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Appellate Judge Mac McEntire's Blog
• Location: Shrewsbury, MA
I actually watched TRASFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
Here's what I posted on Twitter as I made my way through the madness known as TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON:
* OK, Michael Bay, try to impress me.
* I love that Hasbro is the first name in the credits. That tells you just what kind of movie this is going to be.
* We get a glimpse of Cybertron and... it looks like Zion from the Matrix sequels. Shaking my head.
* Alterna-NASA sci-fi stories have never excited me. Real NASA is already cool enough.
* Hot girlfriend, hangs out at the White House... Sam isn't exactly the "guy next door" anymore, is he?
* Great, more Michael Bay "comedy." Just because you can have wacky sidekicks doesn't mean you should.
* This was originally released in 3-D, right? That's why a lot of these scenes are all grey and colorless?
* Shockwave was the first Transformer I ever owned. That thing with the tentacles is NOT Shockwave.
* It's a BURN AFTER READING reunion.
* Too... many... silly... accents...
* Subplot about Sam, his girlfriend, and his girlfriend's boss seems pointless. It better be going somewhere.
* On the positive side, Megatron's finally showing a little bit of personality for once in these movies.
* Michael Bay, even with Ken Jeong in your movie, you still can't do comedy. Just STOP.
* The movie is spinning its wheels, so to speak. A lot of talk, exposition, forced conflict, forced comedy. I'm bored.
* Suddenly, it's a gangster flick. Why aren't the transformers in this Transformers movie?
* It's Spider-Man's landlord!
* Robot fightin'! But the robots all look alike, so I can't tell which is which. I should be pumped, but I'm confused.
* What? Optimus just stands there and lets the villain walk away? And now we're at a fancy dinner party? Ugh.
* What should be a suspenseful twist is instead an excuse for Sam to do slapstick shtick. Ugh again.
* Didn't the second movie also do the "Oh, no, Optimus is dead for real" fake-out? Why do it again?
* What's with all the cuts to a black screen, and then back to the action? It's like they're still editing the trailer.
* Suddenly I'm watching BATTLE: L.A. Why can't this movie make up its mind what it wants to be?
* The Decepticons don't have phones? They communicate only by yelling at each other?
* "Boomsticks?" Seriously? Now I'm wishing I was watching ARMY OF DARKNESS instead.
* Now someone just yelled, "Shoot the glass," and suddenly I wish I was watching DIE HARD.
* "The needs of the many..." OK, that one HAD to be on purpose.
* Nothing says "Hollywood blockbuster" like the single-tear-falls-down-the-hero's-face shot.
* Sam has parkour moves now? Since when?
* "You'll have to go through me." That's it, keep the action cliches coming, movie.
* The final confrontation started with, "Holy crap!" but quickly sank back down to "Oh, brother."
* Movie's over and... it's almost 2 a.m.? I have to go to work tomorrow.
Seeing THE DARK CRYSTAL with an audience
Get this: As part of its Jim Henson retrospective this weekend, the Brattle Theater in Cambridge showed THE DARK CRYSTAL on the big screen, and I was there. I’ve seen the movie plenty of times, but seeing it with an audience was something now.
First, the movie: Taking in all that Henson craftwork on the big screen was a real delight. OK, the effects are dated in a lot of ways here in the age of Pixar, but the craftsmanship that went into THE DARK CRYSTAL is nonetheless eye-popping, and, as always, the practical effects have a tangible quality to them that simply can’t be recreated with CGI, no matter how hard they try. People say the plot is not deep, but watching it again, I noted how almost everything in the movie has a duality to it. The crystal is in two pieces, which must be rejoined. The kind Mystics and the sinister Skeksis are clearly linked to one another. There are only two Gelflings left. The heroes’ goals are about uniting the two halves of this world. The exposition-delivering Aughra is oddly singular, with only one eye no less, and she remains unchanged as the rest of the world transforms. Perhaps why she’s the one who held onto the shard before Jen came along--it was safe with her, because she’s something an outsider, whole in this otherwise fractured world.
