Imagine That – Fantasy Film Review

Imagine That (2009)Huh, imagine that: I actually discovered a certain amount of charm within IMAGINE THAT. Not a lot, but some. It’s not getting stellar reviews, to say the least, but I can say that for the most part the filmmakers involved knew what it was they were making — a simple, light-hearted children’s film — and unlike those involved with BEDTIME STORIES they didn’t pretend the movie was anything else. For that they earn a modicum of respect from yours truly. Could they have worked harder on the plot and characters so that the film could better appeal to those older than ten? You betcha, but at least it didn’t turn off the wee ones (those in the theater I saw it in were happy).
IMAGINE THAT involves imagination and a bit of fantasy, and that’s why we’re looking at here. In it we have a husband & wife (Eddie Murphy, Nicole Ari Parker) who have recently gone through an amicable divorce, but their daughter Olivia (Yara Shahidi) is undoubtedly struggling with the breakup and apparently seeks solace in a special blanket — which helps her communicate with an imaginary queen and three princesses. Or are they real in some way? Well, ultimately you’ll have to decide for yourself, but Murphy’s character, Evan, winds up believing.
Evan’s a very successful financial forecaster who’s suddenly lost confidence in his abilities and begins going through a slump. His bosses decide to bring on an up-and-comer named Mr. Whitefeather (Thomas Haden Church) — a supposed Native American — to shake things up, generate some competition, and get the ol’ creative juices flowing again. And at a crucial point in the competition Evan has to take Olivia for a week while struggling to make some important buy/sell suggestions for a big client. Long story short, Olivia’s “imaginary” friends wind up telling Evan — through Olivia — that his choices are wrong and that he should be going with Yada, yada, yada.
Well, of course, the information turns out to be right, as does some follow-up info, so Evan decides he needs to learn the secret and use it to his advantage. Soon he’s hooked on the process almost as if it was a drug, and he can’t make a decision without going through Olivia’s blanket & friends.
Along the way we’re supposed to learn lessons about love, faith, loyalty, trust, confidence, honesty, and responsibility. I suppose these are nice lessons to learn and maybe if one is, oh, eight or so, one might walk away feeling that they got something out of this little picture. But then again, the five to ten crowd is IMAGINE THAT’s target audience, so maybe – just maybe – it lands on its mark.
Now, I have to confess that I’m not a huge Eddie Murphy fan. He’s usually too busy being, well, Eddie Murphy, instead of truly allowing himself to be absorbed into the whole of the character that he’s supposed to be portraying. And for the most part the same can be said for his performance in IMAGINE THAT. But there are moments in which he shows that he can be real when he wants to. Someday I’d like to see him play a serious villain. I mean, a serious villain.
Thomas Haden Church was rather annoying as Whitefeather, but through no real fault of his own. His character was written that way. And though this was done purposefully, I couldn’t make up my mind whether I was annoyed by the character in the manner I was supposed to be, or just annoyed by him, period. I think I wound up coming down on the latter. But I wasn’t alone; one potential ueber client (Martin Sheen in a cameo) finally said out loud what I was thinking through entire film.
Ah, but now we come to the magic. If you’re looking for a reason to sit through IMAGIN THAT with your young child or children, this is it as far as I’m concerned: Yara Shahidi. Generally speaking, I find the average young actor trying to play things one of two main ways: I’m much-wiser-and-more-worldly-than-my-years, or I’m-cooler-smarter-and-more-wise-cracking-than-the-adult-schmucks-around-me. There was none of that in little Miss Shahidi. I felt her to be an incredibly charming bit of fresh air. I was ready to adopt her 20 minutes into the film. She seems to instinctively know what works.
The script was written by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson (BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY). The BILL & TED ventures may not have been Shakespearean in nature either; however, there was a certain wild aspect to them that was somewhat appealing. One of the problems with IMAGINE THAT is the more by-the-numbers feel it has. You can almost see the writers working with the paneling feature in Final Draft (a commonly used screenwriting program). It lacked truth, or a spark, or a sense of anything original. Bits seemed plugged into the layout regardless of whether they truly fit or not.
I was also troubled by issues such as the placement of a Beatles song titled “Nowhere Man” because at that point in the film our one-time nowhere man was going somewhere under his own power. He just didn’t quite know it yet; still, it was happening. And there were other things, like Evan freezing up in a dinner meeting and using the excuse of wanting to hit the restroom so he can drive across town (Denver’s not a small city) to consult Olivia’s “imaginary” friends through her blanket. There are several other scenes and jokes that play badly or don’t make sense (think birthday party scene), but you get the idea.
The direction by Karey Kirkpatrick (OVER THE HEDGE, the upcoming CAPTAIN ABDUL’S PIRATE SCHOOL) didn’t seem quite confident or edgy enough. But he did see to it that most of his characters were likeable and that the pacing was kept brisk and relatively bouncy, just the sort of qualities that should keep a young audience interested. Kirkpatrick is relatively new to directing. He built a career as a screenwriter of youth oriented films like THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and CHICKEN RUN.
Mr. Kirkpatrick’s choice in hiring Mark Mancina as the film’s composer was an appropriate one; Mr. Mancina’s music added to the buoyancy of the piece instead of lagging behind and simply acting as filler, as I’ve seen in other films made in the nature of this one, such the aforementioned BEDTIME STORIES. In fact, though these two films share a commonality, I would place IMAGIN THAT above BEDTIME STORIES. It’s a little less ludicrous and more likeable. And of course there’s the charm of Miss Shahidi, which accounts for a lot of the likeability.
At one point in the film Mr. Whitefeather explains that “Venison is a savory meat.” Perhaps so, but the movie isn’t. It’s a pleasant, quite safe offering for little ones, but as he is also fond of saying, in the end “it ain’t nothin’ but a thing.”

Imagine That (2009)
Eddie Murphy (holding the "magic" blanket) and Yara Shahidi

IMAGINE THAT (Paramount Pictures, 2009; 107 min.) Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick. Screenplay by Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson. Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ed Solomon. Executive produced by Ric Kidney. Cinematography by John Lindley. Production Design by William Arnold. Costumes by Ruth E. Carter. Visual Effects Supervision by Jamie Dixon. Edited By David Moritz. Original Music by Mark Mancina. Cast: Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church, Yara Shahidi, Nicole Ari Parker, DeRay Davis, Vanessa Williams, Ronny Cox, James Patrick Stewart, Mel Harris, Tim Sharp, and Martin Sheen. MPAA Rating: PG for some mild language and brief questionable behavior.

