Friday, November 6, 2015

Star Trek Into Lists - Kyle Rates the Star Trek Movies

Star Wars or Star Trek? It’s the eternal geek debate, and if you’re worth your salt in either midichlorians or dilithium crystals you know which side you fall on. If that last sentence made little to no sense to you, then congratulations on all of your success in high school. In the great beyond of geek culture though, it’s well known that your allegiances have to lie with one or the other. Sure, if you’re a wampa-riding nerf herder, you might think Wrath of Khan is cool, and conversely, it would take the cold heart of a Romulan not to get a charge during Empire Strikes Back, but because this is the internet, lines in the sand must be drawn and you HAVE to have a favorite franchise.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always been inclined to root for the underdog, but since I was 10 or so I’ve been a Star Trek man. The Star Wars trilogy is a lot of fun, but nothing gets me excited like seeing the Enterprise gliding through space at Warp 6 with either Captains Kirk or Picard at the helm (don’t get me started on that debate…okay…Picard). I can’t go toe-to-toe with the die hards, having seen many of the original series episodes but never memorizing them, and I have to admit, I never got around to watching the last few seasons of Deep Space Nine, but I do thoroughly enjoy the Star Trek cinematic universe despite its many, MANY flaws.

Pictured: Flaw

I guess it speaks to the optimism you find in your general Star Trek fan. We love the movies, in spite of themselves. There’s cheap effects, bad acting, questionable story elements, and Doc Brown dressed as a Klingon, but the fans are able to see past all of this mess to enjoy the real movie below--the epic masterpiece that never made it to the screen, but whose seed is buried deep inside some of the Federation’s worst offenders (I’m looking at you Final Frontier). With that in mind, and with the announcement of a new Star Trek digital series planned for 2017, I think I’ll celebrate my favorite franchise by boldly going where many on the internet have gone before and rate all 12 Star Trek movies individually on a scale of 0 to 5.


1. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

The movie that launched a multi-billion dollar cinematic franchise almost wasn’t a movie at all. In fact, in the mid-70's Paramount Studios was planning on revitalizing the Star Trek brand with a new TV show called Star Trek: Phase II, but with movie-going audiences’ acceptance of big budget sci-fi blockbusters like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind the TV project was quickly scrapped in favor of giving the Enterprise crew a shot at the big screen. Heavy on story, ideas, and effects but woefully light on action, The Motion Picture makes for one of the more interesting Star Trek movies but also the slowest and, dare I say, most boring. 

Not that there's anything boring about Bones' sweet beard.

The reworked Phase II pilot script embraces thoughtful 70’s science fiction without really appealing to anyone outside of the show’s built-in audience. Still, for a fan, this is a beautiful movie that continues the wide-eyed exploration attitude of the show and serves as a great jumping off point for the Enterprise and her crew.

For the Enterprise’s introductory money shot alone, I give it 3.5 Drunken Scotty’s.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Coming out with the big guns early, the Star Trek team followed up 1979’s G-rated tranquilizer dart with an action-packed blockbuster. The second installment brought back a storyline from the original series and showed Captain Kirk and his crew could still kick a little space ass while ruminating on their own mortality and pondering if there’s room for a crew of quinquagenarians in the Federation. So much happens in this stellar movie--Kirk finds out he has a son, we learn Khan’s been alive the whole time and has fantastic pectoral muscles, Kirstie Alley wears prosthetic ears, and, oh yeah, Spock freaking dies! 

Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry.

If you’re looking for a first class science fiction/action film that doesn’t skimp on either the heart or scene chewing villain, look no further than Wrath of Khan. It may be the second film, but for the Star Trek newbie it should be your starting point into the series. Hopefully Wrath of Khan will be able to build up enough goodwill to get you through some pretty low spots coming up on the horizon.

Hands down the best of the series; this one gets 5 Khan chests.

3. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Unable to handle Ricardo Montalban’s scene-hogging in their last outing, Spock is now dead, which is a bad thing for Paramount because it turns out he’s one of the most popular characters in the series. The studio bigwigs put their heads together and thought, if we’re going to keep churning these things out it’s time for some serious backpedaling. With Nimoy now in the director’s chair (part of his deal to reprise the iconic role of Spock) part 3 works to continue the events of Wrath of Khan while leading to the second biggest death of the series. No, not Kirk’s son David (he didn't even get to wear a red shirt)…I’m talking about the destruction of the beloved Enterprise at the end. With the later Next Generation crew ditching and destroying their ship as often as possible, it’s hard to imagine what a big deal this probably was when initially seen on screen. 

On The Next Generation set, we call this a Tuesday.

Along with possibly the worst fight scene of the series (between perennial action hunks Christopher Lloyd and a mid-50s Shatner) Search for Spock is more concerned with finding a convoluted way to bring the pointy-eared Vulcan back from the dead than actually entertaining the audience. David deserved better.

Or maybe this is exactly what he deserved. I've never been a fan.

A sharp drop-off from Khan, Search for Spock only gets 2 Klingon Doc Browns.

4. Star Trek VI: The Voyage Home (1986)

Following the hot mess of Star Trek III, second time director Nimoy shows a surer hand and simplifies things while introducing a little time travel to the Star Trek cinematic universe. Embracing the eco-friendly message of the mid 80’s, Captain Kirk and his team also save Paramount Studios a fortune on set construction and travel back to 1986 looking for a pair of humpback whales. 

Space, the final frontier.

It turns out that in the future humpback whales are extinct, and as luck would have it, are humanity’s only hope for survival against a giant shrieking space probe looking for a quick chat with the marine mammals. Relying more on comedy than any other entry to the franchise, The Voyage Home brings the Star Trek series back on track with its message of ecology and humanity. Plus, the mom from Seventh Heaven's in it, playing marine biologist, Dr. Scientist.

Ditching spaceship battles and adding fish-out-of-water laughs, this movie gets 4 humpback whales.

5. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

With Nimoy exiting directorial duties and William Shatner stepping in, Star Trek V represents a new low for the promising franchise, combining the one-two punch of a terrible story idea with some truly awful effects. Yup, this is the one where Kirk meets God, only it’s not really God, and we get to meet Spock’s brother, who just got out of the shower or something (there's a lot of bath robe-wearing in Final Frontier).