But I’m not here to examine the intricacies of THE DARK CRYSTAL. I could do that watching it at home. This is about the theater experience, and seeing the movie with an audience. The audience at the Brattle was, shall we say, raucous. They cheered, laughed, and applauded from one end of the movie to the other.
I’m of two minds when it comes to people cheering and applauding during movies. Most of the time, it cheeses me off and makes no sense. I want to say to the people in the theater, “The filmmakers can’t hear you!” Other times, though, the magic of communal movie enjoyment kicks in, and it feels all right. This is usually when the crowd is really emotionally invested in the movie, and somehow in tune with one another to elicit a simultaneous response. This is most often seen when viewing classic or fan-favorite films on the big screen. Who doesn’t want to cheer when Indy shoots the swordsman, or when Luke blows up the Death Star, or when Fu Hung Hsieh battles Devil Grandma? (Too obscure a reference?)
This was my experience with THE DARK CRYSTAL at the Brattle. At times, the jovial crowd response was a bit much, especially nervous chortling over unintentional double entendres like “Jen’s pipe gives no comfort.” I was concerned that the audience had chosen to view the movie not as an amazing technical achievement and a purely imaginative spectacle, but as some sort of “so-bad-it’s-good” schlockfest. Fortunately, I was wrong, and in my grumpiness, I forgot how the screening began. When the words “A film by Jim Henson” are the first things we see on screen, the Brattle audience erupted into huge applause, out of pure love for all things Henson. So maybe the audience was overenthusiastic at times, but everyone was united by their adoration for the movie, laughing with it, not at it.
So, when the credits rolled and Jim Henson’s name came up again, I was all to happy to hoot and holler with the rest of the crowd. Skeksis forever, Gelflings never!
Why TRON: LEGACY is the movie of the future
I can’t stop thinking about TRON: LEGACY.
Part of the reason for this is because I’m a big TRON fan from way back, having had my mind blown by seeing the original on the big screen when I was a kid. So I’m hard wired to enjoy light cycles, disc battles, and lines of dialogue like “Bring forth the logic probe!” The new TRON gives us all that, and it’s a lot of fun revisiting good ol’ Kevin Flynn, and that whacked out computer world. Yeah, it’s fun, but that’s not why I can’t stop thinking about TRON: LEGACY. Many people will choose to view the movie as “retro,” but, for me, it’s the opposite. For me, TRON: LEGACY represents the future.
Future shock 1: Free info
In the first third of the movie, before we get into the funky computer world, we first have to deal with the pesky human world. It’s here that we get an interesting vignette. The snotty bureaucrats that run the fictional Encom Company are about to release an operating system for extreme profits, despite Alan Bradley’s insistence that Flynn wanted it to be free for all. The sniveling bureaucrats ignore Alan’s noble ideals and instead roll out their apparently greedier plan. Enter our hero, Sam Flynn, who takes a stand for free information, screwing with Encom, putting the new O.S. on the web free for anyone who wants it, embarrassing the slimy bureaucrats as he does so. Plotwise, this establishes Sam as a combination of daredevil and idealist, and it helps us buy his “reckless choices with noble intent” actions that come into play later in the movie. This also reflects the changing of the times we’re currently experiencing. Everyone looks to the web for free media. Watch movies online! Watch your favorite TV shows online! Get the news online! Play games online! Instant this! Instant that! Instant! Instant! Instant!
Those in the so-called “traditional media” are terrified of this, but the mind-boggling success of sites like Facebook shows that free media and financial survival – if not success – is possible. (Though I’m still unclear as to how, exactly, Facebook made all its billions. I guess if I could answer that, then I’d be the one invented Facebook, right?) Anyway, Sam’s stand for free media, giving a metaphorical middle finger to the sterile bureaucrats as he does so, points a huge arrow in the direction that the world’s media is headed toward.
