Thursday, September 14, 2017

This Week In Graphic Design: Denny's

This week restaurant chain Denny's squeezed out a brand new mascot for their nationwide marketing campaign. Let's take a look at it, shall we?

Oh dear. Yup, that's a turd wearing a fedora. A turd that was apparently designed by Aardman Studios.

OK, I think it's supposed to be a breakfast sausage and not a hunk of walking, talking fecal matter. I guess that might be OK if that was the only thing on Denny's menu. Since they offer a variety of food, sausage isn't the first thing that springs to mind when I see this thing, and it ends up looking like a nice, healthy dump. Definitely not something you want to see when you're trying to eat in a restaurant.

Once again I have to ask— how the hell does something like this make it to print and into stores? If Denny's is anything like where I work, then this design had to go through dozens and dozens of people for approval. I cannot believe that not a single one of them looked at this thing and said, "Wait a minute... that's not a sausage, that's a turd!" Someone was definitely asleep at the wheel in the corporate headquarters.

Even if it didn't look like a sentient bowel movement, it's still a terrible design. Adding a cartoony face and limbs to a product is one of the most hackneyed and unoriginal graphic design concepts possible— one that was old and worn out back in the Speedy Alka-Seltzer days. No self respecting graphic designer would ever create such a thing, especially here in the 21st Century. 

In fact back when I was in art school, I had a professor who actually kicked a student out of his class for creating a mascot very similar to this one!

On the other hand, I supposed Saucy The Breakfast Sausage here was better than Denny's original mascot idea— Scuttles The Kitchen Cockroach.

The Orville

A while back I wrote a post on The Orville, Seth MacFarlane's new live-action scifi TV series. The show looked like it would be a laff-a-minute parody of Star Trek, in the style of 1999's Galaxy Quest. I said I was actually looking forward to it, as The Orville looked more like proper Star Trek than CBS' upcoming Star Trek: Discovery series did.

Welp, The Orville finally premiered on Fox this past Sunday and I managed to catch the first episode. So how was it? 

Um... I'm not really sure. I honestly don't know what to think of it.

The Orville is definitely not a comedy series, despite what Fox would like you to think. It appears the network took every single joke in the pilot episode and crammed them all in the trailer in a blatant effort to mislead the audience. Seriously, if you've seen the trailer, then you saw ninety percent of the jokes in the premiere episode. 

Instead The Orville's more like a pseudo-drama with some oddball humor thrown in now and then at the worst moments possible. Whether it's the writing or the timing, most of these "jokes" fail to land, thudding to the ground like sacks of wet cement. I get the feeling MacFarlane dearly wanted to write a straight up scifi drama, but knew his fans would be expecting jokes and so tossed in a handful of "funny" lines. The result is a tone that can only be described as bizarre.

The show's also not a good-natured parody of Star Trek, ala Galaxy Quest. A parody takes the structure, characters and conventions of a show and pokes fun at them. The Orville lifts numerous elements from the various Star Trek series and then does absolutely nothing with them. There's no ribbing or clever roasting whatsoever. Instead the show just points at Star Trek's trappings and says, "Hey, remember phasers? Remember warp drive? Eh? EH?"

OK, so it's not a wacky space comedy, nor is it a good-natured parody ala Galaxy Quest. So what the heck is it then?

It quite literally IS Star Trek. Specifically Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I'm not even sure you could properly call it an homage, as The Orville is a perfect recreation of ST:TNG in every measurable sense. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. It's all there— the sweeping shots of the ship in flight, the wrinkly-foreheaded aliens and the clean, carpeted interiors. Heck, even the triumphant orchestral music and the editing are identical!

It's as if MacFarlane met with Fox executives, asked to do a new Star Trek series, was told it wasn't legally possible and then simply did it anyway. He made the television equivalent of a Louis Vuitton purse you buy in Chinatown, one that gives new meaning to the term "knockoff." 

I suppose this shouldn't come as a big surprise. MacFarlane has made no secret of the fact that he's a huge Trek fan, and even made a couple of guest appearances on Enterprise (!). Apparently he loved Trek so much he decided to remake it in his own image.

MacFarlane even hired some Trek alumni to work behind the scenes, as The Orville's produced by Brannon Braga and David A. Goodman. Braga was a writer and executive producer on (what else?) Star Trek: The Next Generation. He also also wrote and produced Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise, as well as co-writing Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact. And Goodman was also a writer and producer on Enterprise. Apparently they were both OK with MacFarlane cloning their old shows.

It's honestly shocking how much of ST:TNG MacFarlane appropriated here, and I can't believe he's getting away with it. CBS (who now owns Star Trek) is notoriously protective of the property, and just last year they got all pissy and started stamping out fan films. Any day now I expect a cadre of their lawyers to show up at Fox with a cease and desist order.

I know, I know, you're probably thinking I'm overreacting and exaggerating just how much The Orville cribs from ST:TNG (and other Trek shows). So here's a few examples:

ST:TNG features the Federation, which is sort of like the United Nations in space.
The Orville features the Union, which is sort of like the United Nations in space.

ST:TNG features warp drive, shields, shuttles and transporters.
The Orville features quantum drive, deflectors and shuttles. They may well have transporters too, but I didn't spot any in the pilot.


