Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 2 – Dracula

Dracula is the King of Monsters.  He is obviously royalty.  He has all the trappings.  His castle, his formal evening attire, even his diction and good manners.  He is called Count Dracula in the Universal film but his legend descends from a real prince.  Vlad III (the Impaler) was ruler of Wallachia in present day Romania.  He was called Dracul (Dragon) for his defense of Christians against the Turks but his cruelty against just about anyone he came in contact with was legendary.  The legend of the vampire (nosferatu) is central European in origin and goes back very far into the imagination of primitive people huddling in the dimly lit hovels and fearing the long winter nights for all the real and imagined terrors that lurked right at their doorsteps.

Bram Stoker took this legacy and created a gothic novel that followed the conventions of his time and populated it with upper class British characters right down to the damsel in distress and the square jawed leading man ready to save her from a fate literally worse than death.  It cried out for a stage adaption and of course it got it.  And then some.  Several productions were launched and in 1927 a company opened the play in the United States.  And interestingly enough three of the lead male parts reprised their roles in the Universal film, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Edward van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing and Herbert Bunston as Dr. Seward.

Let’s now look at the film.  What are its chief characteristics?  It’s an early talkie.  The sound is not perfect.  Whether an artifact of the age of the prints used or of the original production there is considerable background noise.  The sets for the most part are the studio versions of city streets and upper class drawing rooms.  The sets used for the village and castle in Transylvania are unconvincing but highly evocative.  My one pet peeve with Castle Dracula is that while showing all the creatures crawling around in the cellar we are given a good look at some armadillos.  These are New World creatures and what they would be doing in central Europe is very hard to imagine.  The set for Carfax Abbey is equally entertaining and in fact is probably built on the set for Castle Dracula used earlier.

With respect to the actors, they are exaggeratedly and understandably stagey.  After all, most of them were stage actors.  They exaggerate their words and gestures to such an extent that sometimes it appears to a modern audience as parody.  This is probably the result of both the stage and silent film legacy of most of the cast.  Probably the most entertaining performance is given by the Cockney Orderly who watches over the madman Renfield.  He is an exaggerated lower-class everyman who adds comic relief and a really terrible accent to the film.

And finally the special effects.  At one point, Renfield looks out the window of the stage coach he is travelling in to Castle Dracula and sees a bat flying above the horses.  It is hard to minimize how laughably pathetic it looks to anyone used to the magic that CGI can perform today.  I think the strings are actually visible, but maybe it was just my scornful imagination.  There is at least one more bat flyby in the film and it doesn’t improve over the first.  ‘Nuff said.

Okay, now I’ve run down everything about the film.  It sounds like a hot steaming mess.

 

Well, it is and it isn’t.  All that I’ve said is true.  But it still remains an entertaining experience.  It is a time capsule of what our great grandparents looked on as theater.  The British basis of what was considered civilized and urbane is on display.  And you can see the tension between reason and science on the one hand and the instinctual and irrational forces at work in the universe.  And it’s interesting to note how young women are the weak point in the rational structure being undermined by the powers of darkness.  Really the story isn’t that different from our own morality tales about the dissolution of the world of light into the abyss.  It’s only different in that it has a happy ending.  Today the forces of darkness would win and we would cheer them because of how cool they dress.  And the characters get to mouth some very entertaining lines.  In one exchange between the main protagonists Dracula declares in his best Transylvanian English, “You are wise for one who has not lived even one lifetime, Van Helsing.”  For me that’s worth the price of admittance right there.

Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 1

A friend of mine at work is a movie fan.  But being a Gen X aged guy he hasn’t been exposed to the full gamut of classic Hollywood films from the ‘30s and ‘40s.  Recently he’s begun a systematic review of these films.  For instance, he just finished up an exhaustive viewing of all Alfred Hitchcock’s films in chronological order.  He even watched the early silent films Hitchcock made.  Now that is dedication.  On the whole he seemed impressed by Hitchcock’s body of work.  While he recognized weaker efforts he also felt that Hitchcock was an extremely competent craftsman who produced quality work.  And he noted that Hitchcock innovated over the course of his career and broke new ground in several ways.  He did chide him for birthing the slasher films with Psycho.  But all in all he was a great director.

