Speculative Fiction Saturday: American Dad, Because Why Not?

American DadI have to admit, that I don’t really have much of a plan for this month as far as reviewing speculative fiction stuff is concerned. Still, like my review of Gravity Falls, last week, American Dad is pretty much a speculative fiction TV show.

Of course, most would not classify it as that. For those who don’t know, American Dad is from Seth MacFarlane’s animation company, the man who gave the world Family Guy. I don’t think I really need to explain Family Guy, other than it is a not a family-friendly cartoon that has been airing on Fox for almost twenty years, even though it was cancelled once. Family Guy was such a huge hit that I’m guessing they probably green-lit American Dad without even watching a pilot episode.

I will have to say that Seth MacFarlane would probably be a guilty pleasure of mine. There are time where his shows come off very good, and show a side of America that we don’t necessarily like to see. I will have to say that I have stopped watching his shows because his humor is often more violent and sexual then I really want to see.

However, when Seth MacFarlane is funny, he is very funny. Just watch some of the Star Wars parodies if you don’t believe me. American Dad was really the show that should have come first, because it feels less like a bawdier version of The Simpsons and more its original material.

The premise of American Dad is almost the same as Family Guy, but the main difference is that the father figure, Stan Smith, is more intelligent and stable, working at the CIA. In fact, this is a good time to say how much I can’t stand how Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin are fathers that are as unintelligent as they are uncaring of their family.

This is not to say that Stan Smith can come off as uncaring and unintelligent, but he is that way for different reasons. I mentioned before how I occasionally stop watching Seth MacFarlane because he is often too bawdy, but I honestly think Christian people should watch American Dad. Why do I feel that? Because American Dad often focuses on the mistakes that conservative people often make.

It is also a speculative fiction show, as two of the characters are completely unrealistic. Granted, a lot of Seth MacFarlane’s shows rely on just strange things happening for the sake of comedy, but American Dad has a good reason for it. With Stan being in the CIA, he has access to technology that is straight out of science fiction. For example, his goldfish Klaus has the mind of an East German skier.

Of course, the strangest thing of the show is they have an alien living with them. This would be Roger, who is apparently the extra-terrestrial who crash-landed at Roswell. It is odd that not much is really know about Roger and his origins, but his current character is like a more selfish version of Alf, but can somehow blend in with people thanks to his myriad disguises.

As far as some of the other characters are concerned, most of them are pretty stock. The wife Francine is a homemaker, but she is rather unintelligent. Hayley the daughter is free-spirited flower-child who has liberal views that contrast her father’s conservative ones. Steve, Stan’s son, is your typical nerdy adolescent character.

One of the reasons why I like American Dad is its willingness to take risks. Some of the my favorite episodes are just out there. For example, there is one called “Rapture’s Delight” which takes place during the Rapture, and yes, it has a bad view of the Rapture as well as Jesus and the Antichrist. If you’re willing to accept that, the action is good and the moral about staying with the one that you love works. This is just one of the show’s irreverent Christmas specials.

Then there is “Steve and Snot’s Test-Tubular Adventure”, which has such a terrific premise. The show involves Steve and his best friend Snot cloning two girls in order to take them to a dance. What they don’t know is they have to raise them from babies for a week. At that point, they become fathers, and the idea of using these girls to lose their virginity take on an odd turn. I’m not certain if this episode is support abstinence, but it does give an interesting view of premarital sex that most shows don’t try.

Then there is a question of whether shows should go to the places where American Dad goes. There is one episode known as “The American Dad After-School Special” which talks about anorexia, and it goes in just odd places. It even has a major twist ending to it that I never saw coming.

And then there is the episode “Tearjerker”, which is just a fun parody of seventies James Bond films. I can’t help but think that MacFarlane should just stick to straight up parodies.

In short, American Dad does present its audiences with problems that we as Americans are ignoring. Occasionally, it can get preachy, but seems to satirize itself when it does.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Corpse Bride

corpse brideWell, since it is Halloween, it stands to reason that I should review some film that looks like it is Halloween-related in some way. I probably could have selected any horror movie, and I could have also chosen The Nightmare Before Christmas from Tim Burton, but I decided to do a less-remembered film known as Corpse Bride.

This film showed up on Netflix, and I had remembered that I seen this one. Normally, films that can barely be remembered are worse than just plain bad films. Corpse Bride received mostly favorable reviews, and it is actually quite creative. I’m not really certain what to make of it, honestly.

