Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Into the Wild

Year 9, Day 228 - 8/16/17 - Movie #2,717

BEFORE: It may seem a bit weird, but I've got the rest of the year pretty well figured out now, the films are locked in and I can take a 3-week break in September, then some time off in October for New York Comic-Con AND a road trip down South if all goes well, and then I can wrap things up in November and December with a little time to spare.  And the path is going to take me through 4 big-ticket films that will be released in theaters: "Blade Runner 2049", "Justice League", "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi".  Now to get there, I've got to do a little more bouncing around between the films I've taped off cable (or am planning to), my access to a few key Academy screeners, and a few more films on Netflix.  However, this will only work if I break down and watch the "Hunger Games" films in November at a certain point - right now they don't all seem to be available on any one platform, not at a reasonable price, anyway, so near the end of October I'll have to figure out the best way to see them.  (Man, I sure do miss that $5 DVD store I used to shop at...)

But when I was putting together this chain, maybe about 6 weeks ago, I paused to think if there were any notable films that might also be missing from my plan - films that I've been meaning to see or had some interest in, but that just haven't seemed to be available.  I thought of two films that I've been anxiously waiting for some cable channel to run over the last, say, five years - but they never seem to come around.  One is "Into the Wild" and the other is "Drive" - now it turns out they're both available on iTunes, and I'm willing to lay out the $3.99 for either of them, only that means that I don't get to own a copy or put them in the permanent collection.  I don't feel I can wait any longer, since you never know when a film can disappear from a streaming service, it seems.  So I set out to work these two films into the mix somehow.

Now, since I've got some other Ryan Gosling films coming up ("The Nice Guys", "Blade Runner 2049" and I can borrow the Academy screener of "La La Land") it would seem that November would be an ideal time to watch "Drive" on iTunes.  But since Zach Galifianakis has a small role here, and can carry over from "Keeping Up With the Jones" for his fourth film in a row, there's no time like the present to watch "Into the Wild".  Seriously, why don't certain films that I want to see run on cable?  I've got like, all the channels.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Wild" (Movie #2,581)

THE PLOT: After graduating from college, Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his savings to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness.  Along the way, he encounters a series of characters that shape his life.

AFTER: Now I think I know why this doesn't run on premium cable, it's too damn long.  Two and a half hours?  It probably can't fit into any programming block on HBO or Showtime, or some cable network executives don't believe that a viewer will sit and watch anything of that length.  Meanwhile, the millennials today will binge-watch a new series, maybe 18 episodes all at once, so go figure that one out.

My next issue, and this ties in with it being too long, is that there's a lot of repetitive stuff here - don't get me wrong, the scenery is gorgeous, but how many times can we watch Chris (aka "Alexander Supertramp") hike up a mountain and then be stunned - absolutely awestruck - by the impressive view?  This loses its effectiveness somewhere around the 3rd or 4th time - maybe a few of these could have been cut, and the film's running time could have been brought down under two hours?  Just putting that out there.

Now, my famous pet peeve, Chris' itinerary, his route to Alaska, plays out completely out of order, which is usually a sure sign that someone wrote the screenplay in order, and realized there were long stretches of boring parts.  The easiest solution is to take the most exciting parts, in this case Chris arriving in Alaska and finding the "magic bus" to use as a shelter - from then on, we flashback to him graduating from college, and then burning all his bridges and going walkabout.  From then on, the film sort of toggles between his time in Alaska as an "experienced" outdoorsman, and the period crossing the country, making friends and gaining the skills he's going to eventually need in Alaska.

Really, I don't get it - why not play the film out as a linear narrative, which would not only make it easier for the audience to follow along, but also make it feel like more of a powerful accomplishment when he finally gets there?  Instead, the filmmakers tip their hand, we already KNOW he's going to get to Alaska, so whatever build-up or suspense about whether he may or may not succeed was dispatched within the first 5 minutes of the film.  This would be like a bit starting the first "Lord of the Rings" film with a scene where Frodo and Sam are about to throw the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom, then flashing back to the Shire where Gandalf comes to visit.  It doesn't make sense, but so many films are doing this these days. 

What would be the problem with charting the course that Chris takes across the country, from Atlanta to South Dakota to Colorado, down to Mexico and then north to Los Angeles in the proper order?  Wouldn't we as an audience feel more invested, like we're along for the ride, unsure of whether he's ever going to make it to Alaska?  Again, I can only surmise that someone edited the film this way, and it was as boring as dirt.  Jumbling up the pieces, making me do the work to put the story in proper order, it's an editing crutch.  Going non-linear with the narrative allows for more editing possibilities, and the director then doesn't have to do as much work to set up expectations and then either fulfill or deny them, it's a cheap fix for covering over the boring parts, because he can just cut to some exciting outdoor action whenever things start to slow down.  Why make any attempt to follow classic 6-act structure if we can just jump around in time at will?  Rules were meant to be broken, right?  Sure, if you're OK with subverting reality and making it more difficult for people to follow along. 

I say this as someone who's currently planning a road trip, from Dallas to Memphis to Nashville.  Maybe it's just me, but I want to do things in the most efficient way possible.  I know there are people who do things like driving cross-country, or taking their RV to every state in the lower 48 - and I admire the people who do this in the most efficient way possible.  And those people who try to visit every baseball stadium in the country in the minimum number of days, that's the kind of thing that really impresses me.  Heading out on the road without any sort of plan, to just see where life takes you, I don't think I could do that, it's just not in my nature. 

There's a lot to like about the character of Christopher McCandless, but if I'm being honest, there's a lot I don't like about him too.  I get that he had issues with his family, and then also issues with the materialism of society as a whole, but I'm guessing there's probably a way to appreciate nature without destroying your IDs, giving away all your money and going completely off the grid.  Also, it seems like he did all this not to grow as a person or learn to be self-sufficient, but to lord it over everyone else.  Environmentalists as a whole might find their message travels better if they don't act so damn self-righteous about it. 

Like, take vegetarians - if they convert to a diet of whole grains, fruits and nuts because they want to be healthier, that's fine, I can get behind that.  But if they do it to champion the cause and claim that they're then "better" than everyone else, now we've got a problem.  If you want to drop out of society and live out of a camper and follow Phish around, that's fine if that's the lifestyle you want.  But don't do it so you can live a life where you're constantly patting yourself on the back for being more natural or less wasteful or more liberal or whatever, because there's a really fine line between being a free spirit and being a hobo.  We have people in NYC who live off the grid, we call them "homeless people". 

I'll admit that Chris took a hands-on approach, he made sure that he had the skills to trap and butcher animals, plus he learned things like leatherworking and amateur botany along the way, so that he could survive in the wild (umm, up to a point at least...) but that attitude of self-sufficiency seems to have run counter to things like hitchhiking, or accepting food from strangers.  Or working in a fast-food restaurant in order to get enough money for the next leg of your journey - congratulations, now you're a corporate shill, how does that jibe with your plan to live off the grid? 

Also, was it really the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness that attracted him, based on Jack London's novels, or was that just the farthest place he could think to go, in order to put the most distance between him and his parents?  Perhaps there are many people who fantasize about dropping out of society, not telling friends and family where they're going, and then opening up a little surf shack in Maui or something - but it's just not fair to friends and family, who then won't ever be sure if they're alive or dead.

Since I'll never know the real Chris, maybe it's just an actor's choice in how to play him, but he comes off like a real prick here, someone who threw away his education and instead of getting a job and maybe working for things, he gave everything away and essentially disappeared, just to get back at his parents.  I mean, that's a long way to go to make a point, giving up every bit of opportunity and every relationship you've nurtured, not to mention every modern convenience that was invented to make human life better, just to stick it to Mom and Dad.  Why, because they used to yell at each other?  They didn't tell you the complete truth about the family dynamic?  They didn't hug you enough?  Give me a break. 

And the solution is to divest yourself of any promise of comfort or routine, just to throw yourself into the wind, because you're somehow not cut out for a 9-to-5 job?  And now it's up to every stranger you encounter to give you a ride, or a hot meal, because you're above it all?  This is what's wrong with millennials (Chris was a bit ahead of his time, but work with me here...), they think that the world owes them something, they don't want to work hard for "the man" but still think they deserve to be paid.  For what, carrying your guitar around town?  Falling off your skateboards?  Handing out leaflets about social injustice?  Back in my day, you got out of college and started looking for a job, not a path to go live in the wilderness or a bunch of people to form a drum circle with. 

By the time these social drifters hit 40 and realize that they didn't spend the last 2 decades crawling their way up to middle management, it's going to be too late, they won't have a retirement account or a work history or any accomplishments, really.  Congratulations, you went to Burning Man 8 years in a row, but what skills did you learn there that will help you run this bookstore?  And do you think you could maybe wait on customers without telling them that they're part of the imperialist regime, and that they need to do a juice cleanse? 

Maybe it's just that I've never had a good time camping - both times I went out to sleep in a tent somewhere, the results were disastrous.  Finally I realized that my ancestors invented "indoors" for a reason, and it was probably a good one.  Would I rather go camping or stay in a hotel where I probably won't get rained on or eaten by wild animals?  Which one of us has access to running water and a working toilet?  Sure, when you're out in the middle of the woods and you're having a reaction to some wild berries you ate, suddenly you realize that living in a city, where there are hospitals with emergency rooms, isn't such a bad idea.  Hey, you live by the sword, you die by the sword. 