Angels & Demons is Filled with More Demons than Angels

Angels & Demons (2009)ANGELS & DEMONS is a film that we originally thought was meant to be a mystery tale, a who-done-it. However, the picture involves a science fiction aspect in the form of ‘antimatter’ experiments, thus opening the door to that which is Cinefantastique. So, we decided that we should give it a look-see. And having done so, we’d like you to consider it a public service, because just maybe we can help save you eight to thirteen bucks or so.
I think most of us can concede that the existence God can neither be completely proven nor disproven by the likes of man (even though people on both sides of the argument like to claim otherwise), hence the reason that we can only ultimately come to the conclusion of His existence through faith. But I’m here to tell you that accepting the plot of ANGELS & DEMONS takes at least as big a leap in faith.
ANGELS & DEMONS , like its predecessor, THE DA VINCI CODE, is a ludicrous story full of cheap gimmickry, manipulation, pontification, melodrama, and just plain nonsense. The simple outline puts it like this: The Catholic Church involves itself in experiments concerning the capture of antimatter particles because it believes that antimatter may be the link to the “God particle,” thereby bringing us closer to understanding something about the Creator. The scientists involved are more interested in learning more about our temporal universe, possibly revolutionizing energy needs and travel, etc. Nonetheless, a research marriage is born, and our team does manage to capture a small amount of the highly dangerous material.
Now, of course, you can’t have a discovery like this without someone wanting to steal it for some vile purpose. So, our storytellers interject a vengeful member of the Illuminati, which the Catholic Church drove underground generations ago via its philosophic—and literal—attacks. He breaks into a high security area of the research center with the retina of a kindly donor, if you please, and carries out part one of his nefarious plan. (Now, I have to admit that this part confused me because the, uh, donor appeared to have already been deep inside the high security area when the Illuminati affiliate used his body part to get in. It seemed rather like using a key to get in a safe when the key was already locked in the safe.)
Meanwhile, back at the Vatican the Pope has just died. This leads us to part two of the overall plan – kidnap the four cardinals who are most likely to be named Pope in the wake of the last Pope’s passing, demand millions, kill them one at a time via the four alters of the Path of Illumination—earth, wind, fire and water—and threaten to blow the Vatican to kingdom come (along with a big chunk of Rome) in a “burst of light” if all demands are not met. But between you and me, all is not just about demands and money.
Everything is being done according to symbolism too, so there is little to do other than to bring in the great Harvard religious expert & symbologist, Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), who was heavily involved in the experiments, to help solve this deadly mystery. What follows is an extremely forced and irritating engagement in puzzle solving. None of the tension is genuine; it’s shoved at you and you can feel it. And then there’s Hans Zimmer’s brow-beating score that seemed to scream, “You’re gonna swallow all this fast-paced mystery and tension, and you’re gonna like it!”
I’ve been a Hanks fan since SPLASH, but I didn’t take to him in THE DA VINCI CODE (because that film too was bad), and just like Zimmer, he actually frustrated the bejesus out of me in ANGELS & DEMONS. He went through the entire picture lecturing in an arrogant, pontificating manner, force-feeding the viewer information on everything from why Vatican statues were missing their procreative parts to why December 25 was chosen as the date to remember the birth of Christ. Listening to his stuffy character explain the reason for this and the origin of that while also explaining various symbols and clues over and over throughout the entire film felt very leading and snobbish. There was no real sense of exploration or interesting detective work in DEMONS; everything was laid out in a conscripted, connect-the-dots fashion which drained all the life out of the movie.
There are also other moments that should get under anyone’s skin, such as Tom Hanks’ smug lecture on being “against vandalism” (referring to what a past Pope had done to those Vatican owned, and therefore non-vandalized, statues in the name of modesty). Then, in a despicable (and what  I would call falsely motivated) moment after having been granted very-difficult-to-obtain access to the Vatican’s priceless—and seriously temperature controlled—library vault, Hank’s partner in crime (Zurer) defaces what is supposed to be an incredibly important journal written by none other than Galileo. Its main purpose was for humor and gets referred to a couple of times later on. But it’s cheap, flat and even insulting. Adding further insult is the fact that there is never any consequence to this selfish, destructive act, and Hanks is even granted access to the vault a second time.
We also have someone who is supposed to be staunchly Catholic taking the Lord’s name in vain in what I presume was supposed to be a mildly amusing gag; I simply found it eye-rolling and, again, false in its sentiment. These types of things occur several times throughout ANGELS & DEMONS, and they kept throwing me out of my concentration on the story.
Then there are little issues like the fact that what is being perpetrated is so unsettling to one perpetrator that he’s willing to consider burning himself alive rather than be caught, but clues are being left behind at every step in their symbolic actions and everyone who gets in the way is being killed except the one man who can figure everything out and endanger their plans to bring down their arch enemy, the Catholic Church. In fact, our killer even tells Langdon and Vetra, “I’m not going to kill you because I was not told to. But if you follow me, it is another matter.” This, after they’ve been dogging his efforts throughout the entire film. Knuckle-headed reasoning and plot devices like this are thrown in periodically as excuses for those viewers who might ask some logical questions.
I do wish to point out a positive point or two: Ewan McGregor did give an affective performance as the Vatican’s too-good-to-be-true Camerlengo (whose control in this film extends beyond true boundaries), and I was impressed by Pierfrancesco Favino (inspector Olivetti), but most everyone else seemed to be in on the audience-misleading that was supposed to be taking place. Their performances were not bad in the traditional sense, but they were toying.
I’d have to say, however, that this would be in keeping with the mentality of the rest of ANGELS & DEMONS. Dan Brown is fond of unnaturally setting up straw dogs and generating silly, unnatural twists and turns. If you thought Christopher Reeve’s priest in MONSIGNOR was over the top with his killing actions in war, love making and involvement with the black market, wait ‘till you get a load of some of the storytelling in this film. It generated as many questions in logic is it answered in its own desired fashion. And Father Patrick McKenna is something else. He’s even a skilled helicopter pilot from wartime and saves everyone from that antimatter device I mentioned earlier. And that’s just scratching the surface.
I admit that I had a few quibbles with STAR TREK, but after seeing several of the big summer offerings thus far, I have to tell you that at this point it’s the most genuinely energetic, action-packed and properly humorous film this season. None of these qualities were embedded within ANGELS & DEMONS. So if you want to see a film dealing with subjects like antimatter, I say beam aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise.  And if you want to see a much more interesting film involving religion rent DOUBT.
By the way, did you know that the great Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini was probably a secret Illuminati member whose real purpose in generating all the art he did for the Catholic Church was done in the name of infiltration? Neither did I. Sheesh!

 

ANGELS & DEMONS (Imagine Entertainment/Columbia Pictures, 2009; 138 min.) Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman. Based on the novel by Dan Brown. Produced by John Calley, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. Executive produced by Dan Brown, Todd Hallowell and Marco Valerio Pugini (Italy). Cinematography by Salvatore Totino. Production Design by Allan Cameron. Costumes by Daniel Orlandi. Special Effects Supervision by Daniel Acon (Italy), Clay Pinney, Dominic Tuohy. Visual Effects Supervision by Angus Bickerton, Mark Breakspear, Ryan Cook, Richard Higham, and Richard Stammers. Music by Hans Zimmer. Edited By Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill. Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Thure Lindhardt, David Pasquesi, Cosimo Fusco, Victor Alfieri, Franklin Amobi, Curt Lowens, Bob Yerkes, Marco Fiorini, Carmen Argenziano, Howard Mungo, Rance Howard, Steve Franken, Gino Conforti, Elya Baskin, Richard Rosetti, Silvano Marchetto, and Thomas Morris. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, disturbing images and thematic material.

