Thursday, April 23, 2015

LET'S EXPEND SOME ACTION SHALL WE

The Expenables

No, I don't mean the banannas you just bought. I mean the movies. The action series created by Sylvester Stallone

Come on, you watch them, I know you do. Just admit it. Then have yourself a good cry






Stallone came up with the idea of rounding up a bunch of 80's action stars from the 80's Action Stars Retirement Home & Rehab Facility and put them in a movie. In the most recent version of the franchise, he paired up the old boys with some "young bloods"

The interwebs has been abuzz with the possibility of an all female Expendables movie. I have no idea if this is a reality but it's an entertaining notion. You can troll around and find lots of proposed cast lists but hey, I'm too lazy to be original, so I've decided to do my own

I'm going to follow to the template of Expendables 3 and have some Old Guard actors matched with some New Guard/Current Guard. And what we call this collection of kick ass females? Why, the EE of course, The Estrogen Expendables ...

OLD GUARD:

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Yeh, this is pretty much a no brainer

Not only is Ms Weaver one of the most significant female action stars of the 80's and 90's, she also a legit high level actress. She still pops up in an action movie or two, sometimes as a villain and it's obvious she has nothing to prove and is having a lot of fun. Whether stripped down to her underpants or suited up with a bald head, Sigourney is tough but it's her intelligence that informs all of her performances

So, Sigourney as the leader of the  EE, a smarter way sexier Sylvester Stallone

LINDA HAMILTON: You saw this one coming didn't you


Hamilton first appeared as the female love interest to a lion man in TV's Beauty and the Beast TV series. So yeh, she was the first furry lover on the tube. She was also, of course, the female star of the original Terminator movie. In that movie Sarah Conner was largely a victim. Yes, she displayed some toughness but she spent most of the movie running and hiding

Then came Terminator 2. Her physical transformation and Sarah's emotional transformation was a pretty revolutionary thing. This was a tough, driven, imperfect woman, the female embodiment of the typical moody male action star.

Linda has sown up recently in the TV series Defiance, proving she can still do tough and crazy

PAM GRIER: The EE needs a little kick ass soul and who better to provide it






Not only the first black female action star, one of the first female action movie headliners ever. Pam's film history starts back the black exploitation films of the 1970's. Movies like Foxy Brown and Coffee were quick to exploit her body but her chick's were tough and as violent as male counterparts like James Brown and Fred Williamson

In 1997 Quentin Tarantino did what he is very often the best at: he revialized Pam's career with the movie Jackie Brown. She continues to work in projects like the L Word. The Expendables only black member is football star Terry Crews. Pam has way more action movie credentials than Crews and can out act and probably outfight him with her eyes closed. Or bliind folded .. um, let's move on

MICHELLE YEOH: Move over Jet Li, you just met your estrogen match


Like Weaver and Hamilton, Michelle is a "serious" actress with significant action chops. Probably more so, in the latter area, than the American women. She was the first actress to star alongside Jackie Chan (in the Supercop movies) and was part of one of the screen's greatest sword fights in Crouching Tiger (against another female too) She also proved a perfect new style Bond Girl, looking gorgeous as always but able to match Pierce Bronson punch for punch in Tomorrow Never Dies.

ANGELINA JOLIE: Oscar winning actress, mother to all the world's unwanted children and kick ass female action icon


Lara Croft, Wanted, Salt, Mr & Mrs Smith ... well not as "old school" as some of the other ladies it seems as if Angelina has been kicking ass for a long time. No matter what kind of bad guys the Estorgen Expendables would face, I can imagine what would happen when Angelina walks toward them out of the dust and rubble of some expression "Oh wow, fellow henchmen, check out the body and this one" and after a moment "Holy shit, she has a rocket launcher" Die, you bad guys, with a smile on your face

LUCY LAWLESS: An old school estrogen butt kicker who has managed to stay relevant


Xena, Warrior Princess, seriously that would be enough. She has stayed relevant playing a villainess style role on Spartacus, a truly awful series but hey, Lucy got naked. She has shown up, fully clothed, on Agents of SHIELD. Sister can still hang


NEW GUARD

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Is she a mainstream actress? Is she a comic book movie icon? She's both, and oh yeh, she fills out a black leather bodysuit pretty well


Black Widow. Seriously. The Widow may be a supporting player, she will probably never have her own movie but I think she's been in more Marvel movies than any other character. Iron Man, Captain America (Winter Soldier). She's also been Lucy. And as Silken Floss, a truly sexy and insane villain, was one of the few reasons to struggle all the way through The Spirit

ZOE SALDANA: Quickly establishing herself as a major sci fi badass, Saldana has also kicked some major ass on poor old boring present day Earth


Avatar, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy ... she's been in some popular movies. And that was a huge understatement. Not to mention some potentionally huge franchises. She's also shot her way through some more down to earth (get it? as in not a space movie?) films like The Losers and a starring role in Columbiana

MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ: Another outcast from the planet of Pandora, amongst other places


I'll give you a moment to digest that photo. OK, are you with me now?