You guys are out of shampoo.

I’m not sure what all is going on in this disaster, but I do know that 57-year-old Uhura does a fan dance and the boys sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat around a campfire. I’d tell you to skip this one, but for sheer ineptness it’s almost worth a watch.

Go climb a rock instead; Final Frontier only gets 1 space marshmallow.

6. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

We’ve finally reached Kyle’s jumping off point into the Star Trek universe with 1991’s Undiscovered Country. At the tender age of 9 I was introduced to these 60-year-old space explorers and a heavily mustachioed Red Forman.


Shooting for a darker tone than the films before it, Star Trek VI looked to wipe audience’s minds of the events in the previous movie and show the last real adventure of the Federation’s favorite crew. The plot mirrored current events, the Berlin wall had fallen and America was beginning a tentative relationship with the former Soviet Union, so Kirk’s prejudices were revisited as he was forced to work with the crumbling Klingon Empire. What this means for fans is a zero gravity space fight featuring Pepto Bismol blood bubbles and Shatner finally getting to fight his only true equal, himself. There’s a lot of ham-fisted dialog and too much Shakespeare-quoting in this movie but an engaging mystery in the middle section of the film and a cast that’s obviously having a lot of fun lifts Undiscovered Country into enjoyable movie status. To this day my first Star Trek film remains one of my favorites.

Klingon lava lamp blood and Iman help earn this movie 4 Captain Sulus.

7. Star Trek Generations (1994)

Out with the old and in with the new, kind of…as the series attempts to make the transition from Original Series to Next Generation cast in a movie that almost works. I know that Generations is not a great film, but it’s always had a soft spot in my heart. This is the movie that had the audacity to kill Kirk not once, but twice and introduce the new Enterprise-D on film to promptly destroy it (in a genuinely exciting action sequence). The “ask questions first, shoot phasers later” tone of Star Trek: The Next Generation follows the cast of the future into their first feature film, as Captain Picard is sucked into an energy ribbon, or “plot device”, and is able to fulfill the dream (if not the /fic) of every Trekker and team up with the girdle-wearing grandpa, Captain Kirk. 

Time to break out my action toupee.

What should have been an exciting contrast of methodologies ultimately amounts to three senior citizens, including a confused Malcolm McDowell, climbing around rocks in the California desert. If anything Generations gives us a few fun moments and a thrilling action set-piece as the Enterprise crash-lands on an forested planet. The less said about Data’s emotion chip, the better.

A step down from Star Trek TNG’s TV show, Generations only earns 3 Captain Alan Rucks.

8. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

In a film worthy of my favorite iteration of the Star Trek universe, the Next Generation crew gets their first stand-one movie and the chance to battle the terrifying Borg. Time travel is center stage in the eight installment of the now 17-year-old franchise when the crew of the Enterprise must travel back to mid-21st century America to stop the Borg from preventing humanity’s first contact with an alien race and assimilating all of earth. What this really works out to is the chance for Patrick Stewart to shine as Captain Jean Luc Picard and bring back a storyline from the television show, exploring Picard’s time assimilated by the Borg. 

There's also a Tommy gun fight for some reason.

I would say it’s no coincidence that the two most successful movies in the Star Trek canon are those revisiting ideas initiated on television and diving deeper into them on the big screen. Both Picard and Data both have to consider what it is to be human as the Borg look to strip Picard and his crew of their humanity while granting Data his. In other words, it’s how Star Trek functions when it’s at its best, an action-packed ride through the cosmos mixed with deeply emotional storytelling.

Forget dancing James Cromwell at the end; First Contact earns 4.5 Tommy gun-wielding Picards.

9. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Well, that ended quickly. The Next Generation crew was off to a great start with First Contact, but follows it up with cheap-looking slog that comes off more as a discarded script from the television series. While reaching for Gene Roddenberry’s idea of exploration this movie falls flat with terrible special effects, vaguely magical aliens, and F. Murray Abraham dressed as a scrotum.

This should probably be blurred out.

The plot revolves around the discovery of a secret plot by the now evil Federation (?) to relocate a magic alien race to help save a gross-looking alien race (that it turns out is actually the same alien race). While there are good moments anchored by an always superb Stewart, who gets to wear a sweet leather jacket, Insurrection just makes me want to watch one of the many better television episodes.

Wholly forgettable, the ninth in the series only gets 2.5 singing Datas.

10. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Universally hated, I have more love in my heart than most for the Star Trek movie that almost killed the entire series. A young Tom Hardy shows up as a clone of Captain Picard bent on destroying the Federation.

Trust me, kid. Comic book movies are the way to go.

Listen, I get it, there’s a lot bad in this movie but I’ve always enjoyed the genuinely excellent performance by Stewart in his last run as Captain of the Enterprise. Data is given more to do this time, besides goofy comedy involving his emotion chip, as he also confronts a mirror of himself in the android B4. All-in-all bad dialog wins the day, as well as some sub-standard special effects. Even though the critical and commercial failure of Nemesis killed the Star Trek franchise as we know it, there are some enjoyable action sequences, including an inspired use of the Enterprise as a battering ram (destroyed it again!). I wish they could have gone out on a stronger note, but at least Data got to sing a few bars of “Blue Skies”.

Not the train wreck everyone would have you believe, I give Nemesis 3 trombone-playing Rikers.

11. Star Trek (2009)

After the Next Generation crew proved to be box office poison and the original series cast proved to be dying off, the Star Trek franchise was primed for a big budget reboot seven years later with a new group of sexy young cadets. 

Pictured: Nerds

Paramount did not disappoint when they gave the helm of the newly designed Enterprise to burgeoning nerd-god JJ Abrams. Despite hiring the same writers who penning the Shakespearean classics Transformers and Transformers 2, the new film took the creative path of a soft reboot of the franchise, using original cast member Nimoy to kick off a series of events leading to an altered timeline. Like a good comic book, 40 years of continuity was wiped clean and Abrams was free to play in the Trekker sandbox. What he did with it was a make a polished and exciting, if not all-together Star Trek-like, movie. The reboot is incredibly watchable, with a fine lead performance by Chris Pine as the young Captain Kirk, but falls apart if you think too much about the altered timeline and series of events that bring the old crew together again. Much of this movie gets things absolutely correct for a fan, but it shows cracks and signs of bad times on the horizon.