Star Trek: One Trekkie's Contrarian Thoughts – Film Review

Okay, boys & girls, this little look at the 2009 STAR TREK movie is gonna get a tiny bit nit-picky and point out a few details that some other folks are letting slide. It also assumes that you’ve seen the film. So if you’re one of those viewers who thinks the new picture is ‘totally awesome,’ then you’d better not read on. Because although I enjoyed it quite a bit, I’ve got a few thoughts & questions I’d like to get off my chest. Sure, you’ll no doubt think they’re petty, but I happen to think some of those little details can hinder the film’s chances at being taken seriously as big screen cinema and something that works on a global level.
Now, remember, I did enjoy the new STAR TREK film; I just didn’t love it to death. There were certain aspects that seemed to pull it back into the realm of that television feel I’ve never liked from the films. The impetus behind the baddie’s desire for revenge and the new timeline that develops because of his embittered actions smack of been-there-done-that, and it feels like the type of plot structure we’d see on the itty-bitty screen. Besides, it’s pretty hard to beat Khan in that realm.
There’s the obligatory mind-meld scene in which young Kirk (Chris Pine) is told why angry Nero (Eric Bana) is mad at well-meaning Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy/Zachary Quinto) and wants to destroy Vulcan. It’s supposed to be important for Kirk to go through the mind meld to better understand what has transpired, but then we’re subjected to a flat and redundant voiceover from future Spock (come on, doesn’t that stick in your craw even a little?) explaining everything to Kirk — and us. Crikey, if that’s all there was to it, they could have sat down by the fire while Spock simply wove his tale verbally. The meld came off as superfluous, and again, the whole explanation felt like TV.
And what about that mining drill in Nero’s ship? What was that all about? They lower this thing down from on high via what looks like some sort of mangled bicycle chain just so they can shoot a ‘drilling’ beam into the body of the planet. Uh, in the STAR TREK universe, why can’t they just shoot a beam from the ship itself to achieve their end? Heck, they’ve done it plenty of times before for other purposes. Oh wait, but then we wouldn’t have that cool skydive & fight scene.
Here’s another question about the whole drilling thing. Why do they have to drill into the center of the planet to set off the red matter and generate a black hole? It seems to me that if they just shot it into the surface of the planet and let it explode the hole would generate just the same and consume any surrounding matter, so Spock’s planet would be toast anyway. Oh wait, but again we wouldn’t have that cool skydive-and-fight scene. Jeez though, didn’t that come off a little gimmicky?
What about the monster chase? Seriously, if you were really hungry and somebody set a nice plump chicken to the left of you and a scrawny rat to your right, and then said, “Take your pick.” Would you really throw the chicken aside and go for the rat? Then later, of course, all it takes to scare the giant beast off is a measly puny torch being waved in front of it. Yeah, the chase was kind of fun, but the motivation and resolution? Homey, don’t buy that.
Something that really grated on my nerves was watching certain bit actors come off as though they were just playing dress-up for a Star Trek convention. That screamed geekboy TV show. Frankly, so did the red academy uniforms; scenes with cadets dressed up in those things felt un-cinematic and yanked me completely out of my suspension of disbelief.
Now I know STAR TREK’s visual effects have been getting solid word of mouth; though some of them did look quite nice—especially on good ol’ planet Earth—I gotta say some others simply looked like pumped up versions of what we’ve been seeing on TV for the last few years (did Titan honestly look real?). It was easy to feel the CGI. Some of the sound effects lacked a true big-screen punch too, especially gun battles — I’m sick and tired of pew-pew futuristic weaponry visuals & sounds. When is somebody going to sincerely get innovative in that area again?
Speaking of weapons fire, if Nero’s ship was getting consumed by a black hole, why did Kirk have to order for all weapons to fire at it? I’m just askin’, but it seemed to me that it was for little purpose other than to show us some more visuals. In the time they sat around doing that and watching things, they could have skedaddled and Scotty (Simon Pegg) wouldn’t have had to save their butts. Oh, and Eric Bana? He struck me as a very forgettable member of STAR TREK’s  ‘pained’ villain roster – less a character than a device for the plot to hang its hat on.
Here’s another pet peeve most of you will wanna slap me for: I hate the words “space dock!” Every time I hear ‘em it’s like Quint from JAWS scraping his fingernails across that chalkboard. It sounds so 1950’s or Saturday morning TV (anybody remember SPACE ACADEMY or JASON OF STAR COMMAND?). The only classy and time-honored way to refer to a docking status is “dry dock!” Grrrrr!
Yes, I know how I sound grousing about stuff like this. Yet, it’s little weaknesses like these — to my way of thinking — that make me wonder if the film can play world-wide. I was really hoping this movie would kill off that American-TV-centric feel that only STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (think of it what you may) was able to avoid. In many ways this TREK did that, but in other, important ways it didn’t and me thinks that can hurt its overall world market potential.
I know after that big list of peeves it’s gotta sound like I have it out for poor STAR TREK. However, after having said all that, I can still tell you it was a very fun, zippy ride that is much livelier and more colorful than all of the past films and most of the TV incarnations. They went in a direction I’ve long felt they should go – the early days of the original crew. I dug Scott Chambliss’ production design, and the young cast is extremely likeable in their roles. Everyone got their moment to shine too. Chris Pine made for a witty, rousing young Kirk (though I did think he seemed just a little too eager to blow everyone off and become boss) and I very much enjoyed everyone else as well, save for the bloke who played Bones (Karl Urban). He looked great, but came off as playing (and over playing) his character instead of being his character.
One of my favorite performances came from Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike. That man’s got style and presence. I’ve always really liked him and look forward to him one day receiving an Oscar nomination (he’s already been nominated for several other awards). Heck, he practically deserves it in this film. He delivers his lines with an expertise and commanding control that should elicit more attention and mention. Many of those lines might come off like geekboy talk were it not for his smooth, reasoned delivery. He also managed to pull off a big-screen feel in an outfit or two that wouldn’t have looked thus on someone else.
Lastly, I hold Michael Giacchino higher than most in terms of the newer film composers, so I was hoping to be wowed a bit more by his music for the new STAR TREK film. Though it’s a pleasant and workable enough offering, it lacks that certain zing. Still, he’s got two other big summer movies coming out this year (UP, LAND OF THE LOST), so I know he’s been a busy boy and probably had to work quickly on this one. And we’ll see, sometimes it takes a little while for a work to grow on ya.
Look, folks, all I’m trying to tell you is that STAR TREK, though a mighty good ride, ain’t perfect and wasn’t quite able to shed some of the small screen feel and sensibilities that have virtually always plagued the other big screen efforts. Nonetheless, it was brisk, clever, funny, sexy, nostalgic, contemporary, forward-thinking, optimistic, and even moving at times. It was certainly made with love and respect. So before you diehard fans come looking for my head, remember, I give it all that. That’s quite a lot.
STAR TREK (Bad Robot/Paramount Pictures, 2009; 126 min.) Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Based on the television series by Gene Roddenberry. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and David Witz. Executive produced by Bryan Burk, Jeffery Chernov, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. Cinematography by Daniel Mindel. Production Design by Scott Chambliss. Costumes by Michael Kaplan. Special Effects Supervision by Roger Guyett, Matt McDonald, Thomas Nittmann, Kelly Port, Daniel P. Rosen, Stefano Trivelli, and Edson Williams. Music by Michael Giacchino. Edited By Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey. Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, and Jennifer Morrison. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content.

Bedtime Stories – Fantasy Film DVD Review

Adam Sandler is no Prnce Charming in this sleep-Inducing tall tale.