She was the rebel chopper pilot in Avatar. She's also been in Girl Fight, and an integral part of the Furious movies and in many other action movies like Machete and the Resident Evil films She has solid acting chops and is not afraid to bring on the crazy. Think of her as the EE version of Antonio Banderas

MILLA JONOVICH: Speaking of Resident Evil ...


 The Resident Evil movies are pretty shite, even for video-game-based-zombie flicks but as the series has gone on, Milla's Alice has emerged as a flat out pulp sci fi action babe. She'd been acting for a few years, including some very soft soft porn but it was her portrayal as Leeloo in Fifth Element that put her in the action goddess mode. Yeh, pretty literally a goddess She will soon be branching out from her B Movie zombie murdering stereotype in an A list starring take in Survivor with Pierce Brosnan. It's interesting how so many of our kick ass ladies do their work in the sf genre, with more to come

GINA CARADO: The current Expendables has MMA babe Rhonda Roussey, well the EE has their rear naked choke kick ass babe. Mmmm naked .. hey, none of that



Rhonda Roussey is a current UFC champ; Gina is more of a mma blast from the past. But she's been in the movie game longer than Rhonda. She's been in the Furious franchise (where she mixed it up with Michelle Rodriguez) but she's starred in a couple of movies, including Haywire, a very A level spy-action flick. Is Gina a great actress? Well, she's better than Rhonda and her onscreen fight scenes are always good, she is not afraid to take a hit or twenty from the guy before artfully bending his arms or gonads into a pretzel.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

SUMMER GLAU: Yup, yet another sci fi butt kicker


Firefly, Serenity, Sarah Conner Chronicles, Arrow A fanboy fave who's diminuitive size and pixie face makes her the perfect EE stealth weapon "Oh look boys, they sent us a little cutie .. hey, is that my heart in her hands?"

TATIANA MASALY: If the EE need themselves a covert undercover multiple identity specialist, I've got their girl


In Orphan Black, Tatiana plays multiple clones of herself. It could be a kind of trick role but this girl is the read deal acting wise and infuses each version of herself with distinctive personalities. And she is not afraid to handle a gun

KATE BECKINSALE: The EE should be a well rounded merc army. So just in case there are some werewolves that need stomping:


Star of the Underworld movies, this one is not afraid to get bloody. And who wouldn't pay to see the fight within the fight, as she and Scarlett battle for the Queen of the Leather Bodysuits. Popcorn please

GAL GADOT: Yet another product of the Fast & Furious action factory


Besides scaring the boys in the Furious movie as a trained assasin, this former model will soon be the new Wonder Woman .. if the movie ever gets made. I question that casting but in the Furious movies she came across as cool as well as sexy

UMA THURMAN: Just in case the EE need to crash a wedding


Basically, Uma has made one action movie (in two parts) but that movie was Kill Bill. The Bride really is one of the greatest female action movie characters of all time.

LUCY LIU: Well, come on, if we're referencing Kill Bill ..


But besides Bill, Lucy has other action movie creds, including Charlie's Angels and Ecks vs Sever (with current Expendable, Antonio Banderas)

That's pretty much of it. There are others, of course, past and present, with nods to Brigitte Nielson, Grace Jones, Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, House of Flying Daggers), Soarise Ronan (Hannah), Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick Ass), Rhona Mitra (Doomsday) but even I have to draw the line someday

 I'd say the Estrogen Expendables would be a pretty capable bunch. I'd suggest pitting them against the boys but hell, that just wouldn't be fair. Even I wouldn't be that cruel to Stallone and company
































Tuesday, April 21, 2015

THE BUSINESS OF MONKEY BUSINESS

I live in Canada, I live in Ontario, I live in Toronto, yet monkeys; actual live monkeys, are throwing feces all up and down the news cycle

First, some back story. Monkey back story. Ya gotta love that

Some of you may know Darwin, the Ikea Monkey. Couple of years ago this Japanese Macaque became headline news when he was found wandering around the parking lot of a local Ikea in her shearling fur coat.