Future shock 2: The ISOs
TRON: LEGACY introduces some fascinating concepts, in between light cycle chases and flamboyant nightclub owners. You have “the grid,” which the fantastical TRON world, populated by programs instead of people. This is part of the novelty of the original TRON we all so fondly remember, but TRON: LEGACY takes it a step farther by asking, what’s beyond the grid? The logical part of the mind says there’s nothing beyond the grid. The creative part of the mind dictates that beyond the grid exists untapped potential, like a blank canvas, or, perhaps more appropriately, unused disc space – it could be used for anything you want. It’s in this unused/untapped space that Flynn makes his home in TRON: LEGACY, partially to stay hidden from the movie’s villain, but also to expand his own consciousness, via what he calls his “Zen master thing.” We’re told in a flashback that Flynn, Tron, and Flynn’s digitized counterpart Clu sought to recreate the Grid into a better, arguably perfect world. It’s outside the grid, though, where Flynn strives for inner peace, turning peace and perfection inward to his own self, rather than to the world around him.
It’s also outside the grid that we’re introduced to the ISOs, short for “isomorphic algorithms.” Who are they? The movie states that they are “self-produced programs that spontaneously evolved in the system, which carried the potential to unlock mysteries in science, religion, and medicine.” I don’t know about you, but I find this fascinating. In recent years, a lot of folks in the science fiction community have balked against the idea of life on other planets, alleging that inarguable mathematics prove that intelligent life does not exist anywhere else in the universe (What if you forgot to carry the one?) and therefore, the so-called experts say, no science fiction story should ever, ever, ever, again feature aliens from other planets, no matter how cool or fun those aliens might be. This line of thought has led to silliness like those lines about “the spaces in between” from INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, as if to sell us on the idea that it’s more mathematically realistic for aliens to be from an alternate dimension than from another planet. I find this ridiculous, as grey-skinned aliens in a flying saucer are still aliens in a flying saucer, and who the hell cares how “realistic” that is?
This brings us back to TRON: LEGACY, which comes up with an altogether new idea. Here we have the ISOs, alien life that emerged seemingly from out of nowhere from beyond the grid. Who are they? Where did they come from? The movie doesn’t provide concrete answers, but what it leaves open to speculation is fascinating. TRON: LEGACY posits that contact with alien life forms will not be from other planets or other dimensions. Instead, we’re introduced to living beings made of pure information. After all, what is information, in a physical sense? It is electricity and light, transmitted from computer to computer, appearing on screen after screen. Both light and electricity are physical matter – we know this because both are affected by gravity. If the impulses of light and electricity at specific frequencies and/or intervals make up what we know as information, than who’s to say that information can’t grow, or, dare I say, evolve, into something far more complex, to the point where raw digital information becomes a life form of its own? Personally, in the future I envision, contact with alien life might just come from digital worlds we create and lose control of, rather than other worlds (I also believe extending our own humanity to life on other planets is integral to our survival, and that our life forms made of pure information could help us make that possible, but that’s an article for another time).
The ISOs of TRON: LEGACY are, to me, a more believable alien life form than any space aliens or alternate dimension goatee-wearers we’ve seen before. Even though I love freaky space aliens in sci-fi flicks, TRON: LEGACY says to something more. There’s a moment in TRON: LEGACY in which Flynn and Sam “hack” into Qurra, an ISO, and her disc, briefly revealing a three-layer DNA strand, as opposed to a regular human two-layer strand. How advanced she is, far beyond either program or user. Seeing this, all I can think is, this is where the future is headed.
Future shock 3: The face of Clu
It seems that any movie made during the 70s or 80s that used any sort of computer graphics, including TRON, claims to be the “first” to use CGI. For years, I believed that RETURN OF THE JEDI was the first to use CGI, but that was a year before TRON. THE LAST STARFIGHTER’s funky computer effects lay claim to be the first, but it was two years after TRON. Before TRON, things get even more sketchy. THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, in 1986, also claims to be the first use of CGI in a movie, as does the cheesy 1976 sequel FUTUREWORLD. FUTUREWORLD’s predecessor WESTWORLD, also allegedly used some fleeting computer graphics, way back in 1973. So who was really this first? The debates among movie fans will never end.
