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June Preview

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Welcome to June! Different format this month: “watch this, not that.”

June 7: Watch either After Earth if you want some Shakespearan style dialogue and watch Much Ado About Nothing if you are ready for some scifi action. But seriously, I probably trust Joss Whedon–The Avengers–and Nathan Fillion–”Castle”–more with scifi than Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan with it, but both look like good movies. Do not watch The Internship because the premise is cheesy pie and the preview does not make me laugh. But what do I know, I would not have watched Old School based on its preview.

June 12/14: Watch This Is The End, not The Bling Ring. Both have Emma Watson in them. She would have been the only reason to see The Bling Ring, which has the dubious distinction of being both a pun, and a terrible name even if you ignore the pun.

June 21: Watch Unfinished Song, not World War Z or Monsters University. Maybe WWZ will kick ass, maybe. Maybe MU will be half as good as the original, maybe. But Unfinished Song is the type of movie that everyone enjoys, but no-one bothers to see. It has Terrance Stamp–The Limey–as a widower who fills in for his late wife in her choir. It will be funny, touching, and bittersweet.

June 28: Do not watch The Heat, but really do not watch White House Down. Unfunny female odd-couple buddy cop flick with Sandra Bullock or Roland “Some people just want to watch the world burn” Emmerich blowing up the White House while a rent-a-cop tries to juggle saving the president and his son. Rent Heat and wait for July. Or go see Unfinished Song since you did not listen to me last week.

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Wet Hot American Summer

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****½

Douche-bags are hygienic products; I take that as a compliment. Thank you.

Twelve years after its release I feel like people either know everything they need to know about this movie, or have never even heard of it. So which hypothetical group of readers should I tailor this review towards? How about neither and I just write down what I surprised me after all this time:

Bradley Cooper (Ben) and Amy Poehler (Susie), © 2002 Eureka Pictures.

Bradley Cooper (Ben) and Amy Poehler (Susie), © 2002 Eureka Pictures.

  1. Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper played the theatrical pair of counselors. I remembered so much about each of those characters, but had no idea that it was them.
  2. Elizabeth Banks was both in this movie AND the least sexy she has ever been, thanks to one scene involving way too much barbecue sauce.
  3. And Joe Lo Truglio gives my favorite performance of his career as he reacts to Ken Marino saving a boat load of campers. I really wanted to add a link, alas the video at anyclip.com would not work for me.

If you ever went to camp, watched a camp horror movie, regular camp movie, were born in the late 1970’s, or like the comedians within this film, then check this out! And hey, it made #10 on my ten best of 2001 list.

Star Trek Into Darkness

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****½

The year of the super man! In Iron Man 3 Iron Man faced off against “extremis” altered people, who had healing powers and greatly enhanced strength. In The Man of Steel Kryptonians will absorb the rays of our sun and become almost invulnerable. And here in this film, Khan Noonien Singh is an augmented, or enhanced, person. He is smarter, faster, stronger, more resilient, and more cunning than any normal human, Vulcan, or Klingon.

Looking more broadly, the Gatsby is not just good, but a “Great” Gatsby. A Good Day to Die Hard stars John McClane as a hyperbolic, invincible version of his 1980’s self. Pain & Gain showed blown up versions of the larger than life Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg.

Quinto, Cumberbatch & Pine on the Enterprise, © Bad Robot 2013.

Quinto, Cumberbatch & Pine on the Enterprise, © Bad Robot 2013.

Another side of the film deals with survival in the future. Khan—Benedict Cumberbatch—provides the threat for Starfleet and Earth. I do not know who or what threatens the characters in Oblivion, The Host or After Earth, (I know that in World War Z it is the zombies) This Is The End, but in those worlds it seems like the Khans of the world have succeeded. There are also movies like Last Stand, and TWO movies where the White House gets attacked. Anyways I expect that this will be the best of all of the films mentioned so far. Because the super man is so good and the threat so palpable. The Earth is not gone yet, but the threat to it seems very real.

With that out of the way, I would like to address the criticism of the film on sexist grounds. The theory is that there is basically one female character—Zoe Saldana’s Uhura—and that she plays almost no role in the film. This is particularly galling because the Star Trek universe is set in a future where many of humanity’s ills have been dealt with. The critics ask, why write the film this way? As a Star Trek fan I feel that I have reasonable answers for these allegations. That said, the premise behind this line of sexist criticism is wholly accurate. And disturbing/disappointing.

1. The film does not have many women in it because financially it did not require them. That is to say, that Star Trek was a hit with only one major female role in it. Most of the above movies I listed will be hits as well with a similar lack of female involvement. I do not think that Star Trek Into Darkness deserves any more blame than any other summer blockbuster for what is a systemic problem. Still, as it is a systemic problem any discourse has the potential to improve American cinema.