Shearling coat. I shit you not. And if I did, well Darwin would fling it at you

Ewww

Anyway, Darwin became involved in a court case where the Crown wanted to remove him from his owner and give him a better place to live. In some places in Canada you can own such exotic pets, in the GTA you cannot. So the owner eventually lost Darwin. She never went after Ikea for a cut of the publicity she provided them

Perhaps Darwin did. I'm sure he has an agent

But now we get to the sticky point. If Darwin cannot stay with an owner who was capable of dressing him in high fashion but incapable of keeping him from wandering around a parking lot, where was he to go

The Crown, the gov't, that be us (well so they say) decides this woman cannot keep this animal. In my opinion a proper decision. Personally, I don't believe anyone should own a primate or exotic wild animals. I'm not sure if Darwin was "wild" in the sense he came right out of the countryside but even if he'd been bread, I would say monkeys are still many generations away from being domestic in the way dogs and horse ares. One of the reasons you can't own them in this province

But what happens to them. There are structures (although weak) to take care of unwanted pets like cats and dogs. I hate the shelter system as in the Humane Society, it is a system that is broken but there is still a possibility the animal can be rehomed. Then there are many rescue orgs such as Border Collie Rescue that takes unwanted animals, works with them and guarantees them new homes

But Darwin and his monkey brethren are a different story. Because you can't own a monkey. You can't in the classical sense rehome in. But this is not an entirely rare situation so there is a structure to deal with it. There are wild animal habitats that take animals in these kind of situations. They are private organizations, to the best of my knowledge there is no public system like the Humane Society; most of these places are listed as "volunteer" and "non profit"

Well that is soon to be determined

Darwin ended up in a place called Story Book Farm sanctuary in Sunderland. So, a happy end to our story, right? Well of course not. You see, the sanctuary is in a bit of a bind, seems like they are about to get kicked off their property. So very soon they will have no place to shelter all their animals

They need money, they are no profit or so they claim. So they need that money from us. Or the gov't. But of course the gov't is too busy spending billions trying to get money from us. So the Farm needs the money from us

To this end, they are happy to trot out little Darwin in his darling fur coat. He is, I suppose, a celebrity and they are hoping to parlay that into some interest and into some dollars. After all, poor Darwin, he just need banannas, he needs fine silver with which to eat it

BUT WAIT, WE'RE NOT DONE YET

Seems Darwin is not the Farm's only celebrity monkey. Yeh, there are celebrity monkeys.

I may need a moment

Anyway, the Farm also hosts Pockets, an artist monkey. He paints. A primate that paints. Gee, is this what happened to Jackson Pollack? OK that was cruel

No, it wasn't.

At any rate, here's the situation: Idiots buy themselves wild animals and make pets out of them. Guess what, they fail. Now what do we do with these animals. Well we take them to a rescue sanctuary. Well, what if the sanctuary fails

What happens to Darwin and Pockets

They can't go to the Zoo. The animals at the zoo may be housed but they are still wild. They were never pets. How would Darwin and Pockets fare in the primate enclosure

Pockets would be over in the corner, wearing his beret and smoking a cigarette, staring intently and all artist like at his blank canvas .. then it would covered in poop and some silverback would pound him into tar for asking one of the females to model for some "artistic paintings"

Darwin would be flouncing about and pouting, screaming for a cell phone so he could order a new coat from Milan and calling all the other monkeys "chi chi" and demanding they fell a tree so he could use it as a runway

Yeh, he'd be made into somebody's prison bitch

Not easy being a celeb these days




Monday, April 13, 2015

WHAT YOU SEE I DON'T NEED TO SEE BUT I SEE THAT YOU SEE IT

No, not kind of vision. This is not a post about squinting. It's a post about thinking. Or knowing what someone is thinking. And if you think you know what they are thinking. Sort of

Er

Let me explain

I've written here many times about inspiration, that initial spark that could be the beginning of some creative endeavour. But that endeavour will never happen without another component: Vision

I think every successful project, be it creative or purely commercial or anything more prosaic, is successful due to someone's vision. It's what drives them, it's what gives them the energy to keep moving ahead when faced with obstacles. That vision, and the strength to believe in it, is what can get you to the end with most of your project intact

The person with that vision understands it. But so must those around him, the people working with them and the people who will be receiving that final project

I have seen many works of art that perhaps I did not thoroughly enjoy or totally understand yet I appreciated them, because in them, I sensed the creator's vision. In an earlier post I compiled a list of space opera movies that included the Vin Diesel film The Riddick Chronicles. In some respects it is not a great movie but I appreciate it because the creators had a vision and they went for that vision and I always have to respect that

Myself, I've created projects of a non commercial nature where the "success" of said project may be difficult to quantify. Even to myself. You get caught up in the process of making something, you sometimes forget what the intent of the whole thing was. In my pro background there was always the client and the bottom line, those were definable margins of success

With a purely creative project, that "success" is more difficult to define. For me, it always comes down to "did this project carry through on the original vision" If I can say that it did, then I honestly don't care what other measures may be applied to it. You may be able to say, in some objective fashion that it was good bad or indifferent but I need to look at it and say "yeh, that's as close to my original vision as I can get" And that's really all I need