ST:TNG characters wear two piece (for the men) uniforms, color-coded to their departments and rank.
The Orville characters wear two piece uniforms, color-coded to their departments and rank.

ST:TNG features a sleek, antiseptic circular bridge, with the captain sitting in a central chair surrounded by his officers.
The Orville features a sleek, antiseptic circular bridge, with the captain sitting in a central chair surrounded by his officers.

Seriously, this is just a slightly updated version of the Enterprise-D's bridge. It's even got the same goddamned railing behind the captain's chair!


ST:TNG features the holodeck, a high-tech room that can create perfect interactive replicas of any life form or environment.
The Orville features the holodeck, a high-tech room that can create perfect interactive replicas of any life form or environment.


Also in the pilot episode of ST:TNG, Commander Riker enters the holodeck, where he has a conversation with Lt. Data.
In the pilot episode of The Orville, Captain Mercer enters the holodeck, where he has a conversation with Gordon Malloy.

This was by far the most shocking part of the episode for me. They just straight up lifted the holodeck directly from ST:TNG. They don't actually call it the holodeck, but it operates EXACTLY the same, right down to the entrance incongruously appearing in the middle of the fake environment. The simulation even fades away as the characters exit, just like it did on ST:TNG! I really do not understand how they're able to get away with this.


Here's the thing— this would be acceptable if they were actually spoofing the holodeck, or cleverly skewering the many "Holodeck Gone Wrong" episodes in the series. But there's no parody or satire going on here. The characters just have a normal plot-advancing conversation inside a perfect copy of a ST:TNG holodeck. The entire scene apparently just exists so they can say, "Hey, remember the holodeck?"

ST:TNG and Star Trek: The Motion Picture both featured scenes in which the captain addresses the entire crew prior to a mission.
The Orville features a scene in which the captain addresses the entire crew prior to a mission.

In Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and others), the Enterprise pulls out of space dock as tiny figures watch and wave goodbye.
In The Orville, the ship pulls out of space dock as tiny figures watch and wave goodbye.

In the original Star Trek pilot The Cage, there's a shot in which the ship flies by, and the camera zooms in to reveal the crew through a window in the top of the bridge.

In The Orville, there's a shot in which the ship flies by, and the camera zooms in to reveal the crew through a window in the top of the bridge.

ST:TNG features the Enterprise seemingly stretching as it breaks the light speed barrier and goes to warp.
The Orville 
features the ship seemingly stretching as it breaks the light speed barrier and goes to warp, er, I mean activates its quantum drive.

ST:TNG features Worf, a Klingon bridge officer who's played by black actor Michael Dorn.
The Orville features Bortus, a Klingon-like alien bridge officer who's played by black actor Peter Macon (they even copied Dorn's race!).

This one's a jaw dropper too! Bortus IS Worf. They don't even make any attempt to hide it. Worf was a large, powerfully-built alien who was very disciplined and spoke in a very formal manner. Bortus is exactly the same, at least in this first episode.

Again, there's no joke or spoof of Worf here. They just completely xeroxed the character and used him on their own show!

ST: TNG features a female doctor whose uniform is a slight variation of everyone else's
The Orville features a female doctor whose uniform is a slight variation of everyone else's.


And just to deepen the connection even further, Dr. Finn here is played by Penny Johnson, who occasionally guest starred on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Cassidy Yates, Captain Sisko's love interest!

ST:TNG features Lt. Commander Data, an android bridge officer.
The Orville features Isaac, an android (I guess?) from a planet of artificial lifeforms.


By the way, despite his obvious superiority, Data constantly strived to become "more human." In a radical burst of creativity, Isaac (who I assume is named after noted scifi author Isaac Asimov) sees humans as an inferior species.

Lastly, the cinematography, editing and even the fade-to-black commercial breaks are identical to ST:TNG as well. 

Just take a look at the above comparison of the "Ship Fly-By Shots." The camera angles, lighting and light speed effects are EXACTLY THE SAME. Now granted, maybe there are only so many ways to film a ship traveling at warp, but Jesus Christ! When I saw this scene in The Orville, for a second I honestly thought I was watching ST:TNG instead.

Like I said before, how the holy hell are they getting away with this?

One more thing: MacFarlane is good friends with Patrick Stewart, who's been on all of his TV shows. How long do you think it'll be before Stewart shows up on The Orville, either as an admiral or the voice of an alien?

I've decided not to do any weekly reviews of The Orville, as my schedule's already full and I honestly don't particularly like the show at this point. You really need to care about a series in order to type fifty thousand words about it every week, and so far this show's just not doing anything for me. If I need a Star Trek fix I'll just go watch reruns of ST:TNG instead.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Only Feature You Need

The new iPhone 8 came out today.

No doubt it contains a host of slightly tweaked functions and features that no one actually needs, but the teeming masses will line up to buy it anyway. I have absolutely zero interest in buying one, as I'm perfectly happy with my four year old Galaxy 4 and plan to keep it until it stops working.

There's only one thing Apple could add to the iPhone 8 to get me to buy it— a feature that makes it impossible to film vertical videos!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Fast And Furry-ous

Went to my local Target last night to check out their Halloween decorations, and saw these.

It's hard to get a sense of scale from the photo, but those are adult-sized animal masks. They're also creepy as hell, especially the unicorn one with its unsettling, penetrating blue eyes.