The issue with animated films is the scripts have to be very polished before they are approved. The reason is obvious: there is little room for ad-lib in the world of animation, and this is especially true of claymation. The issue is that I think Corpse Bride had some good ideas, but the script could have used a few more drafts.

One of the things that I do remember about the film is that it uses Tim Burton’s black-and-white and yet still somehow in color world. Burton’s Batman Returns is a good example of this, as the only colors that were visible were the actor’s faces. Animation gives the director even more control over the color palette, and everything in this Victorian world is gray.

Even though the film is PG rated, I’m not certain if it is really for kids. In fact, it has an element of maturity to it that is welcome for a claymation film, but it doesn’t use any sex or violence. It starts out with a noveau-riche family who want to marry their son Victor to poor family’s Victoria. Normally, films that start with an arranged marriage have a character who wants out of it because he or she wants to love someone else.

The film makes you think that this is going to happen in Corpse Bride. Victor has a wedding rehearsal, and can’t get his vows right. For some reason the priest, played very creepily by the late great Christopher Lee, doesn’t seem to like Victor’s delivery. Victor then rehearses his vows complete with ring, and he put it on what he believes is a branch. As it turns out, the branch is a skeletal hand, and the vows are enough to inspire some magic. This enables the Corpse Bride to rise up as an undead bride, so she can marry Victor.

Victor then ends up in the land of the dead, and what makes it very odd is this afterlife is very colorful and lively compared to his normally drag Victorian world. This was one thing that I remember most about the film, because it felt like nothing that I expected. Then there are several other plot twists that come up, including that I won’t spoil about Victor, who seemingly does something out of character.

Corpse Bride is one of those films where there is some magical spell, and it is all about breaking it. Personally, I like stories like this, and there usually are some loopholes that show up so everything works out. I will have to say that the very ending shot is good, but it is rather vague.

This is one film that I will recommend, but here is one thing that I will have to say. I hadn’t seen the film after several years, and I had forgotten it was a musical. Seriously, I didn’t remember one song from this. I consider any musical that doesn’t at least leave one catchy tune in your head a failure, and perhaps it just should have left out the songs.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Minions

minions posterWell, I’m going to have to say that I honestly didn’t think that I was going to like this movie, but unlike CHAPPiE from last week, I’m going to give this a thumbs up. I explained in my review of the Despicable Me movies how I figured that the Minions were, at best, side characters that somehow outshined the main characters of that series including Gru.

I will have to say that the Minions movie would seem like a cash-in from Universal and Illumination Entertainment, and it is. It doesn’t look self-aware of this fact, but it really should be.

I remember when I saw the first Despicable Me film, I just assumed that the Minions were some kind of failed clone experiment or something from Gru, to make thoughtless slaves for his evil plans. Apparently, the Minions have been around since the beginning of time, and their purpose in life is to serve stronger and villainous figures. However, the Minions are not terribly intelligent, and they are often the reason why their masters fail.

The last master, which appears to be Napoleon, of all people, doesn’t end well, and the French army chases them to some snowy place, presumably the Himalayas. The only reason why I know this is because some abominable snowmen show up, but this doesn’t work out for the Minions.

Fortunately, three specific Minions named Stuart, Kevin, and Bob decide to leave the tribe in order to find a new master and a home. What makes it interesting is that they arrive in New York in 1968, and the film does an excellent job replicating the time period. Eventually, they hear of a convention in Orlando called Villain-con, and, after hitchhiking with a family of bank robbers that could easily be its own film, the Minions find their new master, a powerful supervillain named Scarlet Overkill.

I will have to say that Scarlet is played by Sandra Bullock, who is the big celebrity voice in this thing, which is not really needed. She does a pretty good job being evil and at the same time very wounded as well. It is pretty clear that she wants power because she wasn’t given it at a young age, but never questioned why she wanted it in the first place.

But this isn’t a film to probe someone’s past pains, and sadly, Scarlet’s husband Herb, played by Jon Hamm, isn’t well developed at all. Herb is dressed like a reject from the Monkees, and he’s kind of the tech genius in the film. It is interesting that Herb and Scarlet seem happy with each other, so I guess there is no lack of love making them evil.