This video I created for a Moby music video contest is a prime examples of this. I've had a variety of reactions to this video but I consider it one of my more successful "amateur movies" in that it came very close to matching my original vision

But someone's vision is not always easy to recognize. Sometimes I barely recognize it in myself. I've met and worked with some people where it's "hell yes, I totally get where you are coming from" and off we go, I need no further guidance, I know exactly what they are doing. A meeting of the minds if you will

Then there are those instances where I really don't get where the person is going. I've bowed out of projects, both professional and amateur, simply because what the person wanted to do made no sense to me and I found no inspiration in it

Then there are those cases where I may not understand the vision but I see that the person has one, that they are on to something, that it means something to me Sometimes that's all I need to see. If you can define my role I don't necessarily need to understand that vision. It's a question of faith

This inspiration for all this comes from Brendan, the guy who owns the dogwalking company for whom I work. Brendan owns a fenced in lot on the Lakeshore where we run the dogs. It's a reformed industrial waste area where he planted a few trees, rolled in some soil and generally cleaned up. It's a nice space but years of hundreds of dogs pounding around it has made it into a mud pet whenever it gets wet

Last year Brendan had the idea of bringing in wood chips and spreading them across the lot. It would keep the mud at bay and make it easier for us to keep clean. I got all that But then these huge loads of wood chips began to come in, one after another, stacked in huge hills, well into the winter when everything got frozen and could not be handled.

At one point the landscaping company who was donating the chips came in and flattened out some of these hills. Brendan went ballistic. He was extremely upset. He yelled that these assholes had ruined his vision

I didn't get it; wasn't rolling out the chips what he wanted?

I kept out of it. I had made it clear that my job was managing the dogs not spreading out the chips so I had no say in it. I just didn't get what Brendan was seeing

Now that spring has come, things have warmed up and the chips once again can be worked with, I come in every day and see how the work has been progressing. And it's progressing extremely well. Brendan is not just dumping in piles of chips and flattening them out, he is landscaping. I'm seeing some nicely sculpted hills that the dogs love to play on, some nice little vallies where they can keep cool, some nice rounded shapes that makes it all look very organic

Brendan had a vision. I did not see it. But I saw his passion and knew that this vision was real.

Sometimes you have to have a little faith





Friday, April 3, 2015

"I WANT YOU TO SERVE IT TO ME BETWEEN YOUR KNEES"

Service. Remember what that is?

Not military service but the service industry. You know, those things you pay other people to do for you.

The line that is the title of this post comes from the movie Five Easy Pieces, after Jack Nicholson becomes frustrated in a diner trying to order himself a sammich. At the end there, he was just trying to help the waitress do her job. Helpful fella, Jack was

I don't often think of it this way but I've been in the service industry for a long time. A professional cook is in the service industry. Directly, you work for the restaurant and answer to the manager  .. for whom you feel sorry cuz really, what is a restaurant manager .. someone who never got that final credit in college.

But I always thought I served the customer, the poor sods who were paying to eat the stuff I cooked. I really did look at it that way, I got into many arguments (really Vic, you got in a argument?) with other staff cuz I was always concerned with producing the best product possible.

Same went for the video production business. I had clients, my clients paid me and I tried to give them what they paid for. But what they paid for was not just me making a video, it was for my attention. My attention to them. That meant picking up the phone late at night or early morning (pretty much the same thing to me) or going into the studio on the weekend or editing for 40 hours straight. Usually I worked on a flat rate and sometimes I cheated myself a few dollars but it didn't matter: I always felt that if you went that extra mile (insert your fave cliche here) you'd be rewarded with more work Sure, that didn't always work out but it often did. And it's just the way I'm built

When I'm doing something I enjoy I take pride in it. So yeh, it's an ego thing. Fuck you, I'm a leo. But it usually made my clients happy

As a dogwalker I definitely in the service industry. I provide a service to my clients; now, I work for the guy who runs the company, not directly for the clients but I do my best to satisfy both. This is a clearly defined service: take the dog out, make sure it gets some exercise, make sure it takes care of its biological business. When asked to do something extra, I just do it, it's part of the service. Keep the boss happy, keep the client happy, keep the dog happy

I don't think I'm anything special, I think when providing a service you set boundries, you set a price; you try to be flexible but I've never hesitated saying "You want that, you pay this much more" and if in many cases just saying "Sorry, due to budget and deadline limitations, I just can't do that" One of the reasons I've been able to say this is, because I know that I am willing to go as far as I can otherwise

When I am on the other side of the equation, when I am paying for the service, I try to be reasonable.
Been there, done that sort of thing. I'm always willing to listen to logic about why something can't be exactly when I want, how I want etc