Refreshed and rebooted, the alternate timeline gets 4 unnecessary lens flares.

12. Star Trek into Darkness (2013)

My fears proved to be real in the final (to date) Star Trek movie. Conceived as a dumb-actioner instead of a sci-fi epic, Star Trek into Darkness tries too hard to cash in the goodwill of previous movies to draw in the audience. More video game than movie, the writers and director throw everything thing at the screen, hoping bigger is better. When a rogue Starfleet agent threatens the entire Federation Kirk must once again lead the Enterprise on a mission to save humanity (why is the Federation evil again??). What transpires is a clumsy attempt to shoehorn Khan into the new continuity while flipping the Spock/Kirk death scene climax of Wrath of Khan on its head. Luckily, in a "surprise" move, Kirk’s alive again by the time the credits roll, so no one will have to call Christopher Lloyd to see if he’s available for Star Trek XIII: The Search for Kirk. 


It’s obvious the writers were more interested in explosions than Star Trek and that Abrams' eyes were never really on the prize, turning his run on Star Trek into a successful bid for the directing job on the new Star Wars movie. We can only hope that the upcoming Star Trek Beyond, written by Simon Pegg, can right the ship again.

Too much action and a video game premise earn Into Darkness 2.5 inappropriate underwear shots.

The Star Trek movies have come a long way since 1979 but with the December release of a new Star Wars movie will undoubtedly be pushed to the side again. For us real fans though, we don’t mind. We’ve still got our VHS copies of the original films to keep us company. Remember those…? With the spines that formed an image of the Enterprise when you lined them all up? Just me?

Oh well, I thought it was cool.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The 2015 Brando Awards

Hello friends, it’s good to see you again.  Sure its been a while since my last article, and I know I’ve neglected my responsibilities, and for that I’m very sorry, but to be fair… I’m pretty lazy and so it was quite a trek for me to get up the gumption to write a new one.  However, if there is one thing that can motivate me to the keyboard faster than anything, it’s the Academy Awards!  And right now, we’re in that wonderful moment just after the Golden Globes, but right before the Academy Awards, where we can all take a collective breath and say, “really, that’s what got nominated?” 

I’d like to say that even though I was impressed by this year’s cinematic offerings and am excited about the upcoming Academy Awards, the truth is that for the third year going, I’ve actually seen less movies in the theaters than I did the year previously.  Originally, I thought that it was our lack of corporate sponsors over here at SpoilerAlert was what was holding me back (we’re currently accepting any and all applications on this front); and then last year, I thought it was perhaps my busy schedule that was keeping me out of the multiplexes.  But the truth is, and I admit this only to you, today’s films are just not motivating me to plunk down my $13 like they did back in the day.  Does this mean that today’s films are of less quality than they used, to be?  Probably not.  Could it just be that I’m becoming an adult and I have less and less time for these types of things and have to budget my schedule in a more appropriate manner?  Nah, it’s their fault for making so much crap on film.

Pictured: Crap on film

Seriously, I crack wise about this every year or so, but I’d like to mention a couple of things about the Golden Globes before we get into the fun Academy Awards commentary.  As nice as it was to see George Clooney get a lifetime achievement award (good to get that out of the way at 53), and I’m so glad that Ricky Jervais can keep showing up to do that same shtick (other than Margret Cho’s Korean watchdog character, this was the show’s lowest moment), there were some parts that deserve recognition.  Quite frankly, Michael Keaton on an awards stage has been a long time coming.  But even more awesome than yet another Batman wrecking shop, as me and my Scooby Gang sat around watching the Globes, it began to dawn on us that even though they are less prestigious than the Oscars, the Globes are surpassing them in terms of sheer enjoyment and it’s not just they’re allowed to have a lot more fun because they take themselves WAY less seriously.  For my money, the key to this enjoyment is unpredictability.  Not only is it much harder to guess which film/show is going to win in a particular category, very rarely do the Oscars give us a moment like Gina Rodriquez’ tearful shout-out to her dad’s credo.

I’ve gone on and on (and on and on) about what is wrong with the Academy Awards, and I don’t think I need to re-cover that ground in this article, except to say once again some royal shafting is going on over at Academy Central.  How in the world is The Lego Movie not a Best Animated Feature nominee or Interstellar not up for Best Cinematography?!?  Also, I get the audacity of Boyhood, and yes it’s an impressive directorial feat, but let’s not throw the whole deck of awards at this film just because it took as long as FDR’s term to create.  Once again, I am lost as to how these nomination occur (no, none of us are).

However, in the world of film, the Academy Awards is still the brass ring, and as such it remains the most coveted of trophies and the most pretentious of award shows (credit where it’s due, Ellen did a lot to correct this problem last year, and for my money she can have the gig as long as she wants it).  So, in order to contribute my two cents to the magic of awards season, I dug deep for my list of winners this year, and I’m very proud to announce:

The 2015 Brando Awards (and the Brando goes to….)

Editor’s Note: Just a quick reminder that for the films that he’s seen, Brando is going to spoil every single plot point in an effort to convince you that he’s right.  If for some reason you haven’t seen the movie that he’s talking about, please skip over that section until you have seen it, or read at your own risk.  Thanks!

Best Trailer – Selma

There are very few people in history that are as revered in the American lexicon than MLK, and according to interviews from the cast and crew, they tried to stay away from portraying the icon of MLK and set out to just make a film about some very brave people that started something amazing in this town.  However, given the fact that the plot of this film is so emotionally charged with preconceived feelings, the biggest question on my mind is whether or not they actually pulled it off.  That is to say, have they made a truly compelling film or did they just create a flattering puff piece?  I’ll have to see the film before I can answer that question.

That said, this trailer hits almost every note perfect, from Tom Wilkinson as LBJ to Oprah as a marcher in peril, the cast looks impeccable and littered with some known thespians that can do this subject justice.  I’m excited to see British actor David Oyelowo’s take on a man who most of us only know through archival footage of one of the greatest speeches ever given in the history of American rhetoric.  Add in the trailer’s driving music, which culminates a great line, “what happens when a man stands up?” dubbed over the image of MLK rising up out of the crowd to do that very thing, and you’ve got me. 

