Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Category: Movies

Movie Night of the Cooters

George R. R. Martin paused his journey into the sun to report that Howard Waldrop’s classic story “Night of the Cooters”—in which the Martians of H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds invade a small town in Texas whose sheriff has a passing resemblance to Slim Pickensis being made into a short film, with Vincent d’Onofrio directing and starring. Shot on green screen, with effects to follow during a lengthy post-production; I suspect we ought not to expect great things from this. But the fact that any Waldrop story is being filmed in any fashion—that’s noteworthy.

Snakes on a Plane, 15 Years Later

Today is the 15th anniversary of the release of that snakesploitation film masterpiece, Snakes on a Plane. Only it was about as far away from a masterpiece as you could get. On io9, Sean Lussier looks back at the hype, the disappointment and the motherfucking snakes. “The actual ‘snakes on a plane’ part of the movie is great, but the idea itself is so absurd and so small, it takes way too long to set up, and no time at all to fix, leaving a movie with a boring beginning, amazing middle, and disappointing ending.” As I noted at the time, you could tell where the over-the-top bits—the MF-bombs, the nudity, the gross-out scenes—were spliced into what was otherwise a flat and forgettable film.

The Backlash Against The Empire Strikes Back

I suspected as much: “The initial reaction [to] The Empire Strikes Back is eerily similar to that of 2017’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi,” writes Zachary Sosland in Looper. “Both middle chapters of their respective trilogies tried to take the Star Wars franchise in exciting new directions, and both receiving mixed receptions from fans who were initially displeased with being knocked so far out of their comfort zones. Of course, the backlash against The Last Jedi was much louder, but the point still stands.”

The Show That Wouldn’t Die

Having been axed by Netflix after their second season on the platform, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is attempting yet another comeback via a Kickstarter to setup a new online platform not subject to the vagaries of networks and streaming platforms. As of this writing they’re above 87 percent of the way to their first goal; goals beyond that will increase the number of new MST3k episodes made.

The Controversy Over Upscaling Old Films to 4K

Wired UK on the controversial process of upscaling old films to 4K resolution: “Digital upscalers and the millions who’ve watched their work on YouTube say they’re making the past relatable for viewers in 2020, but for some historians of art and image-making, modernising century-old archives brings a host of problems.” The process involves machine learning and readily available algorithms that clean and stabilize old film, colourize it, and upscale it to 4K and 60 fps. It adds material that isn’t in the original, which is what these historians object to. I’d argue that these videos operate in the same space as historical fiction: they make the past feel more real to the audience, but the audience can’t always separate fact from fiction. Somehow I doubt historians want to stop novels set in the past, though. [MetaFilter]

Ghibli Week

Ghibli Week was Polygon’s week-long (25-30 May) look at Studio Ghibli, its relationship with Disney, and (of course) its movies, predicated by those movies finally becoming available digitally and via streaming services, making them more accessible than they’ve ever been. A lot of interesting, focused articles on the themes, influences and behind-the-scenes activities of these films.

Canon Is Ruining How We Enjoy Movies and Television

io9’s James Whitbrook argues that our obsession with canon—whether a story is an “official” part of a fictional universe—is ruining our ability to enjoy stories, because it values factoids and trivia over storytelling. “It predicates the gatekeeping act of being a fan that is built on how much you know about a thing over whether you actually enjoy that thing or not. It’s an attitude that in turn feeds the equally unruly and constantly growing spoiler culture because a fandom that values pure details above all else puts weight in the knowledge of those details.” True that. (I also think people obsess about canon because, deep down, some part of them believes their fictional universe is real: it’s why they freak out when a show breaks established canon.)

‘Anaconda’ Reboot in the Works

A reboot of the 1997 snakesploitation movie Anaconda is in the works at Sony’s Columbia Pictures, says The Hollywood Reporter, with Evan Daugherty tapped to write the script. “Sources say Daugherty’s take is not a remake or a sequel but a reimagining. While details are being kept deep in the belly of the beast, it is known that the studio is hoping to take a Meg-style approach to the concept.” I have a DVD of the original Anaconda around here somewhere but somehow never managed to get around to seeing it. Should I rectify that?

Star Trek: The Motion Picture at 40

Today is, I’m told, the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture—the first Star Trek movie, and one that suffered from a rushed production that left several things unfinished (the prints were apparently still wet when they were shipped to theatres) and from a critical response that could charitably be described as lukewarm.

(I saw it in the theatre myself, but as I was all of seven years old at the time, I hadn’t developed much of a critical sense yet.)

Forty years later, though, there seems to be some groundswell of affection for the thing, warts and all. (See Ed Power’s piece in The Independent, for example.) A few years ago I wrote a piece for my fanzine, Ecdysis, called “In Defence of Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” and I thought I was being all heterodox about it. Turns out I wasn’t alone: others have either been reassessing their initial takes on the movie or finding that their impressions weren’t in sync with conventional wisdom.

It probably doesn’t hurt that there have been a dozen Star Trek movies since then to compare it with, and against some of them The Motion Picture compares … rather favourably. It was in that context that I wrote my little essay. Which practically no one read when it first came out, so here it is again:

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Gauntlet

The trailer for the next season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“The Gauntlet”) dropped yesterday, and now we know which movies they’ll be mocking. Some titles seem awfully familiar, and immediately draw attention. And by “attention” I mean “cold sweats, tremors and screaming.”

T. Rex Machina

In the Jurassic Park movies, the Tyrannosaurus rex is more than a deadly predator bent on eating everyone and everything in its path. It also serves a key plot function above and beyond that of mere antagonist.

I’ll explain.

You are perhaps familiar with the concept of deus ex machina? Wikipedia calls it “a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the inspired and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Its function can be to resolve an otherwise irresolvable plot situation, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or act as a comedic device.” It’s the sudden rescue at the end, the long-lost relative who adopts you as their heir, the bacteria that kill the Martians just before all is lost.

I’d like to propose the idea of the T. rex machina—the plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the inspired and unexpected intervention of a T. rex.

The Lightsaber Black Market

By the time of The Force Awakens, the Skywalker lightsaber is at least 50 years old. This suggests that lightsabers are extremely long-lived and durable and, considering that it spent most of those years locked away in storage, require nothing in the way of maintenance.

But if lightsabers are built to last, it does raise an interesting question: where are all the other lightsabers?

I mean, there used to be quite a few of them around. Prior to the Clone Wars there were apparently some 10,000 Jedi Knights, each of whom had their own lightsaber. After they were massacred—and at the time of The Force Awakens Order 66 is still within living memory—what happened to their weapons?

Presumably the Empire confiscated most of them—as we learned in Rogue One, the kyber crystals that power lightsabers were needed for the Death Star’s superlaser—but they would almost certainly have become a valuable black-market commodity. Even leaving aside their highly sought-after power source, lightsabers are extremely useful tools in their own right, good for slicing open tauntauns and a million other household uses—though it wouldn’t necessarily be a good idea to use one openly, unless one wanted to attract some ominously heavy-breathing attention. And for historical and nostalgic reasons any lightsaber would have an enormous collectible value, though few could command the price of the lightsaber wielded by both Skywalkers.

Small, easy to conceal, and nearly priceless, lightsabers would be a favourite cargo of smugglers and pirates. I wouldn’t be surprised if Han Solo ferried a few of them in his career. Several of them might well have passed through Maz Kanata’s hands before the Skywalker blade turned up. But you’d think she’d have tighter security on such a valuable item. It’s like any scavenger could just waltz in and touch it …

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