But these days that does not seem to enter into what a lot of people call service, and by that, I mean the client, our needs our wants our expectations. It seems less about the client and more about the company. There is more and more focus on the bottom line and let's face it, being flexible and putting the client first, well that just costs money

For instance: Subaru dealerships. I bought my Outback from a dealership called Trento. I had been to a couple of Subaru places but this outfit impressed me with their willingness to please. They did everything they could to get me the care that I wanted. And their service was great; good hours, and most importantly, they listened to me. They got to me and would make suggestions that made sense to my needs

Too good to be true? You got it bub

Trento Subaru folded and was bought out by another dealership, Subaru of Maple. Which is in Maple. I'm in North York. In perfect traffic it took me almost 30 minutes to get up there. Well, ok, if they were like Trento I could work with that

They weren't like Trento. They had a real problem with communication. I depend on the dealership to set me up with a service schedule and to remind me of my appointments. These guys sucked at that. I would take the care in for service, give them the mileage, tell them what was done last time and they'd do the job. One or two days later I'd get an email notice to come in for some completely different service. When I brought up this discrepancy all I got was "we're very busy"

Yeh, too busy to know what your own assholes are doing

Things got worse, they couldn't properly fix things they said they had fixed, the lack of internal communications meant they kept trying to give me duplicate service and all I ever got from them was "We're sorry you feel that way" Not, "we'll do better" or "here's what happened, we'll fix that" just "golly, sorry we suck"

Things finally came to a head when I presented the manager with a long list of complaints and his response was "Think you can do better?"

Well, yes I can sport. Or I thought I could. I've just taken the car into another dealer. A better location and better hours. I can't leave my car at a dealership on a week day. I work on a week day and I used my car for work. When once offered an Imprezza as a loaner care I just noted I was doubtful I could put ten dogs in there.

So this new place is open one week night till eight and open on a Saturday .. but guess what, you really can't get any work done then. Anything I wanted done had to be done during the day, during the week

How is this still happening? You know it happens with service people who have to work in your house. Mon to Fri, 8 am to 4 pm ... unless you want to pay tripple time.

What the fuck. We are not in the 50's. I know we are not because Obama is the prez of the US. And Leave it to Beaver is not on TV. And I am not ridiculed for my long hair, well, not as much

Seriously, why are service people using the "housewife at home all day" situation as their paradigm. Sure, that still happens but near as much as once it did

And what is wrong with any service shop having hours that reflect the fact that their customers may work 9 to 5. Or 6 to 7, or work all the damn time which is happening more and more

And the attitude. Seriously. Try to point out the weakness in their service plan and what you get is "Well, do better" or "That works for us" or "Just be fucking glad we even speak to you at all you Plebian now give me my money"

I don't expect people who I pay to work for me to be obsequious or to act like slaves, I expect a mutually respectful exchange of service and cash. I don't expect them to act like they're doing me a favour. Yeh, favours are free chump

We'll see what happens with this service company. So far I am not impressed. If they do their job, if they show some interest in taking care of my car then I could be their customer for life. If not, I live across the road from the biggest Canadian Tire service centre in Toronto

They will fix my car. And sell me a ice scarper. And a hot dog

Now that, my friend, is service





Saturday, March 28, 2015

A VERY OFFICIAL PANDA

It's been a few months, now, that we've had Panda

When we first got her, it was an emergency foster situation. Her owner could no longer keep her and was considering putting her in shelter. Well, folks, that ain't gonna happen. So we took her in and I contacted Border Collie Rescue who's mandate it is to find BC's forever homes

Trust me, it was hard slogging at first. Panda went to war with Terra, this dog has been through two years of unsettled environments and I think she just saw this other dog as an obstacle she needed out of the way. She was very aggressive towards other dogs as well, in dog parks, and exhibited the aggressive side of herding towards humans

Yikes

We worked and worked to make her settled and comfortable and to give her the structure, routine and positive reinforcement she needed. And it worked. Panda has become a settled, calm, very affectionate dog. A few issues to work through but they can be bettered. And Panda and Terra have become comfortable "house sisters"



Now that her anxieties have faded she has emerged as a smart, energetic, uber affectionate little girl. This is her home, we are her family and that knowledge has allowed most of her nervousness (where the aggression came from) to settle







We knew that we were going to keep Panda. We all put in too much work. Besides her aggression issues there was the food issue in that, in my opinion, her owner was giving her the wrong food. And there was food hording issues. And the issue of her having had to train herself to poop in the bathtub because she didn't go out enough ...


