Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Impostor

"They're wrong about me. I've done nothing. I'm a good man."

To escape the sad, unending news cycle, I've lost myself to random films. I finally caught up to another of the adaptations of the work of Author Philip K. Dick in Impostor [2002; finished in 2000]. Ironic that Dick's The Adjustment Bureau was in theatres at the time of this writing. The DVD I utilized for my review was the Canadian-release L'Imposteur.

There have indeed been seemingly mixed results tackling Dick's writing since his passing in 1982. For whatever reason there is often an eclectic, weird energy in efforts to adapt his work, which clearly center on robotics, androids and fairly skeptical views of the world to come and what it means to be human. Directors are certainly attempting to tap into the energy of those books and short stories, but the results often vary.

In film, Dick is probably best known for Director Ridley Scott's Blade Runner [1982] based on Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?. This is a hands down an influential classic. Director Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall [1990] was a less successful attempt drawing from his short work We Can Remember If For You Wholesale. Nevertheless, Total Recall was a huge financial success unlike Scott's Blade Runner. Screamers [1995] starred Peter Weller and was another strange, but decent science fiction opus based on the short story Second Variety. Breaking from a string of lesser film adaptations, Dick was given another major directorial treatment when Steven Spielberg took on Minority Report [2002] with Tom Cruise. This is clearly one of the finest man-on-the-run tales in science fiction. At the same time, Dick's 1953 story Impostor was released to cinemas produced by and starring Gary Sinise the same year. It was released two years after production wrapped and probably says something about the film itself. Additionally, from the Dick reservoir, Director John Woo tackled a short story for Paycheck [2003] with Ben Affleck. Director Richard Linklater placed his own visionary, personal effects touches on A Scanner Darkly [2006]. It's hard for me to wrap my arms around Linklater. I'm simply not a fan of his rotoscoping techniques. They simply turn me off. Finally, Dick's The Golden Man was converted for Next [2007] starring Nicholas Cage. Matt Damon brings us the latest from the Dick archives in the form of The Adjustment Bureau [2011] with more running and dodging than you can shake a stick at.

One thing is certain Dick's stories translate well to cinema because the stories apparently, and I have not read them all, lend themselves to a good chase. In fact, sometimes it feels like these films overshadow the true science fiction in favor of the screen action. Ridley Scott created the best work and balance of Dick's material to date in retrospect offering viewers a proper dose of question and contemplation with just the right dose of physical action. The action never overshadowed the ideas. Minority Report succeeds as well.

There really hasn't been a Dick story that didn't lend itself to a good chase. You can always count on a good dose of running, chasing or chasing and running, and more running by people on the run by people giving chase to them. You get the picture. Be prepared for running. In fact, I'm surprised The Running Man [1987], written by Richard Bachman a.k.a. Stephen King, wasn't a Dick-adapted film.

Dick's stories also lead to films with great stars. There seems to be a number of interesting actors that assemble for these films. There's no shortage of talent. Impostor stars Gary Sinise, Vincent D'Onofrio and Madeline Stowe in the year 2075. Future Stargate Atlantis babe Rachel Luttrell even makes a quick cameo, but you might miss her. Future Stargate SG-1 guest star alum Tim Guinee even gets a brief part.

The sci-fi tech and interior art direction of Impostor is wonderful in spots. Dick's work, to film, always brings with it a great realization and visualization of the future. All of that window dressing aside though, Impostor is more like The Fugitive [1993], but not nearly as gripping or compelling as that remake.

Impostor sadly finds less in common with the classics as director Gary Fleder really delivers a bare, cerebrally unsatisfactory product.

My college film professor once said you could always tell a lot about a film in the first ten minutes and Impostor offers that set up very quickly, before becoming a man-on-the-run scenario. You quickly understand the framework. The question: Is the pay off worth it? The ending is a good one and has merit. It raises questions of kindness and humanity and what it means to be truly human, but ultimately the pay off just isn't there. No matter how interesting the final moments are in begging questions of peace, a desire for acceptance and love, the running and chasing and very little development of those themes throughout the film undercut the ending. All of the chasing and running fail to feed these larger moral and thematic questions. The ending simply cannot negate all that transpired before it.

Ironically, and most intriguing, there is a 37 minute short film version of the story on the DVD minus ALL of the running and chasing and it's just as satisfying, more succinct, in delivering the morality play of the story sans the action cliches. This is all you need to see really. While effective, it's certainly not a major film and proves the point it should have remained a short story until a better script was penned.

Most of the film is a dark, poorly lit sci-fi actioner directed by Gary Fleder. Who? Fleder has turned out some relatively forgettable pictures in the form of Kiss The Girls [1997] and Don't Say A Word [2001]. His Runaway Jury [2003] may be his crowning achievement. Otherwise he's been relatively quiet for a reason. The film cost roughly 40 million dollars and earned 8 million. A certified disaster as films go. It's always hard to come down on a work like this, because it's clear a great deal of effort and work went into the film by a lot of people. It just doesn't come together on a substantive level. It's as fleeting as the foot race on which the film is based. Further, you hate to see a missed opportunity like this based on some really good science fiction ideas.