I’ve said this time and again, but the Academy should add a legitimate category for Best Trailer.  Call them fluff and advertising all you want (and they are), but they are an integral part of the motion picture industry, and they don’t get the props they deserve.

Best ‘Who Knew They Could Do That?’ Performance - Tyler Perry – Gone Girl

It seems that every six months or so, I’ll see a trailer for a film about a predominantly African-American cast that seems to deal with love/heartbreak and maybe even a little coming of age subject matter as well.  And right about the time I start thinking, “This looks pretty good, when does it come out?” out jumps Madea, Tyler Perry’s drag character and Golden Raspberry magnet, and I get to roll my eyes.

Editor’s Notes: for those that don’t know, the Golden Raspberry awards, or ‘Razzies’ as they’re called, are the annual salute to the worst performances of the year, and they are typically held the night before the Oscars. 

Look, I get that he’s found signature character that offers a hook (and guaranteed audience) for seemingly ANY script he wants to write, but I simply don’t see the appeal.  I was operating under the assumption that Perry just didn’t have a higher gear and was simply doing the best he could with the talent that was available to him.

And then came this performance, and blew that idea right out the window!  David Fincher’s taunt picture based upon the best-selling novel about a missing wife is already good enough during the first reel, when we’re still trying to figure out if Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne actually killed his wife or not.  With the world pounding on him and in desperate need of an advocate he turns to Tanner Bolt, an attorney known for taking cases of presumably guilty men.  Bolt’s introduction furthers the slick lawyer perception, as he immediately begins trying to resurrect Affleck’s image and never once asks him if he’s guilty or not.  But Perry’s portrayal of Bolt quickly morphs from a fast-talking shyster into a whip-smart advocate who is not only supportive, but desperately trying to navigate his client through some very perilous waters.

Not only does this guy become a genuine good guy, in what little screen time he has, Perry succeeds in making him very funny, and by the time he leaves our protagonist at the airport, he’s stolen the film away from some very good actors that are all bringing their A-game.  From a film loaded with twists and surprises, Perry’s performance was the most shocking of all. 

So kudos to you Mr. Perry, however this now means that you have absolutely no excuse for Madea.

Best Cameo – Superman and Green Lantern – The Lego Movie

About a year ago, Kyle put out his list of Top 27 Films To See In 2014, and smack there in the middle of the list was The Lego Movie, which he was freakin’ right about! They made a great movie that actually had a plot and was still a nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up in the 80’s playing with those magical little blocks.   But within Kyle’s review, he mentioned that some rather famous super-heroes would be stopping by, and that this film may very well be the best Justice League movie we ever get (with all due respect Mr. Affleck, judging by set stills and the Man of Steel, there’s a good chance he’s right).

This whole movie is dazzling showcase of all Lego sets, and when Emmet and the gang head up to the Council of Master Builders, they really trot out some of their signature characters.  But for my money, the ones to beat are Superman and Green Lantern, played by current reigning bromance, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.  Not only does having these guys voice these characters give an immediate call back to 21 Jump Street, their take on Green Lantern being an annoying sidekick that Superman just can’t get rid of is absolutely hilarious.  In a movie literally chocked full of snappy one-liners, the one to beat was Superman’s lamentation of Lantern’s presence in his life after he fails to use his powers to get Supes out of a jam, “I super-hate you.” 

Everything is Awesome indeed!

Best Line – “I am Groot” – Guardians of the Galaxy

Everyone knows that we are living in a golden age of comic book films and the current heavy weight champ is Marvel Studios, the little studio that banked it all on Tony Stark, and ended up reaping the benefits of that gamble and is now re-defining how comic book movies can be done.  In the wake of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy (a cinematic masterpiece, no question) comic book movies were following the pattern to be darker and grittier and to be set more and more in the real world. And while that was pitch perfect for the character of Batman, who is actually an urban vigilante in a badass outfit; larger characters deserve a bigger canvas and I submit that a key element to making any film is to wait until the script is actually good and then build a credible structure on that foundation (I’m talking to you Zack Snyder).

So while DC kept whining about not knowing how to bring Wonder Woman to the screen (shoe-horning her into an over-loaded ensemble piece that already has way too many threads to tie together, brilliant choice!), Marvel went and made an obscure super-team populated by a ragtag group of B characters into the year’s biggest film.  Chris Pratt leads an all-star cast through a hilarious script that was so much funnier and touching than it needed to be.  This is essentially a rocking good time through the galaxy, but James Gunn weaves such heart throughout the journey, that two of the most heart-tugging characters of this year was a CGI raccoon and his CGI walking tree buddy (not a typo, for the three people who didn’t see this movie).  Voiced by Bradley Cooper, Rocket Raccoon is the tough-talking little fireball that snatches movie away from everyone, but the best line of the year comes from Groot, his living tree sidekick, voiced by Vin Diesel, who‘s entire vocabulary consists of the three words, “I am Groot.”  Pratt even chides him about it in the film about how annoying it is that this guy only says that one thing; and to be honest it does kind of drag on for a bit, until they show you that Rocket can understand the subtext of what Groot is saying and starts responding as though it were a two-way conversation (you’ve seen this trick on screen before, more on that in a bit). 

But through it all, Groot’s response never waivers.  Until that one moment (spoiler alert! Hey, I just got that!) when he has to sacrifice himself to protect his new family, and when Rocket objects to what he’s doing, Groot sums up the concept of family once again using just three words, “We are Groot.”  When you take the time to build up the film’s universe so well, you can have a payoff this good from three words.

Best Character I Was Positive I Was Going To Hate – TARS – Interstellar

Christopher Nolan doesn’t do anything halfway, so when he makes a film about humanity’s exodus from Earth once the planet finally gets tired of our destructive nonsense and starts becoming inhospitable, you know it’s gonna be good.  Throw in McConaughey, who is still in the middle of one of the best career re-inventions of all time, and you’ve got a recipe for something amazing (honestly, his performance in this flick could have legitimately get him nominated again).