We knew that we were going to Panda. She has become our girl. This is her home. She loves it here and we love her. We informed her owner of that. But today, it became official. Border Collie Rescue contacted me to let us know someone was looking to adopt Panda (I had no idea her owner still had her on the site) Emphatically, without thinking about it, I told them No, we are keeping Panda.

So there is no doubt. Welcome home Panda

















Monday, March 23, 2015

SPACE OPERA: IT AIN'T OVER TILL THE OBESE SPACE ALIEN INTONES

So, my last post was about a movie called Jupiter Ascending, not a terribly great movie but an example of a sci fi sub genre called space opera.

One of the best movies I've seen this year was Guardians of the Galaxy, also an example of space opera.

So .. you see this is where this is going .. time for my list of favorite space opera movies.



So, to start let's define my space opera. Or my definition of space opera because, let's face it, it's all about me. Unlike outer outer space movies which I also posted about, Space Operas can take place on planets, the more planets the better but they should also have a strong space component, ideally traveling through space in some sort of ship. They need aliens, the more the better and the aliens could be good bad or both. Space Operas are adventure stories with a strong action component. A typical space opera plot device is the innocent planet bound hero(ine) who becomes exposed to, and involved in, some greater galactic story. Space Operas do not all have to employ this device but there should be good guys and bad guys and some sort of resolution

Space operas saw their screen debuts in the form or the old movie serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, were our square jawed clean cut American hero finds himself thrust into the broader galaxy to fight monsters and squirmingly ethnic alien bad guys. 

This post will focus on movies, not TV, except in those cases where the two are interwoven, such as a movie spun off a TV series.

I will not be discussing novels except perhaps to identify the source of a movie. I was, and still am, a big fan of literary space opera; fave authors of the past would include Edmund Hamilton, Robert Heinlein, Leigh Brackett and C.J. Cherryh. Contemporary authors would include the Iain M Banks, Peter Hamilton and Dan Simmons. But that is a post for another day, let's get to the movies

As always this is in no way intended to be a definitive list. I can only comment on movies I've seen and naturally it's just my personal preferences. These are my faves, not necessarily the best. If you hang in till the end and no of some movies you'd include on the list, please leave a comment and let me know.

This list is not necessarily in any kind of order.

STAR WARS:


Maybe the most significant space opera of a generation. For the sake of this post I will be including all three movies, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (and yes, there are only three, any thinking to the contrary would indicate your need to seek immediate psychiatric aid) so as to avoid redundancy.

These movies contain all the classic space opera elements: Luke Skywalker is a farm boy mired in his dull planetbound life who soon finds himself in the middle of a gigantic intergalatic turmoil. There are aliens, robots, space ships, many planets, heroes, villains, action .. and that most important, I think, of all space opera elements: sense of wonder. This is a phrase coined, I think, by the great Golden Age space opera author Jack Williamson. As we follow Luke on his journey across the galaxy to save the galaxy we experience that sense of wonder, a bit of wide eyed open jawed "holy spaceballs will you look at that"

STAR TREK:


I'm using here an image from the current J.J. Abrams Trek movies but I will be referring to all the films. Some are certainly better than others, my faves are both Abrams movies, Wrath of Kahn and The Voyage Home but I want to consider the entire franchise

Trek represents an important sub genre of space opera: military space opera. We still have our aliens, our ships, multiple planets but sense of wonder is often replaced with sense of paranoia and planetary alturism. Trek, of course, created one of the greatest aliens of all time: Spock and his inner conflict over his duelling human/alien identities, his conflict of logic vs emotion, is one of the greatest fictional creations in contemporary TV/film. Often copied, rarely duplicated

The best Trek movies, whether they be old or new, besides being action oriented, also include a true sense of humour. Much space opera is quite ernest and quite dour but as in most entertainments, humour elevates the art form

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY:


Speaking of humour ... this is a rather classic space opera that distinguishes itself from many others by levels of humour that range from slapstick to satire to parody to innuendo. But everything else is here. Earth boy Peter finds himself thrust into the greater galaxy; there are ships, lots of aliens, many planets, heroes, villains etc etc. In Rocket and Groot, two of my fave onscreen aliens and its planetary set pieces are some of the best I've seen. There is some nods to very classic space opera like Flash Gorden and Buck Rogers but as Rocket said "There ain't no thing like me except me"

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS:


Speaking of humour ... this is a space opera that is actually a homage to a western, Magnificent Seven, that itself was a remake of a Japanese samurai movie, Seven Samurai. Battle is a bit of a parody, with lots of tongue in cheek humour that is smart enough to never take itself seriously. But as a B movie, it works quiet well. A sentient starship, a communal alien and lots of action and planets. And John Boy. What more could you ask for

THE LAST STARFIGHTER:


Another space opera with many classic components. Lonely Earth boy, dreaming of something more finds it in the guise of a galactic war, one that can only be won with his help. The twist in this movie is that the hero is identified as the Savior of the Galaxy by his propensity for video games. Fairly cutting edge at the time and sort of prophetic if you've seen footage of military pilots operating drones

SERENITY:


Like Star Trek, this is a movie with origins in television, specifically the short lived series Firefly. It will add something if you've watched the series but it is not strictly necessary. This one does not follow the "innocent thrust into the galaxy" format. It involves a civilization of many worlds, Star Trek like conflicts, a band of scruffy space pirates and a young woman (the always worthwhile Summer Glau) with a big secret. Lots of action, dollops of mystery and some entirely unique dialouge that suggests a rich and deep culture by the incomporable Joss Whedon

STARSHIP TROOPERS:


The film adaption of one of the most famous space opera novels by Robert Heinlein. This is military sci fi with, under the direction of Paul Verhooven, a large dollop of social commentary. On the surface, hardcore stuff here: Evil bug like aliens, ardent undermanned human space marines, xenophobia, paranoia and a few other noias that don't come quickly to mind. Amidst all this Verhooven takes some broad shots at class structure and the economics of war

THE FIFTH ELEMENT:


This is a sort of hybrid movie with strong space opera elements (elements, see what I did there?) We have threads of tomb raiding, cyberpunk, dystopia ... but lots of aliens, starships, action and for once, some actual opera in a space opera. Lots of  humour here, some satire and just the wonkiness one would expect in the best Luc Besson movies.

GALAXY QUEST:


This is, of course, a flat out comedy and a tribute to Star Trek but it still works as a space opera in its own right.  Military starship, aliens good and bad, planets, action ... this movie works because it is more tribute than spoof. At the heart of it the film makers actual enjoy the art form which it parodies and the actors understand that; they are not afraid to drop their parody veneers and let their characters have a moment. And yeh, it's pretty damn funny

ALIENS:


Whereas Ridley Scott's original Alien was a haunted house horror movie transported to a spaceship, James Cameron's sequel certainly bridges more into space opera territory. Whereas most of the action does take place on one planet we have the baddest of all bad aliens, a strong military component, the suggestion of events affecting a larger universe of some totally kick ass action. So, like Fifth Element, a bit of a hybrid but it wears it's space opera roots proudly, I think

CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK:






Thus far, only one of the Riddick movies that qualifies as space opera. It is such a space opera, I think, that it may not have a very broad appeal. It celebrates it's grandly realized galactic civilization, its many alien cultures and its involved back stories. Although Riddick is certainly no wide eyed innocent (part of this character's appeal is his badassery) he certainly discovers that he has a grander scheme in the galaxy than previously thought. The art design here, at times, verges into the rococco which I found also in Jupiter Ascending. I love "futures" that hint at the past, some classic space operas have the hero handling a sword as well as a ray blaster and we find that sensibility in this movie as well

JUPITER ASCENDING:


As I noted in an earlier post, this is not a great movie. There are some real problems here and overall I would not reccomend it. But it hits all the space opera points so well I have to include it on this list. Human (or is she) Jupiter Jones leads a mundane miserable life until she finds herself taking a pivotal role in a grand galactic schemes. Aliens, space ships, ray guns, planets that include (ridiculously) Jupiter, villains that are too villainous for us not to laugh at, it's all here. Hey, as a kid I devoured space opera novels that were far from art, so flawed as it is, this movie hoves true to the art form


That's my list at this point. The success of Guardians and the attempt of Jupiter Ascending shows that space opera is alive and well. And of course, more Trek and Star Wars movies to come. So keep your hand on your space blaster, always have your mix tape at hand and look to the stars

And again, if you have a movie you think should be on the list, please use the Comments section to let me know













Thursday, March 19, 2015

JUPITER DESCENDING

OK kids, today's lesson is all about falling. Both literally and figuratively. And all found in the  film  Jupiter Ascending, written and directed by the Wachowski brothers

In the movie, Mia Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a Cinderella like Earth girl who "hates her life" and wishes for something bigger. As it turns out, as she is to learn, her actual life is so big, she kind of owns the Earth.

Also turns out that there are aliens who are humans who are sort of related to Jupiter who don't want her to own the Earth. So they try to do bad things to her. Like throw her off buildings. A lot. Jupiter falls. A lot

I don't know if anyone keeps these stats but it may be fair to say that Mila Kunis probably spends more time falling than any other actor in any single movie.

