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 ****

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ReelReviews #107: It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)

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MARCH 15, 2017 SCREENING: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987)

The good news: Unlike many other “third movies” in a trilogy, this movie isn’t a complete joke that ruins everything you liked about the first two movies. The bad news? It’s still a disappointment compared to the first two. It’s watchable, yes, but unsatisfying.

Ironically, the third film provided a great setup for building on the universe from the first two movies and giving the audience something much bigger and bolder. The most obvious question from the first two films is what would the killer mutant babies actually be like IF they grew up? Additionally, there is the question of how the evil mutant babies would interact with their own kind, what they would do if left their own devices, and there was very little in the way of actually SEEING the babies in full detail from the first films because of the makeup limitations of those movies. It’s Alive III addresses all those points – and in many cases, it provides a perfectly valid answer to those questions. But alas, something is still missing.

Compared to Basket Case 3 (which shifted the tone so much from the first movie, it was like they were intentionally trying to make a bad joke), Island of the Alive sticks to the style of the first two movies very well. The film opens in a courtroom where they argue over the fate of one of the mutant babies (finally seen in full detail thanks to stop-motion animation). Without going into too much detail, the killer mutant babies are eventually quarantined on an island that is restricted to the public, hence the title. Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a plot if they just stayed there forever and no one ever saw them again, so a few years later, they decide to send an expedition out to track down if the killer mutant babies are still alive on the island.
None of this (aside from perhaps the tense courtroom scene where the father has to “touch” the baby in the cage to “prove” it’s safe) plays out as horrifically and dark as it could from the way it sounds on paper. I think part of the problem is that that Island of the Alive was made a decade after the first two movies, and the late 80s setting simply gives the movie a different feel than its mid-1970s counterparts. (I have no idea why there was such a large gap in time between the filming of the second and third movies). Strangely, 70s cult horror star Karen Black shows up in this one as a disgruntled girlfriend of one of the characters, and I found her role unintentionally funny. Even Rob Zombie couldn’t seem to use Karen Black in a serious role. It’s Alive III just seems to lack the same quiet, creepy, dark vibe of the original movie, despite having the same writer/director.

The film does deserve kudos for an interesting script that eventually reveals that the mutant babies mature at age four and are able to reproduce, and communicate with each other through some type of sign language and/or telepathy. This results in some type of “Captain Phillips” type scenario where one of the characters is held hostage on a boat commanded by the mutant babies. The scene itself, however, was neither funny & campy nor terrifying and creepy, it was just sort of there, and make me shrug, “eh?”

The film provides a satisfying conclusion to its own events, but as part of a trilogy, it’s the weakest of the trio. Whether it’s worth watching is really up to you.

** out of ****

ReelReviews #106: It Lives Again (1978)

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MARCH 14, 2017 SCREENING: IT LIVES AGAIN (1978)

The film poster summarizes this entire two hour movie very easily: The killer mutant baby from “Its Alive” is back: only this time there are three of them.

Following the rule of sequels, the second film in the trilogy gives the audience what was best about the first movie, but ups the ante and delivers more action, thrills, and violence than its predecessor. In many cases, this type of lazy filmmaking (“give ‘em what they got before, multiplied 3X!) results in an inferior follow-up movie. Here, it actually works…although the film is still a step down from its immediate predecessor. Part of the reason “It Lives Again” works so well is that filmmaker Larry Cohen wisely got John P. Ryan back to reprise his role from the first film, but gave him something entirely different to do in the sequel. In “It Lives Again”, he’s there to warn the parents of other mutant babies what they are encountering in their life, and he’s changed course 180 degrees from the film movie, since now he is trying to PROTECT the mutant babies rather than destroy them.

The entire “hook” of the sequel having THREE killer mutant babies instead of just one little nasty monster is actually the most disappointing aspect of the film. This concept could have made for some very interesting scenarios, but it is not merely as fun as its sounds. For starters, evil mutant baby killer #1 and #2 get killed off about halfway through the movie, so the climax ends with a race-against-the-clock to stop just one killer baby, just like the first film. Secondly, the three evil mutant babies don’t even interact with each other or appear on screen in the same scenes, so what was the point of including them in the first place?

