Author Archives: tomholste

QUANTUM LEAP Spells it Out in Black and White

By Tom Holste

Aug. 18, 2017

The tragic events of the past week have me repeatedly going back in my mind to the excellent Quantum Leap episode “Black on White on Fire,” originally aired on November 9, 1990. (Some spoilers follow.)

The episode is set during the riots in Watts, Los Angeles, in August of 1965. Honestly, I had never heard of the Watts riots in school, nor have I heard anyone discuss them at length outside of this program since then. But it seems worthwhile to remember the lessons of this event.

As viewers of the series know, the TV show (which ran from 1989-93) follows the adventures of Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula), a scientist whose time travel experiment goes wrong, and he winds up in the bodies of different people from the 1950s to the 1980s, setting right things that had gone wrong in their lives.

In this episode, he ends up in the body of an African-American man engaged to a white woman just as riots break out over a reported incident of police brutality. While his family members express understandable anger at the unfair treatment that they receive at the hands of authority figures because of their skin color, Sam must soon act to save his fiancee’s life when the town’s anger turns against her because of her skin color.QL-Black-on-White-on-Fire-1

The episode’s writer, Deborah Pratt (herself an African-American), does a beautiful, skillful balancing act with this story: She treats all of the characters with respect and human dignity while thoroughly condemning the irrational hatred and violence that spread from fear.

While the show frequently ended on an optimistic note, this story is one of the few to end tragically (although not in the way one might expect). Indeed, how could it not end tragically? When tensions get heightened and everyone starts pointing fingers, someone is bound to get unfairly caught in the crossfire.

I wonder if Pratt even knew that one episode of a TV show couldn’t change anything, and that’s why the episode ends on the sad note that it does. Still, in bleak times, what can one do but light a candle of hope and pray for peace and sanity? That, I think, is the goal of the episode.

This episode of Quantum Leap (along with the rest) is available on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment and available on streaming from NBC.com:

https://www.nbc.com/classic-tv/quantum-leap/video/black-on-white-on-fire-august-11-1965/2924331

 

Mickey Mouse to Leave Netflix

By Tom Holste

Aug. 9, 2017

This news story has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I thought it might be interesting for discussion here.

https://www.gamespot.com/articles/disney-to-pull-its-movies-from-netflix-including-s/1100-6452383/?ftag=GSS-05-10aab8d&utm_campaign=trueAnthem%3A+Trending+Content&utm_content=598a81bd3ed3f00007aca3d8&utm_medium=trueAnthem&utm_source=facebook

This comes just a year after Disney’s content went exclusively to Netflix for the foreseeable future. Apparently, that deal will end in 2019.

I, for one, am getting really tired of every entertainment company pulling out of Netflix to start their own service, or in some cases, multiple services. Warner Bros. has put all their classic cartoons (including Hanna-Barbera and MGM content) on the Boomerang app, and they intend to release another app for all their DC Comics content. And if one wants to watch Doctor Who on streaming, one has to pay Britbox for the classic stuff and Amazon Prime for the new stuff.

Disney has already announced that they’re going to have a separate streaming service for ESPN content. If they have a separate service for animated classics, and a separate service for Marvel, and one for Lucasfilm, Pixar, etc., people are not going to go for that.

Part of what’s great about Netflix is its affordability. But studios seem to think that if we’ll pay Netflix $8 a month, we’ll be willing to pay them $40 a month for multiple different mini-Netflixes. That’s an incorrect assumption.

This strategy may drive some consumers back to physical media, which may in fact be part of the goal of the studios. Even though the rest of the planet moved on to streaming media 10-ish years ago, I’ve seen multiple doom-and-gloom articles from Hollywood experts about how the industry is doomed if consumers don’t keep buying physical media (ignoring the many decades in which the industry did just fine without that).

Nonetheless, having said all that, if enough companies do pull out of Netflix, it may become worth my while to invest our $8 a month in one of these other companies. Much of what my family watches comes from one of Disney’s many divisions; in addition to what’s mentioned above, my kids are big fans of anime from Studio Ghibli, which has been distributed by Disney for a long time. While I don’t want to jump ship — I’d rather pay Netflix a little more to have more content — there may come a point where loyalty to them doesn’t make sense.

I’d also be interested if the Disney streaming service has multiple classic versions of characters instead of just the latest version. For instance, if they have just the new DuckTales and the latest version of Spider-Man, that doesn’t seem very interesting to me. But if they have those in addition to the old DuckTales and the ’90s Spider-Man and so forth, that could be fun. I would also be excited if they would finally release all episodes of The Muppet Show. (The DVDs stopped after Season 3, leaving two seasons unreleased.) They would need to dig in their archives a bit and come up with interesting things.

Anyway, the industry continues to change and evolve, and it’s fascinating to watch the permutations.