Also starring Emile Hirsch (last seen in "Savages"), William Hurt (last seen in "Mr. Brooks"), Marcia Gay Harden (last seen in "The Hoax"), Catherine Keener (last heard in "The Croods"), Jena Malone (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Vince Vaughn (last seen in "Delivery Man"), Kristen Stewart (last seen in "Café Society"), Hal Holbrook (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Brian H. Dierker, Steven Wiig, Thure Lindhardt, Signe Egholm Olsen, Robin Matthews.

RATING: 5 out of 10 freight train cars

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Year 9, Day 227 - 8/15/17 - Movie #2,716

BEFORE: My wife and I have been planning a late October getaway that would take us on a road trip from Dallas to Nashville, hitting the last day of the Texas State Fair, and as many BBQ restaurants along the way as we choose to deem acceptable.  I know there's plenty of great food in Memphis and Little Rock also, thanks to all the BBQ and other food-related shows I watch.  We're just a little short on ideas about fun things to do in Nashville, since neither of us care for country music, but I'm sure something will come up.  By then we should be really close to Halloween, so we could just find a haunted hayride or a spooky pub crawl and be done with it.

But this does affect my plans a little bit - I've got to stay on track now so that I can take the time off.  Plus when early October comes I may have to watch 2 or even 3 films per night for a while so that I can have a free week at the end of the month.  I'd already stripped down my horror-movie plans to allow time off for New York Comic-Con, and I already had a few free October days at the end, so now I just have to make sure that I can clear a whole week.  It should be fine.

Zach Galifianakis carries over again, this makes three in a row for him, and tomorrow I make it four before moving on to other things through another link.

THE PLOT: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

AFTER: I think part of the problem with my last two films was a lack of contrast - if every character in a movie is weird or off in a similar way, it does create a constant tone, but without contrast a story can seem a little flat.  In "Masterminds" every character was bumbling or eccentric, and it's a mistake sometimes in comedy to think that "more is more" when it comes to making things silly.  When you have contrast, there's a greater chance for conflict, and comedy comes from that.  So here we have Zach Galifianakis playing a similar character - he's well-intentioned, naive, bordering on dumb, but essentially just a regular guy with a normal wife.  You put those two up against some super-spies as foil characters, now it sort of feels like we're getting somewhere.  We've got someone to compare the dumb nice guy to, someone suave and slick and deceptive, and we've got a game.

Same goes for the wife, she's nice, simple, attractive but not overwhelmingly so, and you put her up against Gal Gadot, now we've got some compare and contrast, it's just more interesting.  They can now set up a "fish out of water" storyline as the normals get pulled into this world of international intrigue (even though I don't think they ever leave Atlanta, somehow it's still international intrigue).

I feel like I should probably pay more attention to who directed each film I watch - most of the time I don't even bother to look up the director's name, but isn't that vitally important in the end?  It seems like when I was setting up the template for the format I've used for almost 9 years now, it seems like I didn't think this would ever come up.  But knowing that the director of "Masterminds" also directed "Napoleon Dynamite", and the director of today's film also directed "Superbad", "Adventureland" and "Paul" seems rather important in retrospect.  You can't always tell what kind of film you're going to get by considering what that director has made before, but it couldn't hurt to think about that.

In other Jon Hamm news, I'm almost done with the sixth season (out of seven) of "Mad Men".  I've grown tired of waiting for AMC on Demand to post 4 more episodes every 2 weeks - besides, they often skip episodes (the horror) or forget to make them available at all (lazy!) so I'm going to watch the rest of the episodes on Netflix, even though Netflix does that horrible thing where they start playing the next episode before the credits are done on the one I'm currently watching (very annoying!).  But at least this way I can watch them without ads or audio drop-out, there was even one episode on AMC on Demand that put commercial breaks in the MIDDLE of a scene - who the heck edited that?

NITPICK POINT: What person in their right mind, even someone who specializes in Human Resources, have no idea what the company works for even does?  I mean, HR is universal, if you know the rules and systems you could work for just about any company, but still, some time in the first week, you would imagine that question's going to come up.  If he wants to be good at his job, and understand the issues and specific stresses that the employees of the company are going through, he's simply GOT to know what line of work they're in.  For him to be this clueless about it, when he's otherwise capable at his job, just doesn't ring true.

Also starring Isla Fisher (last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Jon Hamm (last heard in "Minions"), Gal Gadot (last seen in "Criminal"), Patton Oswalt (last seen in "Calendar Girls"), Matt Walsh (last seen in "The Do-Over"), Kevin Dunn (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Maribeth Monroe, Bobby Lee (last seen in "The Dictator"), Ming Zhao

RATING: 5 out of 10 shots of snake wine

Monday, August 14, 2017

Masterminds (2016)

Year 9, Day 226 - 8/14/17 - Movie #2,715

BEFORE: It's too early to start adding up the total appearances for each actor in Movie Year 9 - but it's going to be hard for any actor to beat Fred Astaire, who appeared in 14 films.  Hey, I said I wanted to finally get around to his films, and this year I did that, big time.  As a by-product of that chain, Ginger Rogers is a strong contender for second place, with 8 appearances.  I still have no idea who will come in third, but anyone who's done a lot of animation voice-work or been interviewed in geek-centric documentaries might have an inside track.  (Harrison Ford could be a contender, especially if I count the archive footage from "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" films seen in those documentaries.)

After this week, Zach Galifianakis (who carries over from "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" today) is going to have 6 appearances under his belt, and that's pretty good.  Tonight's film also marks the 6th appearance for Jason Sudeikis, so he's also having a good year.  They both tie Nick Offerman, who had a 6-film run with the animated movies ("Sing", "Ernest & Celestine", "Ice Age", "My Life as a Zucchini") and also 2 live-action appearances.  So we'll have to play the rest of the games out, since I'm also expecting high numbers from late appearances by Warren Beatty, Ben Affleck, Tom Hanks and Jennifer Lawrence.

THE PLOT: A guard at an armored car company in the Southern U.S. organizes one of the biggest bank heists in American history.  Based on the October 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery.

AFTER: This was another silly film about making money quickly, like yesterday's film, but this one took itself a bit more seriously, which I appreciate.  Not that much, of course, but at least the characters didn't constantly break the fourth wall and giving knowing looks to the audience - but as you might expect from the director of "Napoleon Dynamite", it's filled with strange characters that are just a bit too strange to be realistic.

There's a clueless guy, David Ghantt, who works for an armored car company, and he's easily duped by Kelly, a woman who got fired from that company who hatches a scheme to rob the place, along with her friend Steve, who's the alleged "mastermind" in the title.  Even though David's engaged (to another odd character), he falls for Kelly and is willing to clean out the armored car company's vault, which is a lot easier than robbing a bank, seeing as how the company trusts him with the keys.

David heads straight for Mexico with some of the cash, but most of it is kept by Steve, who keeps David away by having Kelly talk to him on the phone twice a week, constantly promising to join him in Mexico in a short time.  Eventually David figures out that Kelly's not coming, and Steve first tips of his location to Interpol, then sends a hit man to take him out, because dead men can't reveal their co-conspirators.

This is based on a true story, the Loomis Fargo heist in North Carolina, but at some point the comedy deviates from the (I'm assuming) boring way that the FBI connected the dots and got the evidence they needed to indict 8 people for larceny and money laundering.  Turns out that tracing phone calls and following tips probably isn't as cinematic as crashing a swanky party and blowing up some cars.  I'll allow it if it makes for a funny film.  (OK, I guess I'll settle for a partly funny film.)

This film falls apart at some point, and I think it's in Mexico where the hit-man finally tracks down his quarry.  The reason for sparing David's life and then bonding with him is quite fishy, definitely a plot contrivance of questionable nature.  It didn't follow logically, that's for sure.  The same goes for how David learns about Steve's real name.  This is a film that definitely stumbles toward its conclusion.

Hey, whatever happened to that heist film that was going to be set at a Comic convention?  I thought up this idea independently a few years ago, only to learn that someone was already making a film like that.  (It makes sense, the amount of money that these things rake is in quite astonishing...)  It's still listed on the IMDB as being in the post-production phase, under the title "Supercon", but there's no release date scheduled.  They'd better hurry, there aren't many release dates left in 2017 - August is usually Hollywood's dumping ground for bad films, so maybe I should be pleased it's not scheduled for release this month - but when?

Also starring Kristen Wiig (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Owen Wilson (last heard in "Cars 3"), Jason Sudeikis (last heard in "The Angry Birds Movie"), Kate McKinnon (ditto), Leslie Jones (last heard in "Sing"), Jon Daly (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Mary Elizabeth Ellis (last seen in "Free State of Jones"), Ken Marino (last seen in "Gattaca"), Ross Kimball, Devin Ratray, Daniel Zacapa, with archive footage of James Coburn (last seen in "Hudson Hawk").

RATING: 4 out of 10 security cameras

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

Year 9, Day 225 - 8/13/17 - Movie #2,714

BEFORE: William Atherton played the guy from the E.P.A., Walter "Dickless" Peck in the first "Ghostbusters" film, and since he was interviewed in "Ghostheads" yesterday, he appears again today and acts as my sneaky link back to narrative films.  My other choices were Sigourney Weaver (I'll catch up with her at the end of the month) or...well, that was about it.  Maybe Bill Murray in "Rock the Kasbah" but that's not high on my list of priorities, plus I know that this path gets me to the end of 2017.

Geek Week is over, but there is a Comic-Con connection here - I was in San Diego in 2006, which was maybe my 3rd or 4th year there, and our booth was next to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim booth, which they had decorated with a working fountain and a lot of owl statues, for some reason.  But they weren't selling anything, which struck me as quite odd, because who pays for a booth and then doesn't sell any merchandise?  Turns out they were just using the booth for signings, and each day they had a different show's cast there autographing for an hour or two - then they would re-decorate the whole booth for the next day (different colored owls), which again, I thought was quite crazy.  It defied all the natural logic about how to set-up and run a booth.

