Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Interview

When the announcements of the film, The Interview, first began hitting the media, I dismissed it as something I would see later on cable.

I've seen Seth Rogan and James Franco paired in two other films, Pineapple Express - which I found hilarious, and This Is the End - which was funny in much of the film but too gross for me in places. So I thought, oh well, I'll see this sometime down the road...

And then came the hackers, their blackmail, the major theater chains pulling out of their scheduled showings, and I grew furious.

After all, I'm an American and we as a country are all in this together.  Our liberty is what sets our nation apart from much of the rest of the world. To me the most important is our freedom of speech.  As an author, I also value the freedom to create without censorship.  I will fight, seriously, to keep our liberty, because that is our birthright, for which generations of my family, including the latest one, fought (and still fight) to maintain.

All of that being said (written), yesterday, I plunked down in front of the old PC and watched The Interview.

It surprised me...

The Interview is hilarious.  I laughed aloud, well a better word would be guffawed, in several places.  Sure, there were plenty of really, AND I MEAN REALLY, gross jokes, with lots of vulgar language.  So what, I'm a grownup - nothing I haven't seen or heard before.

Bottom line, this is a satire of the first order.  It's huge and overblown with comic reactions of epic proportions.  Its entire premise is sublimely ridiculous. The cast is spotless from the stars to the smallest roles. The script is killer - wonderfully written, even with some of the jokes and bits that did not appeal to me.

I don't remember a recent film that had me laughing as hard as this one.

But I do remember a classic film that gave me the same experience - Charlie Chaplin's satire on Hitler, The Great Dictator.  Sure, that one was a balance of satire and pathos, but the funny parts were hysterical and I laughed and laughed.

Films like the Interview and the Great Dictator serve a dual purpose, they make us laugh, and bring the autocratic dictators down to the level of hapless human beings - make them look more vulnerable instead of invincible. (And that may well be why the hackers objected...)

Besides, if the North Koreans thought this one was so bad, what did they think of Team America - World Police? I loved the infamous all puppet movie which slammed the father of the current leader of North Korea (as well as Bin Laden). As a romance writer I was amazed at marionettes making love onscreen, bare wood naked...

The hackers may have achieved a victory in delaying major distribution of the Interview, but it will be short lived if I know my country.  We get angry when someone tries to take away our liberty - get a common cause and fight back. We Americans began our history by being defiant and determined.  It appears we still have those virtues.

It will be interesting to see how many folks have viewed the film online.  I know the first few days in the smaller theaters have been selling out.

By all means, if you love to laugh, see the Interview.  I promise you will have a good time.

And if you want to strike a chord supporting our freedom of speech, see the Interview.

In the end, you will probably wonder, "How could such a silly movie set off such a furor?"

Most of all, remember, laughter truly is healing.  We all need a good laugh these days.

Kudos to the folks who gave us the Interview and even to the hackers whose actions got our defiance up and ready.

Until next time...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Marvel's The Guardians of the Galaxy

I remember when this movie was first shown in the theaters.  There was hype and praise for this film, a product of the Disney/Marvel Comics partnership, such as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, etc.

Never having read the comics I didn't know what the fuss was all about. I have to say this one surprised me in a very good way.

The Guardians of the Galaxy is about a group of five outcasts who band together haphazardly to fight for a common cause.

They truly are a disparate group.  There is the humanoid, Peter Quill, Drax the Destroyer (who looks human but we don't know WHAT he is), Gamora (a green-skinned female who has been tortured and turned into a walking weapon), Rocket, a genetically engineered Raccoon-like creature with quite a vocabulary and an attitude to match, and finally Rocket's sidekick, Groot - a tall, walking, talking (in a limited fashion) plant. (I am Groot.)

In the beginning, Rocket and Groot are a team. They have issues with Peter Quill as do Drax and Gamora. But they all end up forming an alliance to go after their mutual enemy.

