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Bill Shatner Reviews “Spaceballs”

Although many considered it too little, too late from Brooks upon its 1987 theatrical release (Brooks’ prior home run dated back to 1974), home video erases such pretensions of topicality. (Besides, did anyone complain that Young Frankenstien took dead aim at a series of movies from 30 years prior?) Actually, Spaceballs is weirdly effective as a distillation of the entire Star Wars trilogy plot: Luke Skywalker and Han Solo become one character, Lone Starr (Bill Pullman, a more game actor than he’s often given credit for); he is accompanied by Barf (John Candy), a talking variation on a wookie, and they rescue Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) from Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis). Ewok and Jawa DNA is combined to form the chattering, helpful “dinks,” and Brooks himself provides some Yoda with a smattering of Obi-Wan as the sage Yogurt.

If some of the jokes are a little cornball and eighties-bound — would any other decade allow a cameo from funny noises guru Michael Winslow? — others are gloriously meta, with extended riffs on a variety of Spaceballs merchandise including, ominously, Spaceballs: The Video, which the bad guys actually plop into their high-tech video monitors to keep the story straight. Star Wars is the easy-target framework, but some of the best bits are throwaway riffs on other sci-fi classics like Alien and Planet of the Apes. Brooks displays a canny feel for the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker style of movie parodies, never going in for the overkill like overly referential offshoots like Jane Austen’s Mafia! (or Shrek, for that matter).

The cast isn’t full of Brooks regulars like Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel, or Madeline Kahn, but Pullman, Candy, and Moranis slip into the shticky rhythms nicely, all doing some of their best comic work. It may sound like faint praise to say that the film’s mock-swashbuckling plays well to kids, offering the twin pleasures of (a) sci-fi adventure and (b) goofy jokes on sci-fi adventure. But the comedy in Spaceballs, at its best, plays like the action in Star Wars, awakening a sense of pure enjoyment of movies — the kinds of movies you once enjoyed and are secretly hoping to enjoy again.

So what’s present here, and not in much of Brooks’s work that followed, is a real sense of joy: It may have been released four years after Return of the Jedi, but no one had mounted a full-length Star Wars parody before, and everyone involved seems jazzed for the task. It’s not the best or most original Brooks film, then, but it may be the most fun.

Ball geeks can love up the new Special Edition DVD, with two discs of absurdity, Brooks style, to love. Among the copious extras are commentary from Brooks, outtakes, a trivia game, storyboards, and a tribute to the late John Candy.

Bill Shatner Reviews “Brazil”
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a civil servant Dilbert at the Ministry of Information. He’s a low-level office grunt typing his way through a lifetime of meaningless papers in a retro-future totalitarian state. His one escape from his dreary life is his dreams. Bursting with vivid colors, Sam’s visions see him with armored wings rising into the bright sky above the cold city. There, in the firmament, Sam battles with Darkness to free a blonde beauty (Kim Greist) imprisoned in a floating cage.

Unfortunately, there are no happy endings for dreamers in this alternate world. Sam always awakens to his mind-numbing existence, only plugging away in a system that rewards only blandness, appeasing his socialite mother (addicted to face lifts) whose only wish is to see her meek son move his way up a corporate ladder to nowhere.

When Sam’s AC starts acting up he calls Central Services and instead of receiving the regular plodding service, is surprised to find a renegade handyman Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro) at his door. Not only does Tuttle repair things without forms, he’s a full-blooded anarchist and he leads Sam into a paranoid world quivering behind the state’s facade of normality. This is a world where dreams can come true, if only you’re willing to question reality.

Terry Gilliam’s career has always been marked by a delightful sense of absurdity as well as an eye – most likely honed as an animator – for the weird. Sometimes he plays it up big — Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King — and other times… well, actually Gilliam always plays it up big. And Brazil is his surrealist manifesto: Art deco swirls in concrete, fetishistic military gear and top hats, it’s a pop culture cartoon explosion wrapped over an epic tale of the everyman. Thankfully, Gilliam and co-screenwriters Charles McKeown (Time Bandits) and Tom Stoppard (himself no stranger to weirdness) don’t let this Theatre of the Absurd run rampant over the plot – it’s surprisingly consistent and emotionally charged. Funny, scary, sublime.

And, as many critics have noted, it’s frighteningly prophetic. In 1985 audiences scoffed at the idea of terrorists infiltrating the government and waging war on corporate interests. A police state literally “sacking? people and holding them indefinitely in a secret prison where they are tortured? Not possible. A world where technology has overwhelmed us? Where privacy is only a word? You must be kidding.

