Saturday, July 23, 2016

Star Trek Beyond: Best of the Rebooted Series

    I went into Star Trek Beyond with very low expectations.  My beef has been that the franchise has put aside the vision of the future, trading it in for zero risk plots.   The Crew of the Enterprise represents the Cops, while the Klingons and Romulans represent the Robbers, led by a really evil leader.  Then the Cops and Robbers shoot at each other, and the Cops win.   Whoopee.  That has been the Star Trek plot for years.

    This movie is different.  The Enterprise encounters beings they have never met before, hearkening back to the original show when we didn't know the Klingons and Romulans so well, and weren't sure what they could do.   But the entire premise of Star Trek is to explore the unknown, so I was getting bored with the previous movies in which the same bad guys were seen over and over and over again.  In Star Trek Beyond, there are some new characters, and you can't be sure if they are good, evil or somewhere in between. That's the way it should be when you encounter a new world!
If you're going to seek out strange new worlds, then it's about time the Enterprise finds some.  Hurray!  So who are they, and what do they want? Are they peaceful?  Or not?

    In fact, this one is so unique, that I will definitely have to see it again.   There were some things I did not understand at first.  For example, I never did figure out what kind of threat is posed by the civilization the Enterprise encounters?  Do they need a secret weapon, or what?  Why weren't they already able to overrun the Federation decades ago?  But in any case, let's just say that the bad guys are much more interesting than previous villains, though still too one-dimensional at times.  If Kirk is not 100% the good guy at times, then the bad guys should not be bad 100% of the time either.  

Definitely some new people for the Enterprise to meet!

Plenty of special effects to please the kiddies.  

But more importantly, the chemistry has started to work between Kirk, McCoy and Spock.  Up to this time, Jeffrey Quinto's Spock has been cranky and middle aged, but in this movie I started to see some of the subtleties of Nimoy's character.  Spock's crush on Uhura, featured in one of the previews, still makes me groan, but at least now Spock is starting to depend on his relationship with McCoy and Kirk in order to develop something really great by working together. Similarly, McCoy is a crabby right wing throwback, but he started to win us over a little bit this time.  

Spock has started to realize that he needs McCoy and Kirk in order to be fulfilled.

No, Star Trek Beyond is not perfect.  They need to concentrate on making the bad guys believable, and creating better story lines, but this is definitely the best of the rebooted Star Trek so far.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

She's Not Your Father's Wonder Woman

 Is there a "glass ceiling" above which female superheroes can not pass?   I think there is, and it's about time to smash through this ridiculous stereotype. 
    What I mean is there is a rule that females are not allowed to exceed the accomplishments of males.  This dates back to, for instance, the Bionic Woman, had almost exactly the same strength and ability as the 6 Million Dollar Man (2 bionic legs an one bionic arm, though Jamie Sommers had a bionic ear instead of a bionic eye like Colonel Steve Austin.
    In the comics and tv shows, Wonder Woman was never allowed to exceed the capabilities of Superman.   The same hold true for her most recent incarnation, brought to life (sort of) by the gorgeous Gal Gadot, who at least looks the pat.  
     With her sword, which she swings like a tennis racket, complete with a Serena-Williams'-style yell, she is almost as tough as middled aged, cranky Superman.  But far from being a woman's liberation icon, she merely extended stereotypes.   We're supposed to think, "Wow, she can play with the big boys" because she can whack Kryptonian monsters with her sword.  But she doesn't actually slice anyone to pieces with her sword, and really uses it like Superman uses his fists.    

Like the dull Oldsmobile campaigns that led to the demise of that fine automobile, the best you can say about Wonder Woman as we most recently met her in Batman vs Superman was that she was not nearly as boring as Superman. 

    Now, they've at least given her a more colorful costume.  That's a start.  

From Entertainment Weekly comes this preview of Wonder Woman with a new colorful (sort of) costume.  

