Saturday, November 10, 2012


For most of Skyfall's ample running time, I kept thinking "This is not a Bond film." Now, after some reflection, I can say, This is much more than a Bond film.

It has everything you would expect in a Bond film including great action, lovely women, gorgeous location filming, and a terrific villain played by the formidable Spanish actor Javier Bardem. One down note: The theme song by Adele is terrible and the busy score by Thomas Newman works well enough but lacks the flavor of the legendary John Barry's music.

But in the hands of director Sam Mendes and writer John Logan, you get much more than you expect from a 007 film including a rather serious and even topical story about the accountability of government decision making; a rather adult theme about getting old and losing your edge; and even a big reveal about the origins of James Bond himself.

This Bond delivers a big and satisfying entertainment. Who knows? Maybe this one will be up for an Oscar?

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Saturday Nov 10, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Looper - Review

Looper is a very effective and satisfying sci-fi film from director and writer Rian (Brick) Johnson. Without spoiling the fun, Looper is a fine film with a rich story that feels like a cross between Ray Bradbury and Stephen King.

All I will say is this: if the older you met the younger you, would it be a positive encounter? would each enjoy the experience? would the younger find the encounter to be an exchange of wisdom?

Or would you discover that the older you was an incredibly selfish murdering a__hole who will stop at nothing to get what he wants?

In a NY Times magazine interview, Johnson said that he was inspired by the movie Witness which moves from the City to a Farm. Witness, a film by Australian director Peter Weir, is one of my favorite films from the 1980's.

For those who might not remember, Witness is about a Philadelphia (the City of Brotherly Love, not) cop named Book (played by Harrison Ford in one of his best roles) who is looking after an Amish mother and her son (played by little Lukas Haas who appeared in Johnson's film Brick) after the youngster witnesses a murder in the city train station.

When the kid fingers a cop for the killer, Book galvanizes into action to get the mother and son out of town. In the process, Book gets seriously wounded, but is nursed back to health on the idyllic Amish farm.

There are all sorts of resonances going on here between Witness and Looper, including strong mothers with weird little kids.

In Witness, the Farm is a refuge from the evil of the world in the City. When the killers finally come to the farm, there is a bloody climax.

Something similar happens in Looper though it's not as simple as bad cops vs virtuous cop. When the bloody climax comes, it is a whoa-inducing moment that seemed to be a clear nod to two other sci-fi oldies, Scanners from director David Cronenberg and The Fury from director Brian DePalma.

Another worthy sci-fi film that Looper reminded me of is Frequency where a freak storm creates a weather worm-hole through time allowing one person to speak via ham radio to his deceased father in the past.

Looper director Rian Johnson may be nodding to Frequency in the grisly sequence where the first runaway looper is 'interrogated.'

As a fan of sci-fi films, I was delighted when Looper shifted ever so subtly from time travel to telekinesis. In doing so, Johnson's strange future world of time traveling verged into the realm of super-powered mutants.

I wonder if that signals where he may go next...?

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Tuesday October 2, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Mystery of John Carter

Great story from the creator of Tarzan. Great director who made Finding Nemo. Up-and-coming heart-throb star (from Friday Night Lights) heading a strong cast. A new big-budget fantasy film from Disney.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, one of the big stories out of Hollywood this year, in case you have been asleep, is the dismal thud heard across the land when the film "John Carter" arrived in theaters.

Not that it was a bad piece of work. Far from it! John Carter actually is a very good flick!

A good space opera story, well told, with action, surprises, humor, and love. A good cast with a lot of strong talent, some of it hidden under CGI such as Willem Dafoe in a lead role as a Green Martian.

So why did this movie fail to find a raving audience the way that Star Wars once did?

As I have argued to anyone who will listen, I think the studio dropped the ball and failed to market the crap out of this film the way they should have. Though the director says he is steeped in this story, very few others living today are. So you have to create an audience!

Also I think there was a failure of vision for what John Carter could be as a franchise. Look at how Peter Jackson has turned the Hobbit into three films, for goodness sake!

The Barsoom Mythology of Edgar Rice Burroughs is truly an extraordinary epic sci fi fantasy! Surely there were three films crammed into one in John Carter that could have been planned and rolled out as a trilogy.

Film 1 would have introduced John Carter on Earth leading to his transport to Mars and meeting the Tharks and saving Dejah.

Film 2 would have basically matched this movie, minus the last big battle, ending with the Thern sending him back to Earth.