One day, a loud noise rang up from halfway across the convention center, and the rumble of a cheering crowd was slowly moving toward us - it was Tim and Eric, plus their entourage of fans, making a grand and loud entrance as they headed toward the booth next door to do a signing session. Later in the day, Tim came over and bought a whole bunch of stuff from us, including a few pieces of signed animation art, and though my boss didn't recognize him, I sure did.  (My other job at the time was tracking TV commercials, and I had to tape a lot of Cartoon Network to cover that demographic.). So I had to let Tim know that I knew who he was, without acting like a fanboy - I've found that's the best way to talk to minor celebrities - they want to be recognized, but they also don't want that recognition to get in the way of buying the thing that they want.

I also happened to catch about 15 minutes of this film, on in the background late one night while I was searching through the cable guide.  Not enough to spoil the whole film, just enough to want to see more of it, though I hope I didn't see the best parts, meaning I'll have to watch the crappy bits tonight just to cross it off my list.

THE PLOT: Two guys get a billion dollars to make a movie, only to watch their dream run off course.  In order to make the money back, they attempt to revitalize a failing shopping mall.

AFTER: Maybe it's just me, because I never got behind their shows "Tom Goes to the Mayor" and "Tim and Eric's Awesome Show...Great Job!" on the Adult Swim, but what the freak did I just watch?  Even with the advance work of having seen about 15 minutes of this before by accident, it still manages to defy all narrative logic.  Like, I can't tell if it's just comedy that's coming at me from a weird angle, or if it's put together poorly and the jokes aren't landing.  There's got to be a difference, right?  I mean, taken one way, there are parts that aren't funny, so comedy fail, but if that was the intention all along, to just be weird and not funny, then they succeeded, because that's what they got.

I get that this film doesn't take itself seriously, so therefore nothing in it can possibly be taken seriously, or even at face value.  It's a silly movie that knows it's a silly movie, but it's not funny enough to be a parody like "Airplane!" was, it's more on the level of something like "Baseketball", which set out to parody every sports movie at once, but was not a serious narrative in any way.  I see Tim & Eric as sort of the new Trey Parker and Matt Stone, following in their footsteps.  Just two creative guys who want to be funny, but they get there by throwing a whole bunch of stuff against the wall, hoping something will stick.  So to speak.

Maybe this whole thing is meant to be a send-up of Hollywood filmmaking, seen at first in the actor characters who get in trouble by wasting a billion dollars of the studio's money making their film (and for hiring a Johnny Depp impersonator instead of the real thing) and then spending the rest of the money on themselves and their guru.  The rest of the film spoofs the corporate world as they transform themselves into phony business types to run a mall in the middle of nowhere - there's a lot of double-speak as they pretend to know about profit/loss statements and the "action steps" they need to take to re-open the mall and make back their billion.

The S'Wallow Valley Mall is in disrepair, and its owner can't wait to hire them and then sneak out the back door, leaving them to deal with the failing businesses, the hobo squatters and one very hungry wolf that roams the premises.  There's an old yogurt shop that has spoiling inventory, and another shop that sells used toilet paper.  (Really?)  I think about 2/3 of the way through the excessive toilet humor really dragged the film down, a succession of poop jokes and masturbation jokes is usually a sign that the story couldn't support itself any longer, so boom, let's go right to the lowest common denominator.

The supporting cast of odd-looking people, some of whom are actors and some who I assume are not, was also a little suspect to me.  I'm reminded of movies like "The Ringer", which mixed in a bunch of mentally-challenged people, and then there sort of becomes this fine line between giving those people a voice and downright exploiting them.  In a weird way the two main actors sort of seem like mentally handicapped people themselves - so I wonder if they surrounded themselves with odder-looking people so they'd look more attractive?

Overall I'd probably be a lot more upset if this film didn't get me out of the "documentaries about geek films" section and link me to (hopefully) better films ahead.

Also starring Tim Heidecker (last seen in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas"), Eric Wareheim, Robert Loggia (last seen in "Hard Time"), Will Ferrell (last seen in "Daddy's Home"), John C. Reilly (last heard in "Sing"), Zach Galifianakis (last heard in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Will Forte (last seen in "The Ridiculous 6"), Twink Caplan (last seen in "Clueless"), Ray Wise (last seen in "X-Men: First Class"), Matt O'Toole, Ronnie Rodriguez, Mary Bly, Lillian Adams, Howie Slater, Robert Axelrod, Tennessee Winston Luke, James Quall, David Liebe Hart, with cameos from Jeff Goldblum (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Erica Durance and the voices of Bob Odenkirk (last seen in "Nebraska"), Michael Gross.

RATING: 3 out of 10 slices of pizza

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Year 9, Day 224 - 8/12/17 - Movie #2,713

BEFORE: It's finally here, the end of "Geek Week" (which was really 11 days long, in the end) and it comes not a moment too soon.  I'm way over my tolerance level for these talking-heads style documentaries that all feel the need to over-mansplain the concept of people liking stuff just a bit too much.  I'm sure it's not just the fact that I've been to Comic-Con that I'm thinking, "We GET it already, nerdy people are obsessive and like to play dress-up."

Now, I had planned for there to be a linking break between "Back in Time" and this film, the two films are linked so thematically that I was going to let myself slide on this one - it turns out I shouldn't have worried, because even though the two films share no big-name stars in common, there is one interview subject that carries over - former Columbia executive Frank Price carries over.  See, even when I don't plan the linking, it still happens.  Go figure that one out.

THE PLOT: A look at the intense fandom for the "Ghostbusters" franchise.

AFTER: If you follow the news out of Washington, recently that Scaramucci guy made a lewd comment about Steve Bannon, referring to him committing an act of, shall we say, "self-love" that is physically impossible (for most men, anyway).  And every reporter in the country was forced to report this, because it was newsworthy, even though the mere mention of it, in those terms, both disgusted and confused many people.  But there was not ONE reporter who treated it as the metaphor that it was meant to be, meaning that it was symbolic of a form of overblown self-promotion - so way to misinterpret the news, everyone.

Which brings me to movies about how great certain movies are, which is a new way that Hollywood tends to over-gratify itself.   Usually one might include these interviews as extras on an anniversary DVD release, let's say, but now we're making stand-alone movies about how great it is to love each particular movie franchise.  Because there's apparently money being made to cater to the fan clubs that have sprung up since the rise of the internet.  Back in my day, as a fan of "Star Wars" we had the movies and the fan club newsletter, the tie-in novels and comics, and the action figures, and that was it.  OK, so we dressed up as characters for Halloween, but we didn't form clubs to discuss the various ways to build R2D2 models or Stormtrooper armor, if our moms bought us bedsheets with the Star Wars art on them, that was good enough.

(Don't say I didn't warn you here, if people raised money on Kickstarter to make documentaries about how much people love "Back to the Future" and "Ghostbusters", then logically there are a ton more of these films on the way - prepare for docs about the fans of "Harry Potter", "Twilight", "Pirates of the Caribbean", and so on.  They may even exist already, I'm not sure, but if not, I can feel that they're on the way.  I don't understand this constant need to prove that the thing you like is the best thing that could possibly be liked.  Thankfully this is the end of the road for me on this topic, and I'm moving back to narrative material tomorrow.)

Now, don't get me wrong here, if people want to form Ghostbusters clubs in every state in America and every Canadian province, they have every right to do that.  And if some of those clubs want to visit sick kids in the hospital, or raise money for various charities, good for them, really, I want to support that.  But I DON'T NEED to know about it.  A charitable act should be its own reward, and if we glorify these actions too much in print or film, some part of me feels that this negates the good of the act, and then I start to wonder if the people involved are really doing this for the right reasons.

And there's a woman shown here who needed to quit drinking, and when AA wasn't working out for her, she found solace in "Ghostbusters II" (yeah, that's not a typo) and watching that film every day gave her the strength to abstain from alcohol.  OK, in one sense, whatever works for you, but to me that seems like substituting one crutch for another - now she does the cosplay, has her own proton pack and is a member of her local Ghostbusters chapter, and has built her life around the franchise.  One has to wonder what becomes of her, then, when the sequel to the reboot really sucks balls - does she go right back to the bottle?

Other Ghosthead fans try to explain their love of the film here, but they're almost all linked to some family tragedy, and also none of them can really explain things very clearly, so what results is a lot of circular, almost nonsensical explanations.  "Well, I watched the first film with my grandfather, and I liked it, so I guess it reminds me of him, who I liked, and then he died, so when I want to remember him I watch the film, and I like it because it's good and it reminds me of him.  And I like that."  Thanks for clearing that up.

As in "Back in Time", the film explains why you can't find an old ambulance or hearse on the used-car market anymore, because Ghostheads are buying them all to personalize their own "Ecto-Mobiles", because what good is the jumpsuit and a light-up proton pack without your own themed car to drive to conventions in?  These people know there's no "Biggest Fan" award given out at these events, right?

The original Ghosthead was Peter Moser, who also is interviewed here.  This guy made his own costume and started showing up at events before we even had the term "cosplay", and Columbia ended up hiring him to make appearances, thanks to a passing resemblance to Dan Aykroyd, or maybe one of the cartoon characters.  But it seems that unlike today's fans, he found a way over time to separate his costuming life from his personal one, and somehow managed to have a wife and son and a life outside the convention circuit.  These other people take things way too seriously, with their traveling around and collecting patches from all the other clubs.  If you try to take a proton pack through airport security, you deserve whatever results from that.

