For the Love of Spock


The Nimoys are all ears.

The Nimoys are all ears.

(2016) Documentary (Gravitas) Leonard Nimoy, Adam Nimoy, Mel Nimoy, Sybil Nimoy, Julie Nimoy, William Shatner, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Mayim Bialik, Jim Parsons, J.J. Abrams, Jason Alexander, Walter Koenig, Catherine Hicks, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Nicholas Meyer, D.C. Fontana, Amy Mainzer. Directed by Adam Nimoy

 

The character of Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series was and is a cultural icon. Played by Leonard Nimoy, then a character actor who had never worked more than two weeks on the same project in his career, he was created at a time of great social upheaval and in many ways stood for rationality, logic and self-control in a time when just about everyone was about as emotional as one could get. He also stood for cultural tolerance, as he was best friends with a human which was a metaphor for the racial turmoil going on in the United States at the time (and sadly continues to this day).

Nimoy’s son Adam, a successful television director, wanted to do a documentary on the cultural phenomenon that is Spock and got his father’s blessing to do it. After a Kickstarter campaign netted the necessary funds, Adam conducted an interview with his father and started to talk to other members of the original series cast when his father suddenly passed away at age 83.

The focus of the film changed from Spock to Leonard Nimoy. It became a love letter from a son to his father. The two had a very rocky relationship at times, particularly when Adam’s drug use became an issue, which fueled displeasure from his father, an alcoholic. They went years without speaking, but eventually reconciled.

He tells his father’s story, glossing over his childhood and young adulthood and bringing him to his days in Trek. Much of  the movie focuses on his time as Spock and in between; on the rigors of fame and having to share his father with an adoring fan base. Early on, he and his sister Julie answered fan mail for their father. It was Adam who in the famous prank showed up on the set without his dad’s knowledge wearing Vulcan make-up (the footage is shown here).

Nimoy famously has had a loving relationship with the Trek community of both fans and the cast and crews of the various TV and film iterations; he also had a sometimes contentious relationship with Paramount, the studio that produced the series; his lawsuit to gain the cast royalties from merchandising was settled largely because the studio wanted to make motion pictures based on the show and Nimoy refused to sign for the film before the suit was settled. It was also at his insistence that George Takei and Nichelle Nichols were added to the animated series cast; he felt strongly that the diversity of the original show’s cast needed to be brought over to the animated show and even today both of those actors refer to the incident with great affection.

The younger Nimoy includes plenty of home movies as well as backstage footage from the show and films which for me personally was very nostalgic; I lived in Los Angeles at the time the show and the first movies were being filmed and I was reminded of that watching the film, bringing on in me a strong sense of comfort. It was an idyllic time and an idyllic place.

The movie does run a bit long in my opinion but love letters always tend to. Fans of the TV show and of Star Trek in general won’t mind; I think they’ll kind of prefer it that way. The interviews with the new cast add a bit of dimension in that all of them grew up with Star Trek even if they weren’t fans and those that were (such as Simon Pegg) were a bit awestruck working with Nimoy in his signature role. Fans like Jason Alexander and Jim Parsons talk about what the character meant to them but at the end of the day, it is his brother Mel who breaks down when talking about the terrible day when Leonard Nimoy passed away that gives us the greatest sense of what the man behind the Vulcan meant to us all.

The film closes with a tribute to Nimoy at the Burning Man festival shortly after he passed away and I swear that the flames on the tribute as, like the other temporary art installations at the festival, burned to the ground brought to mind the Federation emblem in the shape of the flames seemed to be the most cosmic of all the tributes. Spock lives but without Nimoy to give the character its essence (with all due respect to Zachary Quinto who plays Spock in the movie reboot franchise) it is mostly the idea of Spock that we have now – and that gives all of us comfort. Truly, this is a wonderful way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original show.

REASONS TO GO: Very much a love letter from a son to his father. It’s an interesting perspective on fame by the children of the famous. The backstage footage is pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is a little bit on the long side.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some foul language but not a lot.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The movie was funded by a Kickstarter campaign.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/28/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: To Be Takei
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Milton’s Secret

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Back in Time


Marty McFly can't understand what all the fuss is about.