READY PLAYER ONE Drops 1st Trailer

By Tom Holste

Jul. 24, 2017

Over a year ago, I wrote an article about the upcoming film adaptation of the novel Ready Player One by Ernie Cline. To my surprise, it’s become the most “Liked” post I’ve made, and I’ve gotten more follows on my blog due to that than anything else!

For those unfamiliar with the source material, the novel is about a young man living in a future Earth where everything has deteriorated so much that the only escape is into a virtual reality “OASIS” where people can be whoever they want to be, and can have whatever they want to have, including their favorite pop culture icons. So, for instance, if you want to look like Batman and fly the Millennium Falcon, you can do that.

Cline’s novel is clever and fast-paced, but I figured with all the different intellectual properties from different companies mentioned, this film would be impossible to make. When Steven Spielberg stepped into the director’s chair, though, the film’s development really started to move forward. Spielberg is one of the few people in Hollywood that could make such a project happen; in fact, he already got multiple companies to work together for the animation extravaganza Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which he produced and Robert Zemeckis directed)That film met with such success and acclaim, it’s not surprising that studios would be willing to trust his instincts with this film as well.

(Also worth noting is that, when the novel came out, we hadn’t seen such universe-jumping franchises as The LEGO Movie or LEGO Dimensions yet, which is why I found such an onscreen mashup unlikely at the time.)

With such a high level of enthusiasm for the project, it’s only natural to share the first trailer for the film here:

A few random thoughts:

–While many different properties are indeed featured in the clips, naturally Warner Bros. put their properties front and center in the trailer. WB owns The Iron Giant, perhaps the licensed character that gets the most screen time in the trailer; DC Comics-owned characters (Harley Quinn and Deadshot) walk through one scene; and at another point Freddy Krueger (whose films were released through Warner-owned New Line Cinema) is also clearly visible.

There are cameos from the DeLorean from Back to the Future (Universal) and the van from The A-Team (Universal again, although Fox did the movie adaptation), but they’re basically blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. (I’m not saying that the trailer doesn’t feature many non-Warner properties, just that these stood out to me more, and I actually had to go and look up articles to find out what was in the trailer.)

Non-Warner Bros. characters and stories may still feature heavily in the completed film; I recall that the 1983 MGM-owned WarGames featured significantly into the plot, and I believe that Voltron was present in the climax, as were some TIE Fighters. But it’s not surprising that the marketing focuses more on the in-house stuff.

Also, I expect that any non-Warner property that’s not absolutely essential to the plot (or anything that they couldn’t get the rights to) will get substituted with something else in the final film.

–Is it just me, or is it really weird to see Freddy Krueger in a Steven Spielberg movie? It’s not wrong or anything; it just seems odd for some reason that I can’t put my finger on.

–It’s been interesting to see the fairly recent shift in storytelling tastes. For a long time, crossovers within a company or on a TV network were common. There were a ton of Hanna-Barbera projects where Yogi Bear met up with Scooby-Doo and the Flintstones and other H-B characters; Magnum P.I. wound up on an episode of Murder, She Wrote; Paul Reiser’s character from Mad About You once showed up at the apartment of Kramer from Seinfeld; and so on.

As time went on, these crossovers began to feel more and more like lame cash grabs without much story justification. And so a lot of TV shows and movies only took place within their respective fictional universes, with creators going out of their way to define why other characters wouldn’t work within the consistency of the universe. (In an interview about the first live-action Scooby-Doo movie, screenwriter James Gunn said that Grape Ape shouldn’t be able to casually exist next to Scooby: “This Mystery Inc. might freak out if they saw Grape Ape and try to pull his head off, thinking it was a mask.”)

However, possibly due to the rise of social media, where we’re used to scrolling through our feed and seeing a Lord of the Rings meme followed by a SpongeBob meme, audiences seem ready to accept crossovers again, and if the reception to Cline’s novel — as well as the aforementioned LEGO productions — is any indication, the idea even gets them very excited.

–Since John Williams ran into scheduling conflicts, composer Alan Silvestri has stepped up to the plate. As much as I love Williams’ work, Silvestri is pretty exciting to have on board. Silvestri’s work includes Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and The Avengers. Since we know at least the DeLorean appears in the film, expect Silvestri to work in a reference to this and possibly other franchises in the music.

–The movie looks visually stunning, and I actually probably would be excited for this film based on the story alone even if it wasn’t this huge mashup (although that is a huge selling point for me). And that really is the best way to go: The movie needs to function as a satisfying story in and of itself, or eventually the novelty will wear off.

Anyway, this first trailer is a rousing success!

Netflix Opens New DARK CRYSTAL

By Tom Holste

May 18, 2017

The Jim Henson Company has been trying to follow up on their cult classic, the 1982 fantasy film The Dark Crystal, for something like 15 years. It’s been in development for so long that it’s become something of an affectionate running joke among Henson fans.