We saw what can happen with fans who get a little too involved, especially with "Ghostbusters".  Remember all the people with negative reactions to the female reboot last year?  Man, the dark side of sexist sci-fi comedy fans really came out.  So allowing the super-fans to visit the set or attend an early screening of the trailer, while well-intentioned, was also a bit risky.  Who's to say a fan that believes in the integrity of the franchise won't take his love of the films a bit too far, and attend that screening wearing a bomb as a vest?  That would be my concern.

Maybe in these troubled times, people are seeking more and more solace in their favorite movie franchises, I don't know.  But there are plenty of other activities out there that aren't all movie-related, right?  Or maybe these franchises are like sports teams for geeks, giving them something to root for on a daily basis?  Or possibly we're just seeing the result of Hollywood's merchandising efforts, which maybe just worked a bit too well over the last few decades.

Also starring Dan Aykroyd (last seen in "Pixels"), Ernie Hudson (last seen in "Ghostbusters" (2016)), Sigourney Weaver (last heard in "Finding Dory"), Ray Parker Jr., Ivan Reitman, William Atherton (last seen in "The Sugarland Express"), Paul Feig (last seen in "Spy"), Kurt Fuller (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Dave Coulier, Joe Medjuck, Peter Mosen, Matt Cardona, Jennifer Runyon, Steven Tash, Maurice Lamarche (last seen in "Comic Book: The Movie"), Todd Whalen, Tom Gephardt, Alex Newborn, Robin Shelby, Abigail Gardner, Craig Goldberg and archive footage of Bill Murray (last heard in "The Jungle Book"), Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis (last seen in "The Flintstones").

RATING: 3 out of 10 unanswered phone messages for Ray Parker Jr.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Back in Time

Year 9, Day 223 - 8/11/17 - Movie #2,712

BEFORE: I'm nearing the end of "Geek Week", and now you see why I dropped in that documentary on Drew Struzan - Michael J. Fox and Steven Spielberg both carry over as interview subjects.  We're getting down to last few documentaries on Netflix about geek movies - after this there's just one about "Ghostbusters" fandom, then I can get back to my usual narrative business.

THE PLOT: A look at the immense cultural impact of the "Back to the Future" trilogy, 30 years after Marty McFly went on an epic adventure.

AFTER: It all kinds of makes sense, I started with the films with the biggest fans, like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek", and now I'm doing the clean-up work with a profile of the fans of "Back to the Future".  I'm sure they're fine people, they just come to it from a slightly different angle, maybe they're all a bit more low-key or laid-back about it.  After all, the film definitely set its sights on the Gen X crowd, the children of the baby-boomers, and now that Gen X crowd is all grown up with teen children of their own.  And the cast (the ones that saw fit to appear in this documentary, anyway) ar getting up there in age too - Michael J. Fox is 56 now, which means he was 24 when the first "Back to the Future" film came out, even if he was playing 16 or so.

I just wish the crew that got interviewed here was a little more enthusiastic, for the most part it seems they all want to talk about how they got the gig, or how the story or the casting developed, and that's all pretty basic stuff.  I mean, come on, we all know that writers write and directors direct and producers...umm, do whatever it is they do - you don't really need to explain the filmmaking process, that's more suited for the "behind the scenes" extras on the DVD release.  Beyond that, I don't know if there's enough fan-based material to support a whole film on the "BTTF" phenomenon, once you exclude the explicit fan fiction where Marty McFly gets to third base with his own mother.

They spend a lot of time on people who have bought Deloreans and turned them into replicas of the time machine, which seems like a no-brainer.  Yet every single one of them says, "I built a time machine" instead of "I built a replica of the Delorean from the film."  They all know it can't really travel through time, right?  The best of the bunch is probably the couple who built theirs when the husband was given a cancer diagnosis, and after surviving they now travel around the country with it, raising money for Michael J. Fox's charity.  Good for you, guys.  Those other people who modified Deloreans were all just self-serving a-holes, right?  A lot of people were also proud to work on the Delorean that was on display at Universal Studios, which was allowed to fall into disrepair somehow.  Meanwhile a collector in Massachusetts bought TWO that were seen in the sequels and kept them in mint condition...

The doc also mentions the things that "Back to the Future 2" got right when it depicted its "future-verse" of 2015 - stuff like flatscreen TVs, video phone calls (Skype) and drone technology, even hoverboards (not those fake ones with wheels, real ones, which we're now kind of close to.)  But since they released this film on October 21, 2015 (the future date that Marty traveled to) they couldn't have worked in the prediction that the Cubs would win the World Series.  The film's prediction was off by just a year, which you can easily account for by noting the baseball strike of 1994.  So there.

In other news, someone built a mini-golf course with a "Back to the Future" theme - so what?  And a man proposes to his girlfriend at a "Back to the Future" convention, with the actor who played Goldie Wilson in attendance.  Ho hum.  And there's a band called "The Flux Capacitors" that covers the song "The Power of Love".  Wake me when there's footage of ZZ Top from the third film...

There's a whole segment on "Rick and Morty", by the way, without anyone even mentioning what that is, or what its connection to "Back to the Future" is.  Not all of us watch children's animation shows, you know.  OK, I do watch some, but not that one.  And then there's the footage that everyone wants to see, which comes from the six weeks of shooting before Eric Stoltz was replaced by Michael J. Fox in the lead role, and the film comes very close to saying, "Oh, it exists, but we can't show you any of that here, it wouldn't be appropriate."  What a tease.

The most interesting bit of trivia revealed here is the fact that in an early draft of the screenplay, the time-travel device was in a refrigerator, and not a Delorean car.  Getting back to the future involved harnessing the power of a nuclear explosion from a test site, a scene which later found itself worked in to the opening of "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull".  Hollywood recycles everything, it turns out.

They also acknowledge that "Back to the Future" is not a perfect film.  There's no character development for Marty McFly in the first two films, he's just a guy that time travels and meets family members in the past and future.  They needed a THIRD film just so he'd learn some humility in the Old West, and not fight everyone who challenges him.  From a story standpoint, that shouldn't have worked. I do like the films, especially since as screwed up as they are, they make more sense than most other time-travel films, but I don't know if there's enough to build a whole fandom around.  There was even some talk about doing a musical version on Broadway, and that seems like madness to me.

Also starring Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Lloyd (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), Bob Gale (also carrying over from "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster"), Lea Thompson (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Huey Lewis, Alan Silvestri, Dean Cundey, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan (last seen in "The River"), Donald Fullilove, Jeffrey Weissman, Adam F. Goldberg, Dan Harmon, with archive footage of Crispin Glover (last seen in "Wild at Heart"), Eric Stoltz (last seen in "Little Women"), Danny DeVito (last seen in "The Rainmaker"), Michael Douglas (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Kathleen Turner (last seen in "Dumb and Dumber To"), David Hasselhoff. 

RATING: 3 out of 10 guitar solos

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster

Year 9, Day 222 - 8/10/17 - Movie #2,711

BEFORE: I've basically got one rule when it comes to taking recommendations for the Movie Year, and that's "nope".  I program this thing, based on what movies I want to watch, or ones that I discover on my own schedule, or in desperate cases, because I really need a link from one movie to the other. The more someone pushes a movie on to me, the less I want to see it, generally speaking of course.  But I remembered that last year, I think it was at New York Comic-Con, someone came to our booth and mentioned this film, and that stuck with me, being a fan of all things "Star Wars", even down to the posters.  Now I don't know if the person who mentioned the film was connected to it somehow, in a way that's beside the point - but when I was working out the linking for Geek Week I was going through the filmographies of some actors and directors, you know, the ones that have been popping up all week, it seems, I stumbled on this title and I figured I had to work it in somehow.  Even if that means dropping an animated film down the line, or moving a vampire film from this October to next year.

And the connections were there - Harry Jay Knowles is interviewed here, so that's three films in a row for him, but at least two actors also carry over from "Raiders! The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made".  Other interview subjects recur from films seen earlier this week, and I've got like three connections to tomorrow's film as I start to wind down the geek-related documentaries.

THE PLOT: A documentary on legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan.

AFTER: I watched this one on iTunes, sitting in my upstairs office that just happens to be something of an unintentional shrine to Drew Struzan - behind me I have the three posters that he designed for the "Star Wars" special editions, hanging as a triptych of course, and on the opposite wall are his posters for the prequels, Episodes 1-3.  And just to my left is the Star Wars bookshelf, with all the books I've read, even the ones that are no longer canon - half of those probably have Struzan art on their covers, too, like "The Truce at Bakura" and "Darksaber" and "The Crystal Star", among many others.

God, what I do is so simple here, I just copy and paste someone else's poster art right into my blog post, like that doesn't even mean anything.  Let's face it, I'm a complete fraud, what have I ever created in this world that could possibly even come close to being called art?  This guy is so super-talented, and yet so unassuming at the same time, so generous with his talent, so willing to explain his process, and yet nobody else seems like they can make a poster even half as good, what's up with that?

And it's a dying art, too, which says something about our culture, like the way we collectively can't support locally owned bookstores or hardware stores that aren't big chains, or buy enough newspapers to keep them from being bought up by foreign conglomerates.  Yet nobody's paying attention to what's being lost along the way, as we Crush some more Candy on our phones and kill a few more brain cells every time we watch an episode of "Big Brother" or "The Bachelor".  People used to take pride in their work, like making movie posters that were iconic representations of films, not just push a few buttons on a computer and photoshop random images of a movie's star's heads onto some stock footage bodies.  Remember that flap over the first "Spider-Man: Homecoming" poster?  It looked like it was designed by an 11-year old while sitting in detention!  And every character was on there twice, which meant there were twice as many people on the poster than there needed to be.