An hour into the picture and I realized Vincent D'Onofrio was still in hot pursuit. It all seemed rather pointless and dull really. The actor must have been thrilled to know he was able to run back and return to his famous detective role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Chase and run films can be exciting like Minority Report and to a lesser extent, in a rare feat, Michael Bay's The Island [2005], but the ideas mustn't be overly stifled. Those concepts need to be the energy and driving force of a good science fiction film.

Had their been a more convincing plot drawing on these good concepts to get to the conclusion the film really could have been more impressive. Since it's a movie we've come to see, it does that, but the razor thin plot isn't enough to run and chase its lead to the story's denouement. Additionally, Sinise is "a good man" and a fine actor and has played some terrific parts in some strong films [A Midnight Clear, Ransom, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13], but unlike Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, he doesn't deliver frantic or sympathetic as effectively and may have miscast himself to some extent. Sinise was perfect for his self-directed and produced film Of Mice And Men [1992], but despite a good effort Impostor is a misfire. Ultimately, the film I had hoped to see was one where the Impostor truly underscored Dick's themes of personal identity and humanity. Even if those involved had explored the concept of self-deception or false belief in an ideal it could have been a more robust tale. Dick's short story might be the way to go, because this merely teases those ideas. It's not without value, but this is one of Dick's weaker adaptations. The Sci-Fi Fanatic signing off [I swear it's me].

Impostor: C- Director: Gary Fleder/ Writer: Scott Rosenberg

Monday, March 28, 2011

Last Exile Vs. Firefly

A cute twist on the Firefly series meets Last Exile. Both are splendid.

Friday, March 25, 2011

F-A-B !

The latest issue of FAB magazine features a beautiful shot of the lovely Suzanne Neve in the role of Mary Straker from controversial UFO Episode 14, Confetti Check A-O.K.. This is yet another truly stunning cover from one of the world's finest exclusive fan club magazines. The women of the 1970s were often truly authentic beauties.
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This is a brief post celebrating all things Gerry Anderson and all things colorful in that wonderful world!
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It's a wee little FAB FRIDAY!
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I arrived home yesterday to the latest issue of FAB Issue 68. I wrote a post about the wonderful work lovingly detailed in these Fanderson magazines and sincerely the quality never ceases to amaze me. This latest installment is chock full of goodies. I've provided a few screen shots.
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In a segment dubbed The Midas Touch, the magazine focuses on the aforementioned character-centric UFO classic in an extensive, detailed five page spread. FAB Issue 67 focused The Midas Touch on Space:1999's The Seance Spectre. An ealier issue even looked closely at The AB Chrysalis. Speaking of Space:1999...
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FAB Issue 68 also brings us Part 5 of Ian Fryer's intensive look at The Making Of Space:1999 with a six page spotlight on each episode in Year Two. Issue 67 focused Part 4 on the run up to Year Two called The Future Is Fantastic. Issue 66 offers a complete and thorough look at the episodes of Year One to give you an idea. The entire run offers an exhaustive and welcomed look at the entire Space:1999 series from conception to conclusion, which is sure to please roving Moonbase Alpha fans everywhere.
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Finally, there's plenty of goods on Space Precinct and Thunderbirds including, if you hadn't heard, Gerry Anderson's plans to bring Thunderbirds back. Yes, Gerry Anderson has plans for an updated Thunderbirds and admits it will be a "smash"! Well, if it's anything like the quality that continues to go into print for this fine publication I'm sure it will be.
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Paying for exclusive membership in a given publication is a funny business. Often, I will pay for a membership and inevitably drop out the next time I'm required to renew. This may be a first, but I think I'm back on board. Fanderson's FAB magazine is a gorgeous, full color, glossy classic. There aren't many magazines that tirelessly give you new insights into original science fiction productions the way the staff over at Fanderson does. By the looks of it, fanzine Andersonic is one more premiere outlet for fans of all things Gerry Anderson too.
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Well, the renewal for FAB is upon me and all I can say is "Virgil F-A-B!"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cop Land

A truly stunning performance by Sylvester Stallone as likable Sheriff Freddy Heflin.

This is one of those RARE detours away from the sci-fi-centric themes of Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. So, I have a pile of seemingly endless Blu-Ray titles that I have yet to watch. The Killer was last year. Cop Land was the latest. At this rate, I should finish them by the time I'm 95. Yes, I plan to be here awhile.

