We'll get to the good Doctor--whose name is not Who--in a moment. This is set against the bigger question of whether it's okay to change the race or gender of an established character, always (so far) to a person of color and/or womanliness. In general, if it's another case of political correctness gone rampant (I call it Political Over-Correctness) I'm not a fan.
"The next James Bond needs to be black!"
"So we can have a black James Bond!"
"Okay. Or, you could just create a black secret agent from scratch."
"Yeah, but ... then he wouldn't be James Bond!"
Honestly, it's not something I care enough about to argue over, which sets me apart from most people who care at all. If the TV and movie industry disappeared from the face of the earth right now--which isn't the worst idea ever--I'd just go back to reading books for entertainment. Interestingly, if the race of a character in a book isn't specifically mentioned, most people either don't think about it at all or put their own skin color on the character. It never occurred to me, until I saw the wildly entertaining TV version, that Shadow Moon from American Gods was black. You can call that racism or you can call it being color blind, whatever. People will color anything I say here with their own views anyway.
James Bond is an interesting case when it comes to gender and race swapping, because the franchise has already done it--just not with 007. Bond's CIA buddy Felix Leiter has already turned from white to black--twice, if you include 1983's Never Say Never Again. The famous Moneypenny had a similar transformation, while Bond's boss M became a female ... although it should be noted that M is a title, rather than an individual.
You can complain about it all you want, but for me when it does work, it works spectacularly. Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica was just as much fun and kick-ass as a woman in the reboot, for instance. From the time I was old enough to read comics I knew Nick Fury as a white guy, fighting his way across Europe in World War II. Now I can't imagine him looking like anyone but Samuel L. Jackson.
Which brings us back to Doctor Who, who Samuel L. Jackson could totally play if he wanted to. Are you going to tell him no?
On the question of changing a character's looks just for the sake of changing them, the Doctor is a special case. Sometimes the actor playing a character is changed without explanation, as with the James Bond series. (Wait--who's this new Darrin on Bewitched?) Sometimes it's a reboot, as with Battlestar Galactica, and thus not really the same character. But Doctor Who ...
Okay, in case you don't know, I'd better offer a brief explanation.
The original Doctor Who, back in 1963, was an old guy. He was a grandfatherly type, on a show designed as a fun way to teach kids history. (He's a Time Lord, you see.) But the actor began to have health problems, and it was soon apparent he couldn't continue in the roll. It seemed Doctor Who was doomed to retirement.
But wait, the writers said. We've already established that he's an alien. Suppose this particular species of aliens, when facing death, could cheat their way out by transforming into a new body? Regenerate into, say ... another actor's body?
|Yeah, they're all the Doctor|
That was twelve Doctor's ago. More, really, but we don't have time to go into that complication. In fact, the Doctor has already been a woman, played (very briefly) by Joanna Lumley in a 1999 charity episode.
So there's no story reason why the Doctor can't be female. In fact, one of his main antagonists, also a Time Lord, already regenerated from male to female. The show has had many strong female and minority characters in the past, and the Doctor's most recent companion was a black lesbian. (Is lesbian still a permitted word? I don't care.)
|That's Bill, on the left. Black, prefers women, young, smart, and most importantly fun.|
I wasn't thrilled back then ("my" Doctor is David Tennant), but I came to like Peter Capaldi's version. That's why I don't understand the so-called fans who are closing the doors of the TARDIS and going home. I know it's not just mysogeny, as some narrow minded people claim. Not always, anyway.
Honestly, I suspect it's just resistance to change in general, and I get that. Contrary to what some will tell you, sometimes change is bad. But you won't even give the new Doctor a chance? Why not? With that attitude, the show would never have made it out of the sixties.
And we'd have missed a lot of fun.
|There's a new Doctor in the TARDIS|
(Although she is, and it does. And I did.)
Honestly I'm starting to wonder--you might brace yourself for this--if the day will come when the physically strong, kick-ass woman character will become a tired, cliched trope that makes people yawn. Hasn't happened to me yet. But my daughter watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the generation before me had Emma Peel, and I watched, well, Wonder Woman, who hit TV in her own series when I was thirteen. You bet I watched that show. I mean, as a comic book fan.
(Now that I think about it, my first literary hero was Dorothy Gale, Princess of Oz, who could be something of an action hero herself.)