Whether it was truly first, the original TRON, will always lay claim as an effects groundbreaker, because it had both computer effect and a computer-related storyline. First or not, TRON broke ground in special effects technology, creating visuals the likes of which have never been seen before since, not to mention those unendingly cool light cycles.
So, in 2010, when the time came to make TRON: LEGACY the creators are faced with an unusual challenge. In an age in which CGI makes any far-our fantasy worlds possible, how do you break new ground? Answer: You do the one thing that everyone says CGI can’t do – you do a CGI human.
Ever since the mid-90s, when CGI took off in a big way, everyone has pretty much agreed that despite everything CGI can do, it can’t recreate an actual human. Director Robert Zemekis gave it a halfway decent try with THE POLAR EXPRESS and BEOWULF, but those characters, stiff and glass-eyed as they were, were still fairly exaggerated (I dare you to rewatch BEOWULF and try to convince yourself that those “realistic humans” aren’t overly exaggerated. I dare you.) TRON: LEGACY goes father – a lot farther. The filmmakers have attempted what everyone in the world says is impossible – a CGI human. Can’t be done, you say? You could make that case, and yet, there’s Clu, front and center throughout the entire movie.
The original TRON might not have been the first move to use CGI, but it was certainly one of the first to gain notice for CGI used in a big way. In 1982, TRON set its foot down and said to the world “Computers are the future.” Then, in 2010, the creators of TRON: LEGACY did a comparable act, slamming their foot down and saying, “That what everyone says can’t be done? We’ve done it.” Or, at least, they’ve attempted it, more than anyone else has done. They went where all other filmmakers and special effects artists have never gone – that, to me, represents the future.
Is Clu a perfect effect? No. For that matter, is the brief glimpse of “young Flynn” in the real world a seamless effect? No. The human eye can tell it’s an effect. That said, turn the clock back to 1982. Are the CGI effects of the original TRON photo-real? Of course not. Are the images of light cycles and returners mesmerizing, and do they draw you into the story and into the fantastical world the filmmakers have created? Yes, yes they do. It’s the same thing – the special effects of the original TRON might be rough by today’s standards, but they were beyond what anyone else at the time had ever created. Those visuals might not have been first, but they represented the next step. In TRON: LEGACY, Clu might not be a seamless effect, but he represents what no other filmmakers dared attempt. What everyone else said was impossible is what TRON: LEGACY put on screen. Clu isn’t perfect, we can all agree on that, but just like the original TRON showed us where movie visuals would eventually go, I can’t help wonder if TRON: LEGACY is providing a similar road map to the future of animation and filmmaking.
Future shock: The 80s
Why do I love 80s stuff? All the neon, the sharp angles, the weirdness for weirdness sake in pop culture of the time, it was all about looking ahead, to the future. Yeah, 1960s retro was pretty big in the 80s, but even that was about taking the ideals of societal change and bringing them from the 60s into the modern time with a modern sensibility, working toward a brighter future, especially in the shadow of movements such as glasnost and perestroika. Then, along came the 90s, and suddenly everything was about retro. Fashion and pop culture became obsessed with reliving the past, even when faced with the rise of the internet and Y2K hysteria.
Throughout the years, however, TRON refused to be retro. TRON continues to represent the future, and where we’re headed, rather than where we’ve been, and TRON: LEGACY continues that trend. It has the light cycles and disc battles and arcades with Journey music to satisfy the nostalgia crowd, and that’s all great fun, but by the time the credits roll, TRON: LEGACY joins its predecessor as a movie that represents the future.
That’s why I can’t stop thinking about TRON: LEGACY.
Is this thing still on?
Cloverfield is mediocre-field
So I went and saw Cloverfield. Now, what can I possibly say about this movie that the rest of the internet hasn’t already said? Let’s see…
Blah blah blah plot summary blah blah blah surprise party blah blah blah New York attacked blah blah blah giant monster blah blah blah hand-held camera blah blah blah motion sickness blah blah blah go back to get the girl blah blah blah internet hype blah blah blah cauliflower blah blah blah J.J. Abrams blah blah blah Slusho blah blah blah Zoidberg blah blah blah boogers blah blah blah has Rambo opened yet?