Once upon a time a little $80,000,000 Adam Sandler movie called BEDTIME STORIES yanked in a decent $110,000,000 at the domestic box-office and $209,000,000 world wide during the 2008 Christmas season. And in April of 2009 the loveable and cuddly folks at Disney Studios—not to mention Sandler and a few of his producing pals—got the chance to make even more dough with the DVD release of standard, deluxe two-disc, and Blu-ray Combo Pack editions. I’d say there’s a financial happy ending in there for someone. But the poor viewers don’t get much bang for their buck.
I didn’t see this movie during its theatrical release, but I did check out the DVD, so I thought I’d fill you in a bit. You’ve probably already guessed that with a title like BEDTIME STORIES , it has to do with the telling of tales. ‘Tis accurate indeed, dear readers. Now, at the start of the film when our story teller begins a bedtime story for his son, you can tell by the narration that the filmmakers wanted to make a heartfelt tale for children (or perhaps more specifically, their children). It looks as though Sandler’s new status as a father is shining through. There is a bit of charm in the opening, and our narrator (Jonathan Pryce) has a nice storytelling style.
But then the needle on the record suddenly scrapes across the vinyl groves, and the whole lilting sound comes to screeching, abrupt halt. Because once dear ol’ dad starts explaining about his son Skeeter (yes, Sandler) and we move forward in time to the boy as a grown-up the film takes on the more mundane conventions of a typical play-it-by-the-jokes comedy and loses its fairytale sensibility. Watching Sandler trade snarky comments—in front of a guest—with the front desk manager (Lucy Lawless) of the hotel where he works sets the tone for the real-life portion of the movie, and it ain’t exactly lyrical.
But before going on, I suppose I should give you a little background. It turns out that dad tells a pretty good bedtime story, but he’s not much of a businessman because he has to either sell his motel or go bankrupt. He decides to sell after the man interested in buying it, a Mr. Nottingham (Richard Griffiths), sort of promises to let dad’s son stay on and run the place when he gets old enough.
Skeeter winds up staying on for 25 years – as the main maintenance man of what is now a huge hotel. We’re supposed to sympathize with his unjust status in life, but the guy doesn’t do a single thing to show that he deserves the position he wishes. Oh sure, we’re told that the promise Mr. Nottingham made was neglected, but if we actually listen to what he said it seems pretty clear to me that he broke no promise. His exact words were “If your boy works hard and shows some smarts when he grows up, I’ll let him run this place.” Bottom line – the boy-as-man displays nothing in appearance or behavior to suggest that he possesses any ability to run a multi-million dollar hotel, especially the new super hotel in the planning.
Eventually, Mr. Nottingham does give Skeeter his chance by announcing that he’s going pit him against his potential son-in-law to see who can come up with the best promotional theme for the hotel. Now there’s a fairytale in itself. Anyway, what does our hero do to work on developing a plan? Why, in one scene he holds a hotel planning book while talking with some folks. Now that’s a go-getter! But mainly he just tries to use his niece’s and nephew’s storytelling ability to develop the perfect hotel theme while babysitting them for his sister (Courteney Cox). Oh yes, for some reason, when they give their spin on a bedtime story, elements of their versions have the inexplicable ability to come true in one sense or another. Naturally, Skeeter must try to capitalize on this.
Yep, that’s right, folks, the hero of BEDTIME STORIES tries to use his nephew and niece, I guess, because he’s either too dumb or too lazy (or both) to come up with anything on his own. Of course, he also wants the kids to spin the perfect ending for his life. And we’re supposed to think this bozo is somehow worthy of being given the management reigns to that multi-million dollar hotel? What the-…? Am I missing something somewhere? Somebody must be missing something, because this idea, like a few others in the story, just winds up getting dropped after a while without an honest reason or explanation.
I’ll take Michael J. Fox’s turn as a smart, ambitious concierge in FOR LOVE OR MONEY over Sandler’s over-grown kid without much imagination. And Fox learns something about himself and his not-so-positive desire for wealth in MONEY. I’m not sure what Sandler ultimately learns in his tale, except that if people wish hard enough they can get there happy endings. Uh…yeah.
Anyway, Skeeter eventually makes his pitch around the thought of how kids see hotel experiences, but he never ties it into any kind of real structured plan. His thoughts are proclaimed as ingenious anyway, and he gets “the keys to the kingdom.”
Ah, but BEDTIME STORIES doesn’t end there. Skeeter has to get fired for something else so we can have story arcs. Yet, one has to have an eventual happy ending, after all, and so it goes on. If you care enough to go out and get the movie, I’ll let you discover that happy ending for yourself.
Now, if you’re an Adam Sandler fan, maybe you’ll get some fun out of this thing. After all, it does have an enjoyable moment or two. And I suppose our star is toned down a bit in BEDTIME STORIES, but if you’re on the fence about the guy, or don’t like him, I highly recommend giving this film a wide birth. And I’m sorry to step on the toes of his fans out there, but in a lot of ways watching Sandler is a bit like watching the class clown stick gum up his nose, and then blow a bubble with it. ‘Course, I realize there are folks out there that could find that amusing, but I ain’t one of ‘em.
I think I did have a favorite moment, though. I’d say it was when the kids—who turn out to be rather charming—were in their bathroom pretending to shave, and Skeeter’s niece, Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling), tries to make shaving cream buns on each side of her little head, then turns and says, “I’m princess Leia.” All right, I chuckled at that one. And any adult should get a smile out of such a cute, genuine child-like moment. Russell Brand’s character, however, simply treats Bobbi as if she were…well, from another planet – yet another possible moment of charming observation thrown out the window.
And yes, Sci-Fi fans, there was a bedtime story takeoff on STAR WARS and the like, but it comes off  as uninspired. The visuals were handled well, however. In fact the effects in the film were consistently sturdy, as they were mainly provided by Tippet Studios. It’s just too bad that our storytellers weren’t as interested in spinning an equally sturdy yarn. This thing’s just a discombobulated disappointment. Any beloved fairytale has a strong narrative that adheres to the environment it sets up. BEDTIME STORIES does whatever it feels like doing and ties things together with a mighty clichéd piece of thread.
Heaven knows I’m no grown-up who’s forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. In fact, I can’t seem to completely grow out of that phase. Still, even as a wee one I could usually recognize a solid story when I read or heard it. My advice to you is to skip this bedtime story and watch, oh say, FINDING NEVERLAND or either one of the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA films or ENCHANTED instead. All of those stories better displayed the charm and thought behind tales well told.
The DVD of BEDTIME STORIES I was able to watch didn’t include any special features other than a few trailers (which actually looked more fun than the main feature). And a note of interest for me was how the music in the trailer for the latest release of SNOW WHITE was heavily influenced by the late Jerry Goldsmith’s score for RUDY – and I do mean heavily influenced. At any rate, the two-disc version does offer some bloopers and deleted scenes, as well a ‘get to know’ Bugsy segment. Bugsy is the big, bug-eyed pet guinea pig of the kids, who was featured so prominently in the coming attractions trailers. There is also a Disney infomercial extolling the virtues of Blu-ray, hosted by Dylan and Cole Sprouse from Disney Channel’s Suite Life of Zack & Cody. Gotta love those sales pitches!
In addition to the aforementioned infomercial and “Bugsy” segment, the Blu-ray pack includes “Cutting Room Floor” (deleted scenes) and “Laughter Is Contagious” (outtakes), as well as the featurettes “Until Gravity Do Us Part,” (which is surely a piece on one of the visual effects scenes) and “To All the Little People” (presumably a tribute to kids or ‘Little People,’ both of whom are in BEDTIME STORIES ). All-in-all, I’d say not worth the price charged.
BEDTIME STORIES (Walt Disney Pictures, 2008; 99 min.) Directed by Adam Shankman. Screenplay by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy. Produced by Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo and Andrew Gunn. Executive produced by Adam Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot, Garrett Grant and Ann Marie Sanderlin. Cinematography by Michael Barrett. Production Design by Linda Descenna. Costumes by Rita Ryack. Special Effects Supervision by John Andrew Berton Jr. Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Edited By Tom Costain and Michael Tronick. Cast: Adam Sandler, Guy Pierce, Keri Russell, Richard Griffiths, Courteney Cox, Lucy Lawless, Teresa Palmer, Russell Brand and Jonathan Pryce. MPAA Rating: PG for some mild rude humor and mild language.

Charles Schneer: Another Look at a Shadowed Icon

An affection tribute to one-half of the team that brought some of the movies’ most memorable monsters to life

Jason and the Argonauts

“Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane. I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made.”