Ah, Target. Serving the Furry community since 1962!

So far I only saw the heads. I dunno if they're gonna be carrying the rest of the costume or not.

It Came From The Cineplex: Logan Lucky

Welp, Summer Movie Dumpster Fire 2017 has officially sputtered to a limp and disappointing close. In the past few weeks it's become increasingly difficult to find anything worth paying to see at the cineplex. Fortunately there are a one or two bright spots if you know where to look, such as this film.

Logan Lucky was written by Rebecca Blunt and directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Blunt has exactly one theatrical writing credit to her name— this one.

Soderbergh is a prolific writer, producer and director. He previously directed many critically acclaimed films such as Sex, Lies And Videotape, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, Solaris, Ocean's Twelve, The Good German, Ocean's Thirteen, The Informant!, Contagion and Magic Mike, among many others.


Soderbergh claimed he'd retired from filmmaking after directing the 2013 TV movie Behind The Candelabra. According to him, he was given the Logan Lucky script by a friend and asked to recommend a director. Fortunately for us, Soderbergh read the script and liked it so much he decided to come out of retirement and direct it himself.

Overall I enjoyed Logan Lucky, but I'm not as in love with it as most critics seem to be. I'm kind of wondering if part of the reason it's receiving so much praise is that the utter dreck filling the rest of the cineplex makes the film look epic by comparison?

The movie's been described as a "Red Neck Ocean's 11," which seems pretty apt. All of Soderbergh's familiar Ocean's elements are here— the gang full of quirky personalities, the meticulously planned heist and even the twist at the end. In fact in the movie, a news anchor even describes the robbery as "Ocean's Seven-Eleven."

Despite this similarity to the Ocean's trilogy, Logan Lucky somehow feels fresh, and has its own distinct personality. 

It's a much smarter and better executed version of last year's Masterminds (which I inexplicably liked and graded much, MUCH too high).

Although Rebecca Blunt is credited as the sole writer of the film, Hollywood insiders claim there's no such person. Rumor has it the movie was actually written by Jules Asner, the wife of Steven Soderbergh. This would makes sense, as Asner hails from West Virginia, where the film takes place.

So far the film is a financial flop, grossing just $31 million worldwide against its slim $29 million budget. Ouch! And yes, it's still a flop, since due to marketing costs, movies generally have to gross twice their production budget before they turn a profit. Logan Lucky probably didn't spend a fortune on promotion, but it's still unlikely to ever break even. That's too bad, as it's one of the very few decent movies out there this month. Maybe it'll do better on home video.

The Plot:
Jimmy Logan is a construction worker in rural West Virginia, whose promising high school football career was cut short by an injury that left him with a permanent limp. His wife Bobbie Jo (played by Katie Holmes) left him for a wealthy used car salesman named Moody (played by David Denman). Jimmy and Bobbie Jo have a daughter Sadie, who's heavily into the creepy child beauty pageant scene.

As the film opens, Jimmy works on his truck while Sadie looks on. He tells his favorite song is John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads, and suggests she sing it in her upcoming Junior Miss beauty pageant. Unfortunately she insists on singing Umbrella by Rihanna instead.

Jimmy heads to his construction job in the tunnels beneath the Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he's suddenly fired for not disclosing his limp. Shortly afterward, Bobbie Jo tells him she and her new family are moving to Lynchburg, which will make it harder for him to visit Sadie.

Jimmy drowns his sorrows in a bar run by his brother Clyde (played by Adam Driver), an Iraq War veteran who whose jeep was bombed just as he was heading for his flight home. The incident cost Clyde his most of his left arm, forcing him to wear a crude prosthetic. Clyde says that Jimmy's misfortune is just the latest in the infamous "Logan Family Curse," which has plagued them their entire lives. 


Max Chilblain (played by miscast Seth MacFarlane), a snooty British sports drink entrepreneur, enters the bar and makes fun of Clyde's disability. Jimmy gets into a fight with Max and his goons. In the confusion, Clyde sneaks out and tosses a Molotov cocktail into Max's truck.

The next day, Jimmy, sick of being poor and destitute, pitches an idea to Clyde— robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway the week after Memorial Day. Due to his recent construction job, Jimmy has intimate knowledge of the system of pneumatic tubes under the track that funnel concession money to an underground vault. Clyde says he's in, and they talk their hairdresser sister Mellie into going along with the plan as well.

Jimmy and Clyde then visit the local prison to meet with Joe Bang (played by a bleached-blonde Daniel Craig), an old acquaintance who's a convicted demolitions expert with just five months to go on his sentence. They explain their plan to Joe, who points out one tiny flaw— HE'S CURRENTLY IN PRISON. The brothers assure Joe they can sneak him out and back in before the authorities know he's gone. Amazingly, Joe agrees to the plan, but insists they bring his younger brothers Fish and Sam in on the deal.

Clyde deliberately commits a petty crime in order to be sent to Joe's prison for ninety days. Jimmy buys supplies for the heist, and runs into Sylvia Harrison (played by Katherine Waterston), a former classmate who's now a nurse with a mobile clinic. Sylvia gives Jimmy a booster shot, and mentions her clinic is low on funds. Jimmy asks Sylvia if they ever kissed in high school, which upsets her. Jimmy then runs into his former boss, who says the construction job is ahead of schedule and will be finished by Memorial Day, meaning the heist will have to be moved up a week.