This month he started on a smaller project.  He’s watching the Universal Classic Monster films.  He just finished up on Dracula, Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein.  When I spoke to him he was surprised and disappointed at what he judged a lack of quality.  I told him I predicted he’d really be shocked once he’d watched the Wolfman.  He is soldiering on but I could see he was let down.

After my comment, my friend questioned whether I disliked the Universal series.  I told him I have a fondness for them but have no illusions about the artistry they represent.  My exact words were, “Peter, they were made to scare children and simple people.  They were wildly successful at doing this.  And if you watch them in the right frame of mind they still can entertain.”  I’m not sure if I convinced him but it got me thinking about what those movies could say to an audience today.

First off, let’s see how they do with today’s kids.  I have a 13-year-old grandson who has been fed a steady dose of these films from about the time he was five.  Now, they may have become tame fare for him now but he still likes watching them.  He probably recognizes the relation to such modern fixtures as the Count on Sesame Street and Hotel Transylvania.  And basically kids are still kids and monsters are great fun for kids.  So, one audience still exists for these movies.

For those of us who grew up watching these movies their charm although thinned by use still survives.  They’re like old relations who diminish in importance as we grow up but still are fondly regarded and maintain an association in our minds with the happiness of childhood (if your childhood was happy).  This audience is shrinking but is still a large population.

And finally, there are those who are fans of all things fantastic.  If you are a SF&F fan then how can you not, at least, have a curiosity about the origin of all those First Blood and Underworld stories?  Sure, the 1930’s models were vastly less cool, what with their crosses and holy water, but even if just from an historical perspective, they should be viewed and discussed.

Being solidly in the second and third camps I feel entitled to give my opinion.  And that’s what I’ll do.  I’ll plow through the canon and give the pluses and minuses as honestly and objectively as I can.  It should be fun.  Stay tuned.

John Wick 2 – A Movie Review

Earlier I reviewed John Wick.  And he killed everyone in sight and got a new dog, so story over and he lived (or bled to death) happily ever after.  But, doggone it, John Wick must have made some money so there’s gonna be a John Wick 2.

I watched it last night.  I even rented John Wick, just in case I needed to be refreshed on the details.  But it all came flooding back.  As luck would have it, there’s an evil crime lord who has a marker from John Wick that he can cash in if John comes out of retirement.  Wouldn’t you know it!  John declines.  Crime Lord blows up John’s house with some kind of a grenade launcher which based on its effect must involve anti-matter.  John is blown clear of the house (relatively unharmed mind you) and luckily for the Crime Lord the dog is unharmed.  You would think after what John did to a Crime Lord in the first movie word would have gotten out to the Crime Lord community.  Alas it hadn’t.

The remainder of the movie is the body count involved in first fulfilling his debt to the above referenced Crime Lord and then completing the vendetta against this self-same Crime Lord.  It is a ponderous count.

So, to review my take on this series, it’s based on John Wick being possessed of ultra-fast reflexes and a machine-like precision at killing men, whether with gun, knife, hands, head or pencil.  In fact, I think in one scene he stabbed his opponent to death with a rather blunt pistol.  In John Wick 2 he gets to mix it up a bit, in that a couple of his opponents are women (I think).

So, if you’ve already seen John Wick why would you need a second dose of the same?  The innovation in the second film is speed.  In this second outing a mere ten or twenty opponents would only be a momentary diversion, perhaps something for him to keep busy with between brushing his teeth and flossing.  During one sequence he’s armed with three guns (a pistol, a fully automatic rifle and a shot gun) and he’s barely able to reload anything fast enough to keep from running out of ammo.  And he’s not wasting bullets.  Amazingly, no matter what lighting conditions, distance or direction every shot is a head shot kill.  Sometimes he’s so busy that he’s forced to kill his opponents with one hand while reloading with the other.  And sometimes he’s so hard-pressed that he has to kill other attackers with a gun that’s still being held by a guy he’s also throttling.  It’s a dizzying dance of death that goes on and on and on.