Tom Hanks affectionately spoke these words while on stage at the 1992 Academy Awards ceremony for science and technology. It seemed fitting for him to be there and to speak as he did. After all, it was that film and the people behind it which made him want to become an actor.
Although the popular main figure behind the iconic piece of cinema was Ray Harryhausen, and the person for whom Mr. Hanks was at the ceremony to honor, there was another person heavily involved in its production, someone who was with Ray practically from the beginning of some highly influential motion picture history. He was Charles H. Schneer. His may not be a household name, but the films he made with Harryhausen stirred the imaginations of at least three generations and ignited a passionate flame within innumerable young souls – souls who would move and shake the visual effects industry.
That half of a salient team passed away in Boca Raton, Florida on January 21, 2009. He was 88. Together, Schneer and Harryhausen (who were born the same year) took millions of viewers on voyages of wondrous, dreamy imagination. With them, youngsters around the world fought giant bronze Titans, seven headed Hydras, one-eyed Cyclopes, Medusa, and even a horde of skeletons! They were practically inseparable in their work and one wonders, without each one would there have been a complete other?

A Ray Harryhausen sketch for 7th Voyage of Sinbad
A Ray Harryhausen sketch for 7th Voyage of Sinbad

At the time the potential production of one of their most successful and most fondly remembered films, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, came along Schneer and Harryhausen had already worked together thrice before. All three low-budget films had turned tidy profits, but even with these recent successes under his belt, Harryhausen’s Arabian Nights pet project was turned down by several studios. But in stepped an interested party: Charles Schneer. “Ray had done these absolutely splendid charcoal drawings,” said the producer. “I thought they were the most unusual visuals I’d ever seen. I was swept off my feet by the images they conjured up. But all Ray had were these spectacular drawings. He didn’t have a story. So I hired a writer named Kenneth Kolb, and together we built a story line around Ray’s drawings.”
It was also at this time that Schneer—in a clever turn of showmanship—coined the term ‘Dynamation,’ (later also known as ‘Dynarama’) partially to separate in the mind of the public Harryhausen’s unique work style from other forms of animation. “The ‘mation’ suffix comes from ‘animation,’ of course,” Schneer reminisced. “I knew it needed something to go with it.’Dyna’ came from a Buick I once owned, which had the word ‘Dynaflow’ printed on the dashboard. The term ‘Dynamation’ had never been used before, so I immediately patented it. That’s one word we put into the film business.”
You might say that in a sense, Schneer was a modest-budget George Lucas to Harryhausen’s Steven Spielberg. Both men were deeply involved in all aspects of their films. Schneer provided the means, the support, and extra inspiration, while Harryhausen provided much of the creative elements. They made a well matched team—one needed the other in order to create a cohesive and successful whole—and it remains a bit confusing as to why Schneer is a mere and minor afterthought. He is little known for his efforts or his loyalty to the genre he helped propel forward. There is something very sad in that.
It Came from Beneath the Sea
It Came from Beneath the Sea

Mr. Schneer sole-produced his first film in 1955 (under the Columbia Pictures banner, for which he worked). Rather prophetically, it was the first of the aforementioned films, It Came from Beneath the Sea and would be a Harryhausen effort. A year later both men teamed up a second time on the rather unique and gutsy effects endeavor, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. And in the next year they sent a Venusian creature on a trip that would be 20 Million Miles to Earth.
But something different had occurred in relation the production of 20 Million Miles to Earth.   Schneer had decided to go solo as a producer and moved away from Columbia Pictures and his long-time boss and mentor of sorts, producer Sam Katzman, to set up his own production company called Morningside Pictures. This move would come to allow Schneer and Harryhausen a sense of autonomy concerning their films.
Interestingly, though, Harryhausen didn’t immediately think of Schneer when he was finding himself in a state of rejection time and again whilst trying to get his Sinbad project off the ground. But while all that was going on Schneer had made an advantageous arrangement with Columbia that allowed him deeper access to the studio’s costumes and sets and generally gave him a bit more money and material with which to work. The planets must have been aligning just right, for it was about at this time that Harryhausen’s project came across his desk. With Schneer’s immediate interest in it, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad became the fourth Schneer/Harryhausen collaboration. And with that, it seems an historic film union had been decreed unbreakable by the film Gods.
The duo wound up making no less than 12 movies together. Schneer produced nearly all of Harryhausen’s work, except for Animal World (which actually came not long after It Came from Beneath the Sea and was an early Irwin Allen production that wound up landing on the ash heap of history) and Hammer Films’ One Million Years B.C. (that film was as famous for what Rachel Welch’s costume did for her fame as for anything Harryhausen did).
The two men understood each other, worked well together, and from that time on they would be nearly inseparable partners. They would go on to create eight more projects together: some that were held dear to fans (Mysterious Island, The Valley of Gwangi), and some that were bitter disappointments (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger – though less due to Harryhausen’s work than to the horrendous storyline and overall execution).
Jason and the Argonauts

It was in 1962 that the two would make what is considered their genre masterpiece, Jason and the Argonauts (originally titled “Jason and the Golden Fleece”). And for the first time Harryhausen asked for an official associate producer credit. This had much to do with the fact that the project was an original idea of Harryhausen’s and he was crucial to the design and execution of the picture. Schneer was more than willing to give him the title, saying later, “Actually, it was long overdue. Ray asked for that credit, and I had no problem with it. If he wanted it, he could have it.” Harryhausen would also be credited as associate producer for First Men in the Moon and The Valley of Gwangi; on all of their subsequent projects together he would receive equal billing as producer.
Harryhausen had a wonderful talent and was able to work in a disciplined fashion, but that in itself was not enough to ensure a successful career in his area of expertise. Demonstrative of this are the likes of the great American pioneer of stop-motion animation, Willis O’Brien (whose 1933 King Kong is one of the most admired and successful films of all time), and individuals like Art Clokey (who did find success on the small screen with the simple settings of the low-budgeted Gumby series), Peter Kleinow (who worked with Clokey for a time), Jim Danforth (who has kept busy over the years, but still seems to be known for his work on the soft-porn sci-fi spoof, Flesh Gordon) and David Allen (also known partially for his work on Gordon, in addition to the prehistoric dino-spoof Caveman). Talented men all, but none had a strong producer and supporter like Charles Schneer to fully propel their work into the public consciousness.
Allen, for example had a project that he’d been trying to get off the ground for years. Finally, in 1978 he began production on it with producer Charles Band. The film was the subject of a cover story in Cinefantastique Magazine that year, but despite the interest, the production was shut down. Examples like this are why the importance of Schneer’s contribution to Harryhausen’s success, as well as the fantasy & science fiction film genre, and film history itself, should not be undermined. He was a man who had illusory prowess, like his partner, and he knew his business.
Producer Paul Maslansky (Damnation Alley, Return to Oz, the Police Academy films,), who began his career with Schneer, once said of the seasoned producer, “Charlie was very particular about things. He was from the old Harry Cohen tradition; though much nicer, from what I hear about Cohen. His methods often weren’t exactly the way mine would be, but the biggest lesson I learned from Charlie was being tenacious, persistent. His brief was to make movies economically. If he got ‘No’ for an answer, he’d find another way of asking the question. That first price you get from someone is not necessarily the best price. You negotiate with technicians, with actors, everyone. Negotiate with strength, to find a better price, then hold up your end of the bargain. He taught me to be specific, not vague. Have facts and figures to back up your pitch. Don’t just say, ‘Oh, I think we’d need about six weeks to make this picture.’ Never be abstract. Have everything broken down; figures and boards, and say, exactly, ‘Here’s our schedule. We need precisely this much money and this much time.’” Schneer was a man who could make things happen in a tough industry—and he could do so on affordable budgets. It was why he was able to continue making fantasy films while the efforts of many others stalled.
Clash of the Titans