    But think it would be way cooler to make Wonder Woman vastly more powerful than Superman, rather than "almost even" with Superman.  Let her punch like three times as hard as Superman, and make it obvious that Superman can not
    The business about the sword is stupid.  If you don't want her to slice up bad guys a la Wolverine, then she shouldn't be using the sword as a punching device. She doesn't have a sword in the comics anyway.  So either make her a vicious human meatcleaver, or else let her be the demigoddess power puncher.  She can be like Ivan Drago in the Rocky movies, the toughest power puncher in the DC universe.   
    Part of the allure of Wonder Woman is that she threatens male insecurity, and in particular Captain Steve Trevor. Hence, even Superheroes like Superman and Batman should literally be knocked on their butts by a Demigoddess.  
   Plus I think the magic lasso (which compels prisoners to confess the truth) could be a hoot.  Maybe she can catch a bad guy and ask him embarrassing questions, and the bad guy make have to make embarrassing revelations about why he acts so bad.  Or, maybe even get Clark Kent in the lasso and find out that he likes Wonder Woman more than Lois Lane.
    But no, up to this point, the whole thing has been about protecting the egos of Batman and Superman, while acknowledging that Wonder Woman is a useful ally, as long as she doesn't attempt to go beyond the "glass ceiling."
     We shall see what happens in the next movie.  I'm not optimistic, given the dismal record of DC movies.  But I think the last movie shook them up as they basically ruined a sure-fire way to print money.  Maybe they will be motivated to try a few new things this time.  We shall see, by Aphrodite.  


Saturday, July 9, 2016


     Protest can be an effective way to accomplish group goals, including social change and ending specific injustices. Alternatively it can simply be a way to get on TV.  

    Back in the day I participated in protest marches.  In those days, it seems to me, the protestors were often idealistic and politically astute if not completely unbiased.  Organizers of protest marches usually had specific goals in mind.  For example, I went to Boston to protest school segregation in the 1970's.  We wanted legislation passed that would prevent segregated schools.  And by and large, if it was a good goal, the protest could be successful in bringing about a change for the better.  The goal was usually some sort of legislative milestone.

    These days I see a different type of protester.   Often the ideological commitment seems to be missing and replaced by the simple desire to be a complainer.  The protests often have a nice catch phrase, but how do you know if the protest is a success?   What change do the protesters want?  I didn't like recent protests that chanted slogans like "Enough is Enough!" or "We won't take it anymore!"  These slogans raise people's passion and evoke anger but do not lead to a solution on how to fix the problem.   

     So, assuming you have America's attention thanks to your your captivating, high-Nielsen-ratings protest, what do you want them to do?   In the old days they actually did things.  They desegregated lunch counters, let black people register to vote and actually made specific accomplishments.  This did not transform the society to a Utopian one, but bit by bit they made lives tangibly better.  

    This new crowd often seems to be interested in seeing themselves on TV or in a viral Youtube video.   The news media is happy to have such protests because they make money by getting ratings and generating advertisement revenue.  Even better if they just create anger and controversy without offering any solutions to specific problems.  That keeps the ratings up forever.  

     My challenge is to figure out what changes people want to make.  Protest may or may not be the best way to move forward.  Maybe the elected representatives will work for your cause if you show why it's a good idea.  Maybe they can introduce the bill that you want and promote your cause directly.   If that fails, and you conclude that you need to use your Constitutional rights for Free Speech and Assembly, great.   My hope is that you can focus your effort to actually achieve something, and not just complain loudly and get on TV or a viral Youtube video. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Me Tarzan! You Watch!

I went to see Tarzan today (July 4) and was pleased with the movie.  To make a long story short, originality and good acting overcome some flaws in the plot and directing.  
     First of all, I was thrilled that this movie, directed by David Yates, contains mimimal flashbacks to the 1000-times-retold story of young Lord Greystoke's adoption by wild killer apes.   Previous movies felt obliged to waste at least half the movie retelling this wretched story.  But no, we catch up with Lord Greystoke, a bit bored with his life as an English Noble.  Time to revisit Africa and determine whether some white guys are up to no good there, as they usually are.

    There were some terrible flaws in the movie, however. Perhaps the most serious is that the movie drags to a climax rather than races to it.   The bad guy simply has no Plan B, C or D, so that when Tarzan succeeds in partially disrupting him, there is nothing to do but plod forward.

           Tarzan is exciting and has a different feel than past movies about the King of the Apes.  

     Tarzan is relatively weak in this movie.  Consider the following:
     1.  He can keep barely ahead of a 50 year old guy (played by 67 year old Samuel L. Jackson no less) when traversing the jungle at maximum speed.  He never gets more than a few minutes ahead.
     2.  He can can talk to animals and get them to do him small favors, but he apparently can not ride an elephant.  Dude!  Learn to ride!
    3.  He can barely punch out a 50 year old bad guy, but tends to lose when fighting a gorilla or a more youthful Englishman. 

    Other gripes I have include the following:

     a.  The Congo instead of being a million square miles as it is in real life, appears to be about the size of Cleveland, so that Tarzan can walk from one end to the other in a few days. 
    b.  Jane is spunkier and prettier than, say, any version of Lois Lane we have ever seen, but at the end of the day she just gets in trouble too much and is rather helpless.  That needs to be fixed. 
     c.  The movie flips back and forth between the present and various flashbacks.  It's sometimes hard to figure out where we are.

