Serenity

  • Title:  Serenity
  • Director:  Joss Whedon
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  SF, Action
  • Cast:  Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Straite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This is the captain, we have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then explode.”  — Capt. Mal Reynolds

“I aim to misbehave.”  — Capt. Mal Reynolds

Another film I received as a gift, though I had seen Serenity in the theater, and liked it.  Mind you, I liked it, not loved it.  Serenity is the film sequel to the short-lived television series, Firefly.  What is it about Firefly that its fans are about as rabid as Fundamentalists – and about as hard to convince you’re really not interested?  I’ve seen the TV show, and it just didn’t catch my interest, for many reasons, only one of which is it’s a Western (and a thinly disguised one at that) — the heroes are also soldiers of the South who lost a Galactic Civil War.  Think about that.

The film starts, without credits, with a prologue or teaser, showing Simon Tan breaking his sister, River, out of a government “research” facility.  Yes, this is another “science is bad; government is bad” science fiction movie.  I miss when SF meant adventure, wonder, and fun, instead of the now popular anti-science and anti-government parables.  Anyway, Simon succeeds in getting River out, as we know, since the two were passengers on Capt. Mal Reynolds ship, Serenity.  However, the film does, to it’s credit, have a much more linear sense than the television series ever did, which helps considerably.

Mal and his crew are on a job, but River accidentally sees a subliminal message in a very weird commercial – and goes bonkers, then knocks out or kills everyone in a frontier bar.  Mal and company return to Haven, Shepherd Book’s community for shelter.  They leave to pick-up the Companion, who had left to conduct her own business, and return to find everyone in Haven dead.  But through River’s actions, they now have a problem to solve:  What is Miranda?  Why does the Alliance (a system-wide government of several planets) want River dead?  Just what is going on?

Eventually they discover Miranda is a planet — a planet no one knows and no know talks about.  They discover it’s located beyond the Reaver band.  Reavers are vicious killers – cannibals, and violent criminals.  We see a Reaver attack early in the film, to explain to the audience how awful they are.  Mal disguises his ship as a Reaver ship, to get through the band, un-harassed.  This works.  They find planet Miranda, but everyone there is dead.  At first, it seems there’s no obvious reason that everyone’s dead — no signs of environmental disaster, no signs of violence.  But they discover a recording.  The Alliance put Pax, a drug in the air system — the drug had such a calming effect people stopped doing anything.  But for about ten percent of the population, it had the opposite effect — people went wild, and became monsterous, violent, killers.  It other words, a bad drug reaction created the Reavers.  The ultimate “bad trip”.  Not to mention that Pax, the drug that calms people to death, sounds an awful lot like “Bliss” – the drug that did the same thing in the Doctor Who episode “Gridlock”.  But ideas do run around.

Mal and company then have to get the recorded message to Mr. Universe, the ultimate TV/Media fan so he can broadcast it on all screens.  The government agent who’s been chasing them throughout the film gets there first, and kills Mr. Universe.  But, Mal receives a message about a secondary transmitter (unfortunately, Mal does not erase or destroy the message — so the agent also hears it).  The conclusion of the film has what’s left of Mal’s band fighting a historic last stand, and getting injured one at a time, while Mal goes one on one against the agent before he can send out the message.  Course, Mal wins, and he also doesn’t kill the agent, just ties him up.  River defeats the Reavers who had been after the remainder of Mal’s shipmates.  Book was killed in Haven and Wash is killed when Serenity makes a less than perfect landing.

Overall, though not a bad film by any means (the acting is very good, and the film has some very strong, and very different female characters), it also doesn’t stand up that well.  Some of  the “shocks” of the film I remembered from having seen it six years ago, weren’t shocking now because you expected them (the biggest of these is Wash’s death, which really seems like a waste, and pointless).  It’s not a bad film, not by any means, but it’s not a exceptional film either.