Schneer produced several films unrelated to Harryhausen over his near three-decade long career (Half a Sixpence, Good Day for a Hanging, Hellcats of the Navy – with future president, Ronald Reagan), but it seems fitting that 1981’s Clash of the Titans would be his—and, up to now, Harryhausen’s—last film. Both men essentially retired after that (though Harryhausen is reported to be serving as a producer for an old Merion C. Cooper story, titled War Eagles, set for a 2010 release). Titans was one of Schneer’s most ambitious projects, attracting some of the most respected actors in film, with Sir Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith and Claire Bloom among them. A remake of the film is currently in progress, with a screenplay penned by Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Mr. Schneer truly was a pioneering and visionary producer within the fantasy & science fiction genre. Harryhausen understood this better than anyone, writing in the preface of his book with film historian & archivist Tony Dalton, Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, that Schneer was the “the unsung hero” of their films and Harryhausen’s own career. “He is a man I respect immensely. …He would supply the practical element, backed up with copious amounts of memos, and always knew what would work and what wouldn’t,” wrote Harryhausen. “Without his help and foresight, much of what we planned together would not have seen the light of day. …Thank you, Charles.”
The projects he and Harryhausen generated together inspired many of cinema’s greatest artisans: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Rick Baker, John Dykstra Richard Taylor and, yes, Tom Hanks, to name just a few. These individuals are giants in their fields, and Schneer had a noteworthy, albeit indirect, hand in that. He has essentially been relegated to two-sentence footnotes in film history; however, he deserves far more recognition for what he helped make possible. And though Charles H. Schneer has largely remained a man in shadows, he is an important part of cinematic annals and someone of whom we should take note. I, for one, will miss his presence on this little dust ball of ours.
Filmography of producer Charles H. Schneer

  • Clash of the Titans (1981)
  • Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)
  • The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974)
  • The Executioner (1970)
  • Land Raiders (1969)
  • The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
  • Half a Sixpence (1967)
  • You Must Be Joking! (1965)
  • First Men in the Moon (1964)
  • East of Sudan (1964, executive producer – uncredited)
  • Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
  • Siege of the Saxons (1963 – uncredited)
  • Mysterious Island (1961)
  • Wernher von Braun (a.k.a., I Aim at the Stars – 1960)
  • The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960)
  • Good Day for a Hanging (1959)
  • Face of a Fugitive (1959 – executive producer)
  • Battle of the Coral Sea (1959)
  • The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
  • The Case Against Brooklyn (1958)
  • Tarawa Beachhead (1958)
  • 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
  • Hellcats of the Navy (1957)
  • Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
  • It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)
  • The 49th Man (1953 – associate producer)

Note: Ted Newsom kindly offered some statistical information in relation to this article.

The Strangers (2008) – Film Review

The StrangersThere is a foreboding, even hellish, and opaque side to human nature that is no more explainable than the ludicrousness behind the 2008 remake of genre classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. (Sorry, I’m still flabbergasted over that utter mess.) And writer-director Bryan Bertino doesn’t even try to offer answers in his feature debut, THE STRANGERS. That, I think, is to his credit in a movie that should be classified as a thriller, rather than a horror film (as it was sold by Universal Studios). I would argue that horror movies traditionally employ some sort of seemingly supernatural quality – something that mere mortals cannot escape or altogether defeat (i.e. Michael Myers, Jason or Freddy). If not that, then they should simply engage in over-the-top camp — intended or no — and gore, like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASECRE or MY BLOODY VALENTINE.
THE STRANGERS, which is simply about a couple who are terrorized in a rural home, fits in neither category. Its roots are entwined within something that can ultimately be even more terrifying – the dark reality of mankind’s natural makeup. Bertino doesn’t ask why evil is doing what it does; he simply explores the crumbling effect it has on the unfortunate couple trapped in his real-time story. One could think of it as a psychological thriller, minus most of the psychology. The only insight we’re given as to why the antagonists act as they do comes in the form of the answer one of them gives to Liv Tyler’s question, “Why are you doing this to us?!” The response is simply, “Because you were home.”
I think one of the elements that bothered some folks is the events seems to occur for no rhyme or reason. But that is one of the more interesting aspects of the piece. We always want cathartic answers; we want to delve into the whys of things and find some sort of cleansing, but we simply cannot always understand. We are complex beasts, possessing the potential for both good and evil. THE STRANGERS takes things no further than that.
The film has been called sadistic among other things. But again, one of the things that disturbs some viewers who seem able to more easily sit through movies like SAW is the fact that we’re watching people who are supposed to be real terrify a couple that is also supposed to be real. And that irritated and disturbed those viewers deep down, especially when they didn’t get the answers they desired.
One of the more chilling moments — because we know the reality of such people exists — comes near the end when one of the antagonists says quietly, “It gets easier” to another, who a moment before had stepped out of their truck to retrieve a pamphlet from a passing Mormon boy. The film probably should have ended there, partially because shortly after this telling exchange comes one of the film’s cheesiest moments.
The performances feel much more genuine than in typical thriller or horror fair, and this adds to the discomfort. Liv Tyler was a perfect choice, because of her soft, doe-like nature and her ability to act. Not only did one empathize with the terror that she portrayed, but she was also quite genuine in the other aspects of her performance, such as in her relationship with Scott Speedman’s character (another rather intriguingly ambiguous aspect of the film).
Tyler’s performance is underrated because it lies within the scare genre, and as we look back at overlooked genre films of 2008 I’d say she deserves to be held up above many of her peers. She has a refreshing natural quality about her that lends believability to her performances, even when her director puts her through some dopey moments.
I’m not sure how one jumps from a gaffer and bit actor to writer-director, but Bertino managed it. And though he puts his characters through some lunk-headed moves in both those areas, he does demonstrate a calm command behind the camera. He may grow into something of note.
THE STRANGERS is not a great film. It falters in several spots as it moves along — especially at its end — and it never lives up to the potential that its trailer suggested, but it does have its strong points, with Tyler and a controlled, methodic pacing being two of Bertino’s smarter strategic employs.

THE STRANGERS (Rogue Pictures, 2008; 107 min.) Directed by Bryan Bertino.  Screenplay by Bryan Bertino.  Produced by Doug Davison, Nathan Kahane and Roy Lee.  Executive Produced by Kelli Konop, Joe Drake, Sonny Mallhi, Trevor Macy, and Marc D. Evans.  Cinematography by Peter Sova.  Production Design by John D. Kretschmer.  Costumes by Susan Kaufmann.  Special Effects Supervision by Mark Freund.  Music by tomandandy.  Edited By Kevin Greutert.  Cast: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Glenn Howerton, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Alex Fisher and Peter Clayton-Luce.  MPAA Rating: R for violence, terror and language.