What an astonishing career - the very first "Star Wars" poster that there ever was, which came to be known as the "circus" poster, because it looked torn and had fake wood grain running down the side, as if it was an old circus poster that had been hanging on a wall for a while.  Now, it turns out that Drew's collaborator on that poster forgot that they needed to save room for the credits block, so they had to shrink the image and add something on the bottom and the left side so there would be room for the actors' names.  From such happy accidents, a career was born.  Struzan became one of Lucas' favorite artists, and that led to making the posters for all of the "Indiana Jones" films, and all the book covers for the novels featuring THAT character, too.  He probably painted Harrison Ford, as one character or another, at least 100 times - and there's a great moment in this film where he finally meets Harrison, for the first time, and Harrison is so grateful for the work that Struzan did, and the way he was depicted in all of those iconic posters.

I'm tempted to just post a bunch of Struzan's art here instead of a formal review, just to point out how widespread his work was in the 1970's and 80's.  ALL of the posters for the Muppet films, because Jim Henson took a liking to his work also.  The posters for the "Police Academy" films, even though his art style was probably WAY to grand for those silly comedies - yet Struzan claims his poster for "Police Academy 3" is one of his favorites.  There's just no way that those could be as important as, say, his work on the "Star Wars" postage stamps.  But what about "Back to the Future", since he designed that classic poster, too?  Or "Big Trouble in Little China", "E.T.", "The Shawshank Redemption"...the list goes on and on, since he made over 160 movie posters in about 30 years.

Again, I can go on and on here, and I'm not sure where to stop - the Harry-freakin-Potter movies, he made those posters, too.  "Hook" and "The Thing" and "The Goonies" and "Johnny Dangerously" - even when his artwork wasn't used in a movie's official campaign, like with "Blade Runner" or "Hellboy", the director still tended to order a limited run of such a cool poster, even if it was just to give out to select fans.

I like that this documentary is full of film professionals who are like me - a little older, a lot grumpier and all claiming that it's a damn shame that things aren't done the way they used to be.  And kudos to Drew Struzan, who figured out that the way to get treated well at San Diego Comic-Con is to avoid the place entirely for 20 or 30 years, so that when you finally do show up to sign posters or books, they'll give you a freakin' award.  Well-played, Mr. Struzan. (He was given the Inkpot Award in 2010, which means part of this was filmed at the same Con where Morgan Spurlock filmed his doc.  Seems that was a banner year for films crews in San Diego.)

But this is also worth watching for the story of the (un-named here) business partner who stole many many posters from Drew, who always had an excuse for why Drew wasn't getting back his originals.  How Drew managed to get the original pieces back is a story that will make you believe again in a funny thing called karma, or that what comes around, goes around.

Also starring Drew Struzan, Harrison Ford (also carrying over from "Raiders!"), Steven Spielberg (ditto), George Lucas, Guillermo del Toro (last seen in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"), Thomas Jane (ditto), Steve Guttenberg (last seen in "3 Men and a Little Lady"), Frank Darabont, Leonard Maltin (last seen in "Anarchy"), Bob Gale, Greg Hildebrandt, Joanna Cassidy (last seen in "Vampire in Brooklyn"), Alice Cooper, Carroll Spinney, Sam Witwer.

RATING: 6 out of 10 record album covers

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

Year 9, Day 221 - 8/9/17 - Movie #2,710

BEFORE: I shuffled these films around at the last second, this was originally supposed to come right after "Jodorowsky's Dune" but then I saw a way that I could add two more films to Geek Week if I just moved the films around just a little bit.  Of course, I already had my line-up set for the rest of the year, so adding two films means I have to delete one films from the 2017 line-up, and move another into next year's schedule.  The first was just a fill-in, anyway, I found an animated film on Netflix that I also had on DVD, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it, so off it goes.

Now if I've done this right, I've improved the linking, and interview subject Harry Jay Knowles carries over from yesterday's film, "Fanarchy".

THE PLOT: The story behind "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation".

AFTER: All right, let's untangle this knotty fan film thing - in 1982, three Mississippi pre-teens began shooting a shot-for-shot remake, or cover version, of the famous 1981 film "Raiders of the Lost Ark".  It took them seven years to ALMOST finish this, except for one scene, the fist-fight Indiana Jones has with the mechanic and then the large German guy in front of the plane, which leads to the plane exploding.    Now, I'm not reviewing this fan-made film tonight, but rather a documentary about these kids, and how they reunited 25 years later to film the final missing scene and complete their adaptation.

There are several reasons why the three kids couldn't finish their film, the main one being the extreme danger of working with explosives and around airplane propellers, plus they were working with a budget of only $5,000 and building a full-size plane to stage a fight around was therefore not possible.  But in 2014 they raised money on Kickstarter to finally get a full-scale plane built, hire an explosives expert to blow it up after the fight scene was filmed, and close the books on their project.

Another reason for the break-up of this amateur filmmaking team seems to be an explosion of a more personal nature, something involving the relationship between one of the filmmakers and the actress in the Marion Ravenwood role - it's always over a girl, isn't it?  Hey, maybe these kids were more Hollywood than they thought...

On one hand, I have to applaud their efforts.  I don't think I could work on any project for that long, even with a 25-year gap built in.  I also can't look at anything that I wrote or drew when I was 12 or 13 and think highly of it at all - I can barely stand to read anything that I wrote last year, which is one reason I've had many unsuccessful attempts at writing my own screenplay.  I cringe whenever I even see a photo of myself from the high-school years - did I really comb my hair like that, and what is that, a vest with corduroy pants?  What the hell was I thinking?

And if you want to get started making movies, copying a great movie is an interesting way to learn about the craft, it's kind of "fake it till you make it", which works especially if you don't have any original ideas of your own.  The kid in charge of special effects had to come up with some very innovative ways to re-create the special effects from "Raiders" on a shoestring budget.  And if you can do the near-impossible on a daily basis and do it all that cheaply, you probably learn a lot along the way about being self-sufficient, and that can help you in future endeavors, no matter what they are.

But there's another part of me that's more cynical and doesn't see the point of wasting so much time on this.  Why bother re-creating something that already exists, especially when you know deep down that you will NEVER be able to do it as well as Spielberg and company, with their budget of what, $20 million dollars?  And that's in 1980 money...  Look, I've been in school plays and community theater, I know what's possible to re-create on stage and what isn't, and no matter how much pocket change you sink into something like that, a rinky-dink stage production is always going to look inferior.  It's only the fact that the cast's friends and relatives love them so much that allows them to overlook the obvious flaws of bad costuming, cheesy sets and off-pitch voices.  I fooled myself during those years into thinking that what I was doing matters, the only value I take from that now is that I can hold my own when doing voice-over work from time to time.

Maybe I'm just old and jaded now, instead of young and foolish, but now I think that if a project is never going to be spectacular, then there's no point in even starting it - because anything worth doing is worth doing well, and life's just too short to waste 7 summers of your life to end up with basically a copy of someone else's work.  What if these kids had devoted the same amount of time making a film that was their own original idea?  Or a story that continued Indiana Jones' tale by making their own sequel?  There are tons of fan-films now that feature Batman or Star Wars characters without obtaining permission - of course there's the obvious risk of being sued by DC Comics or Lucasfilm, but many people are ignorant about such things and just forge ahead anyway.

A trio of 12-year old kids certainly wouldn't be expected to be aware of copyright laws, or have any fear of being sued for infringing on Paramount's intellectual property, but still, rules are rules.  When the three were called in to see Steven Spielberg, who ended up congratulating them on their remake, there was probably just as much of a chance that Spielberg would have asked for all the master tapes so these now-adults couldn't possibly profit from ripping off his film.  Like I deal all the time with people who post my boss's animated shorts on YouTube, with the intention of "sharing them with the world", but I've got to file a DMCA copyright complaint to get those films removed.  I used to e-mail the posters directly and request they take the films down themselves, but honestly, that's too much bother - now I just report them to YouTube and if that means their account gets suspended, well now that's what we call a life lesson.  I bet they'll think twice next time before posting material that they don't own the rights to.

So, I'm torn here - since the kids shot their remake out of sequence, the end result is a film where the main character's age is constantly changing, from 12 to 19, and from what I've seen of the film in this documentary, the acting is extremely amateuristic, and the special effects even worse.  Should I cut them some slack, just because they were teenagers at the time?  Heck, no, bad filmmaking is bad filmmaking, even if their intent was good and their hearts were in the right place.  But instead of people treating this like the hack production that it obviously was, their adaptation made the rounds among Hollywood insiders, was screened at Harry Jay Knowles' infamous "Butt-Numb-a-Thon" event, and they were hailed as child prodigies, 23 or so years later.

I don't get it, I just think we have to hold all filmmakers to the same standard, even teen ones.  I mean, these kids used a DOG in place of a monkey, did they think no one would notice?  Yeah, I understand there may not have been a lot of monkeys in Mississippi, but as I said, do it right or don't do it at all.

Also starring Chris Strompolos (also carrying over from "Fanarchy"), Eric Zala, Jayson Lamb, Angela Rodriguez, John Rhys-Davies (last seen in "The Great White Hype"), and interview footage of Chris Gore, Eli Roth (last seen in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"), Ernest Cline, Tim League, with archive footage of Harrison Ford (also carrying over from "Fanarchy"), Karen Allen (last seen in "Starman").