Luckily for Mila's character there are other aliens who were hired to find her for the aliens who don't want her to own the Earth but who decide that maybe she shouldn't be thrown off so many buildings and every time Jupiter falls, they catch her

The principle catcher in the movie is Cain (can there be a more overused surname in an action movies) a human-wolf hybrid planned by Channing Tatum. Cain is actually an interesting character, a former space commando now disgraced and turned bounty hunter who only needs to find a pack in order to find himself

What he falls is a cute Earth girl. Falling. So he catches her. He catches her because he wears a pair of anti-gravity boots. Jupiter calls them flying boots. No, Cain tells her, they are contra gravity boots that use displaced vectors off of objects to propel him. Bullshit Cain, they are flying boots

Well, to be accurate, they are like flying power skates. When he uses the boots, half the time Cain appears to be air skiing, the rest of the time he appears to be speed skating. In the Canadian version of the film Cain will be played by Wayne Gretsky. No, Tai Domi, because Cain can fight

The boots are a problem. They look ridiculous. Every time Cain is ardently fast skating to try to stop Jupiter from falling I giggled out loud. And I can accept a lot of inaccuracies in sci fi film but dude: When you are in open space, millions of miles from anything what the hell are your contra grav boots pushing against. Five minutes for icing and a totally fucking ridiculous idea

Tatum is good in the movie, as is Kunis. And there is the always reliable Sean Bean. He plays another former space commando who has retired to Earth to raise bees (I'm not making this up) The bees like Jupiter, they recognize that she is a queen and the swarm to her (not a bad concept actually) Silly bees though. They never do try to catch her any of the times she is falling

There are several villains in the movie, most of them related to one another and all of them somehow related to Jupiter. The main bad guy is Balem, scion of the most popular family in the Galaxy. He does not want Jupiter to own Earth because he wants to own Earth Not because he thinks Earth is pretty or that Earthlings are cute or even that he is addicted to Krispy Kreme donuts. No, Balem wants to own Earth because, well SPOILER ALERT he saw Soylent Green as a kid and thought, hell, there's an idea.

Thing about it. I'll give you a minute. Long enough for the space Zamboni to do a pass

The reason why Balem wants the Earth is another ridiculous idea that absolutely tortures our suspension of disbelief. Balem is also a problem because his portrayal bye Eddie Redmayne make the flying boots and treating humans like cattle seem like brilliant pieces of writing. He stinks. That's all I can say about it. He chews so much scenery he probably shits drapes

Jupiter Ascending is a big, good looking, nicely designed piece of space opera. It is chock full of plot and characters and make up and special effects and things happening. And falling. It's the kind of movie that if you poke it too much it falls apart. It is wonky and filled with nonsense but if there was some emotional connection, if there was an over riding sense of humour it could still work

The Chronicles of Riddick was such a movie. An elaborate, highly stylized space opera jammed full of story and back stories and larger than life characters. It is far from a perfect movie but for me it worked, held together by a compelling character, some well designed set pieces and an absolute conviction by its film makers, a vision if you will, that if you are able to not look at the thing too closely, it takes you on an entertaining ride

The Wachowski brothers did not seem to have that conviction. And this is where the other kind of falling comes in. These are the guys who made Bound, and the Matrix and Cloud Atlas. For me, pretty high mountain peaks. But they're also the guys who made Speed Racer. Free fall times kiddies, pack your parachutes

There are some things that work in this movie. The design is pretty yummy, the space ships and costumes and sets have a lovely, Victorian, roccoco feel that is like future Gothic. As I said, there are some good performances. And some tasty little notions like Cain's need for a pack and bees sense Jupiter's royal status

But damn, there is just a lot of flat out stupidity as well. Those fucking flying boots. And a sequence where Jupiter has to have her Galactic royalty confirmed on a bureaucratic planet; suddenly, from Gothic space opera we are shoved into out takes from Brazil. It's like we just landed in another movie not another planet. It sticks out and it makes no sense whatsoever. That, combined with Redmayne's annoyingly over the top performance almost makes me think the film makers was going for a spoof or a satire. If so, it doesn't work because it is not at all consistent.

There is also a problem with the titular character. As I said, Kunis as Jupiter aquits herself pretty well. She is largely low keyed and her comedy delivery is proven. And although Jupiter gets to have her moment of vengeance on Balem but overall she is just too passive. Her lovely, large doe eyes mostly watch stuff happens. The choices she makes are largely chosen for her and although she gets to kick a little butt it is indeed far too little and far too late. Guess all that falling just tuckered her out

The Brothers don't seem to know what kind of movie they were making. Sure, you can combine sci fi and romance and fantasy and adventure etc etc. But it has to have a direction. Space operas like Chronicles of Riddick and Guardians of the Galaxy knew where they were going so even if the road got a bit bumpy, we did not require a crash helmet to survive the road

Jupiter Ascending is so bumpy you don't need a helmet you need .. you guessed it .. flying boots

And a net. To catch that damn chick.







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