And, now, suddenly, out of nowhere, they’re moving forward on something. And Netflix, currently the savviest network out there, is bringing it to us.

Can I just say…Wow?

The original movie, while visually stunning, is somewhat slow and a little too light on plot. I always feel like I should like it more than I actually do. And yet, this new project seems like such a smart move, I can’t help but be excited.

A new movie could be a huge hit like The Force Awakens, or it could appeal to a niche audience and be quickly forgotten, like Tron: Legacy (which I liked, but didn’t revive the franchise as hoped). But a new series on the streaming network that gave us such diverse projects as Daredevil, Stranger Things, Fuller House, and the revived Mystery Science Theater 3000…that’s going to generate a lot of excitement. I can’t imagine this not being successful.

This is a prequel series; while it may be too much to wish for, I hope that it gives enough context to the original movie that I find myself finally liking and appreciating the film more. If not, I hope it’s at least entertaining on its own terms, which should be the top priority.

Between this and several other projects, it seems like the Henson Company is finally waking up from its long dormancy, and may be entering a new golden age. Let’s hope!

Check out the trailer below.

First Trailer for THE LAST JEDI

By Tom Holste

Apr. 15, 2017

Hey, folks! Hope you’re all doing well. I’m enjoying a beautiful Easter weekend myself.

So the teaser for THE LAST JEDI has dropped, and it’s pretty cool:

(Um, spoilers ahead for the trailer you just watched, I guess, and for FORCE AWAKENS, which you’ve probably seen if you’re reading this.)

Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It didn’t grab me as much as the FORCE AWAKENS or ROGUE ONE trailers, but I still like it. (Keep in mind that a trailer is not always a good indication of the movie. I found the trailer for PHANTOM MENACE exciting, and the trailer for FINDING NEMO boring, but the first movie was boring and the second movie was amazing.)

The teaser starts off a little slow but builds in excitement as it goes. Surprisingly, there’s little of Finn in the trailer. I suppose they’re trying to keep his fate secret as they did for Luke in FORCE AWAKENS, but I hope Finn has more screen time than Luke did.

Luke’s final words in the trailer are worrisome, but I assume that’s the point: to intrigue us by hearing him say something that seems contrary to his nature. My curiosity is definitely piqued.

I may never get the Luke-Han-Leia reunion I was hoping for, but the real return of Luke Skywalker to the big screen for the first time since 1983 (as opposed to a wordless cameo)– yeah, that’s enough of a draw for me.

And if you’re still not excited, hopefully this poster hits all the right old-school, classic saga notes for you:

star_wars_the_last_jedi_poster_1688

Joss Whedon Answers the Bat-Signal

By Tom Holste

Apr. 1, 2017

Hey, folks! Sorry it’s been such a long time between posts. I’ve been working, which is great, but it left me with little time or energy to write. Thanks to everyone who liked my posts or started following my blogs in the past year.

Anyway, something popped up yesterday that surprised me enough to inspire writing: Joss Whedon (of the two Avengers films, among other projects) plans to make a Batgirl movie.

Batgirl

Whedon’s goal: give us a better Batgirl than Alicia Silverstone in BATMAN AND ROBIN. Yeah, I think that’s doable.

The move is surprising, as during interviews for Age of Ultron, Whedon repeatedly expressed a desire to get back to making original projects. In five years, he had worked on two comic book movies and an adaptation of a Shakespeare play, and he was feeling the itch to try something new. Additionally, there was some heavy backlash for Age of Ultron that I thought would keep him away from high-profile projects for a while. (Even though I found Ultron unsatisfying, even I’ll admit that some of the criticism was too harsh.)

All recent mentions of Whedon indicated that he was working on a horror movie set during WWII. So this announcement really came out of left field.

(And for those concerned that I’m posting this on April Fool’s Day, keep in mind that the news actually broke on Thursday. Also, the announcement of Whedon making The Avengers happened to come out on Apr. 1, 2010, even though that news was real, too.)

I don’t blame DC for wanting Whedon in their camp, though. When Marvel brought Whedon on board for their Cinematic Universe, it was still just an experiment with a successful movie or two under its belt. But would audiences really accept seeing multiple different movies until the characters were brought together in one unprecedented team-up movie? Avengers was the film that proved that the idea had paid off.

And for those who think that what Whedon did was easy, I would point you to 2006’s direct-to-video animated release Ultimate Avengers: The Movie that has almost the exact same lineup of characters. If the live-action Avengers had been as “meh” as that movie, I doubt we’d still be talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe today.

So DC definitely had good reason to court Whedon now that he was a free agent. While DC’s own attempts at making a combined cinematic universe have made lots of money, critics and fans have largely expressed their unhappiness with the results. It’s very telling that, last year, the long-awaited, first-ever meeting of Batman and Superman in an official live-action project made less at the box office than the relatively unknown Deadpool.