The big question: Do we actually see the monster? Answer: yes, it gets a close-up. And, honestly, I was kind of disappointed. After all that build-up, I’m sad to say that the big beastie looks kind of ordinary (for a giant monster, that is). Plus, the overall visual effects look a little too CGI-ish and not fully integrated with the human characters. At least not to my eye.
If the filmmakers were here, I’m sure they’d give me a big speech right now about how the movie is supposed to be more about the characters than the monster, and I can kind of see that. Unfortunately, some of the character bits don’t make sense, just like some of the monster bits don’t make sense. I’m willing to believe that a guy would go to great lengths during a crisis to save the girl he’s hot for, but it’s a little harder to buy two friends and a fourth person who hardly knows him tagging along. And, yeah, as the movie goes from one nightmarish experience to the next, it becomes less and less believable that they’d keep filming all this. I get that they’d do it for a while, because this attack would be history in the making, etc., but after almost getting killed for the 14th time or so, it gets incredulous. There are numerous instances of character motivations, camera set-ups, and even monster attacks that serve no real purpose except getting these people to the next plot point, and that makes for frustrating viewing.
Did I totally hate the movie? No. There were a few scenes that really captured the intense, thrill-ride feel the creators were aiming for. Some of the humor in the dialogue also got me chuckling. Some twists and shocks in the movie took me by surprise, I’ll admit. It’s just that a few fun scenes don’t add up to a satisfying movie overall. I’d classify Cloverfield as an interesting experiment -- a novelty item. It was amusing to see once, but not something I’d rush out to see again (or see a sequel to).
Director David Lynch loves mysteries. He has often argued that a mystery loses its power over an audience when it is solved, and that sometimes, there are mysteries that should never be solved, but should instead remain unknowns for the audience. This has understandably frustrated many viewers of his films, but if you ask me, he’s got a point there. One of the biggest mysteries, then, is “who is this David Lynch guy who makes these ‘out there’ movies?” For an answer, or at least a partial answer, turn to the new documentary Lynch (One), now playing in select cities.
Here we see Lynch in the early days of work on INLAND EMPIRE. He has a not-unsurprisingly odd phone conversation with Jeremy Irons, and he makes the first announcement about the movie to the pay-only viewers on his web site. We see him fuss over the small details on a set, so everything can be just right – just as he imagined it. Then there’s the much-talked-about moment in which Lynch loses his cool and snaps at his crew. Honestly, I didn’t think this was that shocking. It’s nothing compared to the footage of an enraged James Cameron going off on his crew on the Aliens two-disc set.
Lynch does get to talk some about his creative process. In the past, he used to never about this, but in recent years, he’s opened up a lot more. Maybe it’s because of the Web site and the daily interaction with his fans. Who knows? Either way, it’s fascinating stuff. He of course mentions transcendental meditation, and he credits that for a source of a lot of his creativity. He also debunks the concept of the suffering artist, saying instead that the greatest art is created when the artist feels joy in his or her life.
Of course, this is still David Lynch we’re talking about, and there are plenty of quirks to be seen or heard, most notably Lynch’s preoccupation with Bastille Day (Your guess is as good as mine). Also, why is Idaho mentioned a few times in the movie? Isn’t Lynch from Montana?
One big mystery surrounds this movie: Who is the director, credited here by the pseudonym “blackANDwhite?” A lot of people online think that the director is Lynch himself. All I can do is shrug and say, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.” Still, the documentary does show some Lynchian touches, such as when Lynch wanders through an abandoned factory, marveling at all the pipes and machinery. As he does so, we’re treated to all kinds of cool cinematic shots of said machinery. There are a lot of visual tricks like this throughout the movie that keep it moving along at a nice pace.
