Movie Night: Father Brown as “The Detective”

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For a change of pace, we now present: a movie. For free. If you’ve never heard of GK Chesterton’s Father Brown … where have you been? Seriously. Before there was Father Dowling (and you’ve at least heard of that one, yes) there was Father Brown, created by Chesterton out of thin air, one day, more or less on a lark.

While there have been some attempts at Father Brown over the years  (the most recent BBC version evoking the most homicidal reaction from me — just read the short “Hammer of God” and compare it to the more recent version), this is probably the best edition of Father Brown ever put on screen. It is not the best because of the accuracy of the scripts to the stories (for that you want the Father Brown as done by Kenneth More) but because of the best execution of character, done by Alec Guiness.

And it’s for free on YouTube.

Enjoy

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Two New Trailers

Both Marvel!

First, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”:

Next, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”:

My thoughts…

GotG 2 looks absolutely fantastic. The second best trailers Marvel has ever done (next to the amazing stuff they put out for “Civil War”). Almost everything about that trailer works. I suppose the action seems pretty pedestrian, but when was that ever the point in the GotG films?

“Spider-Man”…hmmm (I almost wrote SMH until I realized that was the acronym for “Shaking my head”. Pluses: Tom Holland, avoiding the origin story completely (since we don’t need it), being the first movie to actually have street level superheroics (which I’ve always been fond of), and an EXTREMELY retro costume that hearkens allllll the way back to Spidey’s very first appearance (WEB WINGS!!!!).

Here’s the thing, though: None of that has to do with the trailer (except that it makes it clear we’ll be seeing some street level superheroics, which is nice).

What the trailer DID show:

– As mentioned, the heroics appear to be relatively low scale in comparison to the other Marvel movies – the only other Marvel film that didn’t involve huge world-wide or worse catastrophes was “Ant-Man”* (I suppose “Captain America” too, but that was barely even a superhero film – aside from some fancy jumping and Hugo Weaving’s face it was basically just a PG war movie after you get past the super-serum at the beginning). I can’t confirm that this will be the case for sure, of course, but it SEEMS that way. Either way, the focus on street level heroics is something the films have never done and is much appreciated.

– “Homecoming” seems to be trying to get a balance in its humor level between the more serious Marvel films and the outright comedies of “Ant-Man” and “GotG”. This is a good sign, since that’s exactly the tone “Spider-Man” should shoot for.

– The “John Hughes movie meets superhero movie” vibe is very strong, which is great. I approve.

– I really like the plot arc they’re going for. It’s something really different from Marvel’s other films, and I appreciate that.

The downsides…

There seems to be a LOT of diversity casting going on, from Peter’s best friend to his romantic interests. In theory, this makes sense. Peter goes to High School in NYC, right? Of course it would skew very multiracial. It’s something they hardly would have considered back when Spider-Man began.

But – and maybe it’s just me – this sort of thing makes me jumpy. The truth is that decisions like this are never made in a vacuum; we live in a society that is pushing diversity on us from every angle…and the people pushing diversity are almost always the SJW’s. See the comments from the creators of “Rogue One” and “The Force Awakens”. See “Hamilton”. See Kevin Feige fumbling around while trying to justify casting a Scottish woman to play the oriental mystic in “Doctor Strange” (As good as Tilda Swinton was I mourn the missed opportunity to cast Jackie Chan). In Hollywood, everything is calculated: It’s never just about story. There’s always an underlying narrative being pushed.

That said…the truth is, this is right in line with the Marvel formula. Marvel plays a very careful balancing act when it comes to race. Their theory – at least in their films – seems to be this:

– Cast a lead who seems like he’d be a good fit for the character, regardless of what race the character might be. So far it’s been white male heroes, but with Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies coming out, they seem to have no issue casting for other races and sexes. It’s just that their most popular heroes are white males, so when they wanted sure bets that’s who they went with. Now that they can take more risks, they’re branching out.