I popped in a bare bones Canadian Blu-Ray of Writer/ Director James Mangold's Cop Land. The film, while not perfect, definitely met my expectations. I was truly hoping for something resembling the film I had experienced. It really didn't disappoint.
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Mangold did some fine work on 3:10 To Yuma [2007] with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. His flair for writing dialogue and real character exchanges combined with gritty film moments genuinely elevates his material. He's definitely a unique talent who is maturing. Heavy [1995] was a classic little film. His Identity [2003] was intriguing too. Walk The Line [2005] is his most notable achievement within the industry and with viewers starring Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix. This man, Mangold, can do one more thing in a big way and that's draw talent.
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It's amazing how many fine actors he assembled for Identity, but he managed even bigger for Cop Land years earlier, both Mangold films featuring strong contributions from Ray Liotta [Good Fellas, Narc].

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Still, big star names are never enough to deliver a film. We've certainly seen our fair share of lemons to bear that out. Cop Land on its face looks like it could easily fall into that category. A big old kettle of talent that simply falls flat.
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Fortunately, the reverse is true in the hands of James Mangold, Cop Land delivers a strong, little story, if moving slightly beyond the plausible.

That band aid speaks to the Heflin character and Mangold keeps it through a good portion of the film for continuity and to reflect his damaged lead in Stallone.
Shouldering the mighty small tale, to my complete and utter amazement was Mr. Sylvester Stallone. I knew Stallone was leading up the ensemble picture, but he really shows up here. Stallone delivers of one of his finest performances and sincerely plays against type as slightly unmotivated, mildly frumpy, milquetoast Sheriff Freddy Heflin, a man who has lost his way. He is humble, unassuming and kind to those in the small New Jersey suburb of Garrison, New Jersey. He is at once in awe of the brother in law enforcement around him and yet tainted by their influence. He wears the badge, but fails to receive the respect it deserves by the countless officers who live and reside in the burb away from the city.

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The supporting cast includes the always reliable Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Annabella Sciorra [whom I've loved forever], Robert Patrick, Peter Berg and crazy Janeane Garofalo acting perfectly sane for the duration of the film. All play their parts in support of the film effectively. Actors like De Niro and Keitel deliver the good cop/bad cop roles beautifully as does Liotta and the film's ensemble sells the story without phoning in their small parts. Ultimately, it is Sylvester Stallone that carries the weight of the film and acts as the glue to the story.
While the film is certainly Hollywood in conclusion the efforts by Mangold to keep the action on a small scale and allow it to play out and execute in a typically un-Hollywood fashion, quietly makes the material believable. In fact, how Mangold utilizes the technique of sound in the final minutes of the film is pure genius and the kind of thing film enthusiasts generally appreciate. I know I did.

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Cop Land was fairly well received. It is a film built like a Hummer with all of its "talent to burn" wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly was disappointed calling the story "pulpy" and Stallone's performance in "neutral." These factors really worked for me, particularly the latter where Stallone presents Heflin as a man essentially coasting through life. As the late Gene Siskel wrote, the screenplay must be "savored," and those remarks hold particularly true of Stallone's work here. When his character awakens its never over-the-top. Stallone doesn't take the character and go all Rambo, but rather more original Rocky. He's a kind of down-on-his-luck, regular guy you root for. Rita Kempley of The Washington Post called the story "snarled" with a "poky pace." These criticisms are tepid. Politics is never clean and the pace is befitting of the genuine character portrayed by Stallone. Stallone makes the character feel real and delivers "spiritually beaten," noted by Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, to perfection without being pathetic.
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These performances really elevate the material and the actors play their complexities with ease, but there's no phoning it in on Cop Land.

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Cop Land is sorely underrated and deserves a proper Blu-Ray release in the USA, but until then, seek it out and enjoy a film about a man looking to find himself. In fact, the whole film is about people who have lost their way. Cop Land is a morality play on people who have become the very thing they swore to protect the public against. It is a place where standards, right and wrong, and what it means to wear a badge are meaningless. It's a place where good and evil are flipsides of the same coin, where law enforcement has supplanted the mob. While the film is hopeful and sometimes Hollywood, Mangold still crooks the script and direction in such a way that Cop Land never falls into two-dimensional predictability. There's enough emotional and psychological subtext to deliver the film from the banal. The use of Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen and his song Stolen Car from The River [1981] perfectly underscores a real sense of place and the fiber of this central, working man hero.
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Mangold really threads his tale with a sense of grounded reality amidst this tale of corruption. The message is clear amidst the wreckage of human souls. Redemption is possible. Society may have pockets of rot, but it's still possible for just one man to make the difference and set the wheels of justice moving back in the right direction. It delivers this message with some credibility within some elements of the incredible. Mangold's cast of characters makes it worth the investigation.
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It's a fine, unexpectedly small film with big names. Sylvester Stallone may be limited in his range, but he breathes real life into Sheriff Freddy Heflin. Viewing the film again, it's remarkable how subtle, but how far Freddy Heflin comes from the opening frames of the film.
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Incensed, Harvey Keitel's character froths at Heflin, "Who the fuck do you think you are?" That's something Freddy Heflin must determine and that's the journey of this man, a man with something stirring within. Cop Land was a terrific discovery. Underneath all the filth there's something to feel good about here.
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Cop Land: B+
Writer: James Mangold
Director: James Mangold