Aside from John P. Ryan (who – SPOILER ALERT—gets killed off in this movie, disappointing me since he was the best thing about the first two films) the only other character to return from the first film is the local police inspector, who looks strangely like a 1970s version of 1980s Donald Trump in both movies. The film eventually runs low on steam, but it has a solid “several months later” ending where the poor father in this film assumes John P. Ryan’s role from the start of the movie of visiting future parents pregnant with evil mutant babies, thus hinting that the cycle will continue…endlessly.

Overall, I liked the movie, but it falls slightly short of the first film. Still, given the fact that it’s a sequel to the type of movie that mainstream audiences and critics would immediately turn their noses up at, It Lives Again has something going for it. It’s worth checking out, especially if you liked the first one.

** 1/2 out of ****

ReelReviews #105: It’s Alive (1974)

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MARCH 13, 2017 SCREENING: IT’S ALIVE! (1974)

In a strange twist of irony, I spent the month of March going from the most critically acclaimed Hollywood movies (namely, looking at past “Best Picture” Oscar winners) to the films LEAST likely to win prizes and critical acclaim: nasty B-grade horror films. The 1974 cult classic “It’s Alive” is actually much better than its reputation would suggestion. For an obscure low-budget Hollywood film, it has some A-list credentials. For example, famous Hitchcock composer Bernard Hermann did the score for this film – and the music is every bit as memorable as his more famous compositions. The makeup designer is Rick Baker, who would go on to do the makeup for An American Werewolf in London (1981), which launched him to fame as Hollywood’s go-to guy for top-notch special effects makeup. The lead male actor in the film, John P. Ryan (apparently “best known” for the 1985 movie Runaway Train, which I’ve never seen) puts in a terrific performance that requires an entire range of emotions and actions for his character, and writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’ story of a deformed mutant baby going a killing spree was unique and “creative” for the time, to say the least. But with all that, is the film actually good? Surprisingly, yes it is.

A few months earlier, I screened the similarly “ugly cult classic” horror film series Basket Case, which I haven’t yet reviewed on my blog. To put it simply, the first one was really compelling, the second was watchable but stupid, and the third was a pile of dung that I shut off halfway through. I wondered if the It’s Alive trilogy (and its 2009 remake) would suffer a similar fate. They did not. It’s Alive, though certainly shunned by “mainstream” film critics and considered some cheap horror film, is a compelling and dark melodrama. Larry Cohen wisely stuck with the “leave much of the horror to the audience’s imagination” rule, and while this may be partly inspired by the difficulty of showing the killer mutant baby on a rampage using low budget 1974 special effects, it works.

The film has a high level of graphic violence, but between the grisly things that occur on screen, the real heart of the story is the mutant baby’s perfectly normal, middle-America parents, who already have a perfectly normal first child who is sixth grade during the film’s chain of events. The film manages the incredibly difficult task of A) Getting the audience to suspend disbelief that such an awful thing could actually happen to this couple, and B) Making it plausible how society at large would deal with the problem. In the movie, the problem with the “Davis baby” eventually becomes a nationwide panic. As the baby’s father struggles to come to grips with what’s happening, he has a moving segment where he compares his family’s nightmarish life to the story Frankenstein because the audience associates Frankenstein as the name of the monster — rather than the scientist who created him. By the end of the film, the father finally has to confront the fact the baby is still his biological child and identifies him as its father, no matter how inhuman and monsterious s the baby acts and looks. The film has a lot of subtle social commentary on the changing role of the American family in the 1970s, even though its first and foremost a violent “things that go bump in the night” kind of movie. The final line the movie was also an excellent punch-in-the-gut for audiences after the horrific events were seemingly over.

The film was very compelling and exciting, regardless of its low budget and amateur filmmaking origins. Highly recommended.

*** out of ****

ReelReviews #101: Oscar Party! (The French Connection, It Happened One Night, Slumdog Millionaire, On The Waterfront)

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FEB  25, 2017 SCREENING: ‘BEST PICTURE’ OSCAR WINNERS

 

The last of my multiple-movies-in-one reviews (at least for a while) makes sense this time:  a day before the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony, my friends and I had an “Oscar Party” at my home where we screened “Best Picture” winners from past years. I narrowed the list down to one film from each decade, and we made it thru four films that night:  The French Connection (1971 Best Picture winner), It Happened One Night (1934 Best Picture winner), Slumdog Millionaire (2008 Best Picture winner) and On The Waterfront (1954 Best Picture winner).