Still, to paraphrase Buffy creator Joss Whedon, I suppose the reason we keep getting awesome female heroes is because people are still asking why we don't have them. And that ties right in with why I go to the movies, because Wonder Woman, while not the overwhelmingly perfect superhero movie some claim, is indeed awesome--largely because of one particular Gal.
|The various incarnation of Princess Diana.|
Diana's mother, Queen Hippolyta, doesn't want her to train to be a warrior, as every other woman there does. She thinks something very bad will happen if the island's only child develops her ability. Sure enough, just when the grown up Diana has reached the peak of her training, an airplane falls out of the sky and delivers *gasp* a man to the island.
Luckily Diana somehow knows what a man is--that saved some awkward exposition.
The pilot is America spy Steve Trevor, (Chris Pine), who's being pursued by German soldiers. Turns out the rest of the world is mired in World War I, and Steve holds intel on a new German weapon that might cost tens of thousands more lives. Diana is convinced the war is the work of Ares, the god of war, who the Amazons have been training all along to someday face. Clearly, all the world is waiting for her.
Wonder Woman originated during World War II, and setting the movie further back in time was the first smart idea of the filmmakers. Let's see: A red, white, and blue costumed hero, rather naive but eager and determined, gathering a band of misfit commandos to take on a German army with secret weapons during the second World War? Surely no one would draw any comparisons to Captain America.
Their next bright idea was the cast.
|What a Gal!|
With Batman vs. Superman, the naysayers were already out, complaining Gal Gadot was too scrawny to be a proper Wonder Woman. Did they learn nothing from the anti-Michael Keaton outcry with Batman? No? Oh. Well, just as Christopher Reeve owned Superman, Gal Gadot has now taken over from Lynda Carter as the perfect Wonder Woman. Sorry, it's true, and I love Lynda Carter.
Chris Pine is his usual charming action hero self, often reduced to stupified stammering by this innocent warrior who doesn't seem to understand the whole traditional woman thing. The rest of the cast is first rate, especially Connie Nielsen as the Amazon Queen who just doesn't want to give her daughter over to the world. I especially liked the band of misfits Steve assembled for their behind the lines mission. Also of note is David Thewlis (currently menacing everyone on Fargo) as a British military leader trying to broker a peace treaty between the warring nations.
While this doesn't rank as my favorite superhero movie (although it's well into my top ten), Wonder Woman is a great movie period--of any genre, or at least of any kind of action flick. The stakes are high, the emotions are great, the effects first rate. Really the only complaint I have is that if the next Wonder Woman movie is set in the present, we won't be able to see any of the sparkling supporting cast (who would be well into their second century by now). Maybe we should have them all frozen at the North Pole for several decades? That's never been done.
Entertainment Value: 4 M&M's, the good brown ones. I'm getting a little worried about this series of first rate movies I've been seeing the past couple of years. Granted that Wonder Woman is even more first rate than many of the others, but sooner or later I'll get hit with a disappointment.
Oscar Potential: 3 M&M's. It's worthy of a best picture nomination but, being based on a comic book, it'll be a supporting characters cold day in the North Pole before it gets one.
The death of Adam West immediately resurrected the old argument: Who's your favorite Batman?
It's ironic that Roger Moore passed away so close to the same time: His death, of course, caused a chorus of favorite James Bond arguments. They both held similar positions in their perspective portrayals: They were the lighter, more colorful ones who weren't afraid to poke a little fun at their genres.
That being the case--especially with West--the argument becomes apples and oranges. What, I can't have both? A big navel orange, followed by a nice Red Delicious? Comparing Adam West to, say, Christian Bale is like comparing ... hm. Oh, I know: Like comparing "Battlestar Galactica" to "Battlestar Galactica". Love or hate the reboot, it just wasn't the same show as the original.
I've probably just started arguments that would rival fights among British football fans, but there you go.
"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb." -- Batman
Look at the above quote, and picture Michael Keaton's Batman saying that. Look at the photo, and imagine Christian Bale's Batman cavorting with a purple Batgirl or a bright red and yellow Robin. Ain't gonna happen. For that matter, imagine Ben Affleck making fun of his Batman on an episode of Family Guy. (Clooney would probably do it.)
My point is, you can like them both, or all, even Val Kilmer if you want. If you're a sports fan, the analogy is that you can like both the Cubs and the Bears: They're both in the same city, but they're two different animals.
So embrace and remember the fun that was Adam West. We should all be so lucky as to bring that much joy to such a wide audience.
I've not planned my funeral. I'm not the Queen. A procession through the streets of Stockwell would be nice, I suppose. But when I go, I'd just like everyone to say: "He lived longer than anyone I knew.". -- Roger Moore
The death of the third James Bond naturally brings up that question fans have debated for decades: Who was the best Bond? (Roger Moore was actually the fourth on-screen Bond--the first, Barry Nelson for an American TV Movie, might be so changed from the original as to not count.)