But the second trailer showed something that gave me immediate pause: on an apparent new world, the astronauts seemed to be walking around with a CGI robot (cue Brando’s Ugh Reaction).  It’s not that all robots on film are bad, it’s just that I couldn’t imagine one fitting into a world like the one that Nolan usually creates on film (thereby violating one of my own tenants of cinema: Trust the Nolan).  So imagine my surprise when it turned out that this character, voiced by Bill Irwin, became one of the most entertaining and endearing of the entire cast.  Not only that but TARS and McConaughey’s interactions are the funniest moments in a film that clocks in at two hours and forty-nine minutes and quite honestly needed a bit of levity to lighten some of the heavier moments. 

Bonus points for the design of TARS and the robots like him.  Introduced as not much more than just a walking ATM, by the time the group launches off to the unknown, TARS is every bit as much of a fleshed out character as the humans he’s traveling with.  By the time the team gets into trouble on a new planet, the designers turn TARS into a very functional machine that serves the humans with incredible functionality.  Never before has the idea of a funny robot been so well done.

Best Re-Inventing of a Beloved Older Character – Han Solo as Rocket Raccoon

Ladies and Gentlemen, and all due respect to Harrison Ford (although your pushing your luck by signing on to #7) meet your new Han Solo.  Remember when I said you’ve seen Rocket’s conversations with Groot before?  Yeah, it was Han talking to Chewie in the older Star Wars films.  In fact, Guardians owes quite a bit to Star Wars, as it’s basically a re-tooled space opera with a lot more gags. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking anything away from a movie I LOVED this year, and I truly mean it as compliment when I say that Guardians of the Galaxy is the new Star Wars

Bradley Cooper’s readings of Rocket’s dialogue plays exactly like Ford’s portrayal of Han in the original film.  They both get involved for purely monetary gain, only to be sucked in to the cause and actually put themselves on the line (Guardians does this scene particularly well); they both have a tall and strong sidekick that only they can communicate with; they both tend to take charge of situations and become default leaders of the team; and they both succeed in stealing the movie away from everyone else. 

In addition, while Star Wars didn’t have too many emotional moments, Guardians was chocked full of them, and one of the best was Rocket’s drunken confession that he knows he’s a freak and never signed up for this life.  Fans of the Trilogy know that the best line of all of the films comes in Empire Strikes Back when Leah tells Han that she loves him, and he responds like the badass he is, “I know.”  Not exactly a sonnet of emotion, but it shows Han’s reaction to the woman he loves as best he can.  Rocket’s own line, “I didn’t ask to be experimented on!” after Drax repeatedly calls him vermin shares the sentiment of the tough guy not really good at expressing emotion, but needing to get it off his chest.  Bonus points go to Cooper’s skill at the delivery and the designers’ use of the amazing CGI that brought the character to life.

And there they are folks, the 2015 Brando Awards.  And because I love for people to tell me I’m an idiot, here is my list of Bronze Medal winners for the Academy Awards:

Best Picture – The Godfather
Best Actor – Clint Eastwood – Unforgiven
Best Actress – Susan Sarandon – Dead Man Walking
Best Supporting Actor – Burgess Meredith – Rocky
Best Supporting Actress – Julianne Moore – Boogie Nights
Best Screenplay – The Social Network

From all of us here at SpolierAlert, please enjoy the Academy Awards responsibly.

And the Oscar goes to….

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Would… We Call That Plagiarism?

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and if so, I’d like to take this moment to say thank you to the legion of internet nerds out there that have read one of the articles on this website and said, “Hell, if Kyle and Brandon can do it, it can’t be that hard!” and then excreted their own contribution to mediocrity onto the interwebs.  In all honesty, when Kyle and I began writing and recording material for this website, I believe our loftiest goal was to grow our fan base past our moms, and I can safely say we’re within striking distance of this goal!

But speaking of imitation, in movies there exist its close cousin, that some folks cleverly call homage (pronounced “o-maj” if you’re in a Michael Bay film, or “hom-age” if you’re a Scottish Mel Gibson).  Defined as a respectful deference in the real world and used to convey respect generally reserved for those that we look up to; in the world of film, homage usually shows up as way to tip the cap to the superfans of the property in question.  In today’s climate of one Super Hero film being released every fiscal quarter, it’s not too difficult to see what I’m talking about. 

Every casual movie fan knows that Batman’s parents were murdered in front of him and it spawned him to be the hero he became.  But the homage comes in when Tim Burton focuses on Martha Wayne’s pearls being both the object of the mugger’s attention and the item that Bruce focuses on most when he remembered that night.  This is because in the comic books, the pearls are the most visual reminder of what happened and it’s what almost every artist rendition uses to instantly reference back to that night (they do this as well in the new Fox show Gotham).  And tragic though it was for the lad, without that night’s events, there would never have been a Batman (and that is the saddest sentence I’ve ever written).

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, kid.”

Homage is a wonderful tool in the filmmaker’s box, and I’m all for it, when its used correctly.  But I have noticed an entirely new animal all together that has emerged in recent years, and frankly dear readers, it’s got me pretty hopping mad.  Faced with the demands to invent their own characters, many screenwriters simply repurpose known archetypes and drop them into familiar backgrounds. 

“But wait Brando,” you say, thinking that you’re going to drop some knowledge on me, “you and Kyle talk about this in one of your podcasts, and how there is going to be natural overlap because of the limited number of stories and character arcs.”  This is true; however it is not that issue that I’m referring to.  And don’t ever interrupt me again.

What I’m referring to is this new trend where films take familiar character types, drop them into familiar scenarios, and then when that setup all but taxes their creativity and they need to create an emotion, they have their characters watch a movie that is famous for eliciting the very same emotion they need to convey.  What’s worse, in some of them, they have their characters watch the actual movie that they are creating the homage to.

Editors’ Note: We were pretty sure Brando had gotten nine kinds of drunk before writing this article (and to be fair, he probably did) but we’ve checked his research.  The nonsense he’s about to clue you in on is actually happening out there.  Also, it hasn’t escaped our attention that this article is a tad on the mean spirited side, but the thing is, Brando fancies himself as a bit of a writer and as such this issue really gets under his skin.

 Here are my Top Five Offenders.

Hitch – released in 2005

Please don’t show this photo of me at my funeral.