2. It is condescending to insert women into stories in which they are not intended, just to entice more spectators to the cinemas. From what I understand, when producers seek funding for movies they determine the expected appeal of that movie, so the production companies will fund them in accordance with the expected return. In their language, this is a four quadrant film—adult men, women and younger boys and girls. The Lord of the Rings tried to shoe horn Arwen’s character just for the sake of getting more women into theaters, and it detracted from the films. I say detracted because I can compare the source material to the films. This reboot of Star Trek should be viewed in that vein as well, since the characters already had names, ethnicities, and sexes. Which leads me to my third point.

3. There have been FIVE Star Trek television programs and TWELVE motion pictures; the Star Trek Universe provided America and the world with a variety of gender options, and this is the most popular one. Not with Trekkies, but with the non-Trekkies who loved the first reboot. The Kirk & co crew have been in 8.5 of the 12 films! Before “Enterprise” the crews of these shows kept increasing the percentage of women on their crews as well as placing those women into higher positions of power. Here are the highest ranking women by show:

  • Star Trek: Lieutenant Uhura, communications officer. She eventually reaches the level of Commander by the end of the movies.
  • ST: The Next Generation: Dr. Beverly Crusher/Counselor Troi. Crusher—and for one season Dr. Pulaski—was the chief medical officer on the Enterprise and Troi was 5th in the chain of command.
  • ST: Deep Space 9: Major Kira Nerys. She was highest ranking local officer and the 2nd in command of the entire space station.
  • ST: Voyager: Captain Kathryn Janeway. She was the captain of a federation starship.
  • Enterprise: (Sub)Commander T’Pol. While she was “only” the first officer, this was set further back in time. It also aimed for a wider audience than the middle three shows.

So let us take the lens of sexism of American cinema and use it more often. But to isolate this film for criticism, I feel, unfairly detracts from the greatness of this film.

 

Justice League: Doom

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**½

You’re getting ahead of yourself. First you want a doctor. Then you want a lawyer.

Star Sapphire, Bane, Metallo, Ma'alefa'ak, and Mirror Master, © WB 2012.

Star Sapphire, Bane, Metallo, Ma’alefa’ak, and Cheetah, © WB 2012.

I was disappointed with this adaptation of the great JLA comic book story called “Tower of Babel.” Its villain, Vandal Savage, steals Batman’s contingency plans for if the Justice League of America ever went rouge, or were under some villain’s influence. It is a fascinating story that shows the world’s finest defeated. It also raises the issue of the morality of Batman’s actions.

I liked the look of the movie. I liked the voice acting in the movie. But I still did not really love the movie. It lacked the heart and the pacing of the comic books. I would recommend reading the Mark Waid & Howard Porter original. Perhaps someday I will compare the two exhaustively, but for now I will just say that it replaced my Green Lantern–Kyle Rayner–with the more popular Hal Jordan. Ah well, at least Nathan Fillion voiced him, so there is that.

Under Appreciated Supporting Actors II

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It feels like just yesterday I provided ten excellent actors to pay attention to. But I have so many more that I could tell people about, so the list continues.

Catherine Keener and Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin. © Universal Pictures.

Catherine Keener and Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin. © Universal Pictures.

Let’s start off with the wonderful Catherine Keener, who managed to master every genre from 1999 to the present. She burst onto the screen with sweet comedy, as in 40 Year Old Virgin and Cyrus, even dumber comedy in Hamlet 2, serious drama—Capote, trusted best friend work in a thriller with The Interpreter, “children’s” movies for adults Where the Wild Things Are, and even stranger than the last one—Being John Malkovich. She seems to be up for whatever and G-d bless her for it.

Fred Willard as Mike LaFontaine, A Mighty Wind © Castle Rock?

Fred Willard as Mike LaFontaine, A Mighty Wind © Castle Rock?

Next up a couple of accused perverts: Fred Willard and Jeffrey Jones. Both have seen better days—both physically and legally—but they also provided some wonderful performances. This is not a list of my favorite human beings, but just supporting actors who hid their demons in order to deliver good performances. I love Fred Willard in the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, from This is Spinal Tap, to Best in Show, then A Mighty Wind, and finally For Your Consideration. He was also great in Wall-E. Jeffrey Jones, on the other hand, was in none of those. He was in Amadeus, The Hunt for Red October, and “Deadwood.” To steal a line from the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, well…there it is.

Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax, © MGM 1979

Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax, © MGM 1979

Michael Lonsdale is probably the least famous actor I have mentioned hither to. But I bet his movies are famous: Munich, Moonraker, Ronin, and The Name of The Rose. Well perhaps they are not super famous, but that is Spielberg, Bond, De Niro and Connery we are talking about and Monsieur Lonsdale held his ground with his soft, yet steely, visage amongst that esteemed company. And he has a great French accent.

She's 18 in real life, so it's okay...

Jonah Hill and Brie Larson in 21 Jump Street, © Columbia

Not all great supporting actors are not hot women. For instance, Brie Larson is both a beautiful woman and a promising actress whose career so far has been great. I loved her characters in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 21 Jump Street, and Greenberg. I despised her character, the au pair, in “The League.” It is hard to make me hate a character when I enjoy the actor portraying that person, so kudos to Brie Larson.

Andrew Robinson as Garak, © Paramount.

Andrew Robinson as Garak, © Paramount.

Andrew Robinson only has two great credits on his résumé: Dirty Harry and “Star Trek: Deep Space 9.” He was also in Cobra and Hellraiser, and I doubt he made them worse. He was so good as the Scorpio Killer in Dirty Harry that people treated him with similar contempt as they might have shown as the real Zodiac. It ruined his career. Thankfully he put on the Cardassian make-up and played the morally ambiguous Garak for all seven seasons on DS9.

Sexy then, sexy now.

Madeline Kahn and Harvey Korman in Blazing Saddles, © WB 1974.

Madeline Kahn was a comedian before my time, but I still loved her in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Eventually I watched Clue and she was good in that as well. She was probably the funniest woman of the 1970’s. Ever.

James Cromwell as Capt. Dudley Smith with Guy Pearce as Sgt. Edmund Exley, LA Confidential, © 1997 WB.

James Cromwell as Capt. Dudley Smith with Guy Pearce as Sgt. Edmund Exley, LA Confidential, © 1997 WB.

Have ye’ a valediction, boyo? I loved James Cromwell in LA Confidential. I loved everybody in that, to be honest, that is why it is a great movie. My second favorite performance of his was in Star Trek: First Contact, which is a great Star Trek movie, but I do not know if regular people would love it. Regardless, his performance is great in it. He was even good without saying a word in The Artist.

John C. McGinley as Dr. Cox on ABC's "Scrubs."

John C. McGinley as Dr. Cox on ABC’s “Scrubs.”

I do not remember when I first saw John C. McGinley, probably in The Rock.  However, it turns out that he had already showcased his military chops in Platoon. He always brings his crazy A game, whether it is as the memorable Dr. Cox in “Scrubs”, yelling even louder in Point Break, loving Michael Bolton in Office Space, or being droll as the announcer in 42. Also check him out in Stealing Harvard and Any Given Sunday.

That is a Soviet hat.

Bob Balaban in Catch-22, © 1970 Paramount.

I last saw Bob Balaban in Best in Show. He played Dr. Theodore W. Millbank, III, the subdued president of the Mayflower Kennel Club. It seems like he has spent his career playing subdued, slightly exasperated characters with dry wit. For examples, see Moonrise Kingdom, and A Mighty Wind. For a slightly sexualized variation, see his Morris Weissman in Gosford Park. He does America more proud as one of only two Americans—and the non-rapy one too boot—than in his eerily young performance in Catch-22, as Capt. Orr.

The Skulls III

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**½

No time to be shy.

The middle is Taylor Brooks (Clare Kramer), with the nice guy Brian Kelly (Steve Braun), © 2004 Universal Home Entertainment.

The middle is Taylor Brooks (Clare Kramer), with the nice guy Brian Kelly (Steve Braun), © 2004 Universal Home Entertainment.

I would say that this is actually better than the original Skulls. While the actors were all unfamiliar to me, the story was quite interesting. It focuses on the first woman to attempt to join “The Skulls.” There are a couple of clever misdirections, which caught me off guard. Maybe if I had watched more “Perry Mason” mysteries recently I would have been on my “there is no way this guy can be the actual murderer”-game.

And before I get criticized for spoilers on The Skulls III, all these movies are about murder. Honestly, as I am anti-murder, I do not think I would join The Skulls if given the chance. I’m also averse to branding—the burning hot flesh kind, not the label marketing. Which actually shows me that I am not “Skulls” material; not because I could not endure such pain in silence, but because I could never wear a watch every day. I would take it off and lose it. You are supposed to always have your watch on to hide your creepy skull wrist brand, but there were some goofs in this one!

For instance, the ladies with whom I watched this noticed that our protagonist, Taylor Brooks, did not have her watch on during the fancy dining scene! Fortunately in the closeups she just had her arm behind her back to cover this up. I suppose the whole, shoving on a closed coffin lid buried under the dirt with a bolder on top could be a goof. At a minimum the way it rolls away like a prop from the original “Star Trek” should qualify as a goof as well. Goofs aside, which are hardly her fault, I think that Clare Kramer did a very good job playing Taylor.