City of Ember: Searching The Smoldering Embers – Film Review

City of EmberOne of the more undeserving complete box office failures of last year was a little thing called CITY OF EMBER. And by failure, I mean that it literally crashed & burned… badly. In fact, at a domestic box-office gross of a paltry $7,873,007 (and only about 1 million more than that overseas), it was easily one least successful films of the entire year. But the little picture by Walden Media (the folks who brought us THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA films) was actually a fairly decent effort; not a great picture, but a nice fantasy for young patrons and those with young hearts who grew up watching movies like this one.
Ironically, the movie’s short running time of approximately 95 minutes seemed to be one of its drawbacks. More time should have been spent by director Gil Kenan (whose only other directorial effort was the solid MONSTER HOUSE) in flushing out some of the characters and enriching the overall story. As it was, EMBER had strong possibilities, but it seemed to sail through its plot ideas and some character structure a little too fast and easy.
However, even though this fantasy had a modest budget (by today’s standards) of $55,000,000, it showed plenty of ambition. Its production design team, headed up by Martin Laing (who also worked on the upcoming TERMINATOR SALVATION), did an effective job of creating a unique and textured underground world. And with the likes of Martin Landau, Bill Murray and Tim Robbins, it touted some heavy hitters in the acting  talent division. The film even had a mega-star producer in Tom Hanks. The project definitely had its believers, but it just missed building a solid, cohesive whole.
Still, one of the little jewels tucked away in this filmed version of Jeanne Duprau’s popular children’s book series of the same name was young Saoirse Ronan as Lina Mayfleet (who is also expected to be seen in Ridley Scott’s upcoming NOTTINGHAM). She’s a natural, and her belief in the world she inhabited shined through in every scene. In fact, after thinking about it, I’d put her effort on my list of 2008’s underrated genre performances. She was quite charming and actually made her co-star seem snooty and uncharismatic by comparison. Of course, he did some of that on his own.
The bottom line is that I kind of liked CITY OF EMBER, but I didn’t love it. I can’t even say that I really, really liked it. I really, really wanted to, though. It had many of the elements I used to love in its type of movie when I was a kid. It just didn’t have all of the right ones in all of the right places. And it’s just too bad that certain elements couldn’t quite live up to their full potential.

Bill Murray as the Mayor of the City of Ember

CITY OF EMBER (Walden Media/Twentieth Century Fox, 2008; 95 min.) Directed by Gil Kenan. Screenplay by Caroline Thompson. Based on the book series by Jeanne Duprau. Produced by Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Steve Shareshian and John D. Schofield (executive producer). Cinematography by Xavier Perez Grobet. Production Design by Martin Laing. Costumes by Ruth Myers. Special Effects Supervision by Kit West. Music by Andrew Lockington. Edited By Adam P. Scott and Zach Staenberg. Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Murray, Martin Landau, Toby Jones, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Mary Kay Place. MPAA Rating: PG for mild peril and some thematic elements.

Fly Me to the Moon lands on 3D DVD

Click to Purchase
Click to Purchase

If you missed a little 3D movie called FLY ME TO THE MOON in theaters—and just about everyone did—it’s just been released on DVD, so you have a second shot at it. Regardless of what you may have heard, it’s actually a decent little movie for— Now hold on a minute. Before any of you true cineastes lynch me, let me finish. I was going to say that it’s a decent little movie for very young kids and maybe some 3D enthusiasts.
That does not imply that MOON is a good movie in general. However, it does do two things that it sets out to do: it entertains young children (the theater of children I saw it with was certainly entertained – several kids were even reaching out to grab at some of the 3D imagery and they applauded at the movie’s end); and  the 3D effects in this first-ever full-length 3D animated movie (if you don’t count 3D releases of films that weren’t specifically designed for that purpose) were actually well executed. I’ve heard one critic call the effects fourth rate, but I would argue that that individual was acting on his negative bias toward the film as a whole and/or that he is not overly familiar with 3D experiences. It’s the detail in the story, characters and animation that is sometimes fourth rate.
Truth be told, and I know I’m gonna catch it for this one too, I found the 3D in this little kiddy flick more engaging than what I saw in the summer’s much more touted and embraced extra-dimensional offering, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. I couldn’t understand why critics weren’t harder on that one. It was a costly 3D project that seemed to be trying to be something it was not—clever and exhilarating. Its makers were also touting its “breakthrough” 3D technology. Neither I nor the individual with whom I saw it were overly impressed with that technology. And right now I’m hard pressed to remember any standout 3D moment, or any moment that I even honestly cared about (and no, I haven’t forgotten about the T-Rex scene). EARTH too lacked solid imagination, wit, interesting story telling and engaging characters. But at least MOON has the excuse that it was targeting an age group in the single digit range.
This little kid’s movie was completely immersed in its dimensional imagery. It felt like a true part of the film’s environment; not like a gimmick, as with so many other 3D projects. Oh, there were the in-your-face moments, but the film was deftly filled much more with subtler periods of its effect’s expressions. And rightfully so, for the film’s director, Ben Stassen, has spent about 14 years working in the 3rd dimension, with much of that work being for specialty venues, and I believe it does show, especially with the detailed rocket launches and ships traveling through space. Those are the most emotionally affecting moments in the picture and the detail within them is quite nice. It’s just too bad the entire picture couldn’t have been graced with quality so.
Like any self-respecting geek-boy, I grew up watching the skies and dreaming of traveling through the stars, so I’ll be up front in that this is probably one of the reasons I could connect with those moments and the film’s message of always continuing to push toward one’s dreams. But there is also some nice effects material in the day-to-day environment of the bug’s world. It’s there if you let yourself be open to it.
All of this, however, will most likely be overshadowed by the film’s creative weaknesses. And they are significant. First, and foremost, the animation ain’t exactly Pixar level and it’s painfully obvious, especially where humans are concerned. Their rendering and characterization is almost wretchedly poor; anyone over the age of seven or eight should be able to spot that from the—uh—moon. Another huge weakness is the pacing. There are large holes in the timing of the interaction between characters and also the actions they take. It’s all rather stilted.
Then there is the script itself by Domonic Paris (THE SLEEPLESS). It never rises above average TV fair. I’m not sure it ever aspired to be anything else other than a 3D vehicle for Mr. Stassen, because if anyone ever did take plot structure and character development seriously at any point, it is not on display. The movie does boast some significant acting talent, such Tim Curry and Nicollette Sheridan, but no one ever stands out, with the possible exception of Christopher Lloyd as Grandpa.
Something else that came off as completely forced and out of place was the inclusion of bad-guy Russian flies that were determined to foil any success that the little American flies might have. Head baddie, Russian comrade Poopchev (voiced by Ed Begley Jr.) was, of course, big & ugly and had jagged teeth. His cohorts were typical underdeveloped lackeys. A couple of these characters could have been entertaining in a different, better movie. There could have been plenty of spectacle, drama and action without going down the unimaginative & uninteresting road that they did.
Unfortunately, most adults will find the DVD release of the film to be as lackluster as the movie itself. The only special feature offered is an interactive planetarium game. This is too bad; it would have been nice to see a fun documentary on Mr. Stassen’s history in 3D work and how he culminated those experiences for MOON. Commentary by the 3D savvy director would have been welcomed too. It would also have been nice if viewers could learn little tidbits like the fact that Steven Spielberg has announced that he has been involved in patenting a 3D cinema process that does not need glasses, and which is based on plasma screens (apparently a computer splits each film frame, and then projects the two split images onto a screen at differing angles where it is picked up by tiny angled ridges on the screen). However, the film is presented in both 2D and 3D formats and comes with 2 pairs of 3D glasses, so folks can watch it in all its 3D glory if they wish. I’d recommend viewing it that way and on as large a screen as is available.
But look, the bottom line is that it would be easy to sit around and rip FLY ME TO THE MOON to pieces. But, when I walked into that theater I told myself to try to view it through the mindset of a five-year-old. And for that age group it works as a safe, kid-friendly movie (something many folks seem to be yearning for). It also embodies a positive message that real-life astronaut Buzz Aldrin comes out and (rather awkwardly, due to the inclusion of other comments) drives home at the end: “Let us always continue to dream and reach for the stars.” I can think of worse bits of entertainment and messaging to try to cram down the throats of our young children.
FLY ME TO THE MOON (Summit Entertainment, 2008; 84 mins.) Directed by Ben Stassen. Screenplay by Domonic Paris. Story by Gina Gallo and Domonic Paris. Produced by Gina Gallo, Charlotte Huggins, Mimi Maynard (who also voiced I.Q.’s mom), and Caroline Van Iseghem. Music by Ramin Djawadi. Art Direction by Jeremy Degruson. Animation Supervision by Philippe Taillez. Voice Cast: Tim Curry, Robert Patrick, Kelly Ripa, Buzz Aldrin, Trevor Gagnon, Philip Bolden, Nicollette Sheridan, Ed Begley Jr., David Gore, Christopher Lloyd and Adrienne Barbeau. MPAA Rating: G.