George Lazenby is generally considered the second Bond for his one and only appearance in 1969, but that would be wrong, kind of. David Niven played Bond in a 1967 spoof of Casino Royale. To confuse matters further, in 1964 James Bond was a character on a comedy sketch show, Mainly Millicent. In that case, a full nine years before Roger Moore took over the part in the movies, James Bond was played by ... Roger Moore.
"Maybe someday they'll give me this part in a movie."
So you see, the question of how many actors assumed the role of James Bond is complicated, even if you don't include Bob Simmons -- a stuntman who played Bond in the opening "through the gun barrel" sequence in Dr. No.
For me the question of who was the best Bond is very complicated indeed: The most realistic Bond seems to be Daniel Craig, the best Sean Connery, and my favorite Roger Moore. (My next favorite after Connery and Moore would be Pierce Brosnan, who I predicted would someday play Bond the moment I first saw him on Remington Steele.)
Daniel Craig seemed most like the original Bond, the one from Ian Fleming's books. Plus, his character gets beat up and wounded inside and out, is darker, and generally as close to real life as Bond ever got. That's why he doesn't make my favorites list--not because he or his movies were bad, but because I watch spy movies for escapism and fun, not real life.
Sean Connery was just ... Sean Connery. He's on a gold medal stand, all by himself, not just for originating the movie roll but for doing it with such style. You can believe he's a cold blooded killer, but you can also believe he's having some fun with the role. No one else ever quite matched him. (In my opinion. And no, I'm not going to get into a fight about it, because hey--it's movies.)
Then Moore came along, and instantly realized the inherent silliness of the whole thing ... so he played it with tongue in cheek, which enraged many fans.
Sean's jokes come from left field, and I let people know a joke was coming. I basically said "I'm have a good time doing this, and I hope you're having a good time watching me have a good time.". -- Roger Moore
The first Bond movie I saw was Moore's first, Live and Let Die. You always remember your first. Everything that meant Bond to me was there: The gadgets, Q, the over the top villains, the jokes, the girls, the chases. The boat chase in that movie stands up to this day, as does the opening song (the first in a Bond movie not sung by a woman).
Irony: Roger Moore hated guns.
To me, the Bond situations are so ridiculous, so outrageous. I mean, this man is supposed to be a spy and yet, everybody knows he's a spy. Every bartender in the world offers him martinis that are shaken, not stirred. What kind of serious spy is recognized everywhere he goes? It's outrageous. So you have to treat the humor outrageously as well. My personality is entirely different than previous Bonds. I'm not that cold-blooded killer type. Which is why I play it mostly for laughs. -- Roger Moore
And there you have it, the reason why I can have more than one favorite James Bond. They weren't playing the same character, not really. Conner, Moore, Craig ... they're playing characters with the same name, but from different worlds. You don't have to debate: Just enjoy their work, and if you don't enjoy it--turn it off.
When I was a young actor at RADA, Noël Coward was in the audience one night. He said to me after the play, "Young man, with your devastating good looks and your disastrous lack of talent, you should take any job ever offered you. In the event that you're offered two jobs simultaneously, take the one that offers the most money." Here I am. -- Roger Moore
It says something about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 that the opening fight scene is incredibly fun--and yet largely unseen by the audience.
Which has been done before, but in this case the focus is on a tiny little shrub that's just trying to get his groove on.
Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, apparently after inhaling helium) is one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a motley crew that, at the end of the last movie, decided to hang around together mostly because they didn't have anything else to do. Now they're working as a team, and they're also family--which means they fight and often don't like each other (that they'll admit), but stick around anyway.
They're busy making enemies of just about everyone when a guy shows up who calls himself Ego (Kurt Russell, and he's perfect). He announces he's the father of the Guardians' leader and only human, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, who gets to show some beyond-the-wisecracking layers). Ego's also a god. ("Small 'g'.")
Poor Peter's pretty puzzled.
Things move quickly after that, as some of the team accompany Ego to Ego's planet, which apparently is Ego. It's entire population consists of Ego and an innocent alien named Mantis, an empath who Ego apparently keeps around just to help him sleep.
Meanwhile Groot and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper's voice, and a character that would also be cute if he wasn't busy killing people) stay behind to repair their damaged ship along with a wanted captive, Nebula (Karen Gillan, in an epic sibling rivalry with Zoe Saldana's Gamora). They manage to get into quite a bit of trouble of their own when an army or two of bounty hunters show up.