One of the things I mentioned in my Despicable Me review is that this world presented is full of super-villains that are straight out of comic books and James Bond films. However, there are not any super heroes in this world, but this does not mean that there isn’t virtue. What makes the Minions funny is they are essentially pure creatures trying to survive in this very evil world.

Okay, that might be giving this film too much credit. Minions is really a comedy of errors, of the Minions being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and occasionally being at the right place at the right time. One chase scene leads to the other, often with a montage in between. Minions reminds me of a Warner Brothers cartoon, and I always felt there was a heavy Chuck Jones influence in the Despicable Me series. I always loved the Looney Tunes for their comic simplicity and imagination, and Minions takes full advantage of it.

So, yeah, it is not Oscar material, but it doesn’t have to be. There are scenes here that are pretty darn funny. I watched this film with a group of college kids and shorter kids and there is a scene where the Minions start singing their version of “Hair”. The audience was silent, because they didn’t get the joke. It actually took me a while before I figured out what they were satirizing, but once I got it, I loved it.

This is what works about the Minions, they are in their world and they often don’t let the audience in. Their entire language is a series of gibberish that is never given subtitled, but like Inside Out, it isn’t about a literal translation, but feelings. You understand an idea of what the Minions are saying, and you don’t need to know the specifics.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Transformers, Age of Extinction

Transformers 4Okay, this is the last time I’ll be reviewing a Transformers movie, at least this month. Personally, I still think this franchise has at least one good movie left in it, but they’ll probably make one good one, plus three bad cash-ins. When that happens, a decade from now, perhaps we will do Transformers month once again.

Okay, I honestly don’t think there was supposed to be a Transformers 4, and this film has the feeling of redeux all over it. Gone is Shia LeBeouf and whoever girl he’s wooing, as well as any military personae that appeared in the first three. Instead, we have…Marky Mark. Mark Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, who plays an inventor who can’t seem to get seem to get the right inspiration until it falls on his lap in the form of Optimus Prime.

For some reason, Optimus Prime is in an abandoned movie theater, and some shrapnel lodged in him has kept him from transforming. Yeager frees Prime, and this begins an intense series of events equal to the first film.

Now, I will have to give props to the plot of this film, because it is somewhat creative. Apparently, after the big Chicago battle of the last film, humanity is just plain sick of having these giant robots on their planet that just fight and wreck things. So they hunt down each Transformer, the good ones, and this is how Prime got to his immobilized form. I don’t know why anyone would shoot Prime and then leave him in a theater, but we had to make him a plot point of attack somehow.

Now, as much as I think this might actually happen given this scenario, unlikely as it is, this other transformer gets into the mix. Apparently, the government has been working this this outsider named Lockdown who has an unknown agenda. Okay, now here’s the thing: if you were the government, and you wanted to get rid of big robots from space on your planet, and then another robot from space came by and told you he would do it, would you accept that deal? Okay, I realize that last sentence was all kinds of run-on, but this part just doesn’t make a lot of sense, really. Because no one would hire a strange hostile robot to get rid of robots who have proven non-hostile.

So yeah, that part doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, I do like what happens once the government takes out the last of the Transformers. They sell it to a private industrialist who is trying to use the Transformers technology to create some seriously cool shape-shifting stuff. Honestly, it feels like tech that we would want to have, even if we would have to destroy a race or two of alien robots to get it.

Now for the part I don’t like, Stanley Tucci is playing the industrialist, and he’s not as charismatic as he was in The Hunger Games. He plays some guy who is obviously modeled after Steve Jobs, and it is not complimentary at all. Now, Kelsey Grammer, who plays a ruthless government operative, is nailing his role. Too bad these two talented actors are in this film which has a good idea, but lousy execution.

In fact, the film has so many action scenes in it that it really slows down this film that is very, very long. This film decided to go to Hong Kong for its final, city-wrecking climax. Sadly, all of the big action and special effects are more drawn out than the ending of the second Hobbit movie.

So I would say this is the second-worst Transformers movie, but it is actually okay. There’s no reason why they won’t make another as the ending of Transformers 4 is open, and I am certain a fifth one is on the way, coming in 2016.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Generator Rex

Generator-Rex-I finished last month’s line of films with my theme of weird independent films, so I’m not really certain what theme I want to go with this time. I suppose that I could talk about my favorite animated speculative fiction shows, but I have to admit that Generator Rex would not make this list.