OK, bottom line. If you’re a David Lynch fan, find out when this is coming to your city and go see it. If you know nothing about the man or his movies, this really isn’t the place to start. Instead of answering “Who is David Lynch?” the movie instead answers the question, “What’s it like to hang out with David Lynch?” The answer is a lot like the director’s films: Baffling at times, but still incredibly entertaining.
Ben 10: Race Against Time
So the live action Ben 10 movie debuted just before Thanksgiving weekend on Cartoon Network, and I figured I’d share my thoughts on it, since it’s because of this site that I’ve become a Ben 10 junkie. And you know what? I enjoyed it.
Those who were expecting something along the lines of a Spider-Man 2 or Batman Begins from this movie might be disappointed. It is what it is – a low-budget made-for-cable movie. If you look at it in that context, then it’s pretty good. It’s certainly far more entertaining than those flaccid flicks the Sci-fi Channel coughs up every Saturday.
As the movie begins, Ben, his cousin Gwen, and his grandfather Max have finally concluded their summer vacation cross country road trip, although no one questions why it took about four years. Anyway, Ben spent the summer using a device called the Omnitrix to transform into any one of 10 different aliens, which he used to save the world from evil. But now he’s got to face an even bigger challenge – the first day of school.
The pressure is on Ben to be just an ordinary kid instead of going hero and fighting monsters every five minutes, and he’s finding it hard to adjust. He’ll soon be back into action, though, because a new baddie named Eon has shown up in town. He has a connection to both the Omnitrix and to the secret organization Max once worked for. Eon’s power to manipulate time, however, might mean he’s too much for Ben to handle.
The pyrotechnics and mass destruction seen on any given episode of the TV series isn’t quite the same here. The creators made the most of what they had, saving the big special effects shots for a handful of scenes. I have to admit, Ben’s alien forms, now in three-dimensional, CGI do look pretty good, if still a little cartoony. It’s too bad we don’t see all of Ben’s aliens, but the ones we do see are impressive.
The young actors playing Ben and Gwen, Graham Phillips and Haley Ramm, do an OK job. At times, it feels as if they’re merely reciting their lines, but each of them does have a moment to shine. Lending the acting a little more credibility are some notable performers, including Lee “Six Million Dollar Man” Majors, Robert “holographic doctor” Picardo, and Beth “used to be on The Daily Show” Littleford. As Eon, Christien Anholt spends most of the movie with his face partially obscured under his costume, but he sneers and snarls just as good as any cartoon villain.
I looked this movie up online after watching it and, ouch, a lot of folks on the internet really hated it. Some of their concerns – such as not seeing all of Ben’s aliens during the runtime, or replacing Richard Horvitz with some other voice actor for fan-favorite character Greymatter – might be valid, but others struck me as out of line. Do the sets and the alien tech look plastic and/or cardboard-ish? Yes, they do, but this is a lighthearted kids’ adventure movie, not serious science fiction, so I’m more than cool with the B-movie look of it all. Yes, the kid actors are a little wooden in their line delivery, but come on, they’re kids. Yes, the villain doesn’t radiate menace the way Ben’s number one baddie Vilgax does, but bringing Vilgax to live action would probably have required a Transformers-like budget.
The fans should be delighted that this movie exists. Just think about how easy it would have been for Hollywood to “re-imagine” this series for live action. Writers and producers could have chucked the characters’ origins and history, replacing them with dumber ideas and trampling all over what people enjoy about the show. Instead, we get a live action movie that goes right along with the show’s continuity. It’s a real treat for those who watch the show and it’s a lot of fun for everyone else.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
When I reviewed the first Fantastic Four movie for this site, I basically said I didn’t like it, and I ended up getting a ton of hate mail. Based on those e-mails, it seems that although it was released in 2005, Fantastic Four has already become a timeless classic to be cherished by the masses and how dare a simpleton like me say anything bad about it--even though it has a scene in which the hero uses his powers to get toilet paper for himself while he’s on the can.
And now I’m painting the target on my chest again, because I felt Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was also a disappointment. OK, so it wasn’t quite the gnarled fetus of a movie the first one was. I’ll admit there were a few moments that worked, but not enough to save the entire film, I feel.