– Try to stunt cast/diversity cast the minor roles. That’s why we see the Falcon, Black Widow, a race-bent Baron Mordo (and the Ancient One, of course), Rhodey, and even the small detail of adding an oriental to Captain America’s Howling Commandos. The point here is to blunt criticisms of racism and sexism without alienating the fans of the original comics.

This is a very clever plan, and one Marvel has instituted successfully in every single one of their films (backlash around “Doctor Strange” seemed to pose a brief threat and provoked a silly response from Feige and the director before being shut up by the quality of Swinton’s performance and the presence of the always welcome Chiwetel Eijofor). It essentially satisfies everybody, from the die-hard fans to all but the real die-hard SJWs, who can’t be satisfied in any case.

“Homecoming” would worry me more if it didn’t fall right in line with that. Neither of the love interests appears to be Mary Jane (reports Zendaya would be playing the role appear to be exaggerated – if she’s supposed to be MJ she’s at least MJ in name only), who is one of the more recognizable female characters in comics, so that’s good (the only one I recognize is Liz Allen, who I believe was on a Spider-Man cartoon from a few years back). Otherwise, we’re seeing basically what we always see: White male lead (as befits the character), mixed race background players.

It just worries me that his best friend AND his love interests seem to be mixed race. Is this fair? Maybe not. Marvel doesn’t have a history of messing up its movies with shoehorned politics, and the movie itself appears to be utterly unconcerned with racial issues. But I noted it and am at least not going to be surprised if “Homecoming” skews more SJW than the average Marvel film.

Otherwise, the trailer strikes me as unremarkable. It hits every checkmark of what I want to see in a Spider-Man film, which means it’s certainly successful on the metric of “Am I still going to go see it after watching this trailer?”, but…I don’t know. I forgot what happened in it almost immediately after I watched it, but I can pretty much quote the GotG trailer verbatim. It has a fun vibe to it and gets across what it has to, and I look forward to seeing it, but it does it in a very by the numbers way.

…Also, if Spidey is holding that ship together, they made him VERY overpowered (though I suppose Tobey Maguire singlehandedly stopped a train in its tracks, so I guess it’s not exactly unprecedented).

In summary, after a lot of rambling:

“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” trailer grade: A, marked down from an A+ for generic action scenes

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” trailer grade: B+. For all my griping I have to admit that I’m very happy with where they’re taking this and it made me really look forward to this film.

Looking forward to the summer!

*Having Hydra spread secret agents around the world and having a war start vetween Asgard and the Frost Giants do indeed count as

CASTALIA Full Review: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Image result for fantastic beasts and where to find them poster

From left to right: Tina, Newt, Queenie, and Jacob

(My quick review is here.)

I have a love-hate thing going on with J.K. Rowling.

On one hand, her personal and political opinions are obnoxious, nasty, contemptible, and make it very, very clear that she hates and despises people who think like me. And that’s not even to TOUCH the “Dumbledore is gay” controversy.

ON THE OTHER HAND – Her books are so whimsically entertaining, with such excellent characters and an engaging world, that even when I leave for awhile I find myself getting drawn back in almost in spite of myself.

I haven’t read much of “The Cursed Child”, but from what I have read, and what I know from the plot, I am deeply unimpressed; it is obvious that Rowling was not the writer.

Rowling has been criticized by some for going “Lucas” on us, that is, partially ruining what we loved by adding unnecessary backstory and removing some of the wonder. Honestly, I don’t agree. “Going Lucas” is something that does happen, but it happens because of the George Lucas’s of the world – that is, good idea people but mediocre writers. Continue reading

Is Galaxy Quest Superversive?

Galaxy Quest
The crew of the Protector, about to give the Enterprise crew a run for their money–and have more fun while they’re at it.

Yesterday I revisited the late 90s cult classic Galaxy Quest. Not only is it one of my favorite comedies, it easily stands among my favorite SF films and is just plain one of my all-time favorite movies.