The twist in the plot is that the Crime Lord has put out a seven million dollar price on John’s head and apparently all eight million inhabitants of New York City are hit men (and women).  So wherever he goes, subway, museum or restaurant, he’s assaulted by multiple assassins trying to collect on the contract.  So, knowing he needs help to survive he goes to the King of the Homeless (played by his old Matrix buddy Lawrence Fishburne) and is brought to the location of the Crime Lord.  The catch is he’s only given one gun and it only has a seven-bullet clip.  That would only last John Wick for at most four seconds.  But he agrees and away he goes.  The finale is another ballet of bullets.  Only this time exchanging guns with his victims is a pressing detail.

John Wick 2 is full of growth for Keanu as an actor.  At one point he makes a joke ( it’s about a knife in an aorta).  And he gets to banter with his friends and enemies in multiple languages, English, Russian, Italian and American Sign Language for the Deaf (one of his victims is a deaf woman, I think).  He truly is a Man for All Seasons.

By the end of the movie John Wick has now broken the code of the Continental Hotel and Hitman’s Club.  He is given an hour’s grace before all the same bounty hunters as earlier are coming to kill him.  We last see him heading south (I think) out of Central Park.  And he’s moving pretty fast considering the beating the movie has inflicted on him.

So, I once again recommend this new John Wick movie.  It provides fair recompense for your time and money in the form of ludicrous speed gangland killing.

My only worry is what about John Wick 3?  Based on the increase in killing speed between the movies, in the next one he’ll either have to upgrade his brain and body with cybernetic replacements or he’ll have to put in a lot of overtime.  I guess if he can learn to kill people while simultaneously performing his other daily activities he can get his quota up high enough.  Showering, shaving, eating breakfast, talking on the phone.  These things can certainly be done one-handed.  Working out at the gym could get tricky but I guess he could try shooting a gun with his foot while working the Lat-Machine.

John Wick – A Movie Review

Keanu Reeves is a bizarre phenomenon. He’s been making movies since the mid-eighties and is 54 years old.  Yet I think of him as basically Ted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  It’s the same halting voice and basic appearance.  In the interim he has starred in a number of money making movies, most notably The Matrix.  And he has become an action movie hero.  The John Wick movies are the latest extension of this venture.

I watched John Wick probably a year after it was in the theaters.  The premise was of course ridiculous.  John is your basic retired uber-hitman.  He gave up his hum-drum nine to five life of garroting and mangling the enemies of his New York Russian Mafia Crime Lord to live a peaceful idyllic life in his spectacular suburban estate with his beautiful but short-lived wife.  She dies of cancer shortly before the movie’s start but is thoughtful enough to have a puppy delivered to John near the opening scene.  So, you get it, dead wife reaches beyond the grave and bestows gift of love to retired hitman?  Memory of dead wife and gift she left him is most important thing in his life.  Check.  Also, loves vintage sports cars and ’69 Mustang is second most important thing in his life.  Check.  The set up.  Check.

Somehow, completely coincidentally and without knowing who he’s dealing with, the son of John Wick’s crime lord ex-boss accidentally victimizes the now retired hitman and starts a vendetta by stealing his car and killing his dog.  Well I guess it could have been more blatant.  He might have gone for the trifecta and castrated Wick while he was at it.

After this the film embarks on an odyssey of shooting, stabbing and punching pleasure.  You’d think after the first couple of dozen gangsters are dispatched that it would start to get boring and repetitive.  But the hyper-kinetic fight scenes are strangely fascinating.  It was as if you were watching one of those loops they include with a first-person shooter game that show how someone who has memorized the game can dispatch all the enemies one by one in incredible speed and precision.  It’s the extension of the concept seen at the end of the Matrix where Neo has gotten the hang of his abilities and is fighting Agent Smith with one hand held behind his back, parrying every punch without even looking because his reflexes are an order of magnitude faster than his opponent’s.

Anyway, this goes on for the balance of the movie.  The Russian Crime Lord is kind of entertaining and we are introduced to the Continental Hotel and Club that caters to hitmen and forbids them to kill each other on its grounds under penalty of membership termination (which coincidentally includes death).  It’s lots of fun and there are gold coins and lots of automatic weapons and views of iconic Manhattan locations.

By the end of the movie, at least John’s absorbed a lot of damage from fighting the dozens of hit men who stand between him and the Crime Lord that needs killing.  So, you know it wasn’t easy.  And he finds a new dog.  So, balance is restored to the universe and John Wick can go back into a peaceful retirement since everyone is dead.