Film 3 would show more of his ten year search for a medallion on Earth, culminating in his return to Mars and climactic battle with the baddies.

It could have been the start of a huge franchise.

Sadly, it looks like there won't be a sequel. And John Carter will become a footnote in the history of movie making.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Saturday September 15, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Lesson in The Dark Knight Rises

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

The new Batman movie opened today here in the U.S., and its a doozy of a film.

Epic in length (close to three hours) and epic in scope and depth, this is an adult superhero movie to be sure. Unlike the Avengers, which was pure comic-book entertainment, The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) is about something very real, something that many know all too much about: how extraordinary adversity can beat you down and toss you into the pit of despair. And how it can be overcome through resilience.

This then will not be a typical movie review. Suffice to say, as a Batman fan, I loved the movie and I give it a hearty recommendation. "Thumbs up" as they say.

Instead, let's look at resilience. What are some of the key ingredients?

Support - The experts on resilience agree that having caring relationships is an important part of the resilience formula. Reaching out, and seeking their help, is the key.

Attitude - There's a saying, "What does not kill you, makes you stronger." That is, if you have the right attitude. The attitude of a survivor, not a victim.

Drive - "Where there's a will, there's a way," the saying goes. The term "will" is an old-school word that means desire driving action. It is essential to resilience.

Do you have the will, to turn your anger about what has happened to you, into a goal? Having the motivation --to not stay down, to get up, and to come back-- makes all the difference.

Resilience is the human capacity to withstand the worst setbacks, and come back stronger than before. If you are in need of this capacity, the good news is, You already have it. It's built in.

You need to recognize it, trust it, and develop it.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Friday July 20, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Man from Earth - Review

Were you a fan of the old Twilight Zone and original Star Trek series of the 1960's? If so, then you may have been a fan of writer Jerome Bixby.

Who, you ask? A TV and movie writer whose name is probably known only to true die-hard sci fi fans, Jerome Bixby wrote the 1950's B-movie "It! The Terror from Beyond Space," about an alien creature that stalks the crew of a spaceship. Sound familiar? It was the inspiration for a later film, called Alien written by Dan O'Bannon and directed by Ridley Scott whose new film Prometheus has just scored big at movie theaters around the world.

In Prometheus we are learning about the backstory of Alien, including that the fearsome xenomorph was the result of genetic engineering by an unknown race of beings on a faraway planet. These so-called Engineers, it turns out, also had a hand in our own creation. While we don't yet know all of the story that Ridley Scott and his co-writers have in mind, we are learning that the Engineers not only create life, they also destroy it.

What are their motivations, you may ask? In an interview, Scott revealed that it has something to do with Jesus himself. Here is an excerpt:

"... if you look at it as an “our children are misbehaving down there” scenario, there are moments where it looks like we’ve gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, “Lets’ send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it. Guess what? They crucified him."

So here we have a very interesting thing. A meeting between SciFi and Religion. Not the first time that has happened. In fact, there is a long and hallowed tradition of such meet-ups going way back through Ray Bradbury, to Arthur C. Clarke, to Isaac Asimov and even H.G. Wells. Look at such great sci fi films as The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original, not the remake), 2001, and Contact.

For science fiction writers and their audiences, sci fi is a great mental playground, a way to explore the meaning of life. To ask "What if" questions and let the imagination go. To take a mystery ride and see where you end up. Even in topic areas that one might call sacrosanct...such as religion.

This is what Jerome Bixby did in the story that became the independent scifi film The Man from Earth (2007) directed by Richard Schenkman, starring a terrific ensemble cast featuring Tony Todd, William Katt, Richard Riehle, John Billingsly, David Lee Smith, and Annika Peterson.

At the risk of spoiling a really good story, Prof. John Oldman reveals an incredible secret to some of his dearest friends and colleagues from the college where he teaches. He tells them that he is over 14,000 years old and has never aged past the age of 35. He has had many identities, learned many languages, and had many lifetimes worth of experiences, including one that changed the course of history. This one identity, approximately 2000 years ago, shatters the group's fragile grasp of faith in Oldman...and in much of what they had been taught to believe in by standard understandings of history and religion.

This small and mostly unknown movie is a gem worth seeking out, especially if you like the Twilight Zone/Star Trek kinds of stories that ask some deep "What if...?" questions, yet do not give you any easy answers.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Prometheus - Review

Before I forget my initial reactions to the visually splendid new sci fi film Prometheus, here they are. In a nutshell, I almost loved it but not quite.