I remember the first day that I turned it on and watched it. It is weird to actually turn on the TV and watch a show these days. After all, most shows have a “story-arc” which requires the viewer to watch the show from season 1, episode 1 just so he/she knows what is going on. I was able to figure out what was going on from some random episode, but even if you watch the show from the first episode, it is somewhat confusing.

I am told that one should not release any show whose premise takes more than ten seconds to explain. Here’s the one from Generator Rex: In the future, some explosion from a scientific experiment releases nanites into the atmosphere that will infect certain creatures to mutate uncontrollably into Evos. Rex is an Evo who can somehow control his nanites, and can even cure Evo, but not all. He is part of a group known as Providence that fights against Evos, and he has amazing technological shape-changing superpowers.

So, is that confusing? It actually isn’t, honestly. In fact, the first episode shows Rex explaining this concept in a voiceover, while fighting an Evo. The Evos on this show really look horrible, and they feel pulled straight out of the imagination of H.P. Lovecraft. They often have multiple eyes and mouths, and very asymmetrical body structures. I can’t help but wonder if eighties cartoons could even show the monsters on this show, judging them as too scary for younger audiences.

Rex is the typical arrogant teenager, and he is joined by an ensemble cast who are sadly just as typical. For example, there is Agent Six, who looks just like Hugo Weaving’s character Agent Smith from The Matrix. Agent Six apparently is just as lacking in personality, and he has these fold-out swords so he can fight like a ninja. There is also Bobo, a monkey who can speak and shoot guns. I suppose every cartoon needs a cute animal sidekick, and I think Bobo is that. Then there’s Doc Holiday, a pretty doctor who is way too young for her job as chief of something at Providence. Providence is headed up by someone known as White Knight, a role played by J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson from the Sam Raimi Spider-man films). White Knight lives in this bubble just so he can avoid exposure to nanites, and he’s quite the bureaucrat. Rex also has a best friend named Noah, who is sort of the straight-man of the group.

The biggest problem that I have with Generator Rex is that it feels like it was supposed to have some sort of massive saga, but it doesn’t feel structured that way. I wish the show had some sort of “origin episode”, where we see Rex get his powers, the big nanite effect, and all. There is some origin episodes, but they don’t really show the entire backstory. There are several things that are missing in this story, and I won’t spoil it if you are interested in seeing it for yourself. The reason why I bring up the subject of the backstory is the show constantly brings up that Rex has lost his memory, several times. This really brings up a lot of potenital backstory that we never really see.

I will have to say that Rex’s powers are interesting, as he seems to be able to change into half-human and half-machine hybrids. It is definitely an original power that is difficult to see in a world that is saturated by superheroes with powers that we have all seen before.

I’m not certain that I can recommend this show, but I did watch all of it on Netflix. So I guess that I didn’t hate it. At least, I think that I watched all of it. According to imdb, the show runs from 2010-, but the last episodes aired over a year ago. The show’s last two episodes are called “Endgame”, but there is a lot of loose threads that didn’t get snipped.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Mr. Nobody

Mr. NobodyIt seems that my Speculative Fiction Saturday has been doing “theme” months. One month, it was the films of Pixar, then the next month, it was the films of Terry Gilliam. I’m not certain what to call this month, I’m going to call it the 4 “I’s” films. These films are independent (not backed by a major studio), innovative (not like films from a major studio), and inconsistent (having deliberate “holes” in the plotline). So, as you can see…oh wait, I forgot the last “i”. I guess I was going for a four I’s, because this is The Geek Church after all. I suppose the final “i” is that the story often in-compasses an entire lifetime. (Yeah, I had to stretch it to make it work, but I know you have heard worse mnemonic devices.)

This will all make sense when I talk about the other films I will review. Today, it is Mr. Nobody, starring the one-and-only Jared Leto, the former musician who made a name for himself last year in Dallas Buyers Club. This role in Mr. Nobody is a a huge stretch for any actor, and the story is about a man who is the last mortal man who lives in a world where everyone is now immortal.

That is at least the Netflix description. This drew me to the film, as I thought the premise of being the last mortal in a now immortal world could be very interesting. So why is everyone becoming immortal? Why is Nemo Nobody (actual name, I think) the last mortal? Doesn’t he want to live forever like everyone else? These three questions are never addressed.