First the positives: The Human Torch comes across as a lot less obnoxious this time around, and he gets to show his human side a little more. We get to see that he cares about something other than acting like a jerk all the time. Plus, the special effects do indeed get amped up considerably, and the Silver Surfer does look pretty sweet the way he moves around his board while in flight.
Unfortunately, not a lot else struck me as favorable. Mr. Fantastic still comes across as more of a goof and a screw-up than he does a hero. The Invisible Woman is supposed to be the heart and soul of this group, but she spends a lot of the movie just whining. The Thing isn’t doing a lot of stupid stuff like falling on his butt in a bar, which is good, but he also doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, which isn’t so good.
Dr. Doom shows up again in this movie, and, once again, he’s portrayed as a wisecracking jerk and not as pure evil. Of all the megalomaniacs in fiction, Doom should be the one that we really fear could actually pull it off and conquer the world. Instead, he’s the movie’s comic relief. He makes jokes and smirks his way through the whole film when he should be emitting pure menace.
“Wait a minute,” you’re saying, “How can you tell Doom is smirking under that mask?” Well, it only takes the filmmakers a minute before they get rid of his mask and return him to full-on 100 percent Julian McMahon-ness, not realizing that the mask and the scarred face underneath is an integral part of who this character is. That’s how I see these movies in general – the creators have removed the elements of these characters that make them so appealing and well-liked over the years. What does that leave us with? Sitcom banter and lots of CGI.
But, hey, what do I know? Tons of people loved the first movie, and this second one has already made an Elemental Converter-sized amount of cash. So, if you’re one of the many who loved Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, there’s no need to write hate mail, just go off and enjoy it without me.
PSIFF Day Four: Cecilie
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years how countries like Korea and Mexico have been experiencing a “new wave” of filmmaking by producing a lot of exciting movies in recent years. While all that’s been going on, the Scandinavian countries have been quietly experiencing a “new wave” of their own, with a number of cutting edge films coming out of the lands of snow and blondes. The Palm Springs International Film Festival this year features a whole series of new Scandinavian flicks, so I knew I had to check one out. My geekishness won out over my film criticness, however, so I gravitated toward a supernatural thriller rather than a highbrow relationship drama. But when the supernatural thriller in question is Cecilie, there’s no problem.
Cecilie (Sonja Richter) is a young married woman ready to get back into her teaching career after a long leave of absence. All seems well at first, but she starts having strange nightmares and visions that are disrupting her job and her marriage. It’s then revealed that this isn’t the first time, and that Cecilie has had these frightening visions before. Driven to learn the meaning behind her nightmares, with the help of a think-outside-the-box psychiatrist, Cecilie now has to unravel clues to a murder that happened years ago, so history does not repeat itself.
Although Cecilie doesn’t add a lot to the horror genre, it certainly does a lot of things right. There was one shot early on that had me groaning because of how reminiscent it was of The Ring. I was all, “Great, I flew all the way to Palm Springs just to sit through yet another J-horror rip-off.” Sure enough, the look of the film is that sort of grayish-blue color seen in so many recent fright flicks, and it benefits more from a dark and gloomy atmosphere than it does from gore or monsters. But, as I kept watching, I became more and more engrossed in the storyline, I cared about the characters, and I really felt the suspense as the plot raced toward its climax at the end.
That’s what’s so great about Cecilie: it might use the conventions of the horror genre, but it tells its own story. So, although it’s familiar, it’s not a blatant rip-off or retread of what has gone on before--which, sadly, is what we keep getting from Hollywood. Cecilie is a real crowd pleaser. It has creepy nightmares, an interesting and well-thought-out mystery to be solved, and even some sexiness to satisfy the lowest common denominator. It might not be anything new--this is the type of plot they do every week on Medium--but it’s a satisfying spookfest with a great story. Check it out if you’re able to.