30 some years after directing the space horror movie Alien, director Ridley Scott brings us back to the creepy-crawly universe that scared the bejeezus* out of us. (*The term "bejeezus" is used deliberately. See spoiler note below.) His starting point, he has said in interviews, is the so-called Space Jockey from Alien. Who was he? Where did he come from? What killed him?

In this outing, Scott takes us to a time prior to the adventures of Ellen Ripley, the hero played by Sigourney Weaver in the original. In Prometheus, he gives us a whole new cast of characters, including the ship's captain (played by Idris Elba), an icy executive (played by Charlize Theron), a hologram billionaire named Weyland (played under pounds of makeup by Guy Pearce) whose company finances the trip into space, and a Blade Runner-ish synthetic character called "David" (played by Michael Fassbender), the android with a secret purpose. Plus we meet the "Engineers." The less said about who they are, the better. (For those intrigued, here is a fascinating deconstruction:

The nominal star is Noomi Rapace (of the original Girl With Dragon Tattoo films) as a visionary and faith-filled scientist named Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. She and her scientist boyfriend are searching for the origins of life on Earth by following an ancient star map to a distant planet. Rapace carries the film well though script issues undermine her efforts.

At the risk of going into spoilery territory, let me offer a brief analysis. First, think back to Scott's original Alien. When the suspense and terror of that movie grabbed ahold of you, it did not let go until Ripley blasted the monster out of the door into space. (The non-Scott follow-up Aliens also had a very well-structured throughline to an equally satisfying climactic battle.) In Prometheus, there is a bit too much going on, some of which frankly seemed out of sequence. One scene in particular (hint: this film's answer to the chest bursting scene in Alien) occurs way before it should have for maximum impact. And two crucial characters (hint: they have a father-daughter type relationship) are dispatched in pointless ways when they could have had a much more glorious demise if the script writers had used a wee bit more imagination.

The end result is the last half of the film goes clunkety clunk when it should have gone voom.

Still I give it a thumbs up for its eye-filling visuals and recommend that anyone who likes sci fi should go see it.

Spoiler Note: While his original film Alien does a very good job of scaring audiences out of their wits, in Prometheus (and the intended sequel) Scott is trying to do what William Friedkin did in The Exorcist: combine gooey horror scares with a deep sense of awe and mystery about the religious beliefs (including Christianity) we have inherited from the past. Prometheus comes close but misses by just a smidgen and ends up a muddle.

Addendum: I have just read an interview with Ridley Scott where he is envisioning a sequel that follows the further exploits of Dr. Shaw and David the robot as they go in search of the mystery behind the Engineers. I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Avengers

Why is the new movie The Avengers so good? One reason is that the super heroes are so human. The Hulk has anger issues. Iron Man is full of himself. Captain America is desolate because of how much he has lost.

In the midst of spectacular special effects in this year's biggest blockbuster film, audiences are finding the beating (and bleeding) human hearts of its main characters.

In my line of work, as an organization development consultant, I am often asked to design and facilitate team building sessions. Unlike many of my peers, I seldom use movie clips when building teams. However, having just seen The Avengers the other night, I may now be referring to this film in my upcoming engagements.

As a big fan of comics-based super hero movies, I was really looking forward to this mash-up of multiple Marvel characters. I was not disappointed. Filmmaker Joss Whedon has performed a miracle, somehow squeezing four huge Marvel figures into one movie. The Avengers is fully satisfying on all the major aspects: story, effects, action, and humor.

As the threat to Planet Earth appears, and SHIELD chief Nick Fury scrambles to assemble his team, you wonder, How will this motley crew of soul-damaged super heroes ever come together and work as a team? Of course, you know they will. But one of the delights in this film is watching each hero get their screen time, revealing their past pains and psychic scars. All the actors are good! Especially Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. The newcomer to the Marvel franchise, Ruffalo is terrific, giving The Big Green Guy the humanity he deserves.

In the midst of spectacular special effects scenes, this year's biggest blockbuster film delivers, from the heart.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday May 9, 2012

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We Like to Watch

Like some who have flocked to see The Hunger games, I had not read the book (still have not read it, btw), and was not planning on seeing the movie, even though I am a sci fi fan. Then the opportunity arose to go with my wife (who has read the books and is a fan) and sons, so I went.

I enjoyed and appreciated it, especially the acting (Jennifer Lawrence in particular) and the music (by James Howard Newton). But the story left me flat. I wasn't engaged by it for some reason. Maybe it would have worked if I had been a fan of the book.