Meanwhile, what was the incentive for Whedon (other than the probably large paycheck) to put his more personal projects on hold? Word on the street around the time of Age of Ultron was that Whedon and Marvel had frequently clashed on the direction of that sequel. For better or for worse, DC is known for giving its directors more free rein. If DC offered Whedon the opportunity to tell the story however he wants to, that probably sealed the deal.

For fans of DC’s darker approach to their characters who worry that Whedon will make the movie too lighthearted, I would assure them that there are plenty of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly that would convince them that Whedon can go dark when he wants to. Whedon fully admitted that the first Iron Man movie, directed by Jon Favreau, was his template when making The Avengers. I think he’ll be able to adapt well to the tone of DC’s movies, and in fact, do them one better.

So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I don’t agree with Whedon politically most of the time, but I know he can deliver great entertainment. He’s written croud-pleasing projects as varied as Toy Story and Speed, and he did a fine job on an X-Men comic series in the early 2000s. If anyone can answer the call to get DC’s movie series on track, it’s him.

 

Disney Seeks More Fortune and Glory with INDY V

By Tom Holste

Mar. 15, 2016

First of all, hello and welcome to all of my new readers! Thank you for the likes and the follows over the past few weeks.

So here’s the latest bit of interesting movie industry news: It looks like Disney is finally moving forward with a new Indiana Jones film. This would be the fifth in the series.

There’s been talk of speculation of another Indy film pretty much since the last one came out in 2008. Rumors intensified after Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, but for the time being, the Mouse House only seemed interested in Star Wars.

But having gotten their first major victory under their belts — The Force Awakens wowed the critics and shattered box-office records — the magic makers at Disney seem keen on trying their hand at Lucasfilm’s other big franchise.

Bob Iger expressed his continuing interest in making another Indiana Jones movie back in December, but it was vague and noncommittal. What makes this latest announcement so newsworthy is that Disney has gone so far as to announce a date: Jul. 19, 2019. Both the series star Harrison Ford and director Steven Spielberg have also officially been confirmed. This time, it seems, Disney means business.

In the press release from Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios: “Indiana Jones is one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history, and we can’t wait to bring him back to the screen in 2019 … It’s rare to have such a perfect combination of director, producers, actor and role, and we couldn’t be more excited to embark on this adventure with Harrison and Steven.”

indiana-jones-kingdom-crystal-skull-spielberg-ford

Note two names that weren’t mentioned: George Lucas and Shia LeBouf.

Frankly, I was surprised that the franchise didn’t start over with a new actor. After Crystal Skull, I thought maybe a fresh start was best. Don’t get me wrong: I never want to live in a world where Raiders of the Lost Ark is no longer canon. But Casino Royale so wonderfully gave us a new take on James Bond, I wondered if a new actor and director could enliven this franchise the same way.

After all, both Ford and Spielberg seemed bored during the last installment. Perhaps, though, that was because they were unhappy with the flying saucer storyline they were forced to go with at Lucas’ insistence. Maybe this time, they can make the story they wanted to make last time.

Speaking of the story, it’s interesting that there’s no mention of a screenwriter yet. One would think that everyone wouldn’t be moving forward if there wasn’t an idea already in mind. Perhaps they have an idea but don’t want to spill any secrets yet, for fear of someone beating them to the punch (as in the ridiculous game of one-upmanship going on between the makers of Batman v. Superman and Civil War).

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-vs-captain-america-civil-war

“Our movie has a BILLION superheroes in it.” “Oh, yeah? Well, OUR movie has a MILLION KAJILLION superheroes in it!”

Or perhaps there was simply a gap in Ford’s and Spielberg’s schedule, and they decided this was their chance to redeem their names, and the next step is to figure out what exactly it is that they want to do.

I’m using a bit of over-dramatic wording to make my point, but to be fair, Crystal Skull isn’t an outright bad film. There are funny moments and a lot of action scenes that work. It’s just not really a great film, especially not in comparison with the others. I don’t even blame George Lucas for wanting to try a little something different with the flying saucers angle. For me (and for a lot of others), the whole thing just didn’t fully gel.

I have to say that it’s strange that the story will now have to be set in the late 1960s . I feel like the 1930s setting of the earlier films made the movies seem more distant and exotic, and made the fantastical endings seem more plausible. But the late 1960s are just a few years before I was born! That doesn’t seem as distant or exotic. Then again, maybe that has more to say about my age than it does about the original time and setting.

So I’m trying to keep an open mind. After the last installment, I didn’t think we needed any more, at least not from the original team. But then Harrison Ford was arguably the best thing about The Force Awakens. So maybe there’s more cinematic treasure to be mined from Ford and Spielberg after all.