Visionary? Timeless? Indulgent? Call it what you will, Brazil had its fingers firmly on the pulse of world culture and the erratic beat telegraphed The End long before the War on Terror. Easy to say, Brazil isn’t so much a movie as it is a movement. Harry Tuttles of the world rise up!

The three-disc DVD Criterion Edition of the film is one for the vaults. At its center is a documentary by film critic Jack Mathews, which goes into all the painful and gory details Terry Gilliam undertook to get Brazil through a studio system that just didn’t understand it. Gilliam wanted his 142-minute version, the studio wanted its 94 minute version. The two films are as different as two from Corman and Disney, with radically different themes, structures, and of course, quality. And you can watch them both, Gilliam’s original cut with his own commentary, the so-called “Love Conquers All” version with “Gilliam expert’ David Morgan lending an academic tone to the proceedings. Fascinating–even though you’re likely to watch that third disc once and once only.

Criterion has also just released a new single-disc DVD, which includes just the “final cut” version of the film and a commentary track, if the big boxed set is too rich for your blood.

Bill Shatner Takes a Look at “The Lathe of Heaven”
The wait is over: Ursula K. Le Guin’s eponymous Sci-Fi novel, The Lathe of Heaven, is finally available on DVD! Lathe of Heaven features a truly original plot, about a man whose dreams can reshape reality and how man tries to harness this power - with good intentions and disastrous results. The Lathe of Heaven has been praised as “rare and powerful” by the New York Times and is one of the most outstanding science fiction films that hasn’t yet become a household name. (By the way, there was a re-make with James Caan in 2002, but the original Lathe of Heaven is far superior and is the film being reviewed here and offered by the Shatner DVD Club.)

For those unfamiliar with the book, The Lathe of Heaven takes place in Portland, Oregon in the year 2002. Its main character, a simple, middle class man named George Orr (Bruce Davison, who’s been in X-Men, Six Degrees of Separation, Crimes of Passion), is haunted by ‘effective dreaming,’ where his dreams literally come true.

In the beginning of the movie, a 30-year old George has been handed a court order to attend psychiatric therapy following an accidental overdose on prescription drugs. He comes into contact with oneirologist Dr. Bill Haber (Kevin Conway, who also played Kahless the Unforgettable in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), a specialist in sleep disorders and dreams.

In a blighted world where the polar ice caps have been destroyed by pollution and plagues rampantly rage unchecked, Dr. Haber comes to understand Orr’s power as a way for humanity to find an escape from what is an increasingly grim fate. As each attempt to control Orr’s dreams ends in failure, the psychiatrist’s obsession with playing God grows more powerful.

At first, Haber’s experimentation with George’s unique ability is limited in scope, such as changing a picture hanging on the wall. With each session though, Haber becomes more ambitious as he directs George to dream of a Portland where the sun is always shining, which results in the new post-dream reality. George comes to realize that he is being used instead of being cured, and tries to switch therapists. He is stymied at every turn when dealing with the state bureaucracy of the future, and even the lawyer he hires, Heather LeLache, seems incapable of stopping Haber’s ‘treatments.’

George is directed to dream away monumental human problems, such as overpopulation, war, and racism, as Haber becomes even more daring in the use of George’s abilities. Unfortunately, Haber’s attempts to fix the world do not go as planned, necessitating further sessions of ‘effective dreaming’ to solve the quandaries brought on by the previous dream sessions.

Haber becomes intoxicated by the potential for George’s ability to serve as a quick cure for the myriad problems that plague the world. Despite his good intentions, he quickly learns that there are severe, unforeseen consequences for each great leap forward. When he cures Portland of its rain problem, it creates a drought and the need for strict water rationing for surrounding population. When he uses George’s dreams to resolve overpopulation, he unleashes a plague that inadvertently pushes the nations of the world closer to war. Haber, of course, refuses to believe that the unintended effects are his own doing, and deflects the blame onto George’s shoulders; his rationale being that the choice to cure the world’s suffering is sound, it is just the manner in which the cure is executed that is creating the problem.

The Lathe of Heaven is a mere reflection of the human condition, allowing us to see ourselves from a different perspective. Like all good science fiction, this film shows us how the cycle of human history continues to be littered with individuals and societies whose good intentions and desire for easy solutions have unleashed unexpected ’side effects’, often with dire consequences. Nuclear weapons, strip mining, chemical fertilizers, and in our recent past, the institution of slavery, are examples of ‘quick fixes’ that have had unintended social, political, economic, and ecological impacts.

Le Guin has exaggerated the ability of man to reshape his environment in her eponymous book, yet the underlying principle still remains the same–we must temper our desire to play God.