Were those films truly the “ Best Picture” made that year, or were they even good movies? In four capsule reviews, I give my two cents on these movies.

 

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)

This was a decent film, but one thing my friends and I noticed right away was that the sound mixing on this film was terrible! There was little excuse for this, since we were watching a pristine restoration of the film on Blu-Ray, on a big television, in my basement. The sound should have an immersive experience. Instead, much of the dialogue was difficult to make out over the music score, and the film constantly alternated between being WAY TOO LOUD and way too quiet.  To our shock, this film was actually nominated for “Best” Sound Mixing (which it thankfully DID NOT win that year!) when it actually deserved a Worst Sound Mixing award.  Aside from this huge glaring flaw that the made the movie difficult to watch, the rest of the film was pretty good. It took me a while to get into the story, but Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (a classic Gene Hackman role) is a compelling character and the eeeeeeeeeeeevil French drug smugglers in this movie are a worthy adversary.  The French Connection was also the first R rated movie to win Best Picture (little noticed at the time since the even more taboo X rating had resulted in a Best Picture win two years earlier for Midnight Cowboy) and The French Connection lives up to its R rating: it’s definitely aimed at adults, and one the opening scenes of a man graphically being shot point blank in the face gives you an idea what you’re in for. The film had a number of scenes that are likely considered “classic” now, like the Subway chase scene, and a scene near the end where they strip a car apart piece by piece trying to find where drugs are hidden inside it. The conclusion of the film was a bit blunt and shocking but very unexpected and gutsy, living up to the film’s promise that it was “Based on a True Story”.  One problem that no fault of the film itself is that it came out the same year as Dirty Harry.  The French Connection may be the Oscar winner of 1971, but it simply cannot compete with Dirty Harry in terms of social impact and popular appeal with audiences. On the flip side, the G-rated Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was another such iconic film released the same year, so there was no shortage of solid films in 1971.  The French Connection is definitely worth watching (and it grew on me as the film continued), but was it truly the “Best Picture” of 1971? That’s debatable.

*** out of ****

 

 

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

Ah, the comedy film, it don’t get no respect from the Academy Awards. Only about a dozen purely “comedic” movies have won Best Picture, and this is a rare example of one. In this case, it’s a romantic comedy/road trip movie.  Given the age of this film, we pretty much selected it because it was the only “comedy” option available in my pile of Blu-Ray movies, and we were worried the film’s humor would be very dated or corny and that the quality of the film would probably be muddy and difficult to watch. Boy, we were wrong.  It Happened One Night had all of us in stitches from start to finish, and holds up incredibly well for a film that is over 80 years old.  While Clark Gable and  Paulette Goddard definitely look the part of 1930s movie stars with the hairstyle and clothing, the witty rapport they have with each other holds up beautifully and the ensemble cast in this movie was great as well. More than any other Best Picture winner (especially when this film is unfairly compared to more recent winners),  It Happened One Night was certainly deserving of the honor of sweeping the Oscars in 1934, and making the history books as the first film to win all five major categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay), a feat that only two films have accomplished since then.  Other aspects of the film, like cinematography, art direction, and music, were also top notch and looked beautiful given the age of the film. When an all male audience is entertained from start to finish by a cheesy “romantic comedy”, you know you’ve struck gold. I highly recommend this film to anyone.

**** out of ****

 

 

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008)

Well, here’s one that got a mixed response: in a small crowd of three, two of us had a hard time trying to connect with this film, and the third person through it was really clever and engaging.  Unfortunately, I was not the third person who liked it. I can appreciate Slumdog Millionaire for numerous positive things it had: a creative format, a unique premise, a great music score, and a compelling story.  Sadly, I couldn’t appreciate it for anything else. The film seemingly give us a series of random disjointed scenes for much of the movie, until about an hour into the movie when we realized that all the flashbacks were relevant to whatever question the character was facing at the time.  Slumdog Millionaire, like My Big Fat Greek Wedding a few years before it, benefited from good word of mouth and being the “feel good movie of the year”. As for me, I found the overall film was waaaaaaaay too ugly, bleak, and depressing to be the “feel good movie of the year”, even though it had an “overcoming incredible odds” premise of a poor uneducated man from the slums of India winning everything on Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, and a “happy” ending.  Compared to the previous film, it also seems to have aged incredibly poorly for a “recent” movie, given that its less than a decade old but its hip and trendy game show that the movie is centered around is no longer in the public spotlight.  Slumdog Millionaire gets a good review from me because I truly appreciate all the work that went into it and what they were trying to do, but I can safely say I did not enjoy it and it is unlikely I will watch it again.  I do not believe it deserved “Best Picture” of 2008, but I’m at a loss to say what movie “should have” won the year, especially since the other four films nominated in 2008 were also seemingly undeserving of the top prize (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was my personal favorite from the “Best Picture” nominees that year, but I doubt it warranted a “Best Picture” Oscar). Slumdog Millionaire showed the slums, but it didn’t strike any gold for me.

