Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ghostheads

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

Fanarchy

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:

http://scribblejunkies.blogspot.com/2017/07/san-diego-comic-con-report.html

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