So, what’s my opinion?  Was it good.  Well, obviously, it has to be compared by the standards of the genre it belongs in.  It’s an action adventure.  It’s almost a comic book movie.  From that perspective, it’s highly successful.  It’s as full of action as it’s possible to imagine.  The fight choreography is meticulous and the cinematography is highly effective.  And he’s only killing bad guys.  He’s the strong silent man bringing down vengeance on his enemies.  He’s the modern-day Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood but without the occasional complete sentence.

I liked it.  Admittedly it’s a guilty pleasure.  Basically, it’s an atavistic response to injustice.  Take justice into your own hands and clean house.  Scratch the veneer and we’re still just cavemen.  Sure, we’ve got indoor plumbing and 401K plans but the mindless primitive lurks right below the surface.  Once you recognize that, you can jump right in and enjoy John Wick for what it is.  High Octane Revenge.

John Wick 2 – A Movie Review

Watching All Three Extended Versions of the Lord of the Rings Movies in One Weekend – Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this review, it really isn’t advisable to watch all three extended versions back to back.  However, that is probably the best way to judge the entire series as a unified work.  And that is why I wrote this post.  I wanted to judge the entire work.

I’ll start with the things that I think Peter Jackson got wrong.  I’ll follow with what he did very well.

The Elves.

As I stated earlier, Galadriel and Celeborn are awful.  Some kind of other-worldly or ethereal quality is being portrayed that just comes off as weird.  I do not believe it matches the intent of the books at all.  In the book, when Galadriel talks to Frodo about taking the Ring she does give him the image of herself amplified to some terrible queen.  But at the end she shrinks back down and assumes a normal form and speech pattern.

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

“I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”

In the book, in her dealings with Frodo, Galadriel displays a totally normal human personality.  In the movie, many of the elves, but Galadriel especially, are these weird non-human things.  This is a failing.  Galadriel is a major character.  Her kinship to Arwen and friendship with Aragorn are important points.  If elves are not human in their emotional make-up then the love of Aragorn and Arwen makes very little sense.

Luckily, Legolas is given a human personality.  His differences are portrayed as largely super-human physical abilities.  His banter with Gimli and his good-natured behavior toward most of the characters strikes the viewer as completely natural and not as some inhuman personality.  At most he displays a sort of noblesse oblige.  Which considering his greater age is completely reasonable.

The Siege of Minas Tirith

Several problems crop up here.  One I’ve mentioned, is the characterization of Denethor.  He is portrayed as a base individual.  In the scene where Faramir was forced by his father to attack the orc army on the Pelennor Fields we are forced to watch Denethor eat a meal of grape tomatoes and chicken.  His inability to keep the food from dribbling onto his chin and the noises he makes eating are obviously meant to give us the impression that he is a slob.  His cowardice during the initial attack and Gandalf’s cavalier assault on the Steward’s person is completely at odds with the book.  Denethor is a noble and honorable individual.  The misfortune to his sons and the disheartening images he has seen in the Palantir have driven him to despair.  But he is not the evil character that the movie portrays.

The other major problem of the Siege is the meeting of Gandalf and the Witch King.  In the book, they meet at the point where the Gate has been breached with Grond.  At this point they are face to face and the Witch King taunts saying that the moment belongs to him.  At this point the Horns of the Rohirrim are heard and the duel is interrupted.  In the movie, the meeting is not at the gate but during the ongoing retreat upward in the city.  And in fact, the Witch King shatters Gandalf’s staff, much the way Gandalf did to Saruman’s staff.  This seems to be too much.  I could see Gandalf overwhelmed by thousands of orcs and Trolls with the Winged Nazgul providing aerial reinforcement.  But if Gandalf the Grey could destroy a Balrog, how could a Ringwraith, even one who was perhaps super-charged with Sauron’s spirit during the attack so easily take him down now that he was Gandalf the White?  Seems wrong.

And finally, the scene between Eowyn and the Witch King.  The scene is still very, very good.  But it should have more exactly followed the book’s lead.  It should have been from Merry’s point of view.  And Eowyn, should have revealed herself as a woman before the fight and in exactly the words printed.  The dramatic force of the scene was perfect in the book.  But the scene is still very good.

