No Safe Spaces: Powerful but Incomplete

Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager deliver a powerful rebuke to radical campus activism, but fail to explore its root causes.

I watched Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager’s new documentary No Safe Spaces (2019) in a nearly-sold out theater in Alexandria last night. While it was a decent summery of the latest threats to freedom of speech and expression, and the audience loved it, there were some glaring omissions that left the film feeling incomplete.

If you’ve been paying attention over the past several years, you’ve noticed the rise in political activism on both the right and left has led to some alarming developments, including riots, street clashes, and an effort to “de-platform” opposing views on the Internet. No public space has been at the forefront of this conflict more than college campuses.

No Safe Spaces highlights two of the most dramatic episodes of campus activism and political correctness run amok: Bret Weinstein and the 2017 Evergreen State College riots, and the 2016 riots at California State University that targeted conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro.

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Nicolas Cage’s H.P. Lovecraft Adaptation Looks Promising

The first promo shots from a new H.P. Lovecraft adaptation written and directed by Richard Stanley starring Nicolas Cage has been released. Color Out of Space will be an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story “The Colour Out of Space”, about a family corrupted by a strange meteor.

The Colour Out of Space” is one of my favorite Lovecraft tales. H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction has been notoriously difficult to translate into film, though the initial concept art from this project looks promising. This short story has been loosely adapted into film numerous times, most recently in the 2010 German film Die Farbe (re-titled The Color Out of Space), which I haven’t seen.

According to Comingsoon.net, “The Color Out of Space is described as a story of cosmic terror about The Gardners, a family who moves to a remote farmstead in rural New England to escape the hustle of the 21st century. They are busy adapting to their new life when a meteorite crashes into their front yard. The mysterious aerolite seems to melt into the earth, infecting both the land and the properties of space-time with a strange, otherworldly color. To their horror, the Gardner family discover that this alien force is gradually mutating every life form that it touches … including them.”

Writer-director Richard Stanley is notoriously known for being unceremoniously fired from The Island of Doctor Moreau (1996) and subsequently hiding out in the jungle and working as an extra. He never made another Hollywood film. Perhaps this makes him ideal for adapting H.P. Lovecraft? It’ll be interesting to see what he can accomplish after all these years.

Of course, Nicolas Cage will bring his own unique brand of acting to the project.  I’m looking forward to seeing this one in theaters!

Life After Beth

A quirky premise isn’t enough to carry an entire film.

A boyfriend unsuccessfully copes with his girlfriend’s passing and resurrection during a zombie outbreak in Life After Beth (2014). Written and directed by Jeff Baena, this comedy-horror manages to be neither terrifying nor funny. Life After Beth has its moments, but its poorly thought out horror elements interrupt and undermine what could have otherwise been an interesting exploration of love, loss, and regret, and the importance of letting go.

Young Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan) is devastated when his girlfriend, Beth Slocum (Aubrey Plaza), dies from a snakebite. His parents, Noah (Paul Reiser) and Judy (Cheryl Hines), urge him to move on. Zach becomes suspicious to the point of paranoia when Beth’s parents, Maury (John C. Reilly) and Geenie (Molly Shannon), abruptly stop speaking with him and cloister themselves in their home.

Things get complicated when Zach discovers Beth has returned from the dead. Her parents consider it a miracle, but Zach just can’t accept the new status quo. Beth’s strange behavior, as well as the appearance of other long-dead people from his past, has him asking questions. His testosterone-fueled brother, Kyle (Matthew Gray Gubler), springs into action as the zombie apocalypse unfolds. Can Zach discover a cure for the zombie outbreak and save his lost love?

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Child’s Play: Are You My Best Friend?

A murderous doll with the ability to control smart devices runs amok in this fresh reboot.

Written by Tyler Burton Smith and directed by Lars Klevberg, Child’s Play (2019) is a remake of the 1988 horror film of the same name. In this version, Chucky is a sabotaged smart-toy who learns violence is cool by watching human behavior. As such, the supernatural elements of the original have been removed. What remains is a contemporary morality play about the dangers of smart technology and our addiction to electronic devices.

Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) is a single mother living in a distressed urban neighborhood with her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman). Andy’s loneliness leads Karen to give him a Buddi doll (voiced by Mark Hamill) for his birthday. Though visibly dysfunctional, the doll (which calls itself Chucky because it has to, I guess?) imprints on Andy and quickly becomes overprotective.