     I did like the idea that when Tarzan gets very very mad, he and his animal friends can really mess people up.  In previous Tarzan movies, Tarzan is kind of like a head of a biker gang with a few apelike followers.  This Tarzan is ultimately able to get a lot of animals to work together, which is kind of a cool idea.   Bad guys should have to work things out with an entire jungle that is mad at them, like 100,000 or so animals.  There are plenty of white guys doing bad things in Africa.  Let's throw a few more to the beasts next time, shall we?   
    I am sure there will be a sequel, and in the meantime I would like both Tarzan and Jane to do push-ups and the like so they can be more effective in action scenes.  They should also study herbology in order to be able to recover from wounds and the like.  Jane needs to get a job, perhaps become a doctor, rather than continuing as a professional damsel in distress.

     And what about elephants?  They are the equivalent of tanks in the jungle.  Let's use elephants a whole lot more next movie.  

     The bad guy needs to have a better plan than to set up a confrontation and stall till the end of the movie.  No, he should score some points and do many things to annoy Tarzan, not just one or two.  

     James Bond and Goldfinger pioneered the idea that British bad guys like to engage their captives in witty conversation, trusting them to not try to escape (what a shock that Bond tricks him).  But that only worked for Bond and Goldfinger.  Let's get rid of that campy idea altogether, shall we?  Pip, pip! 
    I will be rooting for the animals, just like Jurassic Park, where the people deserve to be eaten.  This movie showed how Tarzan can lead the animals, next time perhaps he will actually do a better job of it.  In the meantime, this movies is fun, interesting and has great scenes from the Congo, so it is worth watching.    

Monday, May 30, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse is Exciting and Fun

    I like X-Men Apocalypse. It's an exciting movie with an entertaining plot, great action scenes and it explores several interesting mutant characters.  It's a bit of a reboot from its previous existence in 20th Century Fox studios.  But it follows the previous X-Men, who started in the 1960s with X-Men:  First Class and then in the 1970s with Days of Future Past, into the 1980s.  We are re-introduced to younger versions of the X-Men including Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler and holdovers such as Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver plus about five other characters I have forgotten. Plenty of interesting mutants for fans who are gluttons for superheros. 

    The Quicksilver character was brilliantly played by Aaron Evans.  The young superheroes should act like punks sometimes, and he does that.  He's talented, funny and definitely has his own personality.  One thing that bothers me, though, is how Quicksilver can be a young guy in the 1970s and 1980's, and yet is also a young guy in the Avengers movie which takes place in about 2016.  These movies are not helped by taking such giant liberties with the characters.  

Quicksilver is a surprising hit of the movie, upstaging some of his more well-known friends.  

       Similarly, Nightcrawler (Cody Smit-McPhee) is a very interesting character with the ability to teleport himself and his friends.  His flaws are that he is very under-confident and overly devout in his religion, which leads to some nice comic moments. In short, Nightcrawler rocks.    

     Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender, remains a fascinating character whose life is marred by evil tragedies.  I think the previous director wanted him to be like James Bond.  Meanwhile, Xavier is not nearly as inspirational, played kind of flatly by James McAvoy.   Magneto is basically a good character but one who is pulled by tragedy to embrace evil.  Fassbender is a very good actor, but we have seen this theme only about six other times in the X-Men movies and it is getting to be stale.  Time to move on.  To some extent this is accomplished by having a new bad guy for this movie.

    The bad guy is named Apocalypse, and he is really really bad. He does a decent Hannibal Lecter voice in addition to having all sorts of cool powers.  We learn that he had been active in ancient Egypt, but like the Mummy was entombed for a few thousand years, and then awakens to menace the world again. Apocalypse believes he is the answer to humanity's misplaced values (for example, their tendency to create nuclear weapons--tsk, tsk--instead of worshipping his godlike self).  But at his core, Apocalypse is kind of a horse's ass.  His ability to attract other mutants to support him perhaps could have been better developed, since he is really so creepy that we can scarcely imagine that a misguided good guy is actually going to work for him.  

Can you imagine an ancient godlike Pharaoh coming back to life to oppress the world?  Uh, maybe so.

Apocalypse gets great helpers, like Magneto and Psylocke (Olivia Munn).   Psylocke is into electrified whips and chains and is just mean.  