OK, I’m laying my cards on the table. In addition to the accolades I already heaped on it, Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie. Sure, it’s an homage that parodies Trek in much the same way that Spaceballs riffed on Star Wars (of which it is the fourth best film, but that’s another post), but Galaxy Quest succeeds where even Mel Brooks failed. It beat its source material at its own game.

Don’t take my word for it. Fans at a major Star Trek convention ranked Galaxy Quest the seventh best film in the series, and that was only because of backroom politicking that bumped Quest down from its starting position in second place. Key members of the creative team who’ve worked on Star Trek movies since The Voyage Home declared that it deserved to be #1.
A twist on a familiar story

For those who are unfamiliar with Galaxy Quest, shame on you! Go watch it right now.

NOW!

For those who are at work or school or prison or somewhere like North Korea that won’t let you stream videos, Galaxy Quest follows a simple yet ingenious premise.

NOTE: this movie is almost twenty years old, so my spoiler filter is off.

The washed-up stars of a 70s SF TV show, forced to subsist on convention signings and ribbon cuttings since the program’s cancellation, get much more than they bargained for when what they mistake for another promo gig turns out to be the real thing.

Facing genocide, an alien race has turned to “Historical Documents” from earth, i.e. television transmissions, for guidance–especially old episodes of Galaxy Quest. They lovingly reproduce the series’ iconic ship down to the last bolt and dab of paint; then enlist the original crew to lead them in battle.

Galaxy Quest NSEA Protector
The most accurate fan prop ever! Seriously, the visuals alone tell you how well the filmmakers understand the subject matter.

Unfortunately, the “crew” don’t have their act together–figuratively or literally.

Galaxy Quest Crew
The pictorial definition of “fish out of water”.

Besides the shock of finding themselves embroiled in a real interstellar war, the actors must confront the interpersonal grudges and rivalries that have alienated them from each other as they’re thrust back into their old roles. It’s the command performance of a lifetime, with stakes far higher than bad ratings.
A worthy homage

In design and execution, Galaxy Quest not only meets the standard set by Star Trek, but sometimes surpasses it. Quest is like the rare cover version of a song that draws out the original’s latent potential and takes it to the next level.

Now imagine that the cover song is by “Weird Al” Yankovic, and the metaphor is complete. Don’t let the comedy distract you from the fact that the artist is a bona fide genius.

Why does Galaxy Quest deserve such praise? The simplest reason is that it’s a sci-fi, parody, ensemble cast, character-driven, comedy/adventure film that works on each and every one of those levels.

First of all, comedy is widely and correctly understood as the hardest genre to pull off properly. Galaxy Quest is indeed a sterling comedy. Rare among contemporary films in this genre, it doesn’t stoop to lazy one-liners or crude slapstick for cheap laughs. Instead, it takes the high road of crafting situational humor based on solidly established characters and how they react to their strange circumstances.

NB: critics lament how modern comedies have largely replaced actual jokes with glib pop culture references. Ironically, Galaxy Quest is one of the few movies that could’ve gotten away with that gimmick. Yet its makers exercised admirable restraint in weaving SF tropes into the story subtly and organically through the actors’ performances.

Alexander Dane: Typecast Thespian archetype. Alan Rickman’s delivery says it all. 

The near-subliminal references even extend to the movie’s visual design.

Galaxy Quest Protector
Yes. The NSEA Protector is a comm badge from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After soaring over the highest hurdle, Galaxy Quest goes for the gold in the sci-fi, space opera, and characterization categories. Though the science is extra squishy (just how I like it), the movie more than compensates by adding new speculative elements that are just as satisfying as their Trek analogs.

The digital conveyor, FTL flight via black holes (later explored seriously by Interstellar), and the Omega 13 device are just some of the masterful conceits that establish Quests’s own consistent mythos.

One added benefit of rewatching the film was realizing just how gorgeous it is. The conceptual and technical design; even the costumes, are on par with the finer Trek movies while having a pleasing aesthetic all their own.

I was also surprised by how the movie’s visuals influenced the descriptions in my own writing. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the bridge of the Protector clearly inspired the wheelhouse of the Serapis from Nethereal.