In the prison, Clyde and Joe talk the other prisoners into staging a fake riot so they can slip out unnoticed. They sneak out under a delivery truck and are met by Mellie, who takes them to the Speedway. Meanwhile the befuddled Warden Burns (played by Dwight Yoakam!) tries to diffuse the imaginary riot.

At the Speedway, Fish and Sam cut the power so the concession stands can only accept cash. Joe mixes up a homemade bomb to blast into the vault. He, Jimmy and Clyde use a vacuum to suck up the money and funnel it into plastic bags. Jimmy accidentally reverses the vacuum, causing it to suck Clyde's prosthetic arm into the tubes. Clyde freaks out, convinced the authorities will find his arm and convict him (Logan Family Curse!). Jimmy assures him he'll find the arm, and tells him and Joe to hurry back to the prison before they're missed.

On their way out, Clyde and Joe encounter Max Chilblain. He recognizes Clyde and attacks him
 (Logan Family Curse!). Clyde breaks Max's nose, and he and Joe run off. The two manage to slip back into prison unnoticed. Meanwhile Fish and Sam, dressed as janitors, drive out with the trash bags full of money.

Mellie makes it to the beauty pageant just in time to do Sadie's hair. Sadie goes onstage, ready to perform her Umbrella song as planned. Suddenly Jimmy enters the auditorium, just in time to see his daughter perform. Sadie spots him in the audience and decides to sing Take Me Home, Country Roads after all. The audience is so moved they begin singing along, and Sadie wins first place.


Later that day a news report states that all the Speedway's stolen money was recovered inside a truck parked at a convenience store. Apparently Jimmy left the truck in the lot and called in an anonymous tip to the police. The rest of the gang is livid with Jimmy for betraying them after all the trouble they went through
. Mellie refuses to speak to him, while Joe Bang vows to kill him once he's released from prison.

FBI Agent Sarah Grayson (played by Hilary Swank) arrives to investigate the robbery. She questions several people, including Warden Burns and Max Chilblain. Burns is no help, but Chilblain claims he saw Clyde at the Speedway while he was supposed to be in prison. Grayson questions the Speedway officials, but since almost of the money was returned, they're satisfied with the outcome. With no concrete evidence, Grayson is forced to close the case.

Clyde and Joe are released from prison. Joe plans to murder Jimmy, but when he returns to his old house he finds a large sum of the money buried in his backyard. We then see that this was all part of Jimmy's Master Plan. During the heist, he secretly stashed several bags of money in a secure location, turning in the rest of it to throw off any suspicion or investigations. He distributes the money among the gang, and even gives a bit to Sylvia for her clinic.

Later we see Jimmy working at Lowes. He goes to Clyde's bar with Sylvia, where we see the rest of the gang (including Joe) celebrating. Clyde, who now has a new high-tech bionic arm that he bought with his share of the loot, spots a woman at the bar. He buys her a drink and asks her where she's from. We then see the woman is Agent Grayson, who's continuing the investigation on her own (Logan Family Curse!).

Thoughts:
• Despite the fact that I enjoyed Logan Lucky, I really don't have a lot to say about it, so this'll be quick.


• The highlight of the film is definitely its top notch cast (with the exception of the very out of place Seth MacFarlane and his Dick Van Dyke level British accent). 

Channing Tatum even turned in a decent performance. I used to think he was little more than a sack of potatoes that could talk, but he's won me over in recent years, and my opinion of him has risen quite a bit.

Daniel Craig steals the show as Joe Bang, an insane, bleached-blonde convict. He honestly surprised me here with his versatility, as the role allows him to uncharacteristically cut loose in a way James Bond never could. Who knew Craig could be legitimately funny?

• The idea of beefcake Channing Tatum and the owlish Adam Driver appearing onscreen as brothers strains suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. Maybe they had different moms or something?

• Speaking of Adam Driver, he plays a wounded Iraqi War veteran here. In reality, Driver was a Marine before he became an actor. He was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq, but broke his sternum and was medically discharged.

• I'm betting a huge part of the film's $29 million budget went toward digitally erasing Adam Driver's left forearm to simulate his war injury. Kudos to the effects team, as it honestly looks like Driver's really missing an arm!

• Jimmy and Clyde's sister Mellie is played by actress Riley Keough, who's the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, and granddaughter of Elvis (!).

• In the film, Jimmy lives in West Virginia and had a promising football career before an injury sidelined him. Supposedly the character was based on actor Channing Tatum, who grew up poor in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Tatum had a college football scholarship until an accident damaged his knee, and he turned to stripping and modeling to make ends meet

• My favorite scene in the film was the prison riot, in which an inmate gives a list of demands to Warden Burns. All they want is for the prison library to stock the final two books of George R.R. Martin's Game Of Thrones series.


Burns then has to patiently explain to the prisoners that Martin was still working on The Winds Of Winter (Book 6)and hasn't even started on A Dream Of Spring (Book 7). The prisoners refuse to believe him, since the TV show is detailing events that happen after Book 5. The Warden and the prisoners then get in a discussion about TV schedules and the details of book-to-film adaptations.