** ½  out of ****

 

ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)

Meh. I was really looking forward to this movie, having never seen one of Marlon Brando’s “early” roles when he was a young Hollywood heartthrob in the 50s.  I really wanted to like it. I couldn’t.  As the film continued on longer and longer, I just found myself looking at my watch waiting for it to end.  It has some good moments and a lot of landmark stuff to see, like Eve Marie Saint’s debut acting role opposite Marlon Brando (she’s cute in this movie and they have some chemistry, but you can tell it’s her first film).  Instead of focusing on the story, I found much of the time I was distracted by Marlon Brando’s eyes.  (He appears to have part of an eyebrow missing, and looks like he’s wearing mascara or eyeliner and appears strangely like a modern female drag queen “pretending” to be a macho male figure)  One character, a Catholic priest that is supposed to be the voice of “moral clarity” in the film, just conveniently pops up whenever he is needed to move the story along, and I thought he actor was miscast and not convincing as a Catholic priest. The very dark and serious story of a dock worker covering up for his boss’s ties to the mafia was problematic for me because the cold blooded mafia figures are given hammy 50s dialogue and sanitized to meet 1950s guidelines. This story would have more impact if someone like Martin Scorsese or Brian DePalma had made it in the late 70s or early 80s. About the darkest it gets is a scene where Brando bluntly tells another character “Go to hell!”and when he is brutally beaten towards the end of the film (the shot of him lying in a ditch seems to imply he’s dead, but he survived, and I thought that lessened the impact) It may have the iconic line of Brando saying he “coulda been a contender”, but this film is not an Oscar contender to me.

** out of ****

 

 

As for the “Best Picture” winners from other decades? I managed to screen all of those as well, just on different nights, so each will get its  own review. Stay tuned!

ReelReviews #100: Roots (2016 remake) The Complete Miniseries

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FEB  2017 SCREENING: ROOTS (2016 REMAKE)

 

For my final installment of the legendary Roots miniseries, I take a look at the brand spankin’ new remake, which aired last year on the History Channel. Alex Haley died in 1992, so this Haley-less remake was an attempt by modern television to “update” the historical saga for 21st century audiences. Did they succeed? Let’s take a look.

 

NIGHT 1

Unlike the original miniseries spanning 6-8 episodes (maybe even 9, depending on how you look at it), its 2016 counterpart tries to tell the same story in four roughly 95 minute episodes. Essentially, like this review, this means they tried to cover the same material in half the time. Did it work? Yes and no.  Night 1 basically combined Episode 1 and 2 of the original Roots, along with some Christmas themed ideas from Roots: The Gift thrown in for good measure.  The remake DOES seem far more historically accurate at first: unlike the 1977 miniseries, the African tribes have had trade deals with whites many times in the past and are very familiar with the slave trade, and profit from it.  The subplot from the original miniseries about the Christian man becoming captain of a slave ship and being emotionally conflicted is gone, but it’s not necessary here since the story is almost entirely from the Africans point of view this time, and Kunta Kinte barely sees white people for most of the episode and they come across as some strange alien presence. The (fictional) slave revolt was also done much better this time around. One of the biggest changes of the entire remake is that Forrest Whittaker is Fiddler instead of Lou Gossett Jr., and he portrays him as a very different character. A lot of character development in the original is lost here, and I didn’t care for Fiddler being killed off by evil slave owners rather than dying of old age like the original miniseries, as it seemed like a forced attempt to add more drama so Kunta would have a reason to escape. Not as compelling as the riveting “must see” cliffhangers of the original miniseries, but still, it was very well done and added enough new stuff to make it fresh.