PSIFF Day Three: Tour of the Stars' Homes
I don’t believe I’m about to admit this to the entire world, but here goes: while at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, I went on one of those bus tours that takes you around to the stars’ homes. If I were to sum up the entire tour in a single word, it’d be “hokey.”
People in Palm Springs rarely refer to it as “Palm Springs.” Instead, almost everybody just calls it “the Desert.” Driving into town, the Desert is not exactly what I’d call “pretty.” This isn’t the nice sweeping dunes of Lawrence of Arabia. Instead, it’s more of grungy, grey-brown, brush covered desert, like something out of, let’s say, Tremors. The city itself is much nicer, of course. Not only are there big ol’ palm trees everywhere, but the city passed an ordinance years ago outlawing large outdoor advertising. As a result, the whole place gets to show off some nice architecture without gigantic signs and billboards cluttering up the main streets. I can see why so many old-timey celebrities were drawn to the place. Speaking of celebrities, let’s move on to some of the goofy stuff from the tour.
My tour guide was also a part-time member of the Dixieland Band at Disneyland, and was the closest thing to an actual celebrity I met while there.
Ten minutes into the tour and the first “celebrity home” we saw was game show host Monty Hall’s mother’s house. This didn’t fill me with much hope, but, fortunately, there were other stars’ homes that were, shall we say, a little more high profile.
The Desert’s two favorite sons are, by far, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. There was more info about these two guys on the tour than anyone else. In neighboring Cathedral City, we drove by the former Sinatra compound, made up of several buildings' worth of living space and partying space. Sinatra allegedly had the entire interior of one house painted bright orange, including ceilings, furniture, doors, doorknobs, and everything else, complimented with orange shag carpeting in every room. Why’d he do this? Because he’s Sinatra and he did it his way!
Bob Hope owned several homes in the Desert, living in a smaller one, and reserving the bigger ones for his parties. Turns out Hope made his fortune not from entertainment but from real estate. He had the foresight to buy up huge properties in the Desert long before rich folks started moving out there. I guess movies and comedy were just something he did on the side when not making shrewd land deals.
There are a lot of stories out there about Sinatra being all short-tempered, and I’m not saying that those aren’t true, but he also did a lot of charitable things for the town. The most notable of these is a park designed for use by the blind, which he financed with a blind friend in mind. The park has all kinds of displays in Braille, along with a special audio message from Sinatra himself, welcoming everyone to the park. With all that in mind, I guess it would be pretty insensitive of me to wonder why one path going through the park is lined with cacti on both sides.
An ordinary-looking trailer park proved itself to be a notable locale, as it’s where Bing Crosby and Jack Benny both lived in their later years. This begs the question: What in the heck were Bing Crosby and Jack Benny doing living in a freakin' trailer park?
Marylin Monroe’s house is very cool and classy-looking, which you'd expect from her. It’s also just a few blocks down from the home President John F. Kennedy stayed during his visits to the Desert. My tour guide said the two of them used to pass each other while jogging in the morning. Yeah, I’m sure they did.
Liz Taylor’s house is not only gigantic with an elaborately landscaped back yard, but folks can rent it out for several thousand dollars a day for parties. So you better not let your 9-year-old daughter find out about this place, or she'll be begging you to have her next birthday there.
Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn have a very nice house, and guess what? Their next door neighbor is Madonna. Tell me that’s not a sitcom waiting to happen.
The guy who did the voice of the Shadow on the old 1930s radio show is not only still around, but he has a little plaque outside his home bearing the famous line, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” I do believe that was the coolest thing I saw on the tour.
While driving past Hedy Lamarr’s house, where her grandchildren live today, I learned that not only did she have quite the real-life adventure escaping Nazi Germany to make it to Hollywood, but she’s also credited as the inventor of a radio guidance system for WWII torpedoes! Where’s that biopic?!?
Vincent Price has a house in the Desert, but, sadly, it’s not a dark gloomy castle. It does, however, have the distinction of being the longest house in the city. So, that's something, at least.
These were the highlights for me. In case you're wondering why I'm not providing the full listing of all the houses I saw, it's because I really don't care that much. It was just something to do.
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