    Wolverine is in the movie, just so that they could add Hugh Jackman in the cast.   He doesn't add much to the plot.  He is just thrown in and then leaves, sort of like Stan Lee's cameo but with more violence.   This was a major blemish on the movie.  

     The plot is just average with too much reliance on stale themes, but good acting and directing along with exciting action sequences lead to a very enjoyable film.   


Sunday, May 8, 2016

When Marnie Was There --Review by the Village Elliot

I took my Mother to the Little Art Theater in Yellow Springs for a special shoing of "When Marnie Was There, " which they say is the last great cartoon from this generation of Studio Ghibli, which is the most famous creator of Anime movies in Japan. It is one of the most fantastic movies I have ever seen, never mind that it is a cartoon. In America, you could absolutely not make a movie like this. How can you have a movie with no sex, no romance, no violence, no guns, and no jokes and expect people to watch? It just can not happen. But Ghibli made an incredible movie. It is first of all unbelievably beautifully constructed with scenery from Japan that makes me long to return to that beautiful country. In some ways the cartoon is actually even more real than live film. The colors are brilliant and glorious, and the art is sensitive and gorgeous. In some ways, I think Japanese people like to see themselves as having some closer resemblance to European people, while nevetheless maintaining their cultural identity, and this comes into play in this movie both directly as well as indirectly as a form of artistic expression. "When Marnie was There" tells the story of an adolescent Japanese girl named Anna who is sent to the countryside to regain her health, and she meets a beautiful young European girl named Marnie, a few years older than herself, who lives in a mansion that appears to be abandoned at times. Marnie is from a wealthy family and is rich, outgoing and beautiful, all the things that Anna is not. Anna is so impressed by Marnie that Anna begins to doubt whether she even can be real. Is Marnie simply a figment of her imagination? It's partly a story of coming of age, but it is also an intricate Mystery movie, almost like the Twilight Zone in some respects. I will confess that I am a big softie and often cry at movies including Kung Fu Panda and Despicable me. I'm afraid the Little Art Theater may have suffered water damage for this engagement, as I was not the only one in tears.

Captain America and Iron Man Duke It Out in Civil War`

     I loved Marvel's Civil War, especially after the dumb-but-entertaining Batman versus Superman.  There is no question in my mind that Marvel derivatives have a much better understanding of human nature than the DC counterparts.  

     Civil War is an interesting theme, especially since many of my friends seem ready to start a war over relatively trifling differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, say. But in this movie, Iron Man (Tony Stark) is at the forefront of the ethical issue of advocating vigilante justice while also taking responsibility for collateral damage.  Specifically, innocent people routinely die during spectacular superhero operations, but you never hear about it.  Until now.   And the superheros naturally feel remorseful about the death of innocents, even if it seems unavoidable.  This is a worthy theme for superheroes to ponder.

     To deal with their dilemma, some of the heroes want to submit to the United Nations, while others want to work with no accountability.   It's a serious issue.   Marvel develops the case for both sides of the issue, and you might be surprised at which heroes come down on the side of law and order and which prefer vigilante-ism.  In fact they change sides and are forced into combat in a series of clashes, which my senior brain was too slow to fully comprehend. 

     The strongest characters continue to be Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America (Chis Evans), both of whom are totally believable both in terms of their acting as well as the way their characters are defined.  Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) are also very convincing. However, some of the others are a bit more dubious.  Hawkeye, for example, is really kind of an oddball. What does the bow and arrow do that an AK-47 does not? It's the dumbest weapon since the Empire rolled out the ineffective and slow light saber.  Conversely, Scarlet Witch seems to have kind of the same powers as Yahwe, if only she would concentrate a little better.   The Vision is also too powerful and would be a better character if his abilities were better defined. 

   Speaking of Gods, I guess Thor may have not fully recovered from his last concussion, and the Hulk my have had a bad hamstring, because both cleanup hitters sat this one out.  That strikes me as a very odd decision. Perhaps it means that Hulk is going to take on Thor in an upcoming movie, and they thought it might be redundant to have the same two characters whaling on each other in consecutive movies (?)  I think I will go out on a limb and predict that that indeed will be the case, as Hulk seemed to enjoy beating up Asgardians the past few movies. 

Hulk Smash Thor?  Next movie...

     On the other hand, there are some other fan favorites that show up as a replacements.  I won't tell you everyone who shows up, but they are cool. 

The plot is a little complicated, and after a while I had to give up on figuring out who was changing sides and why and just enjoy the action scenes.  And if you haven't heard, you should stick around after the credits for a few extra scenes that might be important in the future.