It's a funny scene because it's all too true, and the inmates' frustration with Martin's writing speed very much echoes my own.
• According to Clyde, the Logan Family Curse strikes whenever things seem to be going well for the clan. Jimmy blew out his knee after becoming a high school football star. Clyde lost his arm in Iraq on the way to the airport to catch his flight home. 


At the end of the film, it's hinted that the curse may be about to strike again. The gang got away with the robbery and are all celebrating their good fortune in Clyde's bar. The final shot of the movie shows Clyde innocently chatting up an undercover Agent Grayson, implying she'll eventually dig up the evidence she needs to convict the gang, and proving the Curse true once again.

Logan Lucky is one of the few worthwhile films currently playing this month. It's a good, but not great variation on the Ocean's 11 plot, filled with memorable performances and a surprising twist. I give it a solid B.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Exactamundo!

I don't ever remember seeing this, but apparently back in 1976, MPC produced a "Fonz Dream Rod" model kit (complete with a figure of Henry "The Fonz" Winkler).

Back in the day many model enthusiasts accused MPC of simply reusing their 1966 "Monkeemobile" kit (from The Monkees TV show), in a shameless effort to cash in on the HUGE (at that time) popularity of TV's Happy Days and all things Fonzie.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Take a good look at both cars. For one thing, the Monkeemobile has a full vinyl top, one that extends from the back of the car all the way across the seating area and attaches to the windshield. 

The Fonz Dream Rod, on the other hand, has a vinyl roof that only extends halfway from the back (which would likely blow off the second the car was driven faster than fifteen miles per hour). The Dream Rod is CLEARLY a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT model kit! How dare anyone accuse MPC of reusing its molds!

Honestly I'm much more interested in finding out how Fonzie acquired a 1966 Pontiac GTO, when he lived in the 1950s.

Thanks to my pal KW Monster for pointing out these kits to me!

What's The Big Rush, Rush?

For the past several days, talk radio host and bloated whale carcass Rush Limbaugh, who's apparently still a thing, has been telling his loyal listeners (?) that the the monstrous Hurricane Irma which is barreling towards Florida is nothing more than a conspiracy cooked up by the media and retail stores.

On his syndicated radio show, Limbaugh bleated,
"There is symbiotic relationship between retailers and local media, and it’s related to money. It revolves around money. You have major, major industries and businesses which prosper during times of crisis and panic, such as a hurricane, which could destroy or greatly damage people’s homes, and it could interrupt the flow of water and electricity. So what happens?"

"Well, the TV stations begin reporting this and the panic begins to increase. And then people end up going to various stores to stock up on water and whatever they might need for home repairs and batteries and all this that they’re advised to get, and a vicious circle is created. You have these various retail outlets who spend a lot of advertising dollars with the local media."

"The local media, in turn, reports in such a way as to create the panic way far out, which sends people into these stores to fill up with water and to fill up with batteries, and it becomes a never-ending repeated cycle. And the two coexist. So the media benefits with the panic with increased eyeballs, and the retailers benefit from the panic with increased sales, and the TV companies benefit because they’re getting advertising dollars from the businesses that are seeing all this attention from customers."
Sure, Rush. It's all a conspiracy to sell bottled water. This is extremely dangerous and irresponsible of Limbaugh, or any public figure for that matter. Irma currently is described as the largest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, and its sustained 185 mph winds have utterly decimated Puerto Rico and many Caribbean islands. I have no doubt someone's going to actually listen to his cries of "fake news" and refuse to evacuate, and then all the skin will be blown off their body. His ill-advised conspiracy theories are going to end up getting someone killed.

Someone other than Rush, that is.

In case you weren't aware, Limbaugh's studio is located in Palm Beach County, in the state of Florida. You know, the state that Irma is relentlessly heading towards. This morning Limbaugh evacuated the state, exiting so quickly he left a cartoonish hole in the shape of his body in his studio wall.

Said Limbaugh, 
“May as well go ahead and announce this,” he said. “I'm not going to get into details because of the security nature of things, but it turns out that we will not be able to do the program here tomorrow. ... We'll be on the air next week, folks, from parts unknown. So we'll be back on Monday. It's just that tomorrow is going to be problematic. Tomorrow it would be, I think, legally impossible for us to originate the program out of here.”
Did you get all that? Limbaugh says the media's blowing Hurricane Irma all out of proportion, and there's absolutely no danger. Of course he said all this as he was evacuating the state.

Limbaugh seemed less concerned with the inevitable loss of life and property and more with how the hurricane had impacted his personal plans, saying, “You know, I had to cancel a bunch of stuff. I was going to go to a private movie screening this afternoon, and I had a bunch of stuff to do tonight, and now that's all blown to smithereens.”

That is a tragedy, Rush. Please, people, for the love of Thor, do NOT listen to anything that spews out of this blowhard's foul orifice of a mouth. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

So Much For Summer Movie Dumpster Fire 2017!

Welp, Summer Movie Dumpster Fire 2017 has finally come to a close, and what a brutal season it was! Cineplexes nationwide are littered with the rotted, bloating corpses of stale sequels, ill-advised reboots and failed franchise attempts.

It's not just my imagination either. According to industry insiders, Labor Day 2017 was the lowest grossing box office weekend since 2000! 