Instead, the film becomes a story of Nemo’s life told in very, very, very extended flashback. What makes it very weird is it has two framing devices. In one instance, Nemo is visiting a psychiatrist who has way too many facial tattoos, and ends up hypnotizing him so Nemo sees his past life. In the second occasion, the old Nemo is sitting in his bed while a journalist asks him some questions.

Then this film gets even weirder, and I have no idea if Nemo believes this next part is true. You see, Nemo believes that in some pre-existence, he could see his entire life laid out for him. Apparently, all kids were like this, until an angel touches them in that indentation right above your mouth. For some reason, the angels didn’t touch him, so he remembers past, present, and future. Nemo actually chooses what couple he is born into, and he only calls them “The Mommy” and “The Daddy”.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this. Even in a kid’s film, this would be going too far. The film then shows that Nemo has to make a tragic choice after his parents are separated. He actually makes this choice at the last second at the train station as his mother leaves. I’m sure the YouTube channel Cinema Sins would call “B.S.” on that, but there is so much more to this film that is just plain inconsistent.

In the film, we see that Nemo choosing one path with his mother, and the other with his father. From here, we are not seeing Nemo’s linear life, but a tree with many different branches of individual choices, each one leading to different consequences. There are some consistencies in these lives he chose, but he has actually three different wives in each lifetime. In some lives, he has kids, but in others, he does not.

The ending of the film is a wrap-up that tries to explain all the inconsistencies, but, in the end, feels very hackneyed. This is where I am going to disagree with these films that I will review this month. I know that some films don’t have the traditional three-act-structure, and I admire some directors that are willing to break tradition. The problem is that when you start breaking the unwritten rules of cinematic story-telling, it is difficult to know when to quit. Case in point, the pre-existence scenes that I mentioned before, as I almost felt should have been in a different movie. It’s like these movies are really presumptuous, but this is really the only way you can get away with doing fantastic elements in a movie without it suddenly being slapped with a genre-label of speculative fiction. I suppose the best way to describe this technique is “experimental”, but not all experiments work. In the case of Mr. Nobody, I would say this one is not as successful as it intended to be.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Starship Troopers

Starship_Troopers_-_movie_posterI got to admit that I may be running out of speculative fiction films to review, and I am surprised that I haven’t got around to this one. So let’s start this review with an analysis of the title. What do you honestly think a film about Starship Troopers would be about? If you think this is some escapist thing that is a cross between G.I. Joe and Star Trek, you would be dead wrong.

I would imagine that there were parents who ignored the “R” rating on this film and took their kids to it, thinking it was something as fun as Star Wars. This is the film’s biggest problem: it isn’t a lot of fun. However, it isn’t really supposed to be.

The film is based on a book by Robert Heinlein. If you aren’t familiar with that name, then you need to learn more about the grandmasters of science fiction. I remember reading this book as a kid, and I thought it was an interesting soldier’s story, but set in the far future. I can’t remember if the story is about propaganda, but the film seems to emphasize this, a lot.

This is really what this film is about. The film has a message that is about as subtle as a slap in the face, and it shows a world that could be as the future is a very military police state. It was clear that audiences were not expecting this, and many have interpreted this film as “fascist”.

This film shows a future where people are not guaranteed citizenship unless they do military service. Sure, mandatory military service is still in some countries, but this law is in effect in the future, big-time.

The film starts with a group of soldiers who are entering military service, at a time when these alien space bugs have invaded the Earth. In response, the space military goes to the space bug planet and wants to destroy them all.

In case you are wondering why the Starship Troopers cannot just bomb the living daylights out of the space bug’s planet, that is a very good point. Why in the world are they dispatching troops down on these planets when they could just nuke them from above? I’m sort of wondering if this illogical logic was intentional.

There is a lot of fascism going on in this film, and it has propaganda films that look like newsreels from the forties. The military seems to train its recruits at the school of maximum hard knocks, even whipping insubordinate soldiers publicly. Then, once the troops are trained, they are set out to kill alien bugs who are just all mouth and completely deadly. Much of the film then becomes the troops killing bugs, and it is violent.

In one scene, there is a scene where a soldier is captured by a flying alien bug, and the commanding officer shoots the soldier. If he was trying to put the captured soldier out of his misery, I can see this. Why couldn’t he have shot the alien bug? This commanding officer is then put in a position later where he is captured, and commands a soldier to shoot him. Yeah, there are a lot of scenes showing how military intelligence equals stupidity. There is even a scene with co-ed showers that I don’t get, other than a bad excuse to show nudity.