Released on Valentine’s Day as Will Smith’s Charisma Meets Kevin James’ Willingness To Be The Butt Of The Joke, this film succeeded in convincing many hapless romantics that they were a mere three dates away from finding relationship bliss with the object of their affection. Let’s forgo for a moment that some of the basic plot elements of the film include that Smith’s Hitch, a professional Date Doctor, is basically Facebook stalking and Googling women to help some rather obsessed men learn how to create a false emotional connection so they can get these unsuspecting women into bed (not as charming on Dateline); not to mention the reason that Eva Mendez’s Sara is unable to let her guard down and be emotionally vulnerable with anyone is because her sister almost died in an ice skating accident twenty years ago (didn’t make that one up); or as my personal favorite, that other than the fact that she’s incredibly good looking and filthy rich, Kevin James’ Albert never really explains why he’s so smitten with Allegra Cole (the character’s actual name).  In fact, it’s best if you just skip right to the end and just focus on the awesome dancing of the final wedding scene (Hey Shane!).

But even though the film has some issues, I’ve seen some do more with less, so in giving the benefit of the doubt, I watched it.  And couldn’t believe my eyes when Sara, after letting Hitch in and then getting heart broken after finding out that he was a Date Doctor (there’s a subplot with her friend and she’s a gossip columnist… to be honest, anytime Kevin James and Will Smith aren’t goofing around on screen this movie really didn’t know what it wanted to be), she sits on the couch eating whipped cream, and cries to the finale of Jerry MaGuire with Tom Cruise on screen emoting the famous line, “You complete me.”


You can’t do that!  I’ve watched an hour and half of your movie, and you’re going to mail in the emotional scene by flashing a beloved film on screen and let its emotional moment carry your train wreck?  That is a studio literally saying, “Hey audience, how good was Jerry MaGuire?  Right?!?  Well, we couldn’t write anything like that, so we’re literally going to show you that scene.  Thanks for your money!” I thought at that moment I had seen the worst I would ever see of this kind of shenanigans.  I was wrong.

The Perfect Score – released in 2004.

Comic book films?  Yeah, right!

Sporting a cast of soon to be movie stars and a couple of “what ever happened to them” type actors, this film almost escaped from my ire.   Released as a simple teen flick/heist movie, it obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I suppose it didn’t expect anyone else to as well.  And while that should be all well and good, this thing still had a writer, and a director, and I’m guessing there wasn’t a day on set when they said, “Eh, who cares?  No one is gonna really follow the story, right?” 

So trying to play along, I dispended belief and watched as this ragtag group of misfits (it’s a Diet Breakfast Club cast) get ready to break in and steal the answers to the SATs.  Oddly enough, the film never explains how they would be able to use these answers they are planning on stealing to any sort of advantage.  I mean, were they going to memorize them, or maybe even make tiny crib sheets?  They don’t really say.  Hmmm, maybe they really didn’t think anyone was going to follow the story.  In any event, as the team spends the evening before the heist preparing themselves for what they are about to do, some of them think long and hard about the morality of their decision and others just pout with their lips (Kids, believe it or not, but there was a time Scarlett Johansson didn’t just show up and kick every ass on screen.  I know, they also made an American Idol Movie, it was rough time for everyone).

But the kid that pissed me right off was the one that watched the Bank Heist Scene from the crime masterpiece Heat.  Any fan of SpoilerAlert Podcast knows how I feel about that movie and the idea that this piece of crap-on-film would soil that film’s epic moments and flash them around just to give their nerd character some cool points, well it was enough to make me actively root for their plot to fail.  Yep, I literally watched the rest of the movie rooting for the hilariously inept guards and hoping for our protagonists to slip up and get caught. 

Boiler Room – released in 2000

And to think, this used to be one of my ‘better’ roles!

Once in a while, a film comes along and totally encapsulates the times that it is released in.  Even rarer, sometimes a film not only comments on the era it is representing, it also helps to shape the very times that it is based upon.  And in the 1980’s, that film was Wall Street (I’m also going plug Top Gun as well for this decade).  Oliver Stone’s masterpiece about unchecked greed and the perils of easy wealth not only held a mirror up to the 80’s obsession with fortune and style, it succeeded in influencing it.  In fact, on the set of Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps Michael Douglas couldn’t believe how many people came up to him and told him that they had gone into finance because they wanted to be Gordon Gekko.  So imbedded into the national consciousness did this character get, that all of the sudden the entire financial district started slicking back their hair and quoting Sun Tzu. 

So when the next generation came along to make a film about this same subject matter a mere thirteen years later, it became moderately uncomfortable as the first act started wrapping up and suddenly there was this giant elephant in the room as Giovanni Ribisi and company went through their paces and we all started looking at each other and thinking, “uh, they know they’re just doing Wall Street, right?”

Yep, they do! 

And in case there could be ANY doubt left as to whether or not what they were trying to do, about an hour into the movie Ribisi’s Seth goes over to Ben Affleck’s house to hang out with his new work buddies and finds them all sitting in the living room watching the scene where Douglas’ iconic Gordon Gekko is introduced.  Not only that, but both Affleck and Vin Diesel take turns quoting along with Douglas’ dialogue in an effort to prove who the true yuppie is.  I’ll write it again, they not only show a clip of Wall Street, they have their characters quote the film on screen. 

Subtle as a chainsaw.

Sleepless in Seattle – released in 1993

 What’s my favorite scary movie?  Who is this?

Tom Hanks, leading contender for the titles of Greatest Living Actor and Nicest Freaking Guy in the World, once lived a life where not every movie he made was certain to be a bona-fide hit.  I’ve mentioned before how my favorite comedic performance of his is as Jimmy Doogan in A League of Their Own, but often lost in catalog of his entire work is this little film that snuck out of Hollywood and into seemingly everyone’s heart.  Not only did it have Hanks doing his patented nice guy routine to a tee, it also boasted Meg Ryan while she was still riding high with the title of America’s Sweetheart (and shut up about Julia Roberts, internet! Am I the only one that remembers Mary Reilly?!?).

So warm and comforting is this film that its easy to just let it wash over you as the second film in the ‘Meg and Tom’ Trilogy (Joe vs the Volcano and You’ve Got Mail), and enjoy the budding romance, and great locations of this thing.  I’m pretty sure that even if the Empire State Building wasn’t hurting for tourist before this flick came out, they darn sure had a line out the door afterwards.