Anime: Drugs Would Be Cheaper

Honestly, drugs probably would be cheaper.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eva-02 Watercolor

Eva-02 from Studio Gainax TV Series Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 8, Asuka Strikes!, in watercolor.
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I've been spending some of my time of late attempting to paint in watercolor. Please note the emphasis on attempting. I don't pretend to be an artist, but I'm working on it. It was kind of a flash of inspiration over a month ago.
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As a kid I used to draw and sketch all the time. I would draw pictures of The Thing from The Fantastic Four, Sasquatch from Alpha Flight or Silver Surfer just to name a few. John Byrne and George Perez were among some of my favorites. Great battles against great beasts were always a highlight. I wish I still had one of those silly drawings. The coloring was always done via crayon. For some reason I actually enjoyed crayons. I couldn't color with a crayon enough.
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Somewhere along the way I just stopped. Dead in my tracks- it was over. I just stopped doing it- no more sketching or coloring. Girls. School work. Real life. It all got in the way.
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You wake up one day and years have passed by and you realize, man, I used to draw and I drew pictures all the time. Battle Of The Planets. You name it. If it was a pop culture hero or science fiction classic in the making it was on my radar and I wanted to draw it. But again, you grow up and suddenly those things you enjoyed become less and less important. They shouldn't be discounted but they often are.
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Well, at the turn of the new year, I just decided to sketch again. Over dinner, a friend of mine who paints talked with me about oil painting and watercolors. She showed me samples of her paintings. My eyes got real big and a smile overtook my face. I knew right away I wanted to get back to drawing and explore if I had it in me to take it to the next level and thus began my research. Talking with her and learning more about the process I knew I would get started the next day. So, I picked up a modicum of paint supplies from Michael's. I knew I enjoyed sketching, but I had never painted before. So I didn't want to invest too much into paints and brushes. I didn't want to go overboard. I'm a very simple man. Give me the basics and I'll make it happen the best that I can. I don't need a 50 dollar paint brush, although they were nice.
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With coupons in hand, I managed to get brushes, paints and paper and bring my whole purchase to under 45 dollars. Up next, I had to focus on an idea and begin the process.
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As many here know, I have an endless fascination with all things Neon Genesis Evangelion. There are three primary Evangelion units in the TV Series. In Japan, they were designed by Ikuto Yanashita and all were designed brilliantly. The characters in the series are credited to Character Designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto.
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As far as the Evangelions, it's actually near impossible to choose which one I love most on any given day. I quickly alternate between Eva-00, Eva-01 and Eva-02. They are that close. It really speaks volumes about how much I love each of their unique designs. Furthermore, mecha designs don't get me particularly excited. I can't be bothered with most in anime never mind actually painting a picture of one. It has to be pretty special in my estimation to get my attention. Gundam and others fail to energize me the way the Evangelions do. Transformers included. There's something truly elegant, organic, sleek and beautiful about the Evangelion designs that are absent from most of the traditional robot depictions. Gunbuster and Patlabor are also very nice creations aesthetically, but they still present a more traditional robot approach. I enjoy them, but nothing is quite as inspired as the work found in Evangelion. Thus, my decision to paint Eva-02 was born.
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Prepare for launch. I selected an image and stuck with it. The sketching was a process and most of my energy spent on the painting from the very beginning took place essentially on weekends where I had the most free time.
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Taking the sketching process into watercolor painting was taking it to a new level of challenge for me. I thought I'd share the result with you and get your impressions.
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My ultimate goal is to hang it on the living room wall where most of my pop culture excursions take place. I want the shadow of Evangelion hanging over my viewing experience. I'm not sure how that's going to fly with The One To Be Pitied. She's already informed me categorically NO FREAKIN' WAY!
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The final phase of my painting process returned me to Michael's for the art of framing. I was greeted by a young lady in her twenties. The exchange was amusing. "Don't make fun of me." She smiled. With my painting paper pad [say that 20 times] closed I explained, "I have a painting here I need to have framed." I opened the picture with some slight trepidation. She smiled. "What is it?" "That is a robot, well, sort of. It's animation. You see, it's an Evangelion." "An Evan--what?" "It's an Eva actually. It's an Evangelion, anime, robot. Well, it's not actually a robot. You see it's partially organic, a humanoid-robot type of--- thing... Anyway, you can't laugh. Do you think it looks good? You see a lot of paintings." "Yes, actually, ... no it looks good," she humored me. I don't know, maybe she was humoring me, but she was definitely amused at my expense.
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We proceeded to spend nearly an hour hammering out the proper mattes and frame. Color combinations were difficult and I'm not sure I was completely sold in the end, but it was honestly the best combination I could muster. It may have been the hardest part of the damn process of putting a painting together start to finish. Looking at it now I might have triple matted, but who knows. The perfectionist in me could drive one to drink.
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The girl was lovely. She was such a cool kid utilizing her white gloves to keep her hand oils off my painting. Then came the price. Now I'm thinking 75 bucks. Honest, I've never painted or even gone to purchase a frame, but heck I wanted to see this thing through to the dirty end no matter how preposterous my painting might have been to some. To me, it represented my time, my energy, my passion, my hobbies and it was something that I created from scratch like a blueberry pancake. In the end, I wanted to eat it up in its frame. "That'll be 184 dollars." Holy Ch-ching! I was mildly slack-jawed. I took a breath and smiled. Again, she was lovely and she's only the messenger. I said, "How about that 50% off sign back there. Does this include 50% off?" "Oh yes, it would be like three hundred and change." WOW! I thought skiing was expensive. Maybe I should start skiing again. I would save money. Well, there you have it. It was done. I had to finish this thing [and work harder to pay it off].
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"Okay, so I'll pick it up tomorrow then?" "Two weeks. It'll be about two weeks." Wow, I had no idea it would take so long to frame.
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Two weeks later and another young woman smiles and seems mildly amused by the art on display as she unveils and reveals to me the finished product in its frame. According to The One To Be Pitied, "a frame can even make junk look good." Ouch! Well, the lady told me she loved the colors. The One To Be Pitied reckons she may have been lonely. Brutal. Well, I liked it. On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised. I'm putting my first piece of work out there for y'all to give it to me straight. I can take it. Go ahead. I know you painters are out there. Shoot!
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All in all it was an artistically pleasing outlet and I'm on to my next project.
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Up next, another painting. After that, the world.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Like the thrilling Black Hawk Down, the battle is ON almost out of the gate.
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I took in Battle: Los Angeles over the weekend trading my heavy heart over the human wreckage and sadness permeating the Japanese landscape for something completely escapist and fantastical. Events in the world have been so truly horrible of late, I'm not sure seeing Battle: Los Angeles was that much of a stetch. Aliens attacking Earth is about the only thing that hasn't happened on a global scale to date. I suppose for that we should be thankful.
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The film is good. It's a solid genre film, but certainly imperfect. It's a mostly well-executed fusion of the war and science fiction genres. It's a little messy, sometimes poorly filmed or poorly lit, but only in spots. Director Jonathan Liebesman lacks the auteur touch of a filmmaker like Director Ridley Scott who brought the visceral realities of war to life in Black Hawk Down, but by and large he gets the job done and done well. The external, urban sequences are generally the best. In fact, I often wavered between exhilaration and unimpressed throughout the film, but fell mostly within the former camp.
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For it's rating, PG-13, the film was surprisingly electrifying. These watered down ratings often aren't up to the task. Sequences were not bloody or graphic, but still crackling with energy in spots. It's the perfect twelve to fourteen year old picture. It's like Call Of Duty with aliens for the big screen and kids relate. There's no shortage of action and excitement and the special effects are outstanding. It reminisces of the quality effects established in Transformers, but this was a much more enjoyable, far less goofy and knuckle-headed film for adults despite being sometimes as loud and bombastic.

