, but plays dour, serious roles) is cast in the title role. Ann Margaret (then a redhead actress in her late 30s) is cast as Lois Lane. Yaphet Kotto is Perry White. As in real life, Warner Bros. insist on hiring big name stars, so screen legend Orson Welles is hired to play Goyer’s version of Jor-El, Dustin Hoffman is hired to play Goyer’s version of General Zod, and Bruce Dern gets to be David Goyer’s Pa Kent and is killed on screen by a tornado.

The film eats up a HUGE budget as the screenplay calls for massive destruction porn and is done in the tone of a dreary, ugly, humorless, late 1970s action filled disaster flick (in “sci-fi” drag) about an “alien invasion”. Grant Goodeve has almost no dialogue and doesn’t have much to do on set but stand around and look glum, and spend weeks on end shooting fight scenes with Dustin Hoffman, as use wire work to plow into each other while “flying”. Meanwhile, their stunt doubles throw each other into “buildings”. Pyrotechnics are used to knock down the “Metropolis” set endlessly and blow up half the “city”. Snyder directs Hoffman to talk like he has marbles in his mouth while screaming lines like “I WILL FIND HIM!!!” Ann Margaret gets to say lines like “If we’re done measuring dicks, can you have your people show me what you found?” Since the digital technique doesn’t exist yet, much of the cinematography achieves the desired “shakey-cam” effect that Snyder wants by having overcaffinated camera men riding around set on lawnmowers with handheld cameras. Bruce Dern’s stunt double is injured during the tornado scene, and filming is delayed for several weeks.

Since the PG-13 rating doesn’t yet exist in 1978, the film gets rated R for extreme violence and use of language, with the graphic depiction of Superman breaking a character’s neck shocking 1970s audiences. (Films from that era competing for the same adult audiences include The Deer Hunter, The Fury, and I Spit On Your Grave) This becomes the 1970s audiences first look at a big budget theatrical superhero movie, trying to appeal to audiences who grew up on George Reeves playing Superman as a lovable all-American boy scout.

And there you have it, a world where the original “Superman” movie as we know it was never made, and the world got Hack Snyder’s vision for the character instead.

How well do you think the movie would have been received?

ReelReviews #107: 1960s Best Picture winner: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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MARCH 6, 2017 SCREENING: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

 

Ah, the motion picture epic.  Lawrence of Arabia has it in spades and is one of the finest examples of “larger than life” movies from that era:  it’s running time is nearly four hours, and includes an overture, an intermission (I watched the movie over two nights and turned it off at the half way mark the first night, unaware that the movie would have done it by itself in ten minutes and announced the Intermission), lush gorgeous color film, huge action sequences,  and a cast of now critically acclaimed A-list actors (most notably was Peter O’Toole, who was an “up and coming” actor at the time). Lawrence of Arabia had everything going for it.

 

Why it is then, that I didn’t care for this movie?

 

Simply put, I found this movie unengaging. For me, it was a classic example of “lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing” To be fair, certain scenes were memorable for me, and I liked some of the dialogue exchanges (for example, in response to T.E. Lawrence noting that Arabs are associated with the dessert, Prince Feisal quips: “No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees. There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.”) The problem for me, however, is that these enjoyable portions of the movie didn’t add up to anything particularly interesting.  The film has a lot of plot twists and interesting characters, but in order to pay attention to what’s happening, you have to be drawn by the story (and to be fair, the story of a impeccable British officer being assimilated into Arab culture and basically becoming one of them IS by nature a very cinematic premise for a movie), and I felt Lawrence of Arabia wasn’t able to accomplish that. It dragged on and on and on, and I just found myself waiting for the movie to finally end.

 

One issue I had with Lawrence of Arabia is that in spite of its timeless look and beautiful big budget filmmaking, it’s very much a product of its time. Apparently much of the controversy about T.E. Lawrence is that the real life figure was possibly gay and attracted to Arab men, but the film has nothing to do with that rumor and its difficult to find the movie version of him interesting in spite of Peter O’Toole’s excellent performance. The Arab characters in the movie are almost exclusively played by non-Arabs, and sometimes very obviously British actors, using eyeliner and mascara to look the part in spite of having blue eyes and other unlikely Arabian features (Hispanic actor Anthony Quinn even apparently wore a false nose for this movie) . For what it’s worth, most of their acting was excellent, but I felt more realistic actors could have been cast in those roles.

 

Lawrence of Arabia is not a “bad” film, it’s just not a film that appealed to me in spite of everything it had going for it. To me, it was a wasted four hours of my life that I’ll never get back, and made me wish I had chosen to watch The Sound of Music (another 1960s Best Picture winner I have never seen) instead.  Apparently, such filmmaking giants as George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone, and Steven Spielberg have all cited this movie as some type of masterpiece that inspired them to become filmmakers. All I can is that truly shows that movie reviews are subjective, as I can’t think of a single thing I felt the movie contributed to cinema, no matter how polished and expertly made it was.

 

In one word: Bland.

 

**   out of ****