And then they watch An Affair to Remember, and it dawns on you, that this movie is a freaking re-make of that one, and that is just wrong!

This one is especially egregious to me, because they really, really didn’t have to drop that into the film.  They could have picked so many other films and had the exact same emotional connection to any of them, but by picking that one, director Nora Ephron is basically winking at the audience and saying, “see what we did there?” It totally takes me out of the film and makes me draw the line in the sand for this one. 

The Family – released in 2013

This shot is the most you will ever care about these characters.

And here it is the number one, worst offender of the Brando universe for plagiarizing of subject matter.  I know this article has been fun and we’ve had some laughs, but let me get serious for one second here: 

This film is awful. 

It has absolutely no idea what it wants to be; it is shockingly brutal and depressing for a comedy, quite dull for an action flick, and way too zany to be taken seriously as a serious drama.  It’s as though there were three or four different scripts about a family in Witness Protection and they went into an office, threw them all up in the air, and then gathered up one hundred and eleven random pages and just started shooting. Our main plot point of DeNiro writing his memoirs to the chagrin of Tommy Lee Jones as his federal handler ends up being completely unnecessary, and after a certain point they simply leave it and never come back.  The kids’ subplots about love and toughness play out in horribly over the top ways ending in both of them either wanting to commit suicide or run away, and I don’t even know what the hell Michelle Pfeiffer was doing the whole time (is there no part for this woman that she doesn’t have to play either emotional wreck or an ice queen?).

So, it’s easy to imagine after about an hour into this film that my attention was starting to drift when all of a sudden, they mention that DeNiro’s character, who is posing as an author the whole time, is invited to an evening of reviewing an American film (the family is hiding in France).  Now, that in and of itself shouldn’t be that big of a tip off, but the guy that invites him has already made references to his fascination with American crime films, most notably mob movies.  Can anyone see where I’m going with this?

DeNiro and Jones go to the event, and all of the sudden the host proclaims that they couldn’t find a copy of the film they were going to watch, but they don’t need to because DeNiro’s character can tell them everything they need to know about American mob movies.  And just in case he needs help, they have a copy of a rather famous one. 

At this point of viewing this train wreck, I was swigging light beer as fast as I could to block out what my mind was processing, but I almost spit it out at the exact moment Kyle said, “no f*@#&%g way!” and they proceeded to have DeNiro on screen discussing Goodfellas!

Why is this our worst offender?  Because I freaking said so! 

And because DeNiro as a gangster is an homage (I’m bringing it all full circle), but DeNiro as a gangster discussing one of the most famous gangster films of all time on screen which happens to star DeNiro is Luc Besson realizing that he has to wrap the film in a week, so we better just film… something. 

So bad is this moment that you expect him to look at the camera and wink and say something witty about how they all just suckered us shmucks in the audience.  But no, he keeps playing the scene straight and you realize that it’s DeNiro himself who may not be in on the joke.  What’s worse is that this scene has nothing to do with the plot.  It’s simply a maguffin to allow him separation from the rest of the characters to set up the bullet filled finale.  That is an awfully big offense for absolutely no gain. 

So there they are my top five offenders. Again, I’m not sure if what these films are doing is out and out plagiarism, I just know it isn’t right.  Please feel free to comment on any that I’ve missed, or defend any of the ones that I’ve attacked that you love.

For SpoilerAlert Podcast, remember to always be yourself, because nothing beats an original!

- Brando

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Top Five Protagonist/Supporting Good Guys, Who Are Really Just Jerks

It’s just a fact that life is tough and out here in the real world, its not often that you find truly good people who stand up for what’s right, fight for the little guy, stick by you through thick and thin, and make your world a better place.  That’s why whenever you do accidentally trip over these people in your daily wanderings; you want to make sure to hold on to them as hard as you can.  Because good friends are the glue that will sometimes be the only thing that holds you together when life really starts taking a liking to crapping on your head (and that will happen one day, trust me).  In the world of film, there exists a hyper-realized version of this truth. In the real world a true friend will go with you to the DMV; in the movies, they’ll go with you to the Gates of Mordor.

I can’t believe I just referenced this movie.

And while most of cinema is chocked full of plucky friendships that benefit both the protagonist and their wacky sidekick, this is simply not always the case.  Every so often, a movie will come along and introduce a duo that is so far less than dynamic that they should be classified as dysfunctional in every sense of the word.  But what’s even more egregious is when the film hangs its hat on a main character that is inherently unlikable.  There are more than a few of these characters running around out there, so in the interest of brevity, I’m just going to give you my top five.

The editors of SpoilerAlert Podcast would like to point out that they recognize the fact not every lead character must be Atticus Finch and not every sidekick must be Robin for a film to be a good one, but well… this is what Brando decided to write about this month, so we just kinda let him do it.

Worm – Rounders – 1998 – Played by Edward Norton

Hey kids, did you know I was once the Hulk too!

From the previously written-about poker masterpiece, comes one of the best examples I can think of best buddy who is little more than a weight around our leading man’s neck.  When Mike introduces us to Worm, he tells us about how not only did he mentor him growing up, but how Worm bravely took the fall for both of them when their prep school shenanigans got them into some big boy trouble.  He is set up to be a blast from the past that Mike cares for deeply and is ready and willing to help him re-acclimate into the real world.  The problem with this is that from the moment he shows up on screen, he proceeds to ruin Mike’s life with everything he does.  He’s a degenerate gambler (granted they’re both rounders, but Worm keeps throwing away money he doesn’t have on increasingly bad bets), he shows all the symptoms of a self-destructive personality, and by the end of the film he’s basically running around like acting like he can’t wait for the other shoe to drop and get them both killed.  In the final act, Worm’s inability to be anything other than a complete and utter screw-up puts him in the cross hairs of some very bad people, and being the friend he is, Mike vouches for him and puts his own ass right on the line with him.  Worm’s response to this allegiance?  He financially cripples them both, engineers a situation where they get the crap kicked out of them, and in the end he welches on the debt that they are both on the hook for and takes off, leaving Mike holding the bag.  Oh, and along the way, helping out Worm costs Mike his fiancĂ©.  In his final narration, Mike sums up the conclusion and references his best friend/personal nemesis by saying, “and Worm, I figure we’re pretty much square.”