RATING: 4 out of 10 rubber snakes


Year 9, Day 220 - 8/8/17 - Movie #2,709

BEFORE: Film critic and uber-geek Harry Jay Knowles carries over from "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope" and so does Lucasfilm rep and uber-collector Steve Sansweet AND historian/expert Henry Jenkins too.  I figured once I hit these documentaries they'd all be drawing from the same pool of interview subjects...

I found this one on the ePix channel, they broadcast it a couple of weeks ago and it seemed to fit right in.  But I'm back to Netflix tomorrow.

THE PLOT: "Fanarcy" uncovers a subculture of die-hard fans who risk life, limb and financial bankruptcy in their quest to pay homage to the films and stories they love.

AFTER: I knew about "Troops", of course, which many regard as the fan film that started it all.  For some reason, as this documentary explains, Lucasfilm okayed nearly every fan film that it came across, as long as it took the form of a comic parody, and didn't try to advance the storyline of Luke, Leia, Han and company in a serious way.  Because that was kind of their own thing.  Anyway it was cheaper not to get lawyers involved every time someone made a film using the "Star Wars" characters, so they probably saved money every time they approved of something.  Lucasfilm even set up an annual Fan Film Competition with awards and everything, so they were really out ahead of the curve when it came to the fan film revolution.  (Other studios, not so much...)  The one exception was probably the "Star Wars" porn parody, because it depicted the characters we know doing some rather unsavory (and in some cases logistically difficult) sexual acts.  But Lucasfilm lost that court case due to the "fair use" laws that cover parodies, so there you go. 

I haven't seen many other fan films, largely because I'm so busy watching movies that were in general release and appear in the IMDB.  (If I can't find it in the IMDB, I can't add it to my watchlist...)  But I've seen some clips over the years, like that Batman one where he fights both the Joker and the xenomorph from "Alien".  It's not exactly shocking to learn that there are now web-sites devoted to keeping all of these fan films straight - I mean, we basically put a movie camera inside every smart phone, and every geek bought one, what did the studios THINK was going to happen? 

But as with the other docs during Geek Week, experts weigh in here to explain WHY we have fan films now, because the fans love their franchise films, and they all want to be a part of them in their own little way, or they've spotted a perceived mistake in the portrayal of a character, or a way to continue the story past the movie, so they set out to fix this injustice.  One woman didn't like the way that Storm was depicted in the early "X-Men" movies, so she took it upon herself to dress up as the character and play her as the bad-ass that she should have been.  Another bunch of people got together to "complete" the five-year mission of the Enterprise, since the original "Star Trek" show was cancelled after only three seasons.  (NITPICK POINT: A TV season wouldn't necessarily correlate to a year in space.  I'd suggest learning how the Star Dates work to figure out how much of that five-year mission was shown in the 3 seasons.) 

As you may imagine, I'm not sure where I fall on the issue of everybody being allowed to play with the characters seen in Hollywood's sandbox.  So I'm glad that this film brought up copyright issues and pointed out that what these rogue filmmakers are doing is technically illegal - because they are risking lawsuits or desist letters by putting someone in a Batman or Darth Vader suit and going out to make their own film, especially if they intend to sell that film and make a profit.  Hey, if you're doing it just for the love and not the money, then go ahead and knock yourself out.  Just please, don't call yourself a "Fanarchist", it's a ridiculous term, worse than "cosplay" even. 

There's another segment here about fan edits, which is a whole different ball of wax.  I've seen "Star Wars: Revisited" and also "The Phantom Edit", and I think from a legal standpoint these are much shadier.  Again, as long as no one is making a profit from this, then please proceed, but why the hell would anyone spend so much time tweaking the effects of a film that's not there's in the first place?  Just imagine what a person with such dedication could do if they put that energy toward making their own original film...

This film managed to avoid the big Comic-Con in San Diego, it looks like they filmed at a Fan Expo, most likely the one in Dallas.  (Eventually I figured out why the convention didn't look familiar to me...)

Also starring Denise Crosby (last seen in "Pet Sematary"), Richard Hatch, Leonard Maltin (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Chris Bouchard, Brett Culp, Barbara Dunkelman, Kirby Ferguson, Donald F. Glut, Brea Grant, Maitland McDonagh, Vic Mignogna, Greg Nicotero, Nick Rubio, Chris Strompolos, Heidi Honeycutt, Clive Young, Maya Glick, Adrian Sayce, with archive footage of Harrison Ford (also carrying over from "Comic-Con Episode IV: A New Hope"), William Shatner (last seen in "For the Love of Spock"), Leonard Nimoy (ditto), Halle Berry (last seen in "The Flintstones").

RATING: 4 out of 10 lightsaber battles

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

Year 9, Day 219 - 8/7/17 - Movie #2,708

BEFORE: Well, Geek Week is now past its halfway point and I've circled back to San Diego Comic-Con, the epicenter of all things geeky and nerdy.  I was just THERE two weeks ago, and on my first workday back in New York, I started calling my contacts at New York Comic-Con to make sure we were going to have a booth, to help make up for our losses on the San Diego trip.  So these Comic-Cons are really my version of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade - one day after the current one, I have to start thinking about the next one.  But that may change next year.

Things did not go spectacularly well for me in San Diego this year - from the frustrations of learning a whole new set of rules and regulations and places to stand in line for things, there was the awful experience of dealing with 125,000 other people, many of whom are now so self-entitled on a personal level that they just don't care who they bump into, cut in line in front of, or inconvenience with their enormous robot costume or the fact that they couldn't be bothered to take a shower that morning.  I came back and wrote a 9-page manifesto-like rant about it, but since it was written mostly in anger, I edited it down to only its most pertinent details and posted it here, if you're interested:

I know, at the end of the day it's a JOB for me, I'm not there to have fun, I go there to work at a booth, and maybe have a little fun if I can.  But after 15 years of flying out to San Diego to work this convention, I've got a different definition of fun now.  Fun for me now is hitting one of my regular eateries at the end of the day, loading up on some barbecue or some fried seafood, or hitting a food truck by the stadium and then seeking out a beer float.  Then going back to my AirBnB and hitting the sack, so I can get up early and do it all again the next day.

I've known about this documentary, directed by Morgan Spurlock, for some time now - but I guess I've avoided it because I've lived it on an annual basis, so it seemed there was probably no need.  But I can't deny it fits in here with the other Geek Week programming, and interview subject Scott Mantz carries over from "For the Love of Spock", so there's my justification for finally watching this.  This one was available on iTunes for just 99 cents - at least it WAS until I tried to rent it, at which point it was "unavailable" because the listing was being changed, with the price suddenly rising to $2.99.  So, yeah, thanks for that.

THE PLOT: A behind-the-scenes look at the fans who gather by the thousands each year in San Diego to attend Comic-Con, the world's largest comic-book (and pop culture) convention.

AFTER: I suppose I was somewhat upset with Morgan Spurlock at first - because I re-met him in 2009 (after first meeting him at Sundance in 2004) when he came to hang out in my boss's booth at New York Comic-Con, which was most likely the first time he ever went to a Comic-Con.  Then a couple years later in 2011, out came this documentary he directed about the San Diego Con, and neither I nor my boss had been invited to appear in it. (I was probably riding high after my appearance in the 2010 documentary "The People vs. George Lucas"...).  Hey, that's what Comic-Con is all about, hobnobbing with celebrities, especially the geeky ones, so you can drop their names later.

But now I see what his focus for the film needed to be - Spurlock followed the stories of 5 "regular" people (and that term becomes somewhat subjective at Comic-Con, where really nobody is regular or normal, just different degrees of weird...) or perhaps I should say "non-famous" people as they attend the convention with very different goals.  Two of them, Eric and Skip, are aspiring comic-book artists who want to show their portfolios to representatives from noted comic book publishers, another, Holly, is a costume designer who wants to show off her work at the famed Saturday Masquerade, and one is James, a young man who met his girlfriend the year before at the convention, and wants to surprise her with a wedding proposal during the Kevin Smith panel in Hall H.  (After reviewing my photos, I determined that this was filmed at the 2010 San Diego Con, and that was back when you only had to wait a few hours in line to get into Hall H, not 2 days...)

The fifth subject is Chuck Rozanski, owner of Mile High Comics, who's been coming to the event since the early days, back when it was at the U.S. Grant Hotel (before the El Cortez, even!) and runs a successful booth along the front wall, selling used comics and a lot of trade paperbacks.  This was the person I identified most with, because I've also managed a booth at this show for a good number of years, and like Chuck, I've noticed the decline in revenue from selling physical media - our DVD sales were way down this year, because the kids today want everything streamed to their laptops and tablet, with no respect for the past.  I feel your pain, Chuck.  in this documentary, Chuck decides to bring his 9.0-rated copy of "Red Raven Comics" #1 to the convention, to find a collector willing to pay his $500,000 asking price, a sale which could pay off all of the outstanding debts he's incurred running a comic-book store with an enormous warehoused back-log.  Circling around Chuck is Mike Carbonaro, who I know as the founder of the Big Apple Con, and Mike here claims to have a buyer who may be interested in purchasing the Red Raven.

Interspersed with a host of celebrities telling us how important the San Diego Con has become (and the worst of the bunch is Stan Lee mansplaining comic books - "They're like stories, with pictures!"  Gee, thanks, Stan...) we follow the paths of Eric, Skip, Holly, James and Chuck through their 2010 SDCC experiences, the highs and the lows.  And part of anyone's Comic-Con experience is not only navigating the crowd, but trying to dig through all the things that aren't personally relevant to them in order to find the things that are.  Holly's costumes are a hit at the Masquerade, for example.  Now, I used to attend the closed-circuit broadcasts of the Saturday Masquerade, back when they showed that up in the Sails Pavilion and served free nachos.  (One year "Cupcake Wars" was there with cupcakes, that was cool...).  But I stopped going to this years ago because I just couldn't stay up that late on Saturday night - the Masquerade starts rather late and goes until "whenever" - plus if you want to see it in person, you have to wait in line first thing Saturday morning to get your wristband, which only guarantees you a place to wait in the REAL ticket line for the rest of the day.  I'm not kidding.