Marty McFly can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

(2015) Documentary (Gravitas) Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Claudia Wells, Bob Gale, Don Fullilove, James Tolkan, Huey Lewis, Alan Silvestri, Andrew Probert, Dean Cundey, Dan Harmon, Adam F. Goldberg, Bill Shea, Frank Price, Rob Klein, Ed Dennis, Tyler McDonald, Martin Sanchez, Adam Kotras, Joe Wolser, Jill Henderson. Directed by Jason Aron

When it opened in 1985, Back to the Future was an immediate sensation and a runaway hit. Some have proclaimed it the perfect movie; nearly everyone in the industry praises the script as one of the best ever written, making a time travel story work (much harder than you’d think) but supplying it with memorable characters, plenty of thrills, great eye candy (for its time) and thought-provoking situations. After all – if you traveled back in time when you were high school age and met your parents while they were in high school, would you have hung out with them?

That’s at the heart of what Back to the Future is. Thirty years after the original, we have finally surpassed the date that Marty McFly came to the future – from this point forward the entire trilogy takes place in our past.

In many ways a cultural touchstone, we mostly all grew up or have been fascinated by as adults with the concepts of hoverboards, self-lacing Nikes, jackets that blow-dry themselves, lawyers being abolished and of course flying cars. This was a bright future – not necessarily pristine as there were bad neighborhoods, drug abuse, poverty, crime and Griff who was a little bit of everything with a bionic twist.

Now we’ve reached that era and while it isn’t exactly the future that Zemeckis and Gale envisioned, they did get a few things right – including 80s nostalgia, thousands of cable channels and Mr. Fusion. Just kidding about the last one.

This documentary looks not only at the movies and in particularly the sequence set in 2015, but also at the BTTF fandom, including the Flux Capacitors rock band (who will be playing in a road show along with screenings of the movie in select cities starting next month) and Delorean enthusiasts who have had their cars customized to look like the time machine. Some of these are even street legal.

While I have to admit that the interviews with Michael J. Fox were a little bit hard to watch – yes, all the cast members are 30 years older but Fox’s Parkinson’s reminds us that he has been through a lot more than most of us have been through over that same time – it is clear that everyone involved with the movie has fond memories not only of the shoot but of the public’s reaction to it and the continued enthusiasms displayed by the fans.

Some folks might not realize that when the movie first started shooting, Fox wasn’t available because of his Family Ties commitments; actor Eric Stoltz was cast as Marty instead. However, six weeks into shooting it became clear that Stoltz, who is a very fine actor, just wasn’t right for the part. They managed to then get Fox, who would film his television show on weekdays and on weeknights and weekends would do the movie. It was exhausting but was clearly worth the effort because we, the viewing public, not only got a classic TV show from the deal but also a classic movie trilogy.

I have to admit that I appreciated the fan stories much more than the professional talking head interviews, much of the material for which has been covered in interviews on DVD and Blu-Ray editions that are easily available, much of it on the new 30th anniversary Blu-Ray collection. In some ways, this documentary is a bit of a disappointment; the editing appears a little haphazard, the flow of the film is a little choppy and as I said, the reliance on talking heads is too much.

Still, the movie is so good, so iconic, so central to Western culture that it is hard to watch this movie and not feel the warm fuzzies inside. We all connect to the trilogy whether we saw it as children or as adults. Even if the insights here aren’t especially new or revealing, it is still fun to revisit the movies as well as the fans who have been so devoted to them. Zemeckis has said that there will be no Back to the Future 4 (although I’m a big believer in “never say never”) so we will have to make do with this and what transpires in comic books and videogames that are inspired by the film. With the recent milestone in our review, it is a very good time to go back in time.

REASONS TO GO: Clearly a labor of love. Fan stories are quite interesting. The background of Zemeckis’ previous films gives good context.
REASONS TO STAY: Talking head overload. A bit disjointed. Doesn’t feel fully formed.
FAMILY VALUES: Some references to the sexuality of the trilogy.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The original Back to the Future had its initial surprise premiere at the Century 21 theater in San Jose, California.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/25/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix, Vimeo, Amazon, iTunes
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trekkers
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness commences!

Fanboys


Fanboys

Fanboys on the outside looking in.

(2008) Comedy (Weinstein) Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, Carrie Fisher, Danny Trejo, Billy Dee Williams, Seth Rogen, Allie Grant, William Shatner. Directed by Kyle Newman

Fans have a kind of sweet madness. I’m not talking about the people who follow something on a casual basis; I mean the full-out, balls-to-the-wall, obsessive, dangerously knowledgeable super-fans; the kind that show up at conventions and name their kids after characters in the movies.