Frodo and Sam

This is the most difficult fault to describe.  Sam for the most part seems fairly close to the intent of the book.  He’s a simple village boy caught up in the chaos.  Frodo is some kind of invalid from start to finish.  It’s not at all apparent why he is a reasonable ring bearer.  It seems altogether more reasonable to have given the Ring to Sam.  Granted Frodo’s personality is not completely at odds with the portrayal in the book.  Frodo is always a problematic personality.  But I believe this tendency has been brought much too far.  There’s not much more that can be said other than I think it harms that aspect of the story severely.

Alright, I’ve laid the bad stuff on you first.  So now I’ll tell you what I did like.

Aragorn

The portrayal of Aragorn is just about perfect.  He is a kingly man who also has the common touch.  He interacts with the other characters and always improves the scene.  He displays humor, mercy, gallantry, wisdom and each when it is needed.  All of this and yet he always appears human and in the moment.  He isn’t a superman.  He’s a hero.

Boromir and Faramir

I believe in the scene where Faramir is remembering the day when Boromir recaptured Osgiliath, I think the movie outdoes the book.  Boromir and Faramir are shown as brothers in the best sense of the word.  Their good qualities as men and soldiers are on display.  We get a scene that defines both characters and their relationship.  Unfortunately, this was outside the scope of the book.  Kudos to Jackson for inventing it.  And here it can be seen how the danger of the ring is thrust on Boromir who, as a man of action is least able to resist it.  The type of man who would see it as a solution to the enemy at Gondor’s gate.  It is an explanation for why he was both a good man and tempted by the Ring.

And the other great scene for Boromir is of course, his defense of the hobbits against the Uruk-hai.  You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel admiration and sorrow watching Boromir battle on as each arrow pierces his body.  It is perhaps, the best acting scene anyone gets in the movie.  Then his dying speech with Aragorn is equally poignant.  He shows his love of his people and nobility toward his rival Aragorn.  It’s a fantastic sequence.

The Ride of the Rohirrim

This in my mind is the high point of the movie.  When Theoden’s army overlooks the apparent destruction of Minas Tirith and he leads the stirring charge against the enemy’s main force it is electric.  And after they break the siege and see the Haradrim and the elephants approaching it is stirring and finally when the Witch King smashes Theoden and Snowmane to the ground we get Eowyn’s moment.  I have stated that the book’s portrayal is better.  It is.  But the movie version is still great.  And although Theoden’s farewell to Eowyn isn’t in the book it is still very affecting and natural.

The Black Gate

This scene differs in several particulars from the book.  The killing of the Mouth of Sauron is notable but not critical.  In general, I would say it was very well done.  And in one particular it exceeded the book.  Aragorn’s rallying speech to his troops before the battle is stirring.  And does not occur in the book.  The other effect that the movie added over the book was the sight of Barad-dur in the background and the line of sight to it allowing Sauron to call to Aragorn right before he started the battle charge.

 

Conclusion

So there is the bad and the good.  Over all, any real fan of the Lord of the Rings has to recognize Jackson’s movies as a great achievement that brings most of Tolkien’s wonderful story to life.  Maybe someday the story will be done again and improved on.  But what we have is a great work and something to be enjoyed.

Watching All Three Extended Versions of the Lord of the Rings Movies in One Weekend – Part 1

 

As I mentioned last week, my two older grandsons (grammar school and middle school vintage) stayed over last Saturday to watch the trilogy in one sitting. We were gonna sit back and relax and be catered to by their grandmother (Camera Girl) while the War of the Ring unfolded on the big flat screen.

First observation, that’s a hell of a lot of movie watching time. Even breaking it up for snacks, bathroom breaks and meals, that’s a long time.  Even young people started to show the strain of sitting there and watching this epic.  It’s a solid eleven hours of Tolkienian viewing.  At one point I started to lose consciousness and was forced to splash cold water on my face (a la Sam Gamgee in Ithilien) and down a mug of strong coffee.  I think the roughest stretch was the Ents.  Their slow monotonous voices lulled me into a stupor.  But with caffeine and sugar we were able to persevere and win our way through.