Along the way old enemies and friends arrive, including Yondu, played by Michael Rooker as a blue-skinned version of his Merle character from The Walking Dead (that's a compliment). We find out Stan Lee is a Watcher (from the comics, not from Buffy), and--hey, is that Sylvester Stallone playing the leader of the bad guy guild, which kicked Peter's adoptive daddy out of the group for trafficking in child slaves--including Peter?
Now that I think of it, it says something about the quality of the writing that I didn't have trouble keeping track of the zig-zagging story line, or of the Galaxy-spanning cast.
Part of the fun of Guardians, if you're any kind of a nerd, is keeping track of actor connections to other shows and movies. Yep, there's The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Jurassic World, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate, and even the DC Comics universe. Is that Castle's Molly Quinn in a cameo with the worst intergalactic date ever? I hope at least he paid the bill.
And Stan Lee, of course. I don't care what anyone says: Stan's cameos are awesome.
Among the other major stars Dave Bautista is still solid and hilarious as Drax, and Pom Klementieff--I suspect that's not her stage name--makes a great entrance as the winsome Mantis. Rocket and especially Groot tend to steal any scene they're in, which says something about the quality of digital effects, that a raccoon and a tree shoot give worthy performances. Oh, and stay for the during and post credit scenes ... all of them.
Okay, so it has a fun story, great cast, and amazing special effects ... but is it a good movie?
Well, yeah. And if you say otherwise, Rocket might come for you.
Entertainment value: 4 out of 4 M&M's. The good green ones.
Oscar Potential: 2 1/2 out of 4 M&M's. Just because movies like this don't get major Oscar nods.
I got a bit of a weird feeling when I heard actress Erin Moran once stayed in (and got kicked out of) a Holiday Inn Express in Corydon, Indiana. A little research confirmed it was the same Holiday Inn that Emily and I stayed in while researching Hoosier Hysterical a couple of years ago. Corydon was the original state capital of Indiana, so naturally we spent some time in the area.
We weren't there at the same time as she was, of course. Well, not that I know of, although apparently she lived in the area then. I suppose it could have been the same room.
On the one hand, I was a little offended at the way the news media covered her move to Indiana, as if Moran had been banned to the seventh circle of Hell. (Apparently she and her husband moved here to take care of his mother, after her acting jobs dried up and they lost their California property.) I'd take southern Indiana over southern California any day.
the other hand, I suspect I'd choose wealthy in California over impoverished in Indiana. She'd hit on very hard times, and didn't make the move for the scenery; those of us trying to work our way up can't begin to imagine what it's like to be a TV star at fourteen, and considered a has-been by thirty. Her happy days were far behind her, and it sounds like she spent the last years of her life trying to drown her sorrows in alcohol. I remember the fresh faced kid on "Happy Days", and can't help thinking she was only two years older than me. It could have been any of us; and it's very sad any way you look at it.
“If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn't be funny.” – Don Rickles
And there you have it, the secret to his success. These days everybody wants to be an insult comic—just go to the comments of any web article and watch everyone sharpening their verbal knives, hurling insults, name-calling with glee. They all think they’re original, and they all think they’re funny.
“Who picked your clothes—Stevie Wonder?” – Don Rickles
Don Rickles was way ahead of them, plus he was funnier. He got away with it, too. He didn’t care about your race, sex, religion—he just wanted to know what they were so he could make fun of you.
“My mother was a Jewish General Patton” – Don Rickles
|That's Don on the left, insulting the Japanese during WW II.|
How did he get away with it? Easy: He didn’t mean it. Jokes today just seem mean-spirited, like you’re not trying to be funny so much as getting a dig in.
“Compared to what some of the young comics use for material today, I’m a priest.” – Don Rickles
But with Rickles you got the impression it was all an act—that he never meant a thing that he said. That he was—although he’d deny it—secretly a nice guy. And by all accounts of those who knew him, it was true. That, as he admitted himself, was the trick—to be likeable and liked before you start with the insults.
“Oh my God, look at you. Anyone else hurt in the accident?” – Don Rickles
R.I.P. Don Rickles, 90 years old, World War II veteran and, as Johnny Carson put it, “Mr. Warmth”.
“If I took therapy, the doctor would quit. He’d just pick up the couch and walk out of the room.”
|(To Johnny Carson) “That’s it, laugh it up. You’re making $50 million a year and your poor parents are back in Nebraska eating locusts for dinner.”|
And that's about the only thing "Logan" has in common with "Deadpool". In fact, "Logan" sometimes seems a lot like "The Walking Dead": It's locale appears dystopian, upbeat moments are few and far between, and you get the sense that anyone--or everyone--could end up dead. Also, a lot of people tend to die with things stuck in their heads.