It's an uneven film as some of the camera work is not of the quality established in war pictures like Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan or We Were Soldiers, but it's close. Interestingly, those war pictures mentioned were all rated R and took the intensity of war to the next level. This is certainly a necessary component of any war picture, but as it stands it remains more closely connected to a comic book-styled graphic novel. That's fine too, but it never quite achieves those moments of authenticity, that full impact, as a result of its limited rating. That Director's Cut for Blu-Ray may be the remedy. Perhaps it was the lack of character growth that left all of the action feeling a little hollow. Even in those aforementioned war pictures you got a better taste for character, than you do here. Aaron Eckhart is a good commanding lead and a nice choice for the film, but the story is hackneyed and thin. There's not a whole lot of new here. If you enjoy two hours of first person shooter, video game-styled action than the documentary-like, shaky camera, visual style actioner should serve as a pleasant diversion. For every poorly executed sequence, there is certainly an equally thrilling one to follow and there are more of the latter. Even the conclusion was more rousing than I had anticipated.

Ultimately, it's a decent film, but it never lives up to the promise of those trailers that had been teased to us for over a year. It wasn't the substantive science fiction of District 9, but it wasn't the childish, mind-numbing morass of Transformers either. This is a picture with marines fighting aliens. Comraderie against all odds. It's Aliens played out on a grand stage without quite the same delicious suspense and dread of that film. My friend Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein makes a great point about the alien designs found in Battle: Los Angeles over at Guardians Of The Genre. I prefer more imaginative creature designs myself like those detailed in District 9. Like that aforementioned film, Battle: Los Angeles does explore some fine sci-fi tech, which is always a pleasure for genre fans like myself.