This is a rollicking adventure with colorful, BIG special effects, vast numbers of aliens with different DNA, recognizable actors (for the most part), all set to the music of the 1970s, which is played on a cassette tape player.

Guardians of the Galaxy is filled with wry humor and references to other movies and pop culture.  It is a hoot, pure and simple.  I watched it a second time to make sure I got all the jokes.  I laughed too much the first time and missed some lines.

The Guardians are played by the following:

Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill - an Earthman who was kidnapped as a young boy with his backpack (hence the cassette player and tapes).  In many ways he has never grown up.  He calls himself "Starlord" and insists he is a bandit.

Dave Bautista plays Drax the Destroyer - a muscle-bound blue and red hued alien who at first speaks in monosyllables and monotone, but warms up to the gang after a few mutual battles.

Zoe Saldana plays Gamora - a green-skinned alien with scars from her mistreatment and a serious outlook until Peter pulls her into his world.  Saldana exhibits the fighting skills she showed us in Columbiana and the Star Trek films.

Bradley Cooper plays Rocket - well, that is, this actor, a very attractive man, is the voice of Rocket.  He is hilarious with the wise-cracking lines and off hand remarks.

Vin Diesel plays Groot - and similar to Cooper, he is the voice of Groot, who is the most sympathetic and wise character of the entire film.

Look for John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, and Glenn Close in small parts. And as found in other Marvel films, Benicio Del Toro returns as The Collector. I laughed myself silly with The Collector's items, particularly when his place of business met with an unfortunate accident...One of his specimens, Latka the Russian Space dog, kept licking him in his face.  (If you don't know who that is, the Soviets sent up dogs in the beginning of their space program..and of course the poor dogs did not return.  In the old television comedy, "Designing Women" one of the main characters found out about poor Latka still floating out in space and insisted people should go bring her home...)

I could have told the Soviets that any civilization who mistreated dogs would go the way of the dodo bird.

Anyway, when Latka, wearing her spacesuit with CCCP on it, is licking The Collector in the face, a voice from across the room says something like, "you let her lick you in the face? Oh, man, that's gross..." The voice turned out to belong to Howard the Duck - remember him, anybody?

Now see what you miss when you don't watch the credits through to the end?

Seriously, I had the best time watching this movie and am sure I'll be watching it again.

For a good time, check this one out.  The music is wonderful, it's a colorful action-packed two hours filled with humor and comic book villains.  What's not to like?

Until next time...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ascension - SyFy Network's Latest

SyFy has been promoting its three night mini-series Ascension for several weeks.  Produced by some of the same  people who gave us Battlestar Galactica, arguably one of the best science fiction series ever to grace television, it was eagerly anticipated.

Ascension premiered this last Monday with the two subsequent episodes airing Tuesday and Wednesday. An avid fan of science fiction and Battlestar Galactica, I set my dvr and watched it as well.

The basic premise of the story is in 1963 before his death, President Kennedy authorized a deep space mission.  After all they "had the technology" (oh yeah?) so why not do it.  The story goes that they built and launched this enormous spaceship, basically a contained city with 350 people aboard originally.  It is a self-contained society, allowed to grow to no more than 600 citizens at any time.  Adolescents are injected with birth control devices.  Males and females are compared for genetic compatibility.  When someone dies, a new compatible couple is allowed to have a child.  The names of the fortunate parents to be are drawn, lottery style.  Men and women are matched with no consideration of their feelings. The lucky couple(s) get their implants removed and get down to the business of repopulating.

The look of the ship's interior, the clothing styles, even the electronics are all early 1960s styles.  The social strata is also 1960s style with women NOT in positions of authority.  Instead the most prized position for women is that of "stewardess" which involves doing "favors" for highly placed men to gain influence and baubles.

There are two classes of people on the Ascension, those who live in the upper decks and are in power - and then those of the lower decks who are the laborers, the attendants for the livestock, the butchers, etc.  People do rise to the upper decks but only with great effort or great aptitude.