Not the Lovecraftian ship in front; the one way off in the background.

The special effects only lose a few points because some of the CG looks a little outdated now, but it still beats any Syfy Channel original movie.

In the action department, Galaxy Quest largely departs from the submarine warfare style of most Trek installments and depicts pulpier, though honestly more exciting, space battles. The character-level gun play and fisticuffs retain comedic elements while portraying deadly consequences, sometimes in direct contrast to the TV show’s camp.

Alexander at the crux of his character arc. Same line; vastly different context and significance.

But is it superversive?

Galaxy Quest is a criminally underrated comedy and sci-fi masterpiece. But solid craftsmanship alone doesn’t qualify a work of art as superversive.

As I’ve noted before, superversive fiction entails a particular commitment to storytelling in the service of beauty, goodness, and truth. Tom Simon gives the definitive explanation.

“…[C]ourage is the essential quality of a superversive story: not the dumb, dull fortitude that passively endures in the face of suffering, but the courage that allows the character to take action – to risk becoming a hero.”

That right there is the standard of a superversive tale. Does Galaxy Quest rise to it?
Damn straight it does

At the movie’s low point, Jason Nesmith (aptly portrayed by Tim Allen) must confess to the alien leader Mathesar that he and his “crew” are not what the aliens believed. They are simple actors pretending to be space explorers on sets made of plywood, tinfoil, and Christmas lights.

Galaxy Quest Jason and Mathesar
Yes, Mathesar, there IS a Santa Claus.

Mathesar’s race–the Thermians–are perfect examples of the purely material beings described by master SF author John C. Wright. Mathesar states that his people lacked transcendent beliefs, and that they interpreted all earth television broadcasts as historical documentaries.

This is strong evidence that the Thermians are purely material–or at least materialistic–beings with no spiritual dimension to their existence, who as such have no longing for a reality above and beyond the mundane world.

Wright convincingly reasons that sapient beings who are fully “at home” in the material world would have no need for or concept of fiction. Their libraries would have only textbooks and newspapers; not pulp magazines and novels. The Thermians therefore see no difference between fiction and lies.

The interactions between guileless Thermians and duplicitous humans brings about one of the movie’s core moral themes: what value, if any, does fiction have? When asked why humans would go to the considerable effort and expense of creating such elaborate charades, Nesmith admits to Mathesar that he doesn’t know. He makes halfhearted mention of entertainment, but it’s clear that he’s never thought through the basis of his craft.

It is here, in the last act, that Galaxy Quest goes from being a workmanlike and thoroughly enjoyable parody to a work of\superversive genius.

The cast of the Galaxy Quest TV show start the movie as petty, frustrated characters, depressed by their inability to be who their talents and dispositions call them to be. They’re suddenly given a final, all-or-nothing chance to redeem themselves.

Galaxy Quest Jason Nesmith
Pictorial definition of “unlikely hero”

The crew of actors are given multiple chances throughout the film to escape the conflict and return home to their old lives. Each time, they decide to stay, even after learning that they’re in mortal danger. Jason and his crew don’t just suffer adversity with patience. They willingly accept terrible risks for the sake of practical strangers from a distant world.

Even more impressive, Galaxy Quest answers its thematic question about the value of art; not through dialog, but through the characters’ actions. Traditionally, protagonists in mistaken identity plots prevail by either tapping into hidden strengths, or by leveraging their native abilities.

The cast of Galaxy Quest do both–employing their acting chops to overcome challenges while growing into their fictional roles for real. By the end of the movie, Tony Shalhoub’s character really is the Protector’s chief engineer. Reluctant pilot Tommy flies her with confidence and skill. Jason is established as the ship’s master and a leader of men.

Yet it’s the final touch that cements this film as a superversive triumph. The human crew of the Protector have defeated their adversary and saved the Thermian race. At this point, a lesser story would have ended with the aliens gaining knowledge of fiction and losing some of their innocence, possibly with a trite speech about faking it until you make it or the inspirational value of noble lies.