The script delivers a strong linear tale of action, but the scriptwriting is uninspired. To give you an idea of just how weak the dialogue is in parts I give you my favorite cliched moment of the film. The platoon of soldiers attempts to determine how to kill these bio-mechanical invaders of purposefully ambiguous design. Frustrated, actress Bridget Moynahan enters the room, a rescued civilian, and straight-faced delivers this line: "Maybe I can help. I'm a veterinarian." Seriously!? Good grief. I rolled my eyes at that most cringe-worthy moment. Apparently, her work on dogs and cats should do the trick on this fully weaponized, organic beast, humanoid in build of course. Again, perfectly fine if your young and living in the moment or quickly drawn to the next, shiny new gun like your dog Spot. I was pleased the profanity was kept to a minimum. Maybe if there had been more exposition I might have liked it less.

That's right folks, just roll with it. This is not intended for enlightenment of the human mind.

Although, did you know the film was loosely based on events that transpired in 1942? Three months after the United States entered World War II a mysterious event occurred referred to as The Battle Of Los Angeles or The Great Los Angeles Air Raid. There's nothing like a strange, little minor event over a potential extra-terrestrial contact to ignite a fantastic action picture of this scale and magnitude minus any real military intelligence or any intelligence for that matter. Those damn government weather balloons wreak all kinds of havoc. But apart from the film's relationship to this article, the fact that this film is set in Los Angeles is hardly an important factor. It really doesn't matter.

Alien invasion films are as old as the day is long, but an effective alien thriller can be delivered with the right director and writers on board. Just look at Steven Spielberg's PG-13-rated War Of The Worlds for a strong case in point. This may not be that good, but it comes close. The film, put simply, is a great, self-contained bit of science fiction/ war entertainment especially for those with the attention span of a flea. The One To Be Pitied insists it's the perfect film for me. Nice, thanks. Hey, what was that?

Battle: Los Angeles: B [for Battle]

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Winter Is Over, Spring Is Back!

Winter is officially over. It's the first day of Spring. Thank God!

I've been a little quiet of late and I need to get motivated despite the heavy heart for those we keep in our thoughts and prayers overseas. There's a lot going on in the world.

Let's hope Spring turns things around and it gets better for everyone especially for our friends in Japan.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Prayers For Japan

The terrible massive earthquake and ensuing floods affecting our friends in Japan has moved from stunning shock to sobering reality. The more I've seen the more troubling it has become as the day evolved. It speaks to how connected we really are.

I have some friends in Japan. I spoke with one friend today, Kohei, who wrote me back that things were quite bad in places and that they were still suffering from the ongoing quakes. In typical Kohei spirit he told me with a [smiley face] :) that he was okay, but would be under his desk for the day. He sounded okay, but things are definitely not okay there. I have not heard from some friends. I worry for Kohei and the others and all the people there. My sincere prayers go out to Japan in the days and weeks ahead.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lost In Space S1 Ep11: Wish Upon A Star

A few more shreddings and that dress on Marta Kristen would have fallen clean off! Lost In Space would have acquired a whole new audience.
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"Roles were based on the Space Family Robinson characters found in the Gold Key Comic of the same name." -Mark Goddard from To Space And Back-
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"Theory and conjecture. Nonsense and jabberwocky. We have the gift horse let us not examine its mouth too closely." -Dr. Zachary Smith-
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Once again, Lost In Space picks up right where it left off with its pseudo-serial connectivity. Dr. Zachary Smith is relaxing while Will Robinson and Major Don West handle the heavy lifting.

If you don't recall West flipped the smoking fuel cell away and when it explodes he is nearly killed. How Dr. Smith doesn't get his neck rung long before the series ended is something of a small miracle. As always, Dr. Smith denies any responsibility for his negligence with the fuel cell, which he carelessly tossed to the ground. Professor John Robinson intervenes to prevent Don from strangling Smith's and he wants answers. As is often the case, our young friend and sometimes hero, Will Robinson, is quickly placed in the middle and forced to give his take on events that have transpired. All in all, the dynamic between the actors/ characters on the show is the major attraction on Lost In Space. Speaking of major, it's always good to see Goddard in the mix. In fact, it's exchanges between the full ensemble in the series that gave the space drama a certain swagger.