In the first episode, a prominent young woman is found murdered in the water reservoir which has an artificial beach right out of "Beach Blanket Bingo" with sand and tropical plants. The Executive Officer Gault, himself a product of the lower decks, is ordered to investigate.  His investigative techniques are right out of Raymond Chandler books as well as Agatha Christie's.  Their cultural development stopped when they left Earth.  They are mired in the world of the 1960s. This is the third generation on the Ascension and it is 2014 for the rest of us.

The first episode keeps up the fantasy.  But the second drops the first bomb...All is not what it seems on the Ascension.  The reveal makes a lot of sense if you think of the early 1960s technology and society. It is then that the viewer realizes the true nature of this voyage and the inhumane cynicism that fostered it.

I won't reveal the secrets here. To say I was shocked is a bit of an overstatement.  I did shake my head and sigh, though.

That's not to say I quit watching.  I was fascinated to see how it would turn out. As I thought it might, many questions went unanswered and many mysteries unsolved.  I suspect there might be more episodes of Ascension, there were certainly enough cliff hangers to lead to more at the end of the third episode.

This one is more thought-provoking than recent SyFy series such as Z Nation, or Helix, and much less visceral (less gory).  But in its way it is the ugliest to date, at least from my perspective.

I read that the network has hired a new program director to weed out the drek and produce better quality shows, harking back to the Battlestar Galactica days.  Their recent line up has had some good entries between the quirky entries and the "reality" entries such as Face Off.  But for the true science fiction fan, there has been little for which to cheer.

If more episodes of Ascension are made I will watch it.  It is a cut above most recent SyFy series.

Ascension is a step in the right direction, but it is no Battlestar Galactica.

Next time I will post a review of the delightful film, Marvel's The Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm still chuckling over that one.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BBC's Broadchurch vs. Fox's Gracepoint

America's Fox network produced a version of BBC's hugely successful mini-series, Broadchurch.  The series held audiences in the UK spellbound and dominated the nation's media during its run.

Fox network's version is called Gracepoint.  It is set in a mythical town in Washington State.  It's a seacoast town with a limited tourist season, just like Broadchurch in England.

Filmed in British Columbia, Gracepoint has more of the look of a British town than an American one.  The buildings look different from most American towns.

I loved Broadchurch and put up a post raving about it while it ran on BBC America. When Gracepoint was announced I met the prospect with both excitement and dread.  It was adapted for American audiences with a different cast with the exception of the star, David Tennant, who played the lead detective in both versions.

In Broadchurch he was a detective of Scottish origin, complete with the brogue.  In Gracepoint, he was American Emmett Carver, sounding like an American from somewhere north of the southern states. The rest of the cast was different in each version.

Gracepoint had ten episodes, while Broadchurch had only eight.  And yet, as a viewer who had seen and loved Broadchurch, I could find very little difference between the two. Gracepoint had a few "filler" scenes that Broadchurch lacked.  They served to delve a bit deeper into some of the characters, particularly the murder victim's father, played by the wonderful Michael Pena. Everything else was basically the same. The dialogue was almost verbatim, except where cultural differences made that impossible.

By the last episode of Gracepoint, I was ready for it to be over...I knew what was coming and I was not disappointed...

And Then ... They threw in a twist at the end.  The same person confessed to the murder of twelve year old Danny, and was jailed for it, revealing secret pedophilia as the motive.  The murderer's family was shattered with a long road ahead to recovery.

As the citizens of the town of Gracepoint participated in a bonfire memorial on the beach where Danny was found, detective Emmett Carver watched with the wife of the confessed murderer.  She left, unable to take it, saying she didn't belong there...okay, that's close to the original...but then, Carver was on his i-phone and ran over an interview he'd recorded...he realized that the confessed murderer, while causing the death indirectly, did not strike the fatal blow.  The story ended with Carver looking off in the distance as he realized the true identity of the murderer.