This specific fandom that Fanboys is examining is the Star Wars fans. The movie is set in 1998, just prior to the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and arguably the best time to be a fan of the series – when anticipation had fans jumping out of their skins waiting for the new movie, the first in more than 15 years.

Four school friends who hadn’t been together since graduation meet up at a party; Eric (Huntington), the lone respectable one who was working for his dad’s car dealership which he was expected to take over some day; Hutch (Fogler) who lives in his mom’s “carriage house” (read: garage), Windows (Baruchel) a computer nerd who has a thing for a chat room geek he’s never met and Linus (Marquette), who is somewhat angry about the way things turned out.

It turns out he has plenty of reason to be angry; he has cancer and won’t live to see the next movie in the franchise released. Eric, who was once his best friend, resumes that role and decides that his friend WILL see the movie before anyone else does. The four of them – and Zoe (Bell), a very cool friend that frequents the comic book store Hutch and Windows work at and quite possibly the only girl that could hang with these guys – will drive from Ohio to Marin County, California where Skywalker Ranch is located, break in and watch the movie. Windows’ online crush even claims she can get them the plans to the Ranch which is legendary for its security.

They take off in Hutch’s tricked out van, a kind of rolling convention on wheels, and head vaguely West. On the way they will encounter evil Star Trek fans, the all-knowing Harry Knowles (of Ain’t It Cool News fame) and William Shatner himself as they race the clock to get their dying friend to the ranch. Will it be worth the trip?

Of course, we all know at this point in time that The Phantom Menace was a disappointment but back then the possibilities were endless. The world of fans was anticipating what they thought would be an epic movie and nearly every fan website was in a dither. It was a kinder world.

However, the story of this movie might have made a good movie of its own. The movie was completed back in 2007 but was shelved by studio head Harvey Weinstein who felt the cancer subplot was too grim for the comedy he wanted; he also felt it appealed to a niche audience and not a general one. Both are legitimate points.

Director Newman fought the changes and Weinstein eventually assigned director Steven Brill to reshoot some scenes and re-edit it. Fans went ballistic, launching a campaign to stop the changes, opening MySpace pages (“Stop Darth Weinstein”) and threatening to boycott Superhero Movie en masse. I’m not so sure that was a threat so much as a relief.

Eventually Weinstein relented and allowed Newman to re-cut the movie a third time…only he gave him only 36 hours to do the work. The movie bounced from release date to release date over the course of three years until it finally got an extremely limited release in February 2009 and, as you can see from the box office performance below, died like the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi.

It’s kind of a shame because the movie isn’t too bad. It got a critical shellacking which, frankly, illustrates why critics are out of touch with the audience that comes to the movies. People do get involved with their favorite franchises. Laugh and make fun if you want to, but it fulfills something in people, be it Trekkers, Star Wars fan or Twilighters. Those who judge the lifestyles of these people are the ones who really need to get a life.

For the most part, the performances here are okay although there’s nothing here that’s going to supercharge any careers. Baruchel is sweet as Windows and Marquette has some nice scenes as Linus. Mostly, the star power is in the cameos and there are plenty of those, from Star Wars vets Fisher and Williams to Shatner and Rogen (who is amusing as an overbearing Trek fan).

There are a lot of asides that will have knowing fans nodding in satisfaction; I can see how audiences not super-familiar with the Star Wars saga might feel left out a little. However, the movie really isn’t for them anyway. The DVD extras on several occasions call this a love letter to Star Wars but I don’t think it actually ends up that way. It’s more a love letter to the fans, and not just of Star Wars but of all things that excite the imagination and promote obsession. It’s sweet-natured and while not everything works, I am positive that the love is sincere. I’d much rather see a movie like this one than a thousand big budget big star comedies whose sole reason for being is to fatten the bank accounts of those involved. Sincerity trumps budget every time.