Logan is, of course, former X-Man Wolverine, played with intense weariness by Hugh Jackman and why the hell do people never get Oscar nominations in movies like this? The Academy Awards are pointless if Jackman and Patrick Stewart (as Charles Xavier) don't get nominations. It's 2029, and as far as he knows Logan, Charles, and their helper/babysitter Caliban are the only mutants left in the world. From their Mexican hiding place Charles keeps talking about communicating with someone, but his formidable brain is failing from a degenerative brain disease and he rarely makes sense at all.
It's a wonderful performance from all three of them, and when Jackman and Stewart share the screen it's--well--uncanny.
Logan is now a chauffeur, when he's not bargaining for medications to tamp down Charles' mind-seizures. It's hinted that those seizures, which send his telepathic abilities lethally out of control, may have killed some of the X-Men, while Caliban has his own guilty secret along those lines. As if that wasn't enough, Logan's healing powers are starting to desert him, and he's feeling very much his 200 or so years.
This was all covered in the first twenty minutes. Then the trio's "idyllic" life is interrupted by an eleven year old kid and the private army that wants her, dead or alive. They take Caliban hostage and send Logan, Charles, and little Laura on a Hope and Crosby type road trip, assuming Hope is a ninety year old degenerating telepath, Crosby an ailing alcoholic, and Dorothy Lamour a psycho kid mutant.
Yes, of course Laura's a mutant. And, although Logan spends most of the movie trying to avoid it, she both needs his help and shares a direct connection with him that's pretty obvious early on. Together they cut a swathe from Mexico to Canada, headed for a place Logan's certain is literally a comic book creation.
Okay, but is "Logan" any good?
Yeah. It's one of the best movies I've seen in years--maybe the best, in terms of story and acting. In addition to the actors, the movie should get an Oscar. It won't.
Stewart is emotional and heartbreaking. Jackman is intense in his final pass as Logan, a man who's deteriorating rapidly but still has promises to keep. He's the old Western gunslinger and the movie's a western, and just in case you don't get that, two of the actors actually sit and watch the movie "Shane", which gets a callback at the end. The casting is great overall, the action sequences sometimes a bit long but impressive, the (fairly limited) digital effects seamless, and the cinematography wonderful.
Special notice should go to Dafne Keene, in her first movie role as Laura. At first the kid is mute and mostly glares, something I figured just about any kid could manage. But then ... wow. She waxes eloquently in two languages, holds her own in action sequences and with impressive older actors, and towards the end has a few moments that are just heartrending. If she doesn't crash and burn early, Keene will be an acting force to be reckoned with. (Hey, I was right about that kid from "The Professional".)
You'll want to sit through the end credits (although there's no after-credit sequence), both to collect yourself and for the spot-on Johnny Cash song.
Entertainment Value: 4 M&M's. I don't usually prefer such relentlessly dark movies, but wow.
Oscar Potential: 4 M&M's--the good brown ones. No, it won't get many nominations, which is just a sign of how out of touch the Hollywood ivory tower people are. It would be nice to be wrong.
When the show started, I wondered what they would do if it became successful. I mean, Bruce Wayne was what, twelve or thirteen? How would they bridge the gap between Gotham's past and the present day, when this naive little kid becomes Batman? How do they explain all these villains showing up so early in the timeline? How does Alfred survive getting a concussion in every single friggin' episode? (By the way, The Doctor's son is one of my favorite Alfreds.)
Well, I still don't know about any of that, but I can tell you this about the most recent episode: We saw the foundation of Batman going up. Or, you know, the seed germinating, or the origin origining, or whatever. We actually got chills. (Emily and me, not Bruce.) The kid (David Mazouz), who was one of my biggest concerns on the acting front, has taken the part and run with it, and in that last episode you could see that moment he determined to become something more.
I know some people have a problem with "Gotham" seeming to be out of the timeline, playing with origins and such, to which I say: Who's played with origins more than DC, to begin with? Just sit back and enjoy an awesome ride (Or, you know, switch to "Agents of Shield").
I’m not sure why Mary Tyler Moore’s death hit me so hard. I never saw her in a show I didn’t like, but there were lots of shows I liked. Maybe it’s because I never pictured her as being old; the last time I remember watching her on TV was “Mary” in 1985. (Over thirty years ago!)
I’m also not sure younger people realize what a big deal she was: Mary Tyler Moore invented the modern woman on TV. She was mod, and hip, and all that stuff, on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. Then she got her own show, as a single woman making her own way in life, and blew everybody right out of the water.
There’ll never be another Mary.
I have a really stressful full time job, but it’s the TV show The Walking Dead that’s going to send me into therapy.