*** out of ****

 

NIGHT 2

Thankfully, middle aged Kunta Kinte isn’t played by an actor who looks nothing at all like the previous one.  This miniseries actually does the opposite and does very little aging makeup, so it’s not convincing that the 20-something actor from the first episode is supposed to be middle aged in this one. Like the previous episode, this one essentially combines episode 3 and 4 of the original miniseries.  (For some bizarre reason, a subplot about a black character reaching the end of his rope and holding himself hostage in a barn with a gun was originally used in Roots: The Next Generation, but ends up recycled in this episode that takes place over a century earlier) Kizzy’s white friend from the original miniseries was more ditzy and fun to watch the first time around, but the remake gives us some additional background about their friendship as children, so seeing them as BFF’s as adults works better in this version.  Due to the brisk pace, however, the subplot about Kizzy visiting her parents plantation years later to find out her father is dead was omitted from this one, and that subtraction cut out some emotional gravitas the original miniseries had.  Kizzy being introduced to her new master and being raped and impregnated by the white slave owner is done much more brutally here (though the character was much more of a obnoxious sleazy drunk in 1977. Here, he’s just an arrogant power-hungry jerk), and it ends with her being forced to give birth to his baby. Roots the remake is even more violent and bleak than its predecessor, but accomplishes much of the same goals.

*** out of ****

 

 

NIGHT 3

Combining Chicken George’s entire chicken fighting saga into a single episode worked the best of the remake episodes, and it was far more awkward the first time around when it was spliced into different episodes in order to end on a cliffhanger. As with episode 2, we also get some background material on Chicken George as a child – something the original miniseries lacked.  Likewise, the casting is better here too – the adult Chicken George looks a bit like Trevor Noah, and seeing how Trevor Noah is half white, this casting was believable as a mixed race character in the way the original miniseries lacked. Still, for all the stuff this episode has going for it, it seems to lack a lot of the fun and compelling nature of the original miniseries, and goes through much of the same material without putting a new spin on it like the first two episodes accomplished.  I actually “felt” for the slave master’s desperation more at the end of this episode when he loses everything he owns and is forced to give George to British slave-owners to pay back his debt, even though Master Tom Lea is a thoroughly reprehensible person and the audience should be delighted to see this evil bastard financially ruined.  Like episode 2, George’s anguish at being taken away is much more intense than the original miniseries. Still, it never quite worked for me.

** ½  out of ****

 

NIGHT 4

Unlike the original miniseries, the remake promised to show what happened to George during his 20 years in England, and I found it to be somewhat anti-climatic. I also realized a plot hole that escaped me the first time around: if this story is historically accurate, and in real life England abolished slavery in the 1830s, how the heck is George a slave in England until the 1850s?  Like the original miniseries, he does eventually buy his own freedom and come back to the United States just in time for the civil war.  This episode two really good things going for it: the civil war battle scenes are much more realistic and epic in scope than the original, and it adds a very compelling and heartbreaking subplot a about a white abolitionist (played by Anna Paquin) who goes undercover as a southerner to leak information, and is discovered and hung.  Thankfully, it also lacks the abrupt “trick everyone in town to think we’re still working on the plantation and then triumphantly get away and live happily ever after” storybook ending of the original miniseries. Here, the abolition of slavery is handled much more down to earth, and it wraps up nicely with a conclusion about what happened to Alex Haley’s family until his birth in 1921. Still, I felt a remake of Roots: The Next Generation was in order. Most remakes incorporate material from the sequels to the original story in order to provide a deeper understanding of the original story. Here, we get a lot extra material that wasn’t in the original story, but additional details from the entire original saga are lost and their absence often simplifies the story too much.

** ½  out of ****

 

Overall, both the original 1977 series and its 2016 remake are worth checking out, and both have different strengths and weaknesses.  In many ways, the remake is superior. Still, the original had a dramatic effect on television history that is remake simply can’t come close to, and most importantly, the original Roots and its sequel series feel complete and mammoth in scope. The remake does not.

 

ReelReviews #99: Roots: The Next Generations (1978), Episodes 4-7

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FEB. 2017 SCREENING: ROOTS: TNG (1978)  Parts 4-7

 

Gosh, what happened to my episode by episode blogs on the Roots miniseries?