Alright, how did the movies do on representing the main characters? Aragorn is excellent.  Boromir and Faramir are very, very good.  Theoden starts out a little weak but finishes off very strong.  The Charge of the Rohirrim is one of, if not the high point of the movie.  Eowyn and Eomer are very good.  I especially liked Eowyn’s Dirge for her cousin Theodred.  I read afterward that it was sung in Old English.  I found it a very stirring lament without even understanding a word of it.  Eowyn’s attraction to Aragorn was handled extremely well.  It was neither exaggerated nor played down.  It worked.  Gandalf was mostly very well done.  Only a few scenes weren’t spot on and those were still fine.  Legolas and Gimli were played for laughs quite a bit.  Maybe sometimes that was overdone.  But the characters were enjoyable and added a good deal to the action.  The overuse of Arwen (e.g., substituting her for Glorfindel in the Ride to the River) was sometimes annoying but the love story between her and Aragorn was on the whole a positive element of the plot.  Elrond was pretty good.  Galadriel and Celeborn were awful.  Treebeard was pretty good.  Denethor was a travesty.  They turned him into a crass vindictive petty man.  He was not that in the story.  Sam was good.  So were Merry and Pippin.  Saruman was pretty good.  But the substitution of his death at Orthanc to the Scouring of the Shire was disappointing.

And then there’s Frodo. Frodo was way too lame.  My recollection from reading the books is that his behavior was weak and subdued, especially after the Ring began to get a grip on him.  But in the movie he’s in a constant state of stupefied depression.  With the exception of the scene in Moria where he gets skewered fighting the Troll he is practically a basket case most of the time.  Also the scene of Frodo waking up in Minas Tirith after being rescued by the Eagles is embarrassing to watch.  The rest of the Hobbits and the Fellowship are reasonably emotional at the meeting but the expressions that Sam and Frodo exhibit when Sam enters the room are down-right creepy.  Granted the hobbits are somewhat childlike in their demeanor and behavior, but this bordered on feminine.  Not good.

In the next part of this review I’ll go into what I thought worked well in the movies and what didn’t.

Anime and Me – Part 1 -Ghost in the Shell 2.0

I had heard that Firefly might have been based on an anime series called Cowboy Bebop.  So being a fan I rented it.  And as I noted elsewhere, I tend to agree that Whedon borrowed many thematic and visual elements from Cowboy Bebop.  This being the case I was intrigued by the idea that I might be missing a whole undiscovered land of creative stuff.  I decided to try something else that was recommended by people who had liked Cowboy Bebop.  I rented Ghost in the Shell 2.0.

I’ll put down my impressions and explain my preferences.  First off, the beginning of the story is an introduction to the protagonist.  She is a woman who for obvious reasons is mostly topless.  This while she is jumping off buildings and murdering bad guys with her bare hands.  She’s a cyborg who works for a government agency (I think).  After this intro, there is an about 10-minute sequence of very intricate graphics of the heroine being assembled from molecular components all the way up to her synthetic skin being applied.  So basically 10 minutes of naked girl.

After that we go through the plot and meet her co-workers who are also mostly cyborgs and follow them as they track down bad people and fight them with guns and cyborg fists.  There are all kinds of factions inside and outside the government agencies that are involved in the story line and I’m not really sure who I was supposed to be rooting for.  By the end of the movie all the main characters have been smashed and or dismembered pretty thoroughly but since they can be sent back to the factory for demand and periodic maintenance I guess it’s all in a day’s work for your friendly neighborhood cyborg spy.

I guess I haven’t been subtle enough to leave you guessing which way my thumb is pointing.  This was not a winner.  Pretty girl with no clothes on is not a bad thing.  But to what purpose?  The graphics are well done and the action is occasionally interesting.  But I didn’t care about the characters or the plot at all.  I think it was the flatness of the characters and the lack of humor.  This is in contrast to Cowboy Bebop which includes lots of humor.  Granted some of it is silly and not all of it seems relevant to the story line sometimes, but a certain style builds up which on the whole works pretty well.  And the characters have some personality.  You find yourself sorting out your favorites and enjoying the silly interactions that the crew go through together.  Sometimes it’s closer to Gilligan’s Island than The Odyssey but it has charm.