Usually I choose escapism and/or humor for my entertainment, but every now and then something really dark captures my interest (coughFargocough). Humor happens on The Walking Dead, but as with anything else on that show it’s usually a shock.
I don’t like getting invested in a character, knowing he/she has a better than even chance of not making it through the current season. I don’t like extreme gore. Heck, I’m not even a zombie fan. Yet there I am, week after week, cringing and yelling at the TV and unable to look away.
They really did me in last episode. (I predict he/she’s gone. Face the bitter truth, DeadFans, we lost another favorite.)
It’s all about character. As a writer I love creating new characters, and as a fan I love good writing and great characters. (Much as I love Daryl and Michonne, Glenn’s my favorite.) So I keep watching, and I keep screaming “Why? Why?!”, and next week I’ll come right back for more.
As with any addiction, the stress is taking years off my life.
Well, he said he’d be back.
Terminator Genisys brings back “Ahnald” Schwarzenegger as a Terminator, who is continually sent back in time to kill someone who will eventually defeat a machine revolution, or to defend that person from another Terminator who’s sent back to kill … it gets very confusing.
Even more so in this movie, in which resistance leader John Conner sends his second in command Kyle Reese to 1984 to protect Sarah Conner, John’s future mom, in the past. It’s exactly what happened in the first movie. But this time, instead of getting there just after the original Terminator does, Reese arrives to discover that Terminator has been around for many years—and instead of killing her, it’s been protecting Sarah the whole time.
Then it gets complicated.
Reese, like the audience, flails around, trying to figure out what’s going on. Why can’t he can’t just blow away this oddly aged Terminator and get it on with Sarah? Turns out he’s John Conner’s father (Reese, not the Terminator), which comes as something of a shock to him. The timeline is fractured as the movie, and sometimes the characters, jump back and forth in time, blowing things up and generally causing chaos.
Just sit back and you may find, to your surprise, that it is enjoyable. Yes, there are logic problems along the way and moments that stretch credibility, but think of it this way: You’re watching a movie about time traveling robots. How much credibility do you really have the right to demand?
(Having said that, it’s never explained just who messed with the original timeline.)
Terminator Genisys is probably the third best of the Terminator movies, which according to some isn’t saying much. The cast and effects are first rate, and as popcorn movies go it’s one of the better ones. Emilia Clarke holds her own against the strong Sarah Conner actors who came before her, and look for J.K. Simmons as an older cop still reeling from a decades old involvement in a Terminator battle.
Best of all: Matt Smith, in a small role that made me smile like a loon every time he appeared. Casting a guy who played the eleventh time-traveling Doctor Who in a time travel movie was inspired, even if he didn’t get all that much to do. It makes me want to go write a fanfiction crossover.
It was movie franchise marathon night when Emily and I decided to go to the drive-in. Although it’s a little late now, I thought I’d give my thoughts on two summer flicks that might cleanse your palate if you mistakenly stumbled into a showing of Fantastic Four.
Whether a movie is good is both personal and relative, of course. I’m easily entertained and, at least when it comes to Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, had low expectations. Truth is, I considered skipping the latest Tom Cruise charm-fest, having mistakenly thought it was the second feature. It wasn’t.
I’d seen only the first Mission: Impossible movie, along with bits and pieces of the second one. Honestly, I remember it as being very loud, with more scene cuts than an MTV video directed by a coke addict. In the early James Bond movies, it took five minutes for a car to go down the road (but with that great guitar riff!) These days, in that same five minutes Tom Cruise kills off an army, takes down a third world government, gets the girl, and still has time for three breaks with his hair stylist.
None of that changes with Rogue Nation, so maybe I’m just getting used to it—because I really enjoyed this movie. It had a great cast and action sequences, and lots of humor, which can make or break a movie for me (and in this case certainly made it). The plot? Um … something to do with Ethan Hunt and his Impossible Missions Force taking on one of those evil organizations bent on controlling the world. And there’s a woman.
Many people refuse to watch a movie starring the not-always-there Cruise. Me, I despise Alec Baldwin, who plays the Director of the CIA here. But I can separate my feelings about a person from their product, and that’s good, because there are plenty of reprehensible people in Hollywood. Overall I liked this movie, and I have to add: Cruise hanging on the side of an aircraft 5,000 feet in the air, without a stunt double, may prove he’s crazy—but it was still cool.Still, you have to wonder how Ethan Hunt’s team would handle contact with a Terminator … subject of drive-in night part 2.
I don’t idolize people in the entertainment industry. It’s so hard to make it to the top that most talented celebrities tend to be out of touch with the rest of the world, and for some reason the people who gain celebrity without talent seem even more vacant. By all accounts, celebrity also seems to make people … how can I say this? … dicks.