How are you square?!? Three years of law school down the drain, a relationship ruined, and content just because he’s in charge of his life again?  This is the type of guy you want to owe money to, kids.

Brad – Four Christmases – 2008 – played by Vince Vaughn

 Remember when I did dramas?  Me neither.

Sometimes the casting process is a diligent search for the right actor to fit a role, and other times it’s more of a bunch of studio executives saying, “Hey, these two are hot right now, let’s put ‘em together in a flick!”  Such is the case in this film, a charming holiday comedy about a couple who plan vacations at Christmas to avoid spending the holidays with their respective families (spoilers: their families are all quirky!).  Promoted as an opportunity to let Vaughn’s wiseass appeal contrast with Reese Witherspoon’s cool and collected hotness, it was a money-printing idea.

Except, somewhere along the way the writers just started saying, “well, Vince will make this funny,” and for most of the movie, he really, really doesn’t.  Brad, Vaughn’s character, spends 90% of this film bitching about how uptight Witherspoon’s Kate is (an issue that developed in the real world as the two did not get along on set) and constantly leaving her in hapless situations where she is getting dumped on.  Its common romantic comedy ground they’re covering, only about a half hour into the film you start to not like Brad and want him to shut the hell up.  Then about ten minutes later you realize that Kate doesn’t like Brad, and would never be with the guy and that, dear readers, is when the film finds itself in real trouble. 

Sure by the time the credits role, they’ve re-dedicated their lives to each other and have a kiddo, but at that point you’re actively rooting for her to get away from this narcissist and go live her life free of his tyrannical rule, so you couldn’t care less about their reconciliation.  A lot of critics noted the ‘lack of chemistry’ between the two leads, but I submit the problem was that Brad was just a Grade-A-Douche.

Kit Deluca – Pretty Woman – 1990 – played by Laura San Giacomo

In seven short years, I’ll be on TV with David Spade…

Everyone’s favorite Chick Flick (and to be fair, this one’s not bad), tells the timeless tale of Vivian, the hooker with a heart of gold, who meets Edward, a wealthy but emotionally unavailable tycoon, and they fall in love.  But can anyone remember how the movie starts?  Right around the time the opening credits stop, Vivian checks her cash stash only to find that she is broke just when her landlord is banging on doors to collect rent.  She goes to find her roommate to see where their money went and we’re introduced to Kit, who just spent all they had on drugs so she could get stoned with Carlos the pimp. 

Throughout the entire film though, Kit does nothing but hinder Vivian’s life.  Her conversation with Edward reveals that Kit was the one that led her into prostitution and is keeping her in the life.  At one point, when Vivian leaves some money for Kit in order to pay the rent, Kit shows up and promptly starts insulting the old folks and causing discord all over the hotel.  By the time we get to the third real, Vivian is ready to get her crap together and head to San Francisco to finish high school, and her best buddy Kit is hanging around in the background, knocking her decision and telling her its not going to matter if she goes or not.  The last time we see Kit, she’s recruiting another poor soul into her life of hell.

Isn’t it a little bit telling that all it took was one week away from Kit for Vivian to get her life together?  That’s because Kit is a life sucking drain that only exists to ruin Vivian’s life.

George Banks – Father of the Bride – 1991 – played by Steve Martin

…yeah, I dated Anne Heche once…

Before you all (Kyle) freak out and start demonizing me for knocking this beloved performer in one of his best films, let me just state that I am an unashamed Steve Martin fan, and I celebrate his entire catalogue.  His book, Born Standing Up, is one of the best memoirs on the life of a comedian that I have ever read, and his decade long dominance of the landscape of stand-up comedy is a testament to how funny this guy is.  So, just so we’re clear, my beef isn’t with him, but rather the character of George Banks.

To be fair, the story line requires that George completely over-reacts to the sudden news that his daughter is engaged to be married to a man that he’s never met.  But as the film goes on, George goes from being an over-protective father to a manic depressive, OCD riddled cheapo that imagines conspiracies and at times, he’s more than a little intolerant to other cultures.  I understand that the point of the film is that George needs to get to the point where he can let Annie go, but the trip to get there shows that instead of the charmingly chagrinned Dad who’s dealing with a shock, George is really kind of a dick.  In the scene where they are discussing trimming the guest list down, he ends up being a petulant child more than a loving father who should rightly trim a little excess out of his daughter’s wedding budget (seriously, is that what those things cost?  I gotta start getting people better gifts.)

Granted by the time the credits roll, George has cemented himself as a warm and loving father, but for the majority of Act Two, he’s a little tough to take.

Paulie Pennino – Rocky – 1978 – played by Burt Young

I’m currently available for ANY other role.

A lot of people forget that one of the most iconic and inspiring sports figures of all time came out of a very gritty and dark place.  At the beginning of the film, Rocky Balboa is introduced to us as a debt collector for a local loan shark in a run down area of Philly, and until Apollo Creed plucks him out of obscurity, his life is pretty bleak with his only friend being Paulie, an alcoholic butcher.  The only positive thing Paulie does for Rocky is set him up with his sister Adrian, although even Paulie tries to convince Rocky that she’s not that great of a catch. 

As the film goes on, Paulie’s abusive nature toward Adrian causes her to move in with Rocky, and his constant attempts to cash in on Rocky’s title shot is the only time Rocky loses his patience with his alleged best pal.  As the sequels piled up, Paulie proceeds to take over Rocky’s job as a loan shark, get arrested for drunk and disorderly, beg Rocky for a job only to constantly make racist comments about Apollo’s gym friends, lose ALL of Rocky’s fortune, and in his best moment, he walks out on Rocky’s annual pilgrimage to remember Adrian because he doesn’t like to recall what an absolute asshole he was to her while she was alive. 

I get that Rocky isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but come on!  If Mickey, Apollo, and Adrian (none of who survived the series) hadn’t been in his life, things would’ve been a little bleak for the Italian Stallion, and they would’ve only been bleaker with this idiot following him around and constantly screwing him over.

For all of us at SpolierAlert Podcast, go have a beer with a true friend!