I will read some more reviews and see if any other anime movies sound like fun.  But so far it looks like Cowboy Bebop has no cousins I want to meet.  If anyone has any suggestions please leave them in the comments and I’ll give it a shot.  But for now the jury is still out.

21SEP2017 Update

So today is the last full day of summer.  Gahhh!  The horror begins soon so it’s time to have fun while we can.  Saturday I’ll have my two older grandsons over for a Lord of the Rings marathon.  I think the extended version comes to about eleven hours.  Breaking it up with grilled cheese sandwiches for them and corned beef and swiss for me, it will be a full day.  Dinner will be another fan favorite spaghetti and meat balls.  Camera Girl will do the cooking but abstain from the cinema.  She’s a Tolkien agnostic, heaven help her.

As anyone who faithfully reads my reviews knows I consider Justified the most consistently well written and actualized tv drama I’ve ever seen.  I have a theory that it’s because the source material is much better than that of the typical (or even superior) tv-show.  So, I’m putting it to the test.

Right now, I’m reading Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens novels and short stories.  I read the short story “Fire in the Hole” that was the basis for the first episode of Justified.  The other stories in the collection (of the same name) were all very good too.  Leonard has an enormous reputation as one of the most popular crime writers.  And he has had over twenty of his books made into movies (not counting the tv series Justified).  Based on all that I figure I’ll find out what all the hype is about.  So, I want to see how I like his stuff.  So far, I’m impressed.

The political scene continues to boil like the spaghetti pot I’ll be involved with on Saturday.  Trump continues to engage all important events in his typical iconic and bombastic style.  Of course, you’d have to be made of stone not to be nervous about all the various balls in the air.  But I’ve learned to give Trump some time to get things done in his own way.  After all he is herding particularly annoying cats (and rats).  The right-wing folks are going through some growing pains on the various sites.  Hopefully it’ll sort itself out sooner than later.  I take a sort of neutral position on these things and wait to see how things are settled.

On the photography front I’ve added the ability to embed photos in the comments so go ahead if something in a post inspires a photo of your own.  The plug-in that makes this possible has the following instructions:

This plugin embeds image links in comments with the img tag so the images are visible in your comment timeline.

Image formats supported:

  1. .jpg
  2. .gif
  3. .png

 

I’m not an expert on this computer stuff so I’ll do my best to get things to work but have patience if there are problems.

On the review front, I’m going to write something on my recent toe-dip into anime.  In addition to my recent viewing of Cowboy Bebop I watched Ghost in the Shell 2.0.  I’ll share my thoughts.

Other film ideas, I rented the second John Wick film and I’ll put together my thoughts on both films after watching it, maybe this weekend.

I haven’t decided what sf&f book to read next.  Suggestions are always welcome.

Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 3

I have now finished off all the Cowboy Bebop (CB) available as DVDs on Netflix (Discs 4 and 6 are permanently unavailable).  This includes the 2-hour movie which I watched last night.  And I think that’s sufficient to allow me to make a definitive judgement on the series vis-à-vis my taste.

It’s good.

It has some weaknesses from my point of view.  There is a silliness that can be annoying for me.  The crazy adolescent girl Edward can be a bit much.  Some of the episodes are pretty thin on plot.  And some of the space battle scenes seem (not surprisingly) cartoonish.  I think most of this can be chalked up to the standard cartoon sci-fi conventions.  Things are simplified and standardized to allow economic production of the animation product.  And to be fair, since I have never been a comic book or movie consumer, I’m not their primary audience.  To an anime consume, CB is probably well to the right side of the standard deviation curve with respect to production values, plot and characterization.

I like the quality of the animation especially the scenes in outer space.  Some of it is strikingly well done.  I liked the scenario of independent contractors moving in and out of the legitimate world acting as bounty hunters while they themselves are not without a certain air of criminality.  And obviously here are the similarities with Firefly.  After viewing the majority of CB I’ll state that I’m convinced that Whedon borrowed heavily from it when making Firefly.  But I’m sure CB borrowed from earlier anime for some of its ideas so I don’t think it’s a big deal.  But I will say that at this point I’d much prefer a big screen (or big budget tv) version of CB were made rather than of Firefly.  Whedon is such an SJW that he’d probably have Serenity going back in time just to battle Donald Trump.   My only hedge on having CB instead of Firefly is that is I’d like to see Jet Black played by Adam Baldwin.  He would be damn near perfect for the part.