Recommendation:  Do see it.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Shall We Dance (1937)

Satan Met a Lady

  • Title:  Satan Met a Lady
  • Director:  William Dieterie
  • Date:  1936
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  Bette Davis, Warren William
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Do you mind very much, Mr. Shane, taking off your hat in the presence of a lady, with a gun?” — Valerie

Satan Met a Lady was included as a bonus feature on my special edition copy of The Maltese Falcon. I didn’t have very high hopes for it, and in this case, I was right — it was awful. The description of this loose adaption of Dashiell Hammett’s classic novel The Maltese Falcon, is that it’s “light-hearted”. Well,I could tell they were trying to make a comedy, but it fails utterly.  This isn’t The Black Bird, and it’s not a parody. It’s like watching a really bad high school production of The Maltese Falcon, and not even Bette Davis can save it.

The plot, vaguely reminiscent of the classic film and novel, differs in a few key points. First, the McGuffin everyone is after isn’t a Falcon, it’s a French Ram’s Horn, made of ivory and filled with jewels. Second, all the names are changed — the detectives are Ames and Shane, not Archer and Spade. The film shows us a bit more of Ames, actually it takes awhile before the Ram’s Horn plot is introduced, so when Ames is killed, it should mean something. That it doesn’t is mostly down to the film just not working very well. Casper “The Fatman” Gutman is a woman in Satan Met a Lady, and her underling is called Kenneth. She’s still a mobster though, and overweight (though not grossly so). Madame is probably the most interesting character in the film. In the end, Shane does turn Valerie over to the cops for killing his partner, then he takes the train out of town with his secretary. That is a nice bookend, since the film started with him taking the train into town, escaping trouble in the next town up the road.

Bette Davis puts in a good performance in some scenes, but is merely average in others. Warren William is terrible as Shane, the detective. He has no personality at all. Overall, even as a bonus feature, just not very interesting. But at least it’s short, clocking in at only 74 minutes.

Recommendation:  Give it a miss.
Rating:  1
Next Film:  Serenity

Same Time, Next Year

  • Title:  Same Time, Next Year
  • Director:  Robert Mulligan
  • Date:  1978
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  Romance, Comedy, Drama
  • Cast:  Alan Alda, Ellen Burstyn
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“We had instant rapport, did you notice that too?”  — George
“No, but I know that we really hit it off.”  — Doris

“For one beautiful weekend, every year, with no cares, no ties, no responsibilities.”  — George

“I never shed a tear.  Isn’t that something?  He was my son.  I will love him. And for the life of me  – I can’t seem to cry for him.”  — George

A couple meets at a romantic sea-side inn, they share coffee, talk, then sleep together.  Both are married — to other people.  Yet, once a year, every year, they meet, catch up, sleep together, but also share their lives.  The film, based on a play, shows us the meetings of this couple every five years from 1951 to 1977 — as they grow up and experience change.  Photos of historic people and events, in montages, set to music, set the tone of the changing times, as breaks between the couple’s meetings.

One of the pleasures of the film is watching Doris grow-up — from a naive housewife, to hippy/student, to smart business woman, and back to old, retired, housewife – caring for a husband who’s had a stroke. George, meanwhile, also goes through changes — from scared, neurotic, guilt-ridden young man to Conservative stuffy accountant, to a back-to-nature bum who’s “finding himself” in men’s groups.  The changes in Doris and George’s personalities, however, are merely social dressing, like their clothes and hairstyles — they deeply love each other, even though they meet only for a single weekend a year.

It’s odd that a film about a couple’s adultery could be so enduring and bittersweet – yet it is.  Partially because in a way the film starts as a historic film, and partially because almost all the action is confined to the couple’s cabin at the Inn (or occasionally the nearby restaurant at the Inn’s main house) this film doesn’t have as much of  an out-of-date feel as many other 1970s films do.  That it was based on a play is painfully obvious from the lack of sets and small cast (the two principles, and the caretaker of the Inn), but the intimacy of the setting adds to the emphasis on character — which is turn makes this film seem less dated than it should.

Overall, George and Doris’s story, told as vignette’s over the years, lets the audience come to know and care for the characters, their problems, the changes in their lives, even their spouses, children, and jobs — all of  which we hear about but never see.  An enjoyable, soft, people-oriented film.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  3.8
Next Film:  Satan Met a Lady