Now this was done as the BBC announced an upcoming second season of Broadchurch, which had the teaser of David Tennant, as the British detective, saying "I already solved the murder.  Why am I still in Broadchurch?"

Hmmmmmmm...can we guess what will happen? Well, to a point, but I guarantee there will be obstacles and many surprises along the way.

Whichever version you watch either the BBC's or Fox Network's, this is an engrossing series, which takes you on a journey with surprising results.  Both versions are atmospheric, serious dramas, with the prejudices of small-town life accentuated.

I recommend either one or both. They are both indicative of the quality of production that television can achieve yet frequently does not.

The second season of Broadchurch is scheduled to air beginning in early January on BBC America.

I bet Fox will follow up next year with Gracepoint.

Catch one or the other.  You won't be sorry.

And speaking of BBC America, they recently completed airing a series on their Dramaville slot, called The Game.  It was the story of MI-5 (their version of the CIA) and dealing with Soviet infiltration during the Cold War.  This one was also full of twists and turns with a most surprising end.  It's still available on demand and should be out on video soon for rental.

STARZ is currently running a series entitled The Missing.  The lead actors were recently nominated for several acting awards.  It is also a gripping drama about a couple whose young child was abducted.  It takes place in 2006 when he was taken and also in the present day, when he is still missing. Check it out.

Okay, enough downers...anybody seen a good comedy lately? And no, I don't mean the one about killing the leader of North Korea...

Take care and enjoy the holiday season.

Until next time...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I

This morning the stars aligned and fate worked out so that I actually got to a movie in a theatre...What a concept! A fan of The Hunger Games franchise, I wanted very much to see Mockingjay.  So, this morning at 10:00 am with the rest of the seniors I went to see it.

This film, with the biggest box office sales of any film this holiday season so far, is a faithful adaptation of the book (the first half, anyway.) Like Harry Potter and Twilight, the last Hunger Games film will be be made into two.  I guess it's a matter of earnings, although it leaves the fans of the books waiting for the final resolution.

The filmmakers in this case ended the action in the middle of a horrendous scene.  So I guess we fans are supposed to be all prepped for the next one due out next year about the same time.  As a fan, even though I know what will happen I have to say, "GAH!!!!!"

Of course the writer in me says, "remember to end the scene on a cliff-hanger, Grasshopper.  That way the reader will turn the page and read more of the story.  Of course, Master Yoda"...(mixing my media there.)

Though I came prepared to cry in one scene, I did not.  Instead I was filled with righteous anger at the injustice, sort of like Katniss.  And it is the spark that lights her revolutionary fire. From that point, the film becomes the story of a fight against a walled-off privileged few who live off the sweat of everyone else's brows.

In some respects as the action takes place in the drab districts among poor people, often dressed in monotones, the film isn't as colorful a picture as its predecessors. But this is not a "bright, happy" little film. After all, there are no singing/dancing snowmen cavorting around, or princesses in formal gowns. Besides, I'd sooner look at a pile of burned bodies in tones of white, grey, and black.  It's stark and realistic, and again fuels the fire of resentment against President Snow and the Capitol City dwellers.

This is the story of a burgeoning revolution against the privileged citizenry of the Capitol - where everyone is outlandishly well dressed, ridiculously coiffed and painted.  Indeed, I have heard Effie Trinket's (Elizabeth Banks) look compared to Japan's Kabuki players.  In Mockingjay, Effie is a refugee from the Capitol, damned by her close association with Katniss.  She is lucky to escape with her life, as poor Cinna did not.
In District 13, her new refuge, she tries to enliven her look, but only has a few pieces with which to work.  So she opts for the neutral look of the other residents, wearing self-wound tignons of black or dark grey, that give her the look of Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) before her shows were filmed in color.

As you can imagine, the images of the hedonistic Capitol City folk, in their garish clothes, placing bets on which tributes will die in the Hunger Games, while representatives chosen by lottery from all the outlying districts, fight to the death on live TV is sickening enough.  It goes to follow that those people working themselves to death in the districts might get just a tad peeved. The first two films have led to this conclusion.