It is one of the few great works of Science Fiction that stands the test of time; this alarming tale of power uncontrolled and uncontrollable holds as true for our past as it does for our future.

Bill Shatner Looks At “Lady in the Water”
“Lady in the Water” is prefaced by a caption that reads: “To my daughters, I will tell you this story one last time, then go to sleep.” M. Night Shyamalan originally conceived the premise of his new film as a bedtime tale for his own children, creating a story that dances between worlds. This film transports us between an everyday apartment complex, the Cove, and the underwater, tunneled lair, where our mystery “Story” comes from.

A modest building manager named Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) rescues a mysterious young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) named Story from danger, who has been living in the passageways beneath the building’s swimming pool. Cleveland discovers Story is actually a narf, a nymph-like character from an epic bedtime story who is being stalked by vicious creatures, determined to block her from making the treacherous journey from our world back to hers.

Story’s special powers of perception uncover the fates of Cleveland’s fellow tenants, whose fortunes are tied directly to her own, and they must work with one another to divine the meaning of a series of codes that will open the pathway to Story’s freedom. The window of opportunity for Story to get back home is closing quickly, and the tenants of the Cove are putting their own lives at great risk to help her.

Cleveland and his fellow tenants start to realize that they are also characters in this world-twisting bedtime story, and have been imbued with special powers by Story. As Cleveland falls deeper and deeper for Story, he works together with the tenants to protect his new fragile friend from the ferocious creatures that reside in this tale and are determined to stop her from returning to her home.

“Lady in the Water" has a unique premise; it’s as much a movie about reconnecting with our childhood as it is about otherworldly creatures. The performances are top-notch, with another score for Giamatti, and impressive turns by Howard, Sarita Choudhury and Jeffrey Wright, among others. I’ve liked many of M.Night Shyamalan’s movies in the past, (especially 6th Sense), and think that this film will be an interesting addition to his body of work, injecting it with a twist: that this movie doesn’t rely on the last minute plot twist! Since the power of this story relies on mystery I don’t want to give too much away because Sci-Fi and Fantasy fans will want to see this film.

Bill Shatner Reviews: “A Clockwork Orange”
Kubrick was a beatnik poet. His work was plagued with metaphors, and the disease of hidden meaning was always turned to his advantage. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, he had almost a precognisance about the worry of the future that the millennium has exhibited so well for us. In The Shining, he taught us that, to a degree, all fear came from oneself. In Full Metal Jacket, he said that war was the ultimate destructor of the psyche. In Eyes Wide Shut, his final opus, he told us that love, handled like revenge, can only have destructive consequences. The message, for those of you people who were not able to discern it past the violence in A Clockwork Orange, was the same of the Hindu construct known as Karma: what goes around, comes around.

A Clockwork Orange tells the bittersweetly ironic tale of sociopath Alex DeLarge (MacDowell) who lives for two things: Beethoven’s 9th and what he calls “the old ultraviolence.” The film opens with one of the strangest sequences ever captured: the beating of an infirm to the tune of “Singing in the Rain.” From there on in, it only gets both odder and more schizophrenic.
When Alex is caught for murdering a phallus-obsessed rich eccentric with a large porcelain penis (take that, Freud!), he is shipped off to a British penitentiary where be becomes the subject of an experimental program of conditioning designed to make him “a clockwork orange”… someone who is incapable of doing harm unto anyone.

As he is released from the prison, karma begins to take effect. The infirm from the beginning attacks him. He is rescued by two police officers who were former cohorts that he double-crossed, and, in turn, they beat him and leave him by the side of the road. Beaten and nearly blinded, he wanders along the road… only to find himself at the house of a woman that he raped. The woman has died, but the husband is incredibly bitter and locks him in a room… to listen to Beethoven’s 9th (which he cannot stand as a side effect of the conditioning).
Bill Shatner Reviews “The Manchurian Candidate” DVD
Bill Shatner Reviews I’m a huge fan of the original Manchurian Candidate, so naturally I approached Jonathan Demme’s redo with some amount of trepidation.

With a heavy sigh of relief I’m happy to report that Demme’s done right by the original. Demme takes the best of the 1962 movie, updates it appropriately for the corporate power-trip of the 2000s, and puts some spin into the plot, so even if you watched the original on DVD last week, you still won’t be able to guess how this one will end.

For those unfortunates unfamiliar with the original, here’s the story: Years after the Korean War, Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) finds himself haunted by strange nightmares about one of his army buddies, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). Meanwhile, Shaw’s mother (Angela Lansbury) is masterminding his stepfather’s vice-presidency bid, a simple homage to McCarthy’s communist witch hunt. As the film develops, we learn that Shaw has been reprogrammed somehow – show him the queen of diamonds in a card deck and he’ll do anything you say, even murder the presidential candidate so stepdad can take his spot.