Andy soon meets two other kids in the apartment building, Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos) and Pugg (Ty Consiglio), and the trio play pranks on Karen’s jerkish boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis). Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry) suspects something is amiss. Can Shane and friends rein in Chucky’s violent tendencies before it’s too late?

Child’s Play is the latest horror-franchise reboot, and it was only a matter of time. In the horror pantheon, I would put Child’s Play on a second or third tier behind obvious powerhouses like Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Friday the 13th. Its premise of a killer doll is just a little too campy, and the original films do play up the humorous element. Still, Child’s Play has a reliable fan base.

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Did the Movie Gettysburg Whitewash Lee’s Army?

As a Civil War buff, director Ron Maxwell’s Gettysburg (1993) is one of my all-time favorite films. For the general public, it is the definitive depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg, an epic three-day struggle between the Union Army of the Potomac and Confederate Army of Northern Virginia over the fate of the nation. Based on the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, its soundtrack is epic and performances by its cast are top-notch.

The more I read about the battle, however, the less historically accurate the movie appears. Race is one area where Gettysburg falls short. Despite multiple discussions about slavery during the 271 minute run time, only one African American character appears: a runaway slave used as a catalyst for a discussion between Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Sgt. ‘Buster’ Kilrain.

Would you be surprised to learn thousands of enslaved African Americans traveled with the Confederate Army on its invasion of Pennsylvania? Many Southern officers were slaveholders, after all. But by all appearances, the Confederate Army as depicted in Gettysburg was entirely white (the Union Army employed hundreds of freed black laborers at Gettysburg–a fact also omitted from this film).

Of course, slaves would not have appeared in battle scenes, but there were plenty of opportunities when it came to scenes of Confederate encampments and units on the march, where black slaves served a variety of non-combat roles. If the filmmakers were making a genuine effort to be as historically accurate as possible, how could they miss this obvious fact?

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Son of a Gun – Amateur Effort Sours an Otherwise Promising Film

This indie film based on a Civil War legend had potential but ultimately fell below the standards of a made-for-TV movie.

A Confederate surgeon invents a battlefield legend to protect a young woman from an intolerant society in Son of a Gun (2019), written and directed by Travis Mills. This indie production reels in its audience with an interesting premise but from the first scene to the last, falls short in nearly every category of filmmaking.

The year is 1863. Union and Confederate armies are locked in deadly combat near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Battlefield surgeon Legrand Capers (Miles Doleac) is pulled away from a wounded soldier to tend to a young woman (Jessica Harthcock) at a nearby farmhouse who was shot in the abdomen by a stray bullet. Months later, he returns to learn the woman is pregnant, yet she insists she’s a virgin. The stray bullet, passing through the soldier’s scrotum, must have somehow impregnated the woman! At least, that’s what an elderly Legrand Capers (Cotton Yancey) tells a group of old-timers at a tavern.

Things get complicated when the film unravels three separate versions of events, with different actors and actresses playing the various roles. Each version leads the audience further away from fantasy and toward the scandalous truth. Finally, as Capers is dying of tuberculosis many years after the war, he is confronted by the family’s former slave, Mamie (Nancy Lindsey), who knows what really happened.

Son of a Gun’s use of multiple perspectives and multiple casts to tell the story was unique and not as confusing as it sounds. The actor who played middle-aged Capers, William Shannon Williams, was subtly charming and fit the role well, as did actress Nancy Lindsey. For the most part, the performances were fine. It was the amateurish sound and editing that cheapened every scene.

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the Importance of Getting Details Right in Film

Nitpicking over historical or scientific details helps keep filmmakers honest and makes films more authentic.

In Joe Rogan’s Aug 22, 2018 interview with scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Tyson told an interesting story about how he contributed to the 2012 comedy Ted. It stemmed from his criticism of the night sky as depicted in James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). Titanic, of course, was based on the true story of the 1912 RMS Titanic disaster.

Since we know exactly where and at what time the Titanic sank, astronomers can use computer modeling to re-create precisely what the night sky looked like from the perspective of the passengers and crew. Of course, this was a detail James Cameron overlooked and one that Neil DeGrasse Tyson noticed immediately.

When Tyson later brought it up to Cameron, the director was initially dismissive but then later corrected the mistake in a director’s cut of the film. Years later, filmmaker and comedian Seth MacFarlane called Neil DeGrasse Tyson to make sure he had the correct sky at a specific time at a specific place, in a comedy film about a Teddy Bear that comes to life.

Now that’s attention to detail!

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