Pained by a Guilty Conscience: A Lament on Missing "Trek – The Concert"

Folks, I sense the need to write a big public apology to Maestro Erich Kunzel, a celebrated conductor who recently conducted the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (with themed appearances by Trek actors Robert Picardo and John de Lancie), at Boettcher Hall in Denver, Colorado while I sat at home in my paper-strewn office typing away. It was the closest he’s knowingly been to my geographic location and I wasn’t at the concert hall where a self-respecting fan should’ve been. For that, Mr. Kunzel, I wish to tell you that I am mighty sorry.
I feel as though I was playing the hypocrite that night because I’m always complaining—uh, ‘verbally observing’ that we don’t get enough of the likes of him in the Colorado Springs/Denver area. I whine and say that if they’d bring such talent as an Erich Kunzel, John Barry (don’t have much chance there anymore) John Williams, James Horner, or a James Newton Howard, the people will come. Well, Mr. Kunzel was just one hour away from me and I wasn’t there. I felt like a heel about it too; I still do. After all my moaning & groaning about the lack of film music being put on display, I was not there to support it that time around. Oh, I could go into the reasons, but would it really matter? The bottom line is that I was here, not there. And heck, he wasn’t just giving a concert; he was giving one right up my alley – Trek: The Concert. That’s right, a collection of music from the universe of Star Trek! “Oh, the pain. The pain,” as an old iconic character I know might say.

Erich Kunzel
Erich Kunzel

Maestro Kunzel is no stranger to those interested in film or classical music (just two of the ponds in which he dips his toe). He’s been conducting professionally for just over fifty years, with 125 albums under his belt and ten million recordings sold. And like John Williams with the Boston Pops, he’s got a long & respected relationship with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Over fifty-five of the eighty-five albums he’s made with the Cincinnati Pops have landed on Billboard’s top ten charts. He’s won several Grammy Awards, the Grand Prix Du Disque, and the Sony Tiffany Walkman Award for “visionary recording activities.” He’s even made historic trips to China. I mean, we’re talking about an artist who’s been presented with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given to artists and arts patrons by the United States Government. Why on earth was I in my office, feeling guiltier with every key stroke while this distinguished artist was in Denver performing with the Colorado Symphony for people like me?
Click to purchase
Click to purchase

Could I regain any modicum of personal pride if claimed that I was listening to albums of the Maestro’s while I typed away (like Time Warp – full of neat science fiction cues and Classics of the Silver Screen – which focuses on classical music that’s been used in films)? I don’t know, somehow I felt unworthy of listening to them right then. But I had to do something to connect with what was going on up the road.
Such puny efforts ain’t good enough though. I wasn’t walking my talk that night and I feel a bit like a Denebian slime devil about it, Mr. Kunzel. So again, I’m sorry. I’m sorry about not being there to bask in the emotive notes wafting through the hall. I’m sorry for shooting off my mouth about the need to support such efforts, then not being on hand for yours. I’m sorry for being a fanboy of yours—who has for years enjoyed listening to and collecting your body of work—yet not showing it where I needed to at that moment. I’m sorry for being that heel I was that evening.
For the record, I and a lot of other fans think you’re grand, even if we couldn’t be at Denver’s Boettcher Hall that November 1, 2008 evening. We do sincerely thank you for being there though! Would it help any if I said I was there in spirit, dear sir?
For more information on Erich Kunzel and his work, visit http://www.erichkunzel.com/.

MileHiCon Strikes Back at the Denver Tech Center Hyatt Regency

It’s big. It’s bigger. It’s the biggest! It is the oldest and largest science fiction, fantasy and horror literary convention in the Rocky Mountain region and it just finished celebrating its fortieth year! Robots crashed and tore into one another. Game wizards dueled with their thumbs. And visionaries who imagine far-off realms in their heads held court and signed autographs.
That’s just a small sample of the other worldly activities that were unleashed at MileHiCon 40 this season. With over eighty authors and special guests, trade panel discussions, movie and anime viewing rooms, contests, vendor offerings, skits, readings and even a charity auction, it was a very busy convention; something was going on literally twenty-four hours a day. The dueling game wizards were going non-stop throughout the event too as gaming contests raged on and one could even visit the largest fantasy art exhibition in the region. And let’s not forget two of the most popular events each year, the costume contest and a little thing called Critter Crunch, which is considered the mother of all robot wars. It actually started years ago with something called the “Critter Crawl,” in which enthusiasts would build little gadgets that would crawl across the floor—before high-tech was more the norm. This year a youngling named Tammy (but who was affectionately labeled Cat Girl because of her costume) was the lucky winner of a drawing for the fun of competing on behalf of the event’s judge, who was ineligible to compete with the Critter he built. She was clearly an audience favorite.
Linda Nelson has served as the convention’s chairperson for twenty years. What keeps her coming back year after year? “I think just meeting all the different kinds of people. You get to meet people from all over the country, with all different kinds of backgrounds. And it does my little heart good to see a thousand people walking around with smiles on their faces,” she says.
Nelson also enjoys meeting the professional guests and filled us in on this year’s special guests of honor, many of whom are local to the Denver, Colorado area. “We (had) Jim Butcher, who’s the author of the Dresden series…and that’s a very, very popular book series. (Jim’s) very popular. He’s a bit of a renaissance kind of guy.”
“And then we (had) Tim Powers. He has a whole series of books that are oriented around real historical happenings where he has interjected other kinds of things that really went on underneath. He’s done a bunch of short fiction and he’s won a ton of awards for his books.
“And then [there was] Patricia Briggs. She’s got a couple of series out. She’s got a Mercy Thompson series, and her Raven Duology. They’re mostly fantasy oriented,” says Nelson.
“Our artist guest of honor (was) Michael Carroll. He’s a planetary and science fiction artist. He also does a series of children’s books. He’s got a whole series of artwork out right now called Alien Volcanoes.”
Of course, no Sci-Fi type convention would be complete without someone from the visual effects arena. “We (had) Ed Kramer as our media guest of honor,” comments Nelson. “He’s worked at ILM (and) he’s worked on Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean and just a whole series of different movies.”
Parody singer/songwriter Odd Austin also gave the debut performance of his first studio album, Wrong Side of the Bed, before the masquerade on the evening of October twenty-fifth.
Then there was this year’s Toast Master, Carrie Vaughn. “She’s kind of new,” Nelson points out. “She’s got about four or five books out on her werewolf, vampire & radio talk show (theme). It’s kind of neat because her first few books take place in Denver.”
Mile Hi Con’s main purpose is to further interest in reading and writing science fiction and related genres. However, it branched out some time back to include television, film, anime, and gaming (which has made it a closer cousin to another annual Denver convention known as Starfest). It’s also a non-profit organization, with the proceeds from its annual art auction going to a charitable cause. This year’s recipient was Hope Communities, which serves low-income individuals and families in Denver with literacy programs.
The event took place at the Hyatt Regency Tech Center in Denver, Colorado, located at 7800 E. Tufts Avenue. This was the third year in a row that the convention was held at the Hyatt. Things kicked off at 3 p.m. on Friday, October twenty-four and wrapped up on Sunday afternoon of the twenty-sixth.
For more information on MileHiCon, visit the convention website: http://www.milehicon.org/. Ms. Nelson also welcomes mailing list inquires and may be contacted at lindanel@ix.netcom.com.