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The camera work is sometimes interesting on Lost In Space. Ground to sky shots for intimate, up close and personal exchanges between our colorful cast of characters offer a visually interesting touch.
John informs Smith he hasn't done his part to preserve the hydroponic garden. That too is lost. Don gives Smith a piece of his mind and expresses his desire to rid the family of him. Smith asks John if those are his feelings and John bites his tongue. Nevertheless, words unspoken speak volumes. Smith gets the message loud and clear. The mere suggestion is amusing as we are quickly discovering Smith is as cowardly as they come. Surviving on a strange planet solo doesn't appear conceivable. John yearns to teach him a lesson. Smith exits with laser rifle in hand. Smith protests that there is nothing anyone can do to keep him at the base camp. Of course, no one is saying anything at all. No one is interested in stopping his departure. Off goes Smith in Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 11, Wish Upon A Star.
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Later in the evening, Will worries for Smith. His father assures him there's nothing to fear. Elsewhere, Smith has a pathetic little fire going. The sounds of a strange creature fills the air and he fires his laser rifle out of fright. A random, strange paper mache kite-like creature with a bizarre little giggle flies at him. The creature even has a painted-on mouth. Later he is awakened by Will who is checking on him. Will suspects Smith needs a new campsite. Smith is more than happy to welcome Will into his journey alone so that he will no longer be alone. Smith is a clever, pathetic, cowardly, little lion man.
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Venturing forward Smith and Will stumble upon the wreck of an old spacehip. The old wreck is covered in spider webs. The webs are apparently the handiwork of space spiders on this strange planet that spin silk-like spider webs just like those on Earth. Go figure. One of the funniest moments comes when Will attempts to open the door to the space vessel. It shakes in all its paper and tin foil splendor. There isn't a single, solid component to be found on the vehicle suitable for space travel. This space thing couldn't fly through the sky like a kite. It's amusing, but the whole vibe of Lost In Space captured a sense of adventure that certainly appealed to the inner child.

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Will is planning on heading back to base camp, but of course Smith pleads with him to stay longer. The twosome stumble upon a strange device. Will, without much thought obviously, places the blinking helmet-like cone on his head. You might imagine the dangers of the new world would influence and inform every decision one makes with a great deal of caution, but not on Lost In Space. This is a fact of life on the series and you have to roll with it and embrace it. The two explorers wish they had some delicious rolls and wah-lah they have them. Well, oddly, they don't actually get the rolls, but they do get some kind of shish kebab.
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Thinking about it, the relationship between special effects and sound effects are so closely connected on Lost in Space it definitely capitalized on the concept in its heyday. The effects are sometimes simple, but with the appropriate application of a given sound effect, an item can appear or disappear miraculously. It was tremendous use of the imagination for the period. It was clean and effective use of the technique and it was used frequently. Neverthless, the incongruous nature of our boy Will's thinking never ceases to amaze. Smith asks him what he'd like. He'd like a bike or a telescope, but then shifts 180 degress to apples. Huh!? Classic! Apples come raining down on Smith and Will. From where did the apples come? The sky? Okay. Well, we need to test them for safety of course. Let's eat them anyway! Okay. Scenes like this become more pronounced and commonplace on the series especially the pairing of Smith and Will with Robot.
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Will brings some apples back home and his Dad discovers them in his room. Dad, the good parent that he is, wants to know about the secret apples. Will says he has to keep them a secret. Don steps in and assures Will it's okay to rat out Smith the rat bastard because he didn't give his word. Don can't stand him! At least Don shows consistently good judgment and is never pushed over by Smith from day one. I like that. Will relents and tells his family he and Smith found a spaceship. Gosh Will, it's a bloody food supply. Why wouldn't you want to tell your folks? It's the difference between life and death on a strange planet brother. Also, The One To Be Pitied wonders why they don't just make a wish to go home to Earth. Of course, the series would be over and where's the fun in that?
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Back at Smith's new makeshift camp, Will informs him he has told his father about the device. Smith is having way too much fun with his new find to care. Don tells Will all Smith cares about is himself. I love Don. He has that bugger's number and damn it all he'll indoctrinate WIll to the ways of the world regardless of his innocence.
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Will worries for Smith and admits to Don he still likes Smith despite his flaws. Smith returns. "What do you want?," Don asks in his usual disgust. To my surprise, the writer was on top of The One To Be Pitied's thoughts about going home. Smith informs everyone he plans on willing his desire to build a complete, second Jupiter 2 so that it may bring them all back to Earth. His wishes don't exactly pan out as the Jupiter 2 that is created before them is nothing more than a model mock-up of the real thing that would fit snug inside the Fancave!.
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Back at the base camp, Robot analyzes the device for the family. There is plenty of snappy, fun dialogue in this brief segment. It's a delight to watch.