On the whole, I would say that this film shows what happens when the military gains more power than it should. Assuming that humanity ever gets the ability to explore alien planets, it is quite possible that we could have a real colonist mentality and not care about indigenous species. In fact, this film doesn’t show the alien bugs as anything but murderers, which is interesting because we are never told what these aliens really want. In fact, there are psychics in this universe, and they don’t seem to be trying to use their telepathy to understand these bugs. If anything, they just want to weaponize telepaths.

So yes, you are ready to watch a film that is essentially a cautionary tale about military propaganda, then Starship Troopers is for you. This film is a thinking-man’s science fiction film, but it isn’t without cool special effects and aliens. I don’t know if I can really recommend it, but I think the message is interesting, even if it is not what you might want to hear.

Speculative Fiction Saturday/Sunday: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and other LOTR stuff

hobbit desolation of smaugJust in case you have noticed, I usually do Speculative Fiction reviews on Saturday, but I forgot. There, I said it, and I even promised that I would review this film. I feel bad, because I’m going to give this next movie a mixed review.

This is my feeling on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which covers the rest of the Hobbit prequel trilogy, so far. It feels like Peter Jackson is doing the same thing as George Lucas. That is, once the landmark trilogy has been made and name made, make a prequel trilogy that is of lesser quality. I feel no reason to make any Jar-Jar related comments about Episode I with the new Hobbit trilogy.

As it is, I liked The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The reason why is because I felt that Peter Jackson bought the magic of The Lord of the Rings back, but it just isn’t the same. Maybe it is because there are just some things that you just can’t bring back to their original glory.

I will have to question the method that The Hobbit was brought to the screen. I know everyone has said this, but it seems odd that each of The Lord of the Rings books was made into a 3-hour movies with source material that was 300-500 pages per book. And yet The Hobbit is being made into three movies. This is quite similar to the habit of franchises like Twilight, Harry Potter, and now The Hunger Games to put the last book into two movies.

Personally, I think there is a lot to be said by spreading out a book into a few movies, because it gives the film the opportunity to cover all the book’s nuances. The good thing about Tolkien’s Middle Earth is that there are a lot of things you can put in it if your source material is not enough to fill the length of a movie. I have heard that much of the stuff in The Hobbit movies have been taken from The Silmarillion, which is another Tolkien book.

I have the same feelings about the Hobbit movies as I do about most comic-book movies. That is, they pack them full of stuff from the source material so they are bursting with way too much plot and unnecessary characters. In the case of Desolation, it has Legolas. Legolas is not in the book, what is he doing here?

Another main concern with these Hobbit movies is they depend too much on computer generated effects. There is one scene in the film where the dwarves make an escape via barrels down a river. There is one scene where a barrel rolls and hits several orcs, and it looks just awesome, but it couldn’t be done without CG. One of the things that I liked about The Lord of the Rings films is how Peter Jackson used a lot of real costumes with miniatures along with CG to make the world really come to life in a realistic way. In The Hobbit series, it feels like a lot of the effects are done with CG, and it feels artificial. There are some exceptions, like this whole town on a river that feels like something they actual built.

Another mistake that Desolation makes is that characters seem to be living in a world of cartoon physics. I already mentioned a shot in the barrel escape, but there is a scene where an arrow is blocked with another arrow. I am totally serious about that. I actually took me a minute before I realized what happened, and how atrocious that would be. I mean, you really have to time that right. If you can shoot an arrow, could you not shoot the archer a half-second earlier? Talk about a close call.

Okay, I had a lot of negative things to say about about Desolation, but I have just as many negative things to say about The Two Towers. I think it is the weakest of the LOTR trilogy, but it still has very awesome scenes. The Two Towers also have scenes that are drawn out unnecessarily, and same with Desolation. I’ll give you a spoiler alert and say that scenes with the dragon are way drawn out.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel and GretelLast week, I reviewed Frozen, and how I somewhat liked it, but with Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, I will have to say that I really didn’t like it.

I will have to say that one of the reasons that I didn’t like it was one of the same reasons I didn’t like Frozen. The problem is the film tries to put a modern spin on its concept, so it uses dialogue and other modern-day mannerism what wouldn’t pass during that time period. I will explain what I mean later, but let’s talk about the concept.