For many, it can be a magical place where nerd dreams come true, especially if your nerd dreams involve standing at a urinal between a Stormtrooper and a Klingon.  But it's also a maddening, confusing, frustrating place, which is what it's become for me these last few years.  I'm just not having much fun there anymore - I want to get up, show up, pitch in, put out, work hard, clean up, punch out, get out, eat out, go home, turn in and sack out.  Repeat 4 or 5 times, then get on the plane and fly home.  I collected a lot of photos and memories during my times in San Diego - I think I did the math and figured out that I've lived in that city for three months, just 6 days at a time.  I've had enough of it.  Maybe I'll feel sad next year when July rolls around and I'm not at the convention, but I'm willing to take that chance.

Also starring Eric Henson, Skip Harvey, Holly Conrad, Chuck Rozanski, James Darling, Se Young Kong, Mike Carbonaro, and interview subjects Kevin Smith (last seen in "Comic Book: the Movie"), Stan Lee (ditto), Joss Whedon, Eli Roth (last seen in "Death Proof"), Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), Guillermo del Toro (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Edgar Wright (last heard in "Sing"), Kenneth Branagh (last seen in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"), Seth Rogen (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Seth Green (last heard in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Corey Feldman (last seen in "The Lost Boys"), Thomas Jane (last seen in "The Sweetest Thing"), Olivia Wilde (last seen in "Her"), Paul Scheer (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Matt Groening (also last seen in "Comic Book: The Movie"), Paul Dini (ditto), Jon Schnepp (last seen in "The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?"), Grant Morrison (ditto), Harry Jay Knowles (last seen in "The Faculty"), Steve Sansweet, Morgan Webb, Gerard Way, Joe Quesada, Matt Fraction, Robert Kirkman, Marc Guggenheim and cameos from Adrianne Curry, Harrison Ford (last seen in "Elstree 1976"), Sylvester Stallone (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Dolph Lundgren (last seen in "Jodorowsky's Dune").

RATING: 5 out of 10 slave Leias at the Gentle Giant booth

Monday, August 7, 2017

For the Love of Spock

Year 9, Day 218 - 8/6/17 - Movie #2,707

BEFORE: It's Day 5 of Geek Week, and adding more movies to the Watchlist is on hold while I deal with these documentaries that are on Netflix, not already in my DVD collection.  I just expanded Geek Week to 11 days, because there are two more films I want to add, one about the film "Back to the Future" and one about poster artist Drew Struzan.  And adding those films at the last minute forced a restructuring of the remaining films, to get the best linking.  Now, if I had chosen to add those films weeks ago, I might not have had to change things up mid-stream, but it it what it is.

So I've got no direct link from last night's film, but that's OK during a documentary chain, it's never going to be perfect.  Once I covered Star Wars and Dune, Star Trek is the next logical choice.  Of course, I realized too late that there IS a possible connection, a film called "Ringers: Lord of the Fans", which for some reason features both David Carradine (who was seen in archive photos in "Jodorowsky's Dune") and Leonard Nimoy - probably because Nimoy once recorded a novelty song about Bilbo Baggins.  That documentary about fans of "The Lord of the Rings" would have fit in perfectly here, but I couldn't add it because it doesn't seem to be available on any platform - iTunes, Amazon or Netflix.  I could have bought a DVD quite cheaply, but not on such short notice.  Oh, well.

THE PLOT: An examination of the enduring appeal of Leonard Nimoy and his portrayal of Spock in "Star Trek".

AFTER: I was a little torn whether to include this film here or save it for some other time, partially because of the lack of linking, which is usually my guide.  But "carpe diem", there may never be a more appropriate time.  Anyway, this fits right in with "Elstree 1976" and "I Am Your Father", as a portrait of someone who had a long, varied career as an actor, but will probably be remembered more prominently in the long run for his work in science-fiction.  Of course his stage work is mentioned here, and the record albums he sang on in the 1970's, plus his directing work on films like "Three Men and a Baby", but from now until doomsday, people will think of him as Mr. Spock first - and he seemed more or less OK with that. (I've still got that "Bright Lights" documentary about Carrie Fisher to get to in December, that will probably play off the same theme...)

This began as a documentary to commemorate the character for the 50th anniversary of the original series, with Leonard Nimoy working with his son, Adam, as the director - and we find out late in the film that they had been estranged from each other for some time, but had recently reconciled.  Then Nimoy's death in 2015 took the film in a different direction, to pay tribute to his entire life, including before and after "Star Trek", with interviews from family members and co-stars weighing in.  There was so much footage available that this movie didn't even need narration most of the time, because Nimoy had given so many interviews and spoke on so many subjects that much of it became him relating his own story.

Of course, we all want to hear about the casting, and the first time he put on those pointy ears, but you might not have known that he fought for equal pay for his castmates, and wouldn't participate in voicing his character in the "Trek" animated series unless they also hired Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were also hired, because they represented the diversity that Star Trek's future society was meant to depict.  Besides, anything worth doing is worth doing well, and those characters just wouldn't have sounded the same voiced by other actors doing impressions.

I remember seeing Nimoy on reruns of "Mission: Impossible" when I was a kid, and just starting to figure out that fiction wasn't real, and actors could appear in more than just one role.  He played a make-up expert who could look like just about anyone (as long as they shared the same basic facial structure) and replaced Martin Landau, who had left the show (I guess to be on his own sci-fi show, "Space: 1999"?).  People may not be as aware of Nimoy's stage work, which included playing Tevye in the touring production of "Fiddler on the Roof", the McMurphy role in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (later played by Nicholson in the film version), plus roles in "Equus", "Twelfth Night" and a one-man show about Vincent Van Gogh that he also wrote.

So clearly there was much more to Nimoy than Spock, but this most famous role did sort of take over his life, as his children recall that on the rare weekends when he wasn't making personal appearances to promote the show or earn more income, he stayed more or less in character at home, which meant that he was often distant and emotionless.  It's very humanizing in a way to think that an actor wants to provide the best life for his family, but as for many people, that meant spending a great deal of time away from them.  Plus the family's life was occasionally out of control if they received phone calls or unexpected drop-ins from fans of the TV show.  Even more humanizing results came from Nimoy's  discussions of his alcoholism, and then his ill health that was a result of years of secret smoking.

I was intrigued to learn that Nimoy was the last of the original actors to sign on for the first Trek movie, largely this was due to an outstanding lawsuit he had filed against Paramount, which had been using his image (as Spock) to license a wide variety of products, without paying him royalties.  But once they agreed to settle the suit, he was on board the Enterprise once again.  He later directed two of the Star Trek films (#3 and #4), which some say were two of the better ones, and came back to appear in the 2009 reboot, after some tricky time travel and universe-hopping created a divergent timeline for new fans to latch on to.

Other revelations about his time as Spock are probably very well-known to Trekkers, like the fact that Nimoy invented both the Vulcan salute AND the Vulcan nerve pinch.  Not the Vulcan mind-meld, though, that's all Roddenberry.  It seems a little ironic that the character who rarely showed any emotion would also have the ability to read the minds and emotions of others.  But much of that came about from the way the writers considered Spock the "brain" of the ship, or least part of the id/ego/super-ego trilogy represented by the characters of Kirk, McCoy and Spock, respectively.

I'm on my third wave of watching movies on Netflix now (#1 - animated features, #2 - Adam Sandler films) and as you may correctly surmise, I've got some issues with the service.  And it's not the fact that since I'm watching the service through my PlayStation that the controller has to stay about 1 foot away from the TV, while my recliner is at optimal viewing distance, about 10 feet away (that's my problem, but you can see how that can be very annoying...).  It's the fact that about two minutes into the closing credits of a film, the movie I'm viewing gets shrunk to a tiny rectangle in the upper corner of the screen, so that Netflix can fill most of the screen with a promo for the NEXT movie on my list, or more often, the next movie that the service wants me to watch.  What is up with THAT?  Using a streaming service should mean that I am in control of what to watch next, that's the whole damn point.  OK, so maybe it could turn me on this way to a movie that I don't know about, which I could theoretically end up liking, but right away, this hard sell turns me off - now I won't watch that film that shrunk my current movie, even if it's the best damn film in the world.

And what about the hard-working people who acted in small roles, or did minor services on a film, like special effects or gaffing work?  Don't those people deserve to have their names reach my eyeballs without the aid of a magnifying glass?  There needs to be a coming together of the unions of electrical workers, Directors Guild, Producers Guild and SAG to stand up to Netflix (and all the cable channels like Starz that insist on running promos over the closing credits) and let them know that THIS IS NOT OK.  What if I wanted to know the name of that great song that played about halfway through the film?  Sorry, no can do.  I can hit BACK on the Netflix command, but that will take me back to the start of the film, there seems to be NO WAY to watch the complete closing credits at a reasonable size.

And what if a film has a funny scene that takes place during, or even after, the credits, as some directors like to add?  Complete idiocy was witnessed when I watched "Sandy Wexler", a film that was made specifically to be screened on Netflix.  There's a funny (I assume) bit at the end where Mike Judge, as his "Beavis" character, prank-calls Sandy in the middle of the night - but you can't see it, because the Netflix software starts running a promo for the next film it thinks you want to watch, but you haven't yet finished the jokes in THIS one.  Why put some comedy at the end of the film, where no one can now see it?  I swear, something's got to change, but this "feature" just doesn't work right.