WHY RENT THIS: A very sweet homage to fandom, particularly that of Star Wars. Some of the cameos are actually well thought-out.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit gratuitous in places and the humor – well heck the whole dang movie – is going to appeal to a very limited audience; some of the references will go right over the heads of ordinary folk.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of crude humor, much of it sexual (as you might expect from a bunch of guys who don’t get laid much). There’s also some drug use in the movie, as well as a heaping helping of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The guards at Skywalker Ranch wear uniforms from THX-1138, one of Lucas’ early films (and one he references regularly in subsequent films). The head guard is played in a cameo appearance by Ray Park, who played Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is some webisodes that were available before the movie’s release, as well as a character study but really, most of the extras are relatively mundane as these things go.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $960,828 on an unreported production budget; the film was undoubtedly a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Answer Man

The Yes Men Fix the World


The Yes Men Fix the World

Just say Yes Men.

(Shadow Distribution) Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum, Reggie Watts. Directed by Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum

There is no doubt that the world faces many problems, from economic and political injustice to catastrophic climate changes, many of which can be laid at the feet of the greed of men and their institutions. Not all of these problems exist in the light of day; some require inventive thinking to receive any attention at all.

The Yes Men are what I call guerilla performance activists; in their ten years of existence, they create fake websites for major corporations, trade organizations and government entities, and impersonate representatives of the same at speaking engagements. In these guises they make outrageous claims calling attention to the injustices and corruption that they perceive are taking place.

They first came to public attention via a 2003 documentary, The Yes Men. When they created a fake website for the World Trade Organization, they were startled when it was perceived to be real, and offers for speaking engagements were sent. Being rash, somewhat fearless and possessed of an enormous amount of chutzpah, they went on to make outrageous claims purporting to be on behalf of the WTO. This caught the attention of the media who eventually discovered it was a hoax.

Their latest venture is the first to be self-directed, and follows the two of them as they carry out a series of clever pranks. They begin with Bichlbaum posing as Jude Finisterra, a representative of Dow Chemical. On the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, in which due to the negligence of Union Carbide (which Dow now owns) toxic gasses escaped, killing thousands in Bhopal, India and condemning hundreds of thousands to live with illnesses and birth defects as a direct result of the contamination, the BBC conducts an interview with the Dow “representative” (the BBC had evidently booked him as a result of using one of the Yes Men’s fake websites for Dow).

During the interview, the nervy Yes Man announces that for the first time, Dow was intending to take responsibility for the role in the disaster and would be liquidating the assets of Union Carbide in order to create a $12 billion fund to take care of the affected people of Bhopal.

The news was a sensation. Nearly all of the major media news sources picked it up and Dow’s stock plummeted, a net loss for the corporation of nearly $2 billion in value until the interview was finally revealed to be a hoax. Self-righteous BBC interviewers, perhaps stung that they had allowed the interview to take place, upbraid the Yes Men for cruelly providing false hope to the victims at Bhopal. Bichlbaum responds by pointing out that the pain they may have inflicted on the people of Bhopal was far less than what Union Carbide did to them and what Dow Chemical continues to do; to this day not a penny in reparations have been paid by Dow or Union Carbide to the victims.

While this is the largest and most visible of their pranks, there are several other portrayed here, including appearing as spokesmen for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, proclaiming to post-Katrina New Orleans that undamaged public housing that was slated to be torn down would be in fact left standing to provide affordable housing in a city that increasingly has less and less of it.

They show up at a convention of oil men with a gag that recalls Jonathan Swift; that when conventional petrochemical sources run out, that they were developing a means of refining oil from human remains. They also show up at a seminar of insurance people under the guise of being Halliburton executives touting the “Survivaball,” a ludicrous survival suit that will allow the wearer to survive any global climate catastrophe.

While it must be said that some of the pranks might have caused some discomfort, the truth is that these are situations that need to be covered. In a world where corporate greed is at its apex and that corporate arrogance and disregard for human lives has reached an all-time high, it takes a crusader to point out the consequences of these actions. They may not be wearing suits of armor (cheap suits are more like the uniforms they wear), but they tilt at windmills nonetheless, providing voices of sanity (ironically) amidst the white noise of corporate and political claptrap.

WHY RENT THIS: The movie succeeds in calling attention to issues not necessarily given coverage by mass media.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the pranks have a cruel streak in them – not intentionally, but there nonetheless.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of blue language but otherwise suitable for all audiences to a point – some of the issues and humor may be a little bit more than younger kids can handle.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The names of the Yes Men are aliases. The real people portraying them are a teacher and a writer, and both have histories of activism prior to the formation of the Yes Men.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Additional pranks and a “how-to” featurette explaining how to pull off a Yes Men prank are included.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Moon