In fact, the number one movie this past weekend, The Hitman's Bodyguard, and could only manage to scrape up a dismal and embarrassing $10.3 million! The news gets worse— the top twelve movies playing over the Labor Day weekend grossed a combined $51 million! Heck, a good summer movie should be able to make that much on its own!

Studio executives are pointing fingers in every direction, like a finger pointing champ on National Finger Pointing Day. They're blaming the box office slump on streaming (of course), piracy, Hurricane Harvey (how many moviegoers could possibly live in Houston?), the Mayweather/McGregor fight, and of course their old standby, Rotten Tomatoes.

Naturally they seem to have completely missed the most obvious reason for the decline: the movies they're pumping out are pure crap! 

Who the hell wants to spend $12 bucks and make a special trip to the cineplex to see such classics as Leap!, Annabelle: Creation, The Emoji Movie, Kidnap, The Glass Castle, Tulip Fever or the aforementioned The Hitman's Bodyguard, a movie so bland and mediocre that I doubt Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson would have watched it unless they were contractually bound to attend at the premiere.

I can personally attest to this dearth of watchable films in theaters. I generally go to the movies once a week, and let me tell you, it was tough finding something worth seeing this past weekend. Apparently I wasn't the only one who thought so, as the parking lot of my local cineplexery was virtually empty.

I'd either seen everything or had no interest in what was playing, so I settled for watching the 40th Anniversary re-release of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind! Seriously! A four decade-old (oy) movie that I own on DVD and blu ray and have seen at least fifty times. 

 That's a pretty sad state of affairs when the only movie worth seeing is one that came out back in 1977. I saw Close Encounters in the theater back in '77, and I never dreamed I'd be watching it again forty years later because it was the only decent film playing.

On the other hand, it was fun seeing Close Encounters on a big screen again, with a really loud kickass sound system. And believe it or not, I wasn't the only person in the audience, like I expected. There were a good twenty five or thirty people there to see it! Amazing!

Even more mind blowing is the fact that this re-release of Close Encounters grossed $2.3 million over the weekend. Let that sink in for a minute— a forty year old movie grossed a fourth of what the brand new The Hitman's Bodyguard managed to pull in!

There are a few potential blockbusters looming on the movie horizon, such as It, Thor: Ragnarok and of course Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which will hopefully pull the box office out of its dismal slump.  But I ain't holdin' my breath.

It Came From The Cineplex: Dunkirk

Dunkirk was written and directed by Christopher Nolan.

Nolan's a fanboy-favorite who previously co-wrote and directed Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. He wrote and directed Interstellar. He also received "Story Credit" for Man Of Steel, for which he should be publicly flogged.

Dunkirk is an epic film, and like all of Nolan's work, it's visually stunning. He spared no expense in recreating the Battle Of Dunkirk, using practical effects and vehicles wherever possible, even going so far as to film in the actual locations!

Nolan got the idea to make the film after he and his wife Emma Thomas sailed across the English Channel, following the same route as many of the ships involved in the real evacuation of Dunkirk. He seriously considered not writing a script, planning to improvise the entire film (!). Fortunately for us, Thomas talked him out of this terrible idea, and Nolan turned in a seventy six page screenplay (about half the length of his usual scripts). 

As a result of this, Dunkirk is a very atypical Hollywood war movie. It clocks in at a brisk 106 minutes, which is unusual for a film of this scope. It's also an odd subject for a Hollywood war movie. Although many historians consider it a turning point in WWII, The Battle Of Dunkirk was not a military victory. It didn't involve America in any way (the U.S. hadn't even entered WWII at the time!), there are no frontline skirmishes, no scenes of Churchill in a war room surrounded by generals and no German soldiers are ever seen onscreen (save for a couple in the closing seconds).

The film contains surprisingly little dialogue, as the characters spend whole swaths of the movie running from place to place, simply trying to survive. This makes for a highly immersive cinematic experience, putting the audience squarely in the middle of the action. 

Despite this, Dunkirk has a very cold and hollow tone. Rather than focus on one main character, we're introduced to several, but unfortunately we never get to know anything about them. A few get names and maybe one identifying characteristic and that's it. It's a film filled with ciphers, which severely lessens its emotional impact.

So far Dunkirk's grossed $460 million worldwide against its $100 million budget, which makes it one of the bigger hits of the summer. That's surprising to me, as there's been little or no buzz surrounding the film. It's like a stealth hit.

SPOILERS FOR A MOVIE BASED ON AN HISTORICAL EVENT!

The Plot:
A word of warning: Dunkirk seems like a traditional linear narrative, but it's anything but. The film depicts three interconnected storylines that take place over wildly different time periods. The land story covers an entire week (!), the sea story a day and the air story just one hour. However, the movie freely cuts back and forth between these plots as if they're happening simultaneously, which can be confusing if you're not paying attention.

A helpful title card tells us that it's 1940, and the Germans are invading France. 400,000 Allied soldiers are forced to retreat to the seaside town of Dunkirk, France. As the Germans relentlessly close in, the soldiers desperately wait on the beach for rescue.

The Mole, aka Land (which takes place over the course of a week)
Six British soldiers are walking through the deserted streets of Dunkirk, when they're attacked by German snipers. A young private named Tommy is the only one to survive. He threads his way through the town and makes it to the beach, where he's stunned to see hundreds of thousands of troops waiting to be evacuated.