Leonard Nimoy was not, by all accounts, a dick. He was also anything but vacant. He had a Master’s degree, served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, was an accomplished photographer, director, writer, and producer, and invented the Vulcan nerve pinch and salute. Plus, he was a Transformer.
Just the same, it wasn’t the death of Nimoy that sent me into a three day funk. It was the death of his most famous creation: Captain S'chn-T' Gaii Spock, son of S'chn-T' Gaii Sarek, son of Skon and Solkar, of Vulcan.
We’ll just call him Spock.
In his younger days Nimoy wrote a book called “I Am Not Spock”, which was true enough (although he wasn’t as negative about it as the title suggested). He corrected that twenty years later with “I Am Spock”. By that time, ironically, I had come to realize he was not just Spock.
I wanted to be Spock. Not Kirk, not Scotty, not even McCoy. I got a Spock haircut, and ankle boots that more or less resembled those from Starfleet, and I even had a blue long sleeved shirt with a little symbol thingy in the right place for Spock’s uniform. It was actually a symbol for the shirt manufacturer, but close enough for imagination to take over. I wanted to be a scientist, and an astronaut, and surely by the time I hit my mid-twenties I’d be stomping around on Mars with the rest of the crew.
None of this improved my standing at school.
But that’s the point, that’s why I empathized with Spock. As a kid I felt like I didn’t belong, like I was someone from another world. We were both out of place, misunderstood, and trying to hide emotions we didn’t want others to know we had. We were both tall and thin, and a little alien looking. Neither of us ever seemed to get the girl, because we were surrounded by charming adventurers like Kirk and Sulu. (It turns out Sulu never got the girl, either.)
We were both … different. In the rural Midwest of the 70s, that was a bad thing. But in the long run, Spock jumpstarted my interest in science fiction, writing, science, and learning in general.
To me, of all the souls I’ve ever known, his was the most human. All of this came from the creative genius of Leonard Nimoy … who lived long, and prospered.
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
There’s some irony in the fact that I’m not as thrilled about naked people on TV now as I was decades ago, when it was almost impossible to find any.
When cable TV first came to Albion, it excited people in many ways. You could see music videos! You could watch movies on Home Box Office, almost as if you had a box office in your home! They had an entire channel devoted to the weather! How cool is that?
Another exciting thing was that you could see the channel at all. If you happened to live in a bad place for receiving signals over the airwaves, you could swear every TV show took place in a blizzard. When I was a kid, if you wanted to go from watching three Fort Wayne TV stations to the two more or less visible South Bend stations, you had to physically go outside and move the entire pole the antenna was on.
I’m not making this up, you whippersnappers.
But without a doubt, the channel that most excited people of my age was a pay channel called Cinemax. Why? Well, we called it Skinemax, which should give you a clue.
The first movie I ever saw on HBO was Star Wars. The first movie I ever saw on Cinemax was H.O.T.S., which according to a character in the trailer meant “Hold On To Sex”. Young college woman—who seemed just a little old for college—went topless in this movie. No tops! It also had a plot … I assume.
Nudity on TV!
Now it’s hanging out all over the place.
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
This time of year, as leaves turn to glorious multicolor, steamy hot days of summer vanish, and autumn decorations go up, I can often be found … crying.
But it seems everyone else can be found at harvest festivals.
Harvest fests, as you might imagine, are annual celebrations that take place around the time of the harvest. Makes sense. This would be the harvest of food crops, you understand, not the biannual politician harvest that’s often rotten, anyway.
Ancient people celebrated the harvest every year because they didn’t like starvation. That was pretty much it. Why else celebrate fall? Did the hunter/gatherers look at each other and say, “Oh, look! The sun is disappearing—we might freeze to death again this year. Let’s party!”
They did not.
But possibly the only thing worse than freezing to death is freezing to death while hungry. They were happy to wrest a few grains away from the bugs and birds, so they could fill the storehouses with boxes of Pre-Ricestoric Crispies and Frosted By Next Month Flakes.
“Good news, honey—we won’t have to eat the kids this year.”
“Oh, good. Now, about that vacation trip across the land bridge …”
At second glance, harvest festivals in Europe often took place near the Harvest Moon, which is indeed near the autumn equinox, which this year is September 22nd. I know, because for me it’s a day of mourning. It marks that time of year when we get those aforementioned beautiful colors, apple cider, hay rides, cursing over faulty thirty year old home heating systems, covering your entire home with plastic, sobbing into your heating bills …
Where was I?