Now, bringing it back to "Star Trek", we're on the cusp of a new Trek series, Discovery, which looks like it might be OK - but I understand the plan is to run the pilot on CBS, and then the remaining episodes exclusively on CBS' All-Access streaming service, like they did with "The Good Fight".  Look, I understand that they want to get more people to use their new service, but this is a moronic decision.  Sure, let's take a show that was bound to draw more ratings to our channel, like, maybe millions of Trek fans, and put it on a new, untested service that maybe 100,000 people (I'm guessing here) will sign up for.  Why not just shoot the show now and put it out of its misery?  

I'm a fan of "Star Trek", have been for a long time - but I'm not joining up for a new streaming service.  I just got started on Netflix, and there are a few episodes of "11.22.63" that I have to finish watching on Hulu, but for the most part, I prefer to watch things off my DVR, or on DVDs that I burned myself from the DVR.  Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I like having the physical object, because it allows me to watch the film on MY schedule - whereas it could disappear from a streaming platform (Amazon, iTunes, Netflix) at any time.  We live in a wonderful age, and by now everything we want to see or do should be available around the clock (and the calendar) but I won't be held hostage by the whims of programmers.  And I don't know if you noticed, but the average age of the CBS audience is over 50 years old - do they really think senior citizens are going to be able to figure out a new streaming platform?  It's not going to happen. 

So I'm calling it early - the new "Star Trek" series will be the most brilliant, innovative sci-fi show that hardly anyone is going to watch, just because the network is going to hold those episodes hostage to try to get more subscribers, and that's bound to be a horrible mistake.  My wife's a bigger Trek fan than I am, and she barely knows anything about the new series, and has no intent to watch it.  But that Seth McFarlane sci-fi parody "Orville", she's excited for that.  That's bad news for "Star Trek", if you ask me. 

Also starring William Shatner, Chris Pine (last seen in "Wonder Woman"), Karl Urban (last seen in "Star Trek Beyond"), Zoe Saldana (last seen in "Vantage Point"), Simon Pegg (last heard in "Ice Age: Collision Course"), Zachary Quinto (last seen in "Snowden"), Nichelle Nichols (last seen in "Made in Paris"), George Takei (last seen in "You Don't Mess With the Zohan"), Walter Koenig, Jim Parsons (last seen in "The Big Year"), Mayim Bialik, J.J. Abrams (last seen in "Comic Book: The Movie"), Jason Alexander (last seen in "Jacob's Ladder"), Catherine Hicks (last seen in "Turbulence"), Neil deGrasse Tyson (also last heard in "Ice Age: Collision Course"), Barry Newman, Nicholas Meyer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Scott Mantz, Adam Nimoy, Julie Nimoy, and archive footage of DeForest Kelley (last seen in "Marriage on the Rocks"), James Doohan, Ricardo Montalban, Jeffrey Hunter.

RATING: 6 out of 10 raised eyebrows

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Jodorowsky's Dune

Year 9, Day 217 - 8/5/17 - Movie #2,706

BEFORE: Lately there's been a lot of "Monday morning quarterbacking" where filmmaking is concerned.  Last year I watched that documentary about the failed attempts to make "Superman Lives" with Tim Burton directing and Nicolas Cage as Superman.  Last night we saw another director  film Darth Vader's last scene from "Return of the Jedi" with Dave Prowse under the mask instead of Sebastian Shaw.  And now here's a look at what might have been, if another director had tackled the sci-fi epic "Dune" instead of Alan Smithee.  Sorry, I mean David Lynch.

Producer Gary Kurtz was interviewed in last night's documentary "I Am Your Father", and he's also interviewed in this one...unlike the other films in "Geek Week", which I uncovered on Netflix or Amazon, this one's been on my list for a while - it came recommended by some geek friends I trust, who raved about it, and it's really taken me a lot of effort to link to it.  So good or bad, it's great to cross this one off the list tonight.

THE PLOT: The story of cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky's ambitious but ultimately doomed film adaptation of the famous science fiction novel.

AFTER: For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been".  So for any film production, there could be two or three or a hundred writers or directors that try to tackle a project before being removed from a project, or before collectively realizing that a story is just plain unfilmable.  I read the book "Dune" when I was a boy, maybe one or two of the sequels, and this is the conclusion that I draw from this documentary - maybe NO director was right for this project.  Just  maybe, this book was unfilmable, it was too long, too complicated.  I heard that the Sci-fi Channel turned it into a miniseries back in 2000, and had some success with that, maybe that was the better format for it all along.  But Hollywood has persisted, attempting to film another version in 2008, and after abandoning THAT project in 2011, word of a new version is ongoing as of February 2017.

I know, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."  But what about "Don't throw good money after bad" or "Quit while you're behind"?  Look, I don't know much about Jodorowsky, I never watched "El Topo" because I'm not that into foreign films - I'm still working up to watching Ingmar Bergman. To fully understand why this project failed, you have to think of the world of the early 1970's, the time after "Planet of the Apes" but before "Star Wars", and in terms of special effects, you have to think of the technology that's in-between "Planet of the Apes" and "Star Wars", which represented a quantum leap of sorts.

The Hollywood summer sci-fi blockbuster hadn't even been invented yet, and here's a director talking about doing this story justice by spending almost $10 million (unheard of in those days) to make a 10-hour or even 12-hour epic film.  What audience would sit there in the theater for 12 hours?  What theater owner would book that film, if he could only screen it once a day?  Let's not kid ourselves, this project was doomed from the start.  But Jodorowsky had a right to his own dream, so he went about hiring French comic-artist Moebius (Jean Giraud) to make the storyboards and H.R. Giger to design the alien worlds and buildings.  Maybe things started to go off the rails when he tried to hire Douglas Trumbull, who did visual effects for "2001" but settled for Dan O'Bannon, who did special effects for "Dark Star", but I digress.

Casting was ambitious as well, with Jodorowsky contacting David Carradine, Udo Kier, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali to play the Emperor of the Galaxy, and Orson Welles to play the overweight Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.  Combine this with his desire to use the music of groups like Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd, and you may start to think he was on to something here, but I think that you'd be fooling yourself.  Because casting his own son to play Paul Atreides means, to me, that making a great movie was never really his concern, he was only interested in making the movie for himself, to match the vision that was in his head - and that's where I think a lot of directors go wrong, they're so conceited that they can't step outside themselves and make decisions based on what's right for the movie and therefore what's right for the audience.  So they try to make the film THEY want to see, rather than the one most fans want to see.

Jodorowsky's encyclopedia-sized book of storyboards and costume designs made the rounds in Hollywood, with nearly every major studio praising the work, but refusing to fund the film for one simple reason - the director.  In other words, it's great that you signed Orson Welles to the project (turns out you just had to promise to hire the chef from his favorite restaurant as the movie's caterer) but we're going to pass.  Thanks for coming in, though, and thanks for the paperweight. A few years later, in 1976, the film rights were acquired by Dino De Laurentiis, who hired Ridley Scott to direct and got Frank Herbert to write a new screenplay for a proposed 3-hour version.  Ridley Scott left the project, and with the rights due to expire and the clock ticking, De Laurentiis hired David Lynch in 1981 to finally get this movie made.  David Lynch turned down "Return of the Jedi" to direct "Dune", which makes me wonder if someone's going to make a documentary about what a "Star Wars" film directed by Lynch might have looked like.

And let me repeat what I've been saying for the past two or three years - David Lynch is a terrible director.  I know, we don't have specific ways to define "good" and "bad" where filmmaking is concerned, but I stand by my claim, the guy is a hack.  If it's all subjective, then you can't say that I'm wrong.  Go watch "Dune" as directed by Lynch and tell me that it's good, it's just not.  As he's doing on the current revival of "Twin Peaks", Lynch spent too much time explaining the simple things, not enough time explaining the confusing things, and everything else is relegated to being some kind of "mystery" full of loose ends that never get tied up properly.  And after being presented storylines in "Lost Highway" and "Mulholland Drive" that simply make no narrative sense whatsoever, I'm forced to conclude that this director either takes unfair shortcuts, or has no overall idea what he's doing. But people seem to assume that if the story is confusing and unexplainable, somehow it's a work of genius.  I disagree.

In the long run, I have to believe that the marketplace will take care of itself, the audience has the final word - and even if they're wrong about a movie in general release, a film has a second chance to find an audience later as a "cult classic".  But Lynch's "Dune" is a cult classic for the wrong reasons, people will watch it just to see how badly a movie can be made, so it went from epic to "epic fail".  Do I believe that Jodorowsky's version would have been better?  Nope, just longer.  Nobody sets out to make a bad movie, so why does it keep happening, most recently to that Tom Cruise version of "The Mummy"?  It's because some director couldn't get outside of his own head and make the movie that the audience wanted to see, instead of the one that he (or Tom Cruise) wanted to make.

There's speculation that the storyboards of Jodorowsky's Dune influenced many other projects in Hollywood, from "Star Wars" (Arrakis = Tatooine, Baron Harkonnen = Jabba the Hutt), to "Contact" and the people who left the "Dune" project went on to work on films like "Alien" and "Blade Runner" within a few short years, so make of that what you will.

Also starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux, Amanda Lear, Nicolas Winding Refn, Devin Faraci, Drew McWeeny, Brontis Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, with archive footage of Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Chris Foss,

RATING: 4 out of 10 sandworms