Instead, the Thermians are convinced that Nesmith’s confession was itself a ruse, and their faith in the “Historical Documents” is fully restored.

Now, I anticipate criticism on the grounds that our heroes leave the Thermians in ignorance. Isn’t the bitterest truth preferable to the sweetest lie?

To which I reply that anyone making such an objection is equivocating. Equating fiction with deceit is the Thermians’ mistake, made because they’re fundamentally blind to the difference. Trying to distinguish between a lie told with malice and a story told in service of the truth is a Sisyphean task where Thermians are concerned, and no futile task is morally obligatory.

And because we, the audience, are not Thermians, we can see how Galaxy Quest upholds the wonder and beauty of space exploration, the good of heroic virtue, and the truth that the value of good fiction transcends the world of base matter.

Update: in a glorious instance of life imitating art imitating life, Amazon has had a new Galaxy Quest series in the works. Production has been put on hold following the incomparable Alan Rickman’s tragic death. Here’s hoping a satisfactory yet respectful way can be found to complete the project.

Here’s a Question for All of You

Two movies with very similar premises are coming out this year.

Both are about extremely popular, flagship, “good guy” superheroes ending up on the opposite side of a major conflict, a conflict that will inevitably end with them coming to blows before reconciling in the face of a larger threat.

Both movies are going to be incredibly long, for a superhero movie.

They’re both introducing a ton of new characters in an effort to set up for new movies (DC: Batman, the Flash, Wonder Woman. Marvel: Like, seriously, basically everybody but Thor and the Hulk are in it).

The directors for both movies are taking the movie extremely seriously.

(Okay, yeah, that second link is just to images from “Batman v. Superman”, but come on, the brightest color on that whole page is Superman’s blue suit).

So why does “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” look like it’s terrible and “Captain America: Civil War” look like it will be amazing?

I don’t know how either movie ACTUALLY is. “Civil War”, of course, isn’t even out yet. “Batman v. Superman”‘s gotten terrible reviews, but I haven’t seen it and going by comments sections there seems to be a small but notable following of people who loved the movie. So who knows?

I’m just going by the stuff that’s come out pre-movie for each. It’s not just me who noticed this. The AV Club wrote an advance article bemoaning how bad they knew “Batman v. Superman”  would be (they panned it). And yet, despite having nearly the same premise and theoretically the same potential pitfalls, I can’t deny that I’m extremely excited for “Civil War” and getting more excited with each trailer, whereas I could have told you “Batman v. Superman” was going to get panned months ago.

So the question is: Why? Why does Marvel’s film look so good and DC’s look so bad? Is it the lighter tone of the trailers (Eh, maybe, but “Civil War” hasn’t been THAT lighthearted)? Is it the fact that Marvel has a long and established track record (Perhaps, but I don’t think so in my case, or at least not consciously). Is it that the movie looks so dark (But what about “The Dark Knight”)? Is it that the directors for the Marvel film are actually really good and Zack Snyder is terrible (that doesn’t really explain the trailers though, or not entirely)?

I dunno. I guess it could be any or all of those things, but I’m not so sure. Any ideas?

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse poster

The lack of an apostrophe should’ve clued me in.

I have the world’s weirdest relationship with horror and its sub-genres. I’m not really a huge fan of horror, per se, but when I find a horror film that I like, I adore the stupid thing. I think I’ve mentioned my love of The Ring before. You can tack on to that The Grudge and it’s sequel the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters. A fondness for the cheesy-but-Lovecraftian Phantasm series, and a few other films from the era.

But better than a serious horror film is a horror comedy. Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. Shaun of the Dead. Zombieland. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. They’re all fantastic films, and I was really excited to sit down and watch the newest entry into the sub-genre, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

I made it through. Yay.