Heavy stuff. The new Manchurian does it just as well. Here’s the new spin: In 2008, Gulf War veteran Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) is a nervous wreck, plagued by nightmares about his army buddy Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber). Shaw is an up-and-coming politician, just like his mother (Meryl Streep), who’s pushing her son for the VP slot in the upcoming election. (So this time around Shaw actually is the titular “Manchurian? candidate, not his father – a common misunderstanding about the first film.
William Shatner Reviews - THX1138
George Lucas’s most grown-up piece of work is, oddly enough, his first feature from 1971, the instant classic of dystopic angst, THX 1138, inaugurating a steady reversal of artistic maturity that would culminate in the cartoonish Star Wars sequels; which is maybe where he wanted to end up all along.

An angry, idealistic film that draws more from the Huxley/Orwell side of science-fiction than the Buck Rogers-style space operas that Lucas would later be associated with, THX 1138 is an impassioned howl against the dehumanization of modern society. The film presents a futuristic scenario in which all humans are tagged, numbered and drugged, shuffling along down corridors in a labyrinthine underground city, shaven-headed automatons who exist only to work and consume. Robert Duvall plays the eponymous hero, a worker who, like all protagonists in such tales, is starting to feel as though something is wrong in this putatively perfect world. He can’t concentrate at his job and is starting to feel a strange attraction to his roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), even though all nonregulated sexual activity appears to be illegal. The pressure of the state is brought to bear after THX stops his mandatory pill-popping (resulting in “prosecution for criminal drug evasion”?) and another worker, SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasence) tries to come between THX and LUH, he has to make a break for freedom.

Lucas based this film on his student short Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB, basically the same story, only at 17 minutes long and dialogue-free. Fortunately, though, instead of blowing up an abstracted concept into a standard A-B-C sort of script – in the way that 12 Monkeys did with La Jetée – Lucas essentially made a longer version of that short. The resulting film is a fractured tone poem of white-on-white sets, intercut with the omnipresent surveillance footage, and a patchwork drone of overlapping radio communications (spliced together by master editor Walter Murch) in which what little dialogue exists is practically beside the point. As these are people who have been drugged into somnolescence since childhood it makes sense that they are less than eloquent, leaving Lucas to concentrate on the machinery that enslaves them.
Bill Shatner Reviews “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”
Mamoru Oshii’s amine sequel is more a philosophical meditation than the noirish detective story that provides the action. Illusion and creative vision pervade the animator’s world of 2032 as Investigator Batou, a mountainous cyborg with a brain that’s part Plato, part Terminator, goes from gunning down a warren of criminal Yakuza to repeating cloudy quotations: “No matter how far a jackass travels, it won’t come back as a horse.”

Batou is assigned by the government’s covert anti-terrorist unit, Public Security Section 9, to investigate the “death” of a gynoid, a hyper-realistic female robot designed as a very cute sexual companion to a willing male. But the machines are becoming erratic, and the gynoids have begun to slaughter their owners. Do we have your attention, yet?

Batou, a solitary, intense type, is partnered with Togusa, an all-too-human compadre with a wife and daughter to consider when the bullets and bombs start flying. Atsuko Tanaka is reprised from the original Ghost in the Shell to give our heroes a heads up on what might actually be going on with the erratic machines.

The investigation is constantly hampered–not so much with the obstructions of bad guys and the like–but by a constant theoretical dispute over comparative worth of humans and machines. This creates a plodding pace while our heroes traverse a 3D universe with a visual design that is eye-boggling. Using subtle highlighting, distinct focal planes, an inventive color palette, moody lighting effects, and forced perspective, Oshii blends what he sees in the real world into a hyper-realistic style of animation.

Dog lovers will swoon over Oshii’s method of humanizing his creation by having Batou express deep love and understanding for his pet basset hound. His detailed and devoted care of Ruby — to the extent of removing one of her big floppy ears from the dinner bowl — after a weary day at work, is rewarded with the kind of warm appreciation only a close animal companion can provide. The big guy needs love.
Bill Shatner Reviews “The Jacket”
“To know virtue, the Marquis de Sade once said, “we must first acquaint ourselves with vice." While the controversial writer was not referring to The Jacket when he said that many years ago, it fits well with my assessment of the film, nonetheless. The Jacket’s hostility will make stomachs churn and faces cringe, but a noble cause justifies the means in the end; because of the film’s hostility, when tenderness ultimately appears, it’s all the more poignant. But will thin-skinned viewers be able to endure the disturbing imagery until the affectionate, optimistic persona reveals itself?