Anyway, I would say that the CB movie demonstrates how a longer treatment of the material improves it.  More characterization shows through and there is more scope for interesting story telling.  Also, the animation of the city in the movie was extremely well done.  It looked like whole sections of New York City were digitized to make the action possible in the chase scenes.  And speaking of the chase scenes, one of the flying chases was a little too long.  Although intricate and well laid out it eventually started to drag on.  The fight scenes between the protagonist Spike and his nemesis were very good and enjoyable.  Most of the minor characters were fairly well utilized.  Surprisingly, the seemingly superfluous presence of the welsh corgi dog on the space ship actually felt like a positive addition to me.  But maybe I just like dogs.

So, bottom line, Cowboy Bebop is good sci-fi anime.  If you don’t particularly like anime you still might enjoy it.  It has piqued my interest in the genre enough that I’m going to give another anime movie (Ghosts in the Shell 2.0) a look-see and find out if this was just a one off or not.

See you Space Cowboy!

Summer 2017 – When the Blockbuster Formula Ran Out of Gas

What do most of the Twilight Zone episodes, the third season of Star Trek and Transformers VI (or whatever number they’re up to this year) have in common? They were no good, nobody wanted to see them and they were written by hacks. Sure, there were a few good Zone episodes and also a few of the Trek episodes were fun or interesting. What I think you’ll notice with these is that the episode was written by somebody creative. The rest of the dreck in these categories was ground out by talentless hacks who couldn’t even spell the word plot let alone write one. And that brings us back to Transformers XX or whatever it is. Great Caesar’s Ghost!

Is the business really that bad? Is there no other way to fund and produce movies than to pile sequel onto sequel? How many times can Sylvester Stallone climb into the ring or jump out of a crashing helicopter? How many times can that stupid alien ravage human colonies before somebody gets around to inventing industrial strength Raid for aliens and drop it on their ugly butts?

As even Deadpool himself said (before his upcoming sequel of course), and I paraphrase, how many times can Liam Neeson let his daughter be Taken before we assume he’s just a not a very good father. Wasn’t Godfather III enough to prove that even the best stories can’t be endlessly resuscitated without being turned into crap?

But you notice, TV is able to make some pretty good stuff. I’ve just finished Justified and I’d put that up against anything I’ve seen in the theater in the last five years. Why the disparity? First of all, Justified was adapted from the works of Elmore Leonard whose stories have time and again translated well into movies. Whereas with these endless sequel franchises, I assume they are assembled from some formula that is somehow supposed to capture the original flavor of the first episode but without the high price of the original screenwriter. Apparently, they’ll pay tens of millions to get Bruce Willis or Jamie Foxx and millions more to CGI the explosions but they’ll settle for the story line to be written by the corporate lawyers who put the financial deal together for the studios.

I think I read that because of the cable fees TV is actually able to monetize their quality shows pretty successfully whereas on the big screen only a giant blockbuster success is lucrative enough to even attract sufficient funding to get made. And that means Terminator 30 gets made before something well written and entertaining like possibly a faithful version of one of Heinlein’s juveniles. I imagine that Citizen of the Galaxy or Farmer in the Sky in the hands of a good screenwriter and director would be very entertaining and very commercial.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Focus Photog, focus. What’s your point? Bring this back around to the title. Bring it home.”
Fine, I will. Hollywood is dead. Long live TV. Except for some extraordinary slam dunks like “The Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” Hollywood is too paralyzed by the fear of losing gobs of money to try and put a quality product together from quality components. And that’s why I don’t feel deprived when I skip whole decades at the theater. There’s nothing there. Even the occasional stand out ends up being barely acceptable. I remember hearing raves about Gravity. When I finally rented it, I was puzzled what all the fuss was about. Okay would be a generous appraisal. The same with “The Martian.” Adequate would cover it.
And it couldn’t happen to a nicer set of people. If DiCaprio and Depp start only making seven figures instead of eight I certainly won’t cry. When they’re replaced by AI – CGI maybe the stories won’t be as insulting to the dirt people. What a concept!