The trailer for Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse offered a lot of great laughs, but as so happens with funny trailers, most of the movie’s real laughs are actually in the trailer. There are a few other good spots, but really, the actual film is a mixture of mildly amusing moments and cringe inducing Moments That Are Not Actually Funny, and it goes for low hanging fruit that all to often doesn’t have anything to do with the actual plot.  Case in point: the movie opens with some guy I sort of recognize as an unfunny comedian as a janitor, dancing to terrible hip hop and twerking. He’s ultimately responsible for the spread of the zombie virus (Well, him and the research facility’s terrible security.) From there you can kind of figure out the rest of the plot from the title. There are  Boy Scouts. (The film calls just calls them “scouts” the whole time, presumably to avoid a legal issue.) They’re kind of viewed as losers. There are zombie. Scouts must survive. Throw in some hot chicks. You get the idea.

Zombie cats

This leads into genuinely funny sequence that was wasted on this film.

I spent a lot of the movie trying to figure out why it wasn’t succeeding when Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland succeed so well. The first we can probably attribute to the talents of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright– when the three of them are involved in a project, it’s usually wonderful– but I don’t think that’s the secret. I think where Shaun and Zombieland succeed where Scouts Guide fails is that Shaun and Zombieland, while comedic, are genre films. They love their genre. Shaun (and the entire Blood and Ice Cream trilogy) plays with themes of growing up and learning to be an adult. Zombieland deals with grief and the same growing up. Scouts Guide… plays with themes of zombie genitals. Or not even themes. It just plays with genitals.

And that’s it. There’s no depth to Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. There’s no depth It’s just another raunchy comedy that doesn’t aspire to any sort of greater heights. Save yourself the cost of a rental and an hour and a half and watch the trailer and the zombie cat clip, both found in the links above.

“The Force Awakens”: It’s Pretty Good, I Guess

Okay, I’m about to say something really shocking…really, really shocking.

Are you sitting down?

Good.

*mumblemumble* As a remake I liked it more than “A New Hope” *mumblemumble*.

Sorry. “A New Hope” aged badly. Nowadays it comes off as very corny. Them’s the breaks.

(Yes, as a remake, not a sequel. The plot was paint-by-numbers the same, come on.)

Things I loved:

– Finn rocked

– Poe rocked

– Kylo Ren rocked. Making him a whiny, petulant loser was a brilliant idea. Following up Darth Vader with an even evil-er Darth Vader could never have worked. The whole concept of Kylo Ren was great.

– Han Solo…was actually not as entertaining as he could have been, but it was great to see Harrison Ford back in that role.

– I liked the actress who played Rey. Very pretty, at least, and she had a certain natural charm.

Things I didn’t love:

– Yeah, Rey was ridiculous. Her fight with Kylo Ren was a little off, but at least he had already been injured by Chewie and Finn. It was her use of Jedi mind powers that really got me, something Luke was never able to master until after his training with Yoda but that Rey got through…I dunno. Jedi osmosis? And, yeah, maybe she could pilot the Falcon since it’s been there for such a long time and she’s probably looked through it before, but expertly pilot it, outmaneuvering several trained fighter pilots in a high speed, low-orbit chase through tunnels?

Not quite the same as “She managed to fly it”.

Her treatment of Finn at the beginning of the movie was contemptible, and her fight with the four men who tried to mug her was ludicrous. Her sudden and basically inexplicable expertise at flying the Falcon made no sense. Rey Sue indeed.

Why I liked it more than “A New Hope”:

To be perfectly honest with you, there was no character in “A New Hope” I ever liked as much as I liked Finn with the exception of Han…who had a major role in this movie, and anyway Han’s very best lines came in “Empire” (which remains easily the best in the series and one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time).

As much as I disliked the character of Rey, the chemistry between her and Finn gains some genuine sizzle later on, which was good to see. Sure, the rehash of the plot of “A New Hope” was kind of dumb, but thought of as a reboot rather than as a sequel it works fine.

The dialogue wasn’t as corny. As memorable as some of the lines from “A New Hope” are, overall it’s pretty cheesy. I don’t mean to bash the movie. It’s not bad, and some people like that corny sort of optimism. I just liked this one more.

You can take it or leave it, I guess, but there you go. It’s not great, but it’s a very good movie. Highly recommended.