As you might have guessed from the title, the story is about Hansel and Gretel, now fully grown-up and essentially overcompensating for their Grimm childhood trauma by taking out witches. Just think of something like Ghostbusters but not so much of an emphasis on profit. I have to admit that there is a lot of potential for something like this, but if someone were to offer me the job of adapting this premise into a screenplay, I wouldn’t exactly be anxious to take this an run with it.

As you can see by the poster, Hansel and Gretel are witch butt-kickers with Gretel using a crossbow and Hansel using a gun that is the most obvious phallic symbol in movie history. If you don’t know what a phallic symbol is, just watch actor Jeremy Renner pose with it a various points in the film.

The film has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, with an opening that shows a village in the who-cares century where there is a missing child. We know this because it shows the kid’s face on milk bottles as the milk is being delivered in the morning. Seriously, are they trying to show me this is how we got the tradition of putting missing children on milk cartons? As I mentioned before, this film’s attempt at trying to make modern jokes is awful.

Later on, there is a scene where a character is a big fan of Hansel and Gretel. You guessed it, this film has its own fanboy, on-screen! Again, another dumb modern day reference.

Much of the film is pretty unnecessarily gory, and I actually wished that this film had been re-tooled for younger audiences, but it still wouldn’t have been good.

The rest of the film is pretty much what you would expect: the big case. In this case, the witches are trying to cast this spell that makes them immune to fire, because that would stop them from being burned at the stake. I actually think this is what the plot boils down to.

This film came out in 2013, which was a terrible year for fantasy films. There was Jack the Giant Slayer, and the last Hobbit movie, which I should probably get around to talking about next week.

Speculative Fiction Saturday: The Croods

The CroodsI can honestly say that I honestly didn’t want to see The Croods. I am actually surprised that I am recommending it. I figured that this film was targeted for younger audiences, and I think it is good that there are some films that kids can watch. The problem is these types of films tend to alienate adults. While this film is no LEGO movie (which I will talk about next week), The Croods does have something that can appeal to all ages.

The film is about a group of cavemen, who are lead by Grug. Grug is voiced by Nicolas Cage, who I could easily write several articles about. I’m not certain if the role was written for him in mind, but he really plays his Nicolas Cage thing very well. Considering how many films this man has been in, just watch a few and you will see what I mean.

Another main character is Eep, Grug’s dauther, portrayed by Emma Stone. Eep begins the film with narration, explaining that her family is about the only survivor in a very hostile world. Grug has a plan to keep the family safe which involves hunting, gathering, and staying in a cave. The only problem is, a great disaster is occurring that forces them out of the cave. It isn’t really clear what this disaster is, but the ground seems to be breaking up all around them.

From there, the film is about survival, but it is also about how Grug is having a hard time embracing new things. This is made especially difficult as the Croods meet Guy, a teenager played by Ryan Reynolds. Guy has some good ideas of how to survive the hostile world filled with early mammals like sabre-tooth tigers and carnivorous birds. The problem is Grug is not very open-minded, and doesn’t want Guy making the moves on his teenage daughter.

Yeah, this plot is somewhat original, even if elements of it are pretty unoriginal. What makes it work is something that I noticed right away, is that this is a Chris Sanders film. Sanders is responsible for Lilo and Stitch and How to Train your Dragon, and his creatures have a distinct look to them. His plots are usually about how difficult it is to embrace new ideas, especially if what everyone is saying is wrong is made right.

In the case of The Croods, the plot is more than just a caveman story, which I don’t think has ever worked on film, except for The Flintstones. Still, there are some really dramatic scenes here, and one of he best is when Grug decides “no more caves”. This is a man whose former motto was “Never not be afraid”, but realizes that he can no longer hide safely in a cave. I actually enjoy hearing Nicolas Cage say: “No more caves, we go toward the light”.

For some reason, this scene just works. I can relate with the need to change mores and ethics for a greater good, and in the case of The Croods, the necessity to move is a risk that has to be taken. What I feel is justly missing is Guy’s backstory. He mentions that he lost his family to a tar pit, and this tragic event could have been probed deeper in a flashback scene or something. This would have definitely made this film a darker picture, which would have negated all the bright colors in this film.

Yes, The Croods is a kid’s film, but there are complex themes that kids may not fully understand, but still be able to relate to. This is why I do recommend it, even though there is a scene with Nicolas Cage in a rasta wig spewing dumb ideas. That was a bad as it got, but there is a lot of good in it as well.