Macabre, intense, and daring, The Jacket is like a surrealistic nightmare interlaced with an unambiguous daydream fantasy; it totters between asylum and insanity, pain and pleasure, and heaven and hell. Part romantic drama, time travel odyssey, murder mystery, and gothic thriller, the film never decides on a definite genre, and is similar in some ways to experimental films like Donnie Darko and Blue Velvet. Due to its unique design, the less viewers know about the plot before they see it, the more absorbing and revealing the film will be.

Bill Shatner Reviews “28-Days Later”
Although its title might lead you to believe that they actually made a sequel to the Sandra Bullock movie about alcoholism, 28 Days Later is anything but a journey through rehab. In fact, the disturbing, grotesque nature of the film makes rehab look like a peaceful picnic at the zoo, well, just as long as there aren't monkeys at that zoo.

The recipe for 28 Days Later is quite simple: half Outbreak, half Night of the Living Dead, and maybe a dash or two of Planet of the Apes. While the ingredients are familiar, thankfully, director Danny Boyle, who also helmed the bizarre Trainspotting, contributes his own unique seasonings, turning this acidic dish into a journey through hell-on-earth.

Now, back to those primates. They're being used for morbid experiments at a Cambridge research facility. As the movie opens, several animal rights activists break into the facility to rescue their furry friends, but a scientist catches them and tells them to stay away from the apes because they are infected with rage. The activists disregard his warning, however, and release an ape from captivity anyway. It doesn't jump into their arms and thank them, though. Instead, it creates a violent and bloody uproar, killing one of the activists and attacking the others. A man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens naked from a quiet hospital room. Bewildered, he detaches the cords and wires from his body, stumbles out of bed, and dresses himself. He then leaves his room to look for a nurse, but he doesn?t find a single person in the building. Jim leaves the hospital and searches the London streets for any sign of life, but he doesn't find any there either. The streets are deserted. Cars are flipped. Trash is scattered everywhere. The town looks as if it was struck by a humongous tornado. No such luck.

Jim inadvertently discovers a priest in a nearby church. But the priest does not offer prayer. Instead, he hisses and snarls as his eyes glow red. He attacks Jim, but Mark (Noah Huntley) and Selena (Naomi Harris), come to his rescue. After slaughtering the priest, they explain to Jim that an infection has wiped out the entire country except for a few survivors. The infection is transferred through blood, and if someone does become infected, he must be killed within 20 seconds, or else he will become an enraged zombie like the priest. At this point, Jim would have preferred the tornado.

Jim and the remaining survivors eventually stumble upon two others, Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). When a radio broadcast informs them about an active military base a considerable distance away, they team up to make the dangerous journey across town. Little do they know, however, the infection is not the only thing that will pose a threat to their lives.

28 Days Later will leave you gasping for breath for days to come. It's disturbing not because we don't know what's going to happen, but because we do know what's going to happen: gruesome bloodshed to several key characters who we really care about. Although similarly fast and focused, this is not like the stylized violence of Blade or The Matrix Reloaded; it's gruesome, unpleasant violence. We want no part of it, and we certainly don't want it to happen to these characters, for whom it’s all they can do to keep hope alive. However, the movie never makes us immune to the blood and gore by using it excessively, it's used in moderation, making it all the more effective.

28 Days Later is also much more than a conventional zombie movie. Boyle takes full advantage of the genre, but still calls his own shots; it's not just about zombies, but also about survival of the fittest and the endurance of hope. This movie is also rich with symbolism. The nudity in the opening is symbolic of Jim's rebirth into the new world and his vulnerability at the beginning as opposed to his state at the end. Boyle also includes some emotionally charged human moments, such as the discovery of Jim's dead parents and when Frank finally surrenders hope.

Yet I left the movie a little disappointed. The most intriguing things about this movie are left undeveloped. The 28 days in which the infection overwhelms the country are only briefly developed in a few lines of dialogue, and that is nowhere near enough. If an infection wipes out an entire population, we'd like to know how it accomplished that in more detail. Clearly, Boyle's intent was not to investigate the outbreak, but to ponder on human survival. Still, he bears a responsibility to further develop the most fascinating aspect of the movie? the 28 days themselves.

Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland offer an interesting commentary track on the new DVD, but most buyers and renters are going to want to check out the three heralded alternate endings on display. The first, which was tacked on to the theatrical print, is on the tired side, and the second alternate ending is just an extension of that one. Finally, there’s a “radical” alternative ending, which lives up to its name. Alas, that ending is actually more like a radical second half of the film, and it exists only in storyboards. Quite intriguing, though.
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