So, it’s not unusual at all for harvest fests to come at the same time as Albion’s, which this year is September 20th and 21st. I’m okay with that, because there’s at least a chance that the weather will still be warm enough to actually want to go outside to a harvest fest. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you know you’re going to be having your holiday indoors, and that you should have your snow boots ready, just in case.
You know what’s a crazy holiday? Halloween.
“Hey, there’s frost on the pumpkin—literally! Let’s dress up in costumes that we’ll have to hide under winter coats, then go running around the neighborhood until we’re so cold we have to pour the hot chocolate over our hands so we can thaw them enough to open the candy!”
Talk about a transition period. I still don’t understand why these controversial sexy adult Halloween costumes ever got popular outside of southern California. “Ooh, your pasty-white skin and uncontrollable shivering are so hot! I mean, not literally hot …”
The local harvest fests generally come before that, but after the August days when you can’t walk in the streets because your shoes melt. They also give us a chance to spend a weekend ignoring that storm of hot wind-blown bull scat, otherwise known as election season. But there’s one problem I always had with September harvests fests:
Did anyone ask the harvesters?
Places like England, where harvest festivals date back to pagan times, have shorter growing seasons, so maybe the harvest was over by then. But here in Indiana, there are still a lot of crops in the field at that point. I mean, Albion’s Harvest Fest has a corn maze. This requires corn.
Corn crops have to stay up for some time, to provide cover for deer as they lie in wait to jump out in front of innocent cars. Now, I’ve never been a farmer, because I don’t like to work hard. And I’ll grant you, there’s no time of the year when there’s no work for farmers to do. But if we’re going to celebrate a harvest, shouldn’t there be a harvest, first?
Maybe this is a break time, giving them a chance to celebrate what they already picked, and rest up for the harvesting to come. Maybe the corn isn’t ready, and they’ve already finished picking from the apple, cake, and lunchbox trees.
What? I told you I’m not a farmer. Maybe the lunchboxes grow underground.
My daughter, son-in-law, and grand-twins a few years ago at the Albion Harvest Fest ... the kids are about twice this age, now.
Hollywood takes great pride and joy in “pushing the envelope”. So much so that you’re not likely to get as much critical acclaim if your TV show or movie doesn’t try something over the top: Just a little more nudity, cursing, violence, or general grossness than has been generally allowed in the past.
Two of my favorite shows are “The Walking Dead” and “Fargo”, both of which would have been R rated and never allowed near TV when I was a kid. However, let me suggest something that today’s Hollywood creators would find shocking:
Just because you can push the envelope doesn’t mean you have to push the envelope.
And so we come to “A Million Ways To Die In The West”. This picture was made by Seth MacFarlane, who’s well known for being as offensive as possible in his very funny show, “Family Guy”. What I did not expect—and this doesn’t spoil the plot—was to actually see a sheep penis, and to actually get a good look at a hat full of diarrhea.
Was it shocking? Yes, just as the F-bomb used to be shocking before it became boring in its overuse. Was it gross? Well, yeah. Was it funny? Did it add anything to the movie? Just the opposite. The same goes in other areas: For instance, a scene involving a huge ice block was funny, until we see blood and gore splatter. Then—not so much.
Sometimes the envelope is there for a reason.
MacFarlane plays a sheep farmer named Albert who falls for a mysterious newcomer in town, played by the scene-stealing Charlize Theron. Unfortunately for him, the woman’s boyfriend is Clinch, the deadliest gunslinger in the West (Liam Neeson, who sadly has little to do.) Albert must find his courage and get over his ex-girlfriend even as townspeople fall like dominos around him because there are, after all, a million ways to die in the West.
The cast is overall wonderful, especially Theron and Neil Patrick Harris, and we get some great cameos along the way (the best of which is spoiled in some trailers.) While some viewers didn’t like MacFarlane in his role, I thought he did well playing the straight man as the smart but naïve Albert.
As for the plot, I got a little whiplash: Part was a pure parody, but in the other parts MacFarlane plays it serious. Sometimes we’re looking at amazing Western scenery, other times a hooker’s telling her virginal boyfriend exactly what she’s doing to earn extra money. Much as MacFarlane enjoys his drug jokes and potty humor, I think he’s also sentimental at heart.
So, would I recommend “A Million Ways To Die In The West”? Yep: It’s mostly fun and funny—if you can stomach it.
Entertainment Value: 3 out of 4 M&M’s, but not the brown ones. I won’t be eating the brown ones for a while.
Oscar Potential: 1 out of 4 M&M’s. There’s always cinematography or music.
Finally, a movie that appreciates a good mustache.