This film is a spot-on adaptation of the book.  The cast including all of the original players all do excellent jobs in their roles.  Jennifer Lawrence gives a finely nuanced performance which breathes life into the character Katniss.  You feel her pain and burn with her indignation.  You also experience her fear at the ending.

Donald Sutherland makes an evil villain as President Snow.  In a career of wonderful villains, it is perhaps his most chilling.

Josh Hutcherson as the tortured Peeta, gives a much more wrenching performance in this one than in the two previous films.

Also noteworthy are Liam Hemsworth as Gale, Woody Harrelson as Heymitch, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch, the games master, in his last role.  In fact, this film is dedicated to him.

Look for newcomer to the franchise, Natalie Dormer as Desideria, the film chronicler of Katniss and the Mockingjay movement.  You may recognize her as the princess who wed evil King Joffrey in an ill-fated wedding on Game of Thrones, although she looks quite different.

Julianne Moore, award winning actress (she played Sarah Palin on HBO's film "Game Change" among many other roles), plays President Coin, who holds sway over District 13 and coordinates the revolution.  She is a determined woman filled with zeal to destroy those who destroyed her family and her life. She does an excellent job in the role, ably playing a woman who masks her pain in fervor.

If you haven't seen any of the previous films or read the books, you should rent the videos to understand what exactly is happening and why. I promise you, it will be well worth it.

And yes, I look forward to Mockingjay, Part 2.  It's nice to be reminded that I have always been a rebel, anxious to fight against inequality and injustice where I find it.  You go, Katniss!

Until next time, go to a movie.  If I can do it, anybody can...

p.s. Nothing derogatory is meant against the wonderful Disney film, Frozen.  I loved that one.  It's just a very different kind of entertainment from the Hunger Games films.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gone Girl - The Book

I thought it would be appropriate to mark my return to blogging with a review of Gillian Flynn's book Gone Girl.

In an upcoming blog post, a guest blogger will review the film made of this book.  But I thought I'd jump in and review the book first.

Author Gillian Flynn has crafted an intriguing story of two people in a marriage.  She uses the clever device of doing each chapter in the point of view of either the husband, Nick, or the wife, Amy. Each chapter is told as a first person narrative, which brings the reader the deep point of view of the character.

Nick, a boy from Missouri, met and married wealthy, famous, Amy, a native Manhattanite.  This book is their story.  In the beginning, we find that Amy is missing. Nick comes home one afternoon and finds the house in slight disarray - an ironing board set up with a dress hanging up beside it and an iron (turned on) on the board.  There is an ottoman overturned and other small things wrong. What has happened to Amy?

Nick's chapters written in the present time are alternated with excerpts from Amy's diary, written in the past.

As is the norm with these kind of situations, he soon becomes a suspect in whatever has happened to Amy.  When the local police gather forensic evidence of their home, they find evidence of a substantial pool of blood that someone tried to eradicate.  It proves to be Amy's.  The investigation turns ugly.  The public turns against Nick, thanks in part to a female talk show host who is a blond vigilante on the air.  Sound like anyone we know? On her show the suspect is ALWAYS considered guilty unless proved otherwise.

Bit by bit, we learn Nick's story.  In the middle of the book, the reader learns the truth about Amy, though the authorities and the public in the story do not.  Believe me it was not a let-down to know the truth midway.  If anything, it held me more riveted to the story than before.

This is a cleverly constructed psychological study of damaged people by a gifted writer. Honestly, even while I was finishing the first draft of my own novel, I couldn't wait to pick up the Kindle and read more of Gone Girl.

If you like intelligent mystery, this one definitely is for you.

It's available in all formats.

Great job, Ms. Glynn.

Purchase Link:

Barnes and Noble

Look for the movie review on this blog coming soon.

I plan to see Mockingjay, Part 1 in the next few days.  Look for a review of that film here in the near future.