However, now that a couple weeks have gone by, and I have now seen the new horror movie "Cabin In the Woods," I have a new observation to make. Both of these films have a very prominent theme of voyeurism, i.e. other people watching your every move.

In both THG and CITW, the fact that audiences are watching the main characters suffer and die was somewhat sickening. At the same time, this is a savage critique of our own society today, especially when you consider that some of the most prominent reality TV shows, from Survivor to The Amazing Race, operate on the same principle. As much as I don't like what it says about us, I guess it's true. We like to watch.

Another parallel, in both THG and CITW, there are technicians in a control room filled with monitors, buttons and levers at their disposal to not only watch the hapless contestants/victims, but to influence the choices and outcomes on screen. (As some have pointed out, this is just like the film The Truman Show with Jim Carrey of several years ago.)

Despite the massive bureacracy designed to control what is happening, in both THG and CITW, their attempts to control the outcome eventually fail. As much as we would like to control things in life, we actually can't. (My son pointed out that this is also the gist of another recent film called The Assassination Bureau.) People are far more complex than computerized systems, and often quite surprising to those in charge.

Though I haven't read the books, I have heard that in the second and third installments of THG, Katniss and other characters do take part in a rebellion to take down the hateful system that oppresses them.

At the end of CITW (warning: spoiler ahead - stop reading now if you don't want to know how the film ends), the complicated heroes not only bring down the system and foil the controllers, they inadvertently cause "all hell to break loose." It's actually quite hilarious to watch, along the lines of the end of the film Dr. Strangelove.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday April 22, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Hunger Games

My wife and I saw the new film The Hunger Games last night. Here is my review and general commentary.

Overall, this is a good futuristic tale of a post-war world where evil reigns and the poor are held down in poverty by the ruling class. Every year, to drive fear and despair into the populace, children and teens are selected from the twelve districts of the country to participate in a deadly competition called The Hunger Games. The games are a huge event, televised to all the districts, and controlled by politicians and technicians who can create a forest fire, or a rampaging pack of monster dogs, at the push of a high-tech button.

The starring performance by the excellent young actress Jennifer (Winter's Bone) Lawrence is the big reason to see this film. She is great, and should get an Oscar nomination for this. The rest of the cast does quite well, including the weirdly Oz-like games masters played by Stanley Tucci and Wes Bentley. Woody Harrelson as the girl's mentor almost steals the movie too. I also liked the score by composer James Newton Howard.

Now a more general comment. I have not read the books. So I rely on my wife's comment that the movie did a nice job of translating the first book to the screen.

While watching the film, I found myself shifting in my seat a lot. Not exactly bored, but also never fully engaged by the tale, I have been trying to figure out what the problem was.

Here it is: The Hunger Games is derivative of so many other films, TV shows, and stories that I found myself thinking more about them than the movie in front of me. For example, I found myself reflecting on the classic UK TV series The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan where Number Six keeps trying to escape The Village but is always brought back by his shadowy techno captors.

Other reviewers have mentioned the similarities of the movie to Battle Royale, The Running Man, and others.

There's nothing wrong with being derivative, and resembling other literary works. I guess what I would ask of such a film is to do something really different and original. Like McGoohan did with his Prisoner series.

Knowing that there are two more books, and I would assume two more movies, to go in the Hunger Games series, I will await the next installments, hoping that the story goes into more creatively original directions.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday April 2, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Throwing In the Towel on the Oscars

After watching the annual Academy Awards show every year of my life, I am hereby done. Throwing in the towel. For good.

Why, you ask? Did you see last night's show? All the things that have always been "wrong" were in evidence and then some:

- Poor judgement for shunting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to another night.

- Cowardice for not allowing performance comic Sacha Baron Cohen to play his merry pranks on camera. What would have been the highlight of the night was completely shut out.

- Taking the easy way out with host Billy Crystal who, though he is sweet and easy to take, is no Ricky Gervais.

- So much self-congratulating it makes you sick.

- Huge production numbers that do nothing but hurt the flow of the show and reduce the time available for acceptance speeches.

There were a few bright spots including wins by Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer, a comic focus group (from the Christopher Guest Ensemble featuring the wonderfully daffy Fred Willard), and a beautiful rendition of "It's A Wonderful World" by jazz singer Esperanza Spalding.

A few weeks back, I declared that I was not going to watch. Then, I ended up watching. Old habits die hard.

But last night's snooze fest was the clincher.

Goodbye, Oscar! I will be watching the Golden Globes and the Independent Spirit Awards. Anything but you.