From Elway to Marino

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***

Not as catchy of a title as From Miami to Ibiza, but definitely more man-centric. By which I mean that I do not recall seeing a single woman in this entire documentary. There were almost no non-white men in this, actually. But when the subject is the 1983 NFL Draft and the drama involved in it, I am always willing to give 75 minutes to watching it.

The draft featured more than its titular stars, but they had the same agent and the best careers. For your reading pleasure, here is a rundown of the entire draft:
1. The Baltimore Colts selected John Elway. What a completely bizarre sentence.
2. The Los Angeles Rams selected Eric Dickerson. Good pick, but this reminds me of a conversation I recently had trying to explain the former existence of the St. Louis Football Cardinals.
3. The Seattle Seahawks selected Curt Warner. Apparently he played running back in the NFL before going to the University of Northern Iowa, becoming white, and then not getting drafted.
4. The Denver Broncos selected Northwestern’s offensive tackle (OT) Chris Hinton. He went on to have a great career for the COLTS. Do the math here…
5. The San Diego Chargers selected linebacker (LB) Billy Ray Smith, who went to school at Arkansas. Arkansas? With a name like that? I bet he fit right in.
6. Da Bears selected Jimbo Covert. He was the first player from Pitt selected, not Dan Marino. And the have not had a quarterback since. Yes they did win the Super Bowl three seasons later, but imagine that defense with Dan f’n Marino.
7. The Kansas City Chiefs selected Todd Blackledge, who sounds like he never got his fair shot. But as the 2nd quarterback (QB) taken in this draft, he seems like a huge bust. Note, the Chiefs have not taken a QB in the first round since.
8. The Philadelphia Eagles selected Michael Haddix, running back (RB) from Mississippi State. His son (Jr.) played for the Siena Saints.
9. The Houston Oilers selected future Hall of Fame Guard Bruce Matthews. Good pick.
10. The New York Not-Baseball Giants selected future Pro-Bowl safety (S) Terry Kinard.
11. The Green Bay Packers selected another player from Pitt not named Dan Marino.
12. The Buffalo Bills famously drafted…Tony Hunter. Wait for it…
13. The Detroit Lions draft the eventually-replaced-by-Barry-Sanders James Jones.
14. The Bills now select Jim Kelly, who actually did not play for them—thanks, USFL—for three years.
15. The New England Patriots selected QB Tony Eason because Jim Kelly was gone. That means 4 QBs selected before Marino.
16. The Atlanta Falcons selected defensive end (DE) Mike Pitts, who played for a dozen years in the NFL.
17. The St. Louis Cardinals selected future All-Pro S Leonard Smith.
18. The Chicago Bears originally rented their C logo from the University of Chicago. Seriously. They also took speedy WR Willie Gault here.
BearsMaroonsReds19. The Minnesota Vikings selected S Joey Browner for someone who went to six pro bowls.
20. The San Diego Chargers selected another player who opted to play in the USFL for a couple of years. The famed Gary Anderson. No, not the place kicker the less famous running back.
21. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected nose tackle Gabriel Rivera, who wound up in a car accident, unlike Pittsburgh’s local football hero, Dan Marino.
22. San Diego also selected cornerback (CB) Gill Byrd, because they had Dan Fouts. He might be in the hall of fame. Byrd is not, but he was a very good player.
23. The Cowboys picked Tony Romo. Just kidding, they picked Jim Jeffcoat, who was not on the team by the time they were good again.
24. The Jets selected Ken O’Brien. Ken was a good QB, but no Marino. When you can take Dan Marino or someone who did not play Division 1 A—now the FBS—you have to take him, because you are the Jets.
25. The Cincinnati Bengals selected Dave Rimington, who might be the all-time greatest NFL bust whom you have never heard of. Did you know that he never started an NFL game? He “played” 5 seasons, but never started. And he has an award named after him in college awarded to the best Center. That is like drafting a Johnny Unitas and him never being good enough to start, or Dick Butkus never making it in the NFL. Talk about The Best That Never Was.
26. The LA(?)/Oakland(?) Raiders selected C Don Mosebar because they forgot about Marino, or almost traded for Elway. Oy.
27. The Miami Football Dolphins selected Dan Marino. And have made no good decisions in the intervening 30 years.
28. The Washington Redskins picked one of my favorite Madden players of all-time, Darrell Green. Unfortunately the Redskins were no fun to play as besides him and you cannot CB blitz on every play.

Tada! This took me far longer than I expected…

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