 

Unfortunately, this was a February project, and seeing as we’re now into March 2077, I feel behind on my blogging. I still want to continue to provide an overview on the series, so all the remaining episodes of Roots: The Next Generation will get a capsule review here, as will be the case for all the episodes of the 2016 remake of Roots. So without further ado, here is my take on the remainder of Roots:

 

PART 4  (1932-1934)

The fourth episode of the miniseries takes place during the Great Depression and finally introduces us to the author of the story: Alex Haley, who is about 10 years old during the events of this episode.  Episode 4 was much ado about nothing:  there’s very little plot in this installment, but it’s still a compelling story because it shows how the Haley family survived during the worst time of economic plight in America. One particularly good part was Simon Haley’s experiences with a black farmer who is quite willing to discuss farming techniques with him – except when the white owner of the farmer is around. The episode also contained a heartbreaking shock for me when Alex Haley’s mother Bertha reveals that she’s been having internal bleeding and ends up dying a rare illness when Alex is still a young boy. Perhaps more than anything else in the entire Roots saga, this tragic event is lifted directly from real life rather than Alex Haley’s attempts to reconstruct the past from folklore, and the sudden passing of his mother does help explain Haley’s interest in trying to preserve his family’s past history before it is lost in the mist of time.  A quiet episode, but a solid one.

** ½  out of ****

 

PART 5  (1939-1945)

Part 5 was one of my favorite portions of the entire miniseries, as it revolves around Alex Haley as a 17 year old trying to find his way in the world and blaze a path different than his father. Simon Haley has high expectations of him and hopes he will become president of a “negro university” one day, while Alex discovers he would rather be a writer. Much of this coming of age story is set during World War II, where Alex ends up enlisting in the Navy (again, different from his father, who was an army vet during World War I) and puts his writing talent to good use when an older officer sees the love letters he’s written back home and is willing to pay him to write romantic letters for him. This soon become a job for him as all the men aboard the ship learn about it and want similar “services” from  Alex. A lot of events happen over the course this of this episode, which is both a fun and necessary part of the saga.

***  out of ****

 

PART 6 (1946-1950)

Part 6 is the closest The Next Generation comes to a “delete scene” type of episode that is reminiscent of the superfluous Roots: The Gift in the original miniseries. This episode deals with Alex’s struggle to become a professional writer during peacetime, and it also shows how he encounters racism first hand for the first time in his life when every hotel in a white town has “no vacancies” for the night even though there are plenty of rooms and he is dressed in his full dress naval uniform. In the end, Alex finds his way to prevail as a professional writer after years of struggle, but at the expense of his marriage. Roots: TNG did deal with this character weakness of Alex Haley in an honest manner, seeing as the real Alex Haley went through three failed marriages and all the episodes of the miniseries depict him as too focused on his work to see that his home life was falling apart. A good episode, but an unnecessary one.

** ½  out of ****

 

 

PART 7 (1960-1967)

At last, after 7 episodes of the original Roots and 7 episodes of The Next Generation, this 200 year journey through Alex Haley’s family history draws to a close. The final episode is a solid one. Unlike some of the earlier casting, the three actors who portrayed Haley (ending with James Earl Jones as a middle aged Haley in this one) were believable as the same character, and this episode essentially does a biopic of the Alex Haley the audience knows, showing his writing career interviewing controversial figures like Malcolm X and George Lincoln Rockwell (Haley’s wife notes in the episode that they are “two sides of the same coin – both preach racial hatred and separatism, and Haley agrees to a point but says Malcolm X’s anger has a reason behind it.  The episode also has a frank depiction of Simon Haley being uncomfortable with his son ghostwriting Malcolm X’s autobiography, since Simon is a devout Christian and Malcolm X’s Nation of Islam preaches an anti-Christian message, but eventually Simon reads the book for himself to see the talent of his son’s words.  The conclusion of the episode where Alex Haley “discovers” his ancestor Kunta Kinte by traveling to Africa was very convincing aside from the fact that today’s public is aware that Haley never met an African “griot” that had the tribal history of the Kinte family. In any case, it serves the plot device well, and the final moments of the episode showing flashbacks of both the original miniseries and next generation miniseries characters tied everything together nicely. It ended abruptly, but had reached the point it needed to.

***   out of ****