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Poor Maureen Robinson, does she actually do anything of a scientific nature on Lost In Space? Apparently it's stay in the kitchen and tend to the garden for her. Well, that, and be the greatest mom in space.
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Judy appears before Don in a new dress and he is extremely excited by her presence. How these two never got things going beyond flirtation I'll never know. Mark Goddard refers to her as his "summer romance" during the show despite the fact he was married at the time. It's not hard to imagine why. I'm surprised they weren't shagging the tar out of each other for three seasons on the show or behind-the-scenes. I'm impressed by his restraint. I mean holy smokes you're on a remote planet with very few rooms and some free time. What the hell are you waiting for? I know I've said it before, but she is one smoking hot, Norwegian tamale and I'm sure Goddard wasn't too shabby to the female set. What more could you ask?
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Will and Penny fight over the device too. Ah, sibling love. Greed is in the air and trouble too. Will goes to get Dad to decide who gets to use it. Penny decided to utilize it for her own desires. Smith indicated earlier the device only works twice a day. I suspect an overuse of the mechanism is in the works. Penny informs her father she has some wonderful new tapes. Tapes! Ha! Yes, the advanced tape technology. Anyway, she has Bach, Mozart, ect.. Her father cleverly points out Lie, Cheat, and Trick are also fine composers and gives Penny a verbal beatdown with his fatherly disappointment. There was a bit of lost opportunity to really explore the theme of greed is the root of all evil here. But the episode does go there in effect.
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Judy and Don arrive from their frolic amidst the stone formations. They are just in time for the family meeting. John is displeased that everyone seems to be shirking their duties and responsibilities in favor of using the "thought machine." Will asks why bother? The thought machine can do it all. John Robinson says it "sows the seeds of discontent, mistrust and indolence." Dreams aren't coming true. "Nightmares can also be dreams" he insists. John prefers the old fashioned methods of elbow grease and hard work. Once again, strong parenting is in full effect for the Robinson children most of the time. Granted Maureen and John were often a little too liberal about Will's time with the nefarious Dr. Smith. Hmmm, that does seem a little inconsistent.
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John returns the machine to Smith and wants it removed or destroyed. Smith refers to it as "the garden of Eden." Smith says he will take it back with him to the "derelict." Remember, Episode 2, The Derelict? He also wants to bring Robot with him. John tells Smith I don't think so.
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This is a pretty priceless image, no pun intended actually, of Smith with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Smith offering a bit of character here with a sweet tooth for the riches.
Back at his own camp he is eating like a king. He also has the Mona Lisa behind him which prompted a question from The One To Be Pitied. If he can have the Mona Lisa why can't he have another real Jupiter 2? It seems a legitimate beef. Smith requests a servant from the thought machine. A mummified creature emerges from the derelict space craft and Smith screams like a girl. Smith demands coffee and the servant is angered and throws aside all of the tea and silverware. It motions to Smith as if requesting something of its own. It wants the machine. It is in hot pursuit of Smith who has run away with the device.
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Meanwhile, all of the items summoned forth from the machine are going to pot. The fruit is going bad. Judy's dress is in tatters. Penny's tapes are defective. John surmises correctly all of the items summoned forth from the thought machine are going bad. John isn't a professor of science for nothing.
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The creature walks swiftly with a driven persistence to retrieve the device. Smith gets back to the Jupiter 2 and activates the force field. The Space Family Robinson asks what thatm thing is outside. Why that's Dr. Smith's man mummy servant. The servant creature is zapped by the Jupiter 2 forcefield. It wants the machine as it moans with hands outstretched. Smith insists all he did was ask for coffee. Ha. Don, thinking on his feet as always, asks the only logical question. Where is the thought machine? Smith has hidden the device. John demands it be returned right now! Looking outside again the creature is missing. The family deactivates the force field and the men head off with laser rifles. The creature appears behind them and then blinks out of existence disappearing before our very eyes. John wants the device returned to the ship where the alien can find it. Good move. The creepy mummy man servant was definitely the kind of things kids enjoyed once upon a time.
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The often interesting camera work of the wonderfully shot Lost In Space.
The monster appears before them. John wants the machine and demands Smith return it to him. Good decision. Of course, Smith tries to pass it off to Will. Hysterical. With it now in the creature's possession it goes back into the derelict craft complete with crazy sound effects. Suddenly everything around them that Smith ever wished for disappears. Will rushes to open the door and there is nothing on the other side of it. Will wonders why. His father tells him it was greed and selfishness because Smith "asked for too much." Greed is the root of all evil indeed. John channels the lesson for us here.
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Epilogue: Robot instructs all to leave the launch pad area. Will is about to launch his own personal toy rocket. It lifts via balloon. The rockets will fire soon after. The space probe is intended to reach Earth. What!? Suddenly it explodes and the next thing you know we have a giant ball of fire heading straight for Penny and Will. Their father is making an attempt to save them. It's another strange, white knuckle conclusion leaving all to wonder what happened to the rocket? The creators behind Lost In Space continue to discover some interesting avenues to take with the antics of Dr. Smith. It's another satisfactory outing. Still, it's vintage-era sci-fi in the form of Lost In Space, which is a bit like eating a bowl of ice cream. You just can't stop eating it and enjoying every lick.
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To Be Continued... Same Time, Same BLOG!
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Wish Upon A Star: C
Director: Sutton Roley
Writer: Barney Slater