Tommy gets in the back of a huge line of soldiers and waits. He spots a soldier named Gibson, who's seemingly burying a fellow private, and helps him. Just then a pack of German Stuka dive bombers attacks the beach, killing dozens of men caught out in the open.

Tommy sees a rescue ship that's giving priority to the wounded, and gets an idea. He and Gibson grab a stretcher and carry an injured soldier to the ship. They make it onto the ship, but unfortunately they're ordered off after they deliver the wounded man. They sneak under the pier (aka The Mole), where they wait to board the next rescue ship. Suddenly the German planes attack again, sinking the ship they were just on. Hundreds of soldiers jump off, and Tommy saves a man named Alex (played by Harry Styles, of One Direction fame!) from being crushed.

Eventually the three make it onto another ship, where they can finally relax. Not so fast there, guys! This ship is then hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat, and begins sinking. Gibson saves Tommy and Alex, and they manage to grab onto a packed life boat and make it back to shore. In the first of the interconnected elements, we see the lifeboat is commanded by a man we'll soon come to know as the Shivering Soldier (played by Cillian Murphy).

Meanwhile, British officers Commander Bolton (played by Kenneth Branagh) and Colonel Winnant (played by James D'Arcy, aka Jarvis of Agent Carter) discuss the situation. Bolton says Churchill refuses to surrender and doesn't want to risk large ships in the evacuation, fearing they'll be needed to defend Britain from a potential invasion. Churchill has also decided not to help evacuate Allied French soldiers in an effort to save space (!). Bolton says in order to speed up the evacuation, the government is commandeering small civilian ships, which can get closer to the beach.

Some time later, Tommy, Gibson and Alex spot an abandoned fishing trawler on the beach, grounded by low tide. They run toward it, hoping to hide in it until high tide arrives and floats it out to sea. They're joined by a squad of Scottish soldiers who have the same idea. The soldiers all board the boat and wait in the hold.

Unfortunately the boat's in German territory, and they begin using it for target practice. The soldiers flatten themselves on the floor, desperately trying to avoid the hail of bullets. Just then the tide begins rising, and water pours through the bullet holes in the ship's side. One of the Scottish soldiers says they need to lighten the load, demanding one of the group get off the boat. They suspect Gibson of being a German spy, because he's yet to say anything. Tommy defends Gibson, who reveals he's actually French. He stole the uniform of the man he was burying when we first saw him, hoping to make it onto a British evac ship.

Just then the tide floats the boat out to sea, but unfortunately it starts sinking. The soldiers abandoned the boat, but Gibson's caught in a net and drowns. Tommy and Alex swim for a minesweeper ship, but once again it's hit and sunk by German forces. Oil pours from the sunken ship, turning the sea into an inferno. Fortunately they're finally rescued by Mr. Dawson, who we'll hear about in a minute, and pulled onto his boat.

The Sea (which takes place over a day)
In the English town of Weymouth, the Royal Navy is commandeering civilian boats to help with the Dunkirk evacuation. Mr. Dawson agrees to help, but insists on sailing his boat himself. Hhis son Peter and his friend George tagalong.

On the way they spot three Spitfires flying overhead (which we'll find out more about later). Mr. Dawson spots a British officer clinging to the wreckage of a ship destroyed by a U-boat attack, and rescues him. He turns out to be the Shivering Soldier we saw earlier. The Soldier hides silently in a corner until he sees Dawson's heading for Dunkirk, and demands he turn the boat around. 
Dawson calms the Shivering Soldier, and Peter locks him in a bedroom below deck.

When Dawson finds out Peter locked up the Soldier, he demands he let him out. The Soldier rushes up to the deck and tries to turn the boat around. There's a scuffle, and George is knocked backward, falling into the hold. He hits his head on the deck, severely injuring him. Peter rushes to his side, and George says he can't see. Dawson makes the decision to continue to Dunkirk.

Dawson sees a Spitfire crash into the ocean and heads for it. He rescues a pilot named Collins, who we'll meet in the next segment, seconds before he drowns. They make it to Dunkirk, where they see dozens of soldiers leaping off a sinking minesweeper that's surrounded by flames. Dawson risks his life rescuing as many soldiers as he can, including Tommy and Alex.

Peter attempts to move George to make more room, but sees he's dead. On deck, the Shivering Soldier asks if George is OK. Peter realizes the man's out of his head and lies, saying George is fine.

The Air (which takes place over an hour)
Three RAF Spitfires, piloted by Ferrier (played by Tom Hardy), Collins and "Fortis Leader," head across the English Channel to Dunkirk to protect the evacuating soldiers. They encounter a squad of German fighters and engage in a dogfight. Fortis Leader's shot down, and Ferrier assumes command of the mission.

Ferrier's fuel gauge was damaged during the skirmish, preventing him from telling how full his tank is. Collins asks if he want to abort the mission, but Ferrier insists they continue to France.

They shoot down another German plane, but Collins' Spitfire is damaged and he crashes into the English Channel (where he's later picked up by Mr. Dawson). Farrier sees another German bomber attack a minesweeper and shoots it down. Unfortunately it ignites the oil leaking out of the minesweeper, turning the sea into an inferno.

Farrier reaches Dunkirk just as his fuel runs out. He manages to glide long enough to shoot down a dive bomber, and safely lands his plane outside the Allied perimeter. He sees German soldiers approaching and sets fire to his plane to keep it out of their hands. He's captured by the Germans and taken prisoner.

The Wrap Up
Dawson's boat makes it back to Weymouth, where he's celebrated for saving so many soldiers. George's body is carried off the boat, as the Shivering Soldier looks on. Peter takes a photo of George to the local paper, which publishes an article praising him as a war hero.

The surviving soldiers are put on a train. Tommy and Alex assume the public will treat them as cowards for retreating from France, but instead they're given a heroes' welcome. Tommy reads a newspaper article in which Churchill praises the bravery of the soldiers and vows to never surrender.

Back on the beach, Commander Bolton says they expected to save 30,000 soldiers, but over 300,000 were actually evacuated. He tells Colonel Winnant he's staying behind to help evac the French soldiers as well.

Thoughts:

Dunkirk stars several members of Christopher Nolan's little repertoire company, including Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) and of course, Michael Caine (The Prestige, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Interstellar), although his role is just a voiceover cameo.

• Tom Hardy apparently hates the bottom half of his own face. He wore a partial mask as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, his face was half covered for much of Fury Road and he spends most of Dunkirk with the lower half of his face hidden by an oxygen mask. He eventually takes if off the mask in the final seconds of the film.

C'mon, Tom! You're not that hard to look at!

• Nolan used practical effects in the film wherever possible. For example, to populate the beach during the evacuation scenes, he used over one thousand extras. These crowds were then enhanced by using numerous cardboard cutouts of soldiers (!).

He also used era-appropriate planes for the aerial scenes, along with twelve of the surviving civilian ships that participated in the actual Dunkirk evacuation back in 1940! Pretty cool!

Also, the military uniforms worn in 1940 were made from heavy wool, which was no longer produced. The producers used a factory in Pakistan to manufacture wool fabric and create thousands 
of historically accurate wool uniforms for the actors and extras. 

• Hans Zimmer composed the film's score, making extensive use of the Shepard Tone to generate tension in the audience. It's kind of hard to explain, but basically it consists of three overlapping, rising tones. One tone is played at a consistent volume, while a second fades out as it rises. The third tone fades in as it gets higher. When the three are played at the same time and infinitely looped, they give the illusion of a tone that seems to rise forever, even though it never actually gets any higher, which makes the listener edgy and uneasy.

Zimmer also used the sound of a ticking clock on the soundtrack, to suggest urgency I guess. The ticking was supplied by Nolan's own pocket watch.


• A big part of the Dunkirk evacuation's success lies with the fleet of civilians who used their own boats and risked their lives to rescue thousands of trapped soldiers.

That's something that could have only happened in WWII, and a feat only the British with their stiff upper lips and can-do attitudes could have pulled off. No matter how hard I try, I can't imagine current day American citizens crossing enemy lines and risking their lives to evacuate a bunch of soldiers. WWII was a different time.

• Whenever the German Stuka dive bombers, er, dive toward the beach, there's a distinctive whining sound that signals their approach. This sound came from sirens mounted on the planes' landing gear, which the Germans called the "Jericho Trumpet." 

These sirens were solely for psychological effect, meant to strike fear into the troops on the ground. They did their job well, as troops were terrified and would scatter whenever they'd hear the distinctive Stuka whine.

George Lucas supposedly used this idea for the sound of the TIE Fighters in the Star Wars movies!

• As longtime readers of Bob Canada's BlogWorld know all too well, I'm not a fan of biopics or historical dramas, as they're usually woefully inaccurate. In fact most of them outright fabricate characters and events to make their stories more cinematic.

Amazingly, Dunkirk is actually fairly historically accurate! In fact a few surviving Dunkirk survivors were invited to the film's premiere, and they all praised its realism and accuracy. One survivor did say however that the movie was louder than the battle (!).

Here are a just a few of the things Dunkirk actually got right:

The Germans really did drop propaganda material that illustrated how the British troops were surrounded, and demanded they surrender (the actual leaflets didn't look like the ones in the movie though). 

The Royal Navy really keep their destroyers and other large ships from participating in the evacuation. They did this partly because they didn't want to lose ships they'd need in a larger battle they expected, and also because the huge ships couldn't get close enough to the shallow beach to be of any help.

The Royal Air Force really did engage in dogfights with German planes over the sea, and they really were limited to just an hour of flight time by their fuel capacity.

The soldiers on Dunkirk beach really did curse the Air Force for not protecting them from German bombers. The film fails to mention though that the Royal Air Force planes actually did battle the German planes, but they did so far inland, out of sight from the beach. This led the soldiers to think the RAF had abandoned them.

The British commanders really did refuse to evacuate French soldiers at first. Churchill later insisted they be rescued along with the British troops.

None of the characters in the film are real, although a few, like Kenneth Branagh's Commander Bolton, are composites of several actual people.

Dunkirk is a visually spectacular film that's a throwback to old school war films. There's little or no dialogue, which helps immerse the audience in the action. Unfortunately there's no central character, and the ones we do meet are virtual ciphers with absolutely no depth, resulting in a cold and clinical film. It's still worth a look on the big screen though, if nothing else than for the sound. I give it a solid B.

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