Saturday, December 19, 2015

Independence Day: Resurgence - A Trailer Play by Play

Independence Day is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. There was plenty of anticipation when it first came out, fueled by the early teasers showing aliens effortlessly destroying the Empire State Building and White House. These scenes instantly became iconic, and remain so even after the 9/11 attacks offered us a terrifying real world analog.

The film got a fair share of criticism both at the time of its release and in retrospective view. The characters in particular were seen as thinly sketched or stereotypical, and there are some scenes that are undeniably cheesy. Independence Day makes an admirable effort to show that the entire world is affected by the alien invasion and joining together to fight back, but there are still some jingoistic overtones as the United States makes all the breakthroughs and turns the tide of the war on our own federal holiday.

But the movie essentially marks one of the high points in the sci-fi and disaster genre. It was by turns terrifying, exhilarating, and amusing. The 90s were full of forgettable popcorn flicks putting the planet, or maybe just New York City, in peril. I know plenty of other people who view Independence Day with the same nostalgic fondness I have for it. Do you see the same love for Daylight, that Sylvester Stallone flick about a bunch of people trapped in a tunnel under Hudson River that came out five months after Independence Day? Of course not.

So it's no surprise that there was a lot of excitement when a sequel to Independence Day was confirmed, and it only ramped up when the first trailer dropped.

The first movie was fairly self-contained, but Independence Day: Resurgence makes a reasonable enough case for a real-time sequel. The action is picking up two decades after the first movie, which only makes sense considering all of the returning actors are now 20 years older. There's also an incredibly in-depth official site that offers plenty of tidbits on the extent of the first fight against the aliens and what's happened up until this world's present day.

So without further ado, here's some commentary, wisecracks, and predictions:

The trailer starts with a convoy of United Nations vehicles cruising through the desert. Perhaps the near-annihilation of humanity was enough to spur the nations of the world to cooperate and treat the UN as a sort of world legislature. Or maybe they're still just tooling around ineffectively and trying to bring some sense of order while angry Americans rant about its New World Order chemtrail conspiracies.

"We found something out here," a voice with an Australian accent says. The desolate ground is littered with alien skulls, which the UN team inspects. Several of them are perched on poles in a shrine-like manner, accompanied by some horns that look like they may have come from an African antelope. Oh great, perhaps some new religion has popped up around the Smashy Smashy Sky Gods.

The only person who might understand this? Jeff Goldblum, aka David Levinson! He's hanging out with some dudes with red berets, so he could be in a hell of a lot of areas. But a peek at the official site suggests that they're in Congo, where a group of surviving aliens set up shop for awhile after their friends suffered an explosive beatdown. David gives the same "Oh my God" he delivered upon seeing the alien ships come in over Central Park and then...

When the Australian lady said, "We found something," was she referring to this gimongous thing? Because it seems like that's something that's just there for all people to see. You're looking at it from miles away, for crying out loud. Do you also gaze upon the Himalayas and mysteriously say you've made a discovery?

What we didn't! President Whitmore specifically mentioned that the entire Jerkhole Alien civilization packed up in the mothership like some intergalactic RV and went planet to planet, sucking up whatever natural resources they found. David and Captain Steve Hiller took out the mothership, Earthlings knocked out their other ships, and boom! Justifiable genocide, hooray! There's no more of this particular kind of alien on its way, right?

Levinson does a voice-over about how he's worked for two decades to keep Earth safe from another attack, using the alien tech to do so, and we see that Thor's brother is filling in for Will Smith in this particular film. A wave of hover-fighters departs from some massive military base, and both the engines and a nearby flak gun appear to use the defeated aliens' shiny blue-green alien goo. The logo on the plane looks like it might be the Earth or solar system or something like that.

Levinson laments that the preparations aren't going to be enough as a shadow fall over the Moon and a clearly doomed military team enters a smoky room to find overturned chairs and a dead body. Despite being armed with what looks like the Overwatch rifle from Half-Life 2, a soldier is whisked away by some unseen force.

The voice-over has changed to presumably former President Whitmore, who has been plagued with nightmares about the alien invasion. He's sporting a hermit beard and looks like he chills out in a mountain cabin somewhere. "They're coming back," he says. Perhaps this is a callback to that telepathic connection Whitmore made in the first film. But again, we couldn't cross the Jerkhole Alien species off our planet's enemies list after obliterating their space Winnebago?

It's a conspiracy! Anywho...

A shadow falls over the ocean, covering an oil rig and liquefied natural gas carrier. So we got to play with super-advanced alien technology for 20 years and we still use fossil fuels? Way to go, Texas oil lobbyists. I guess Whitmore owed you something for nuking Houston.

David's father has taken to a life at sea, or he just happens to be on a small boat off the coast of some non-destroyed city. He hightails it out of there as a massive alien spacecraft makes its way into the atmosphere, wreathed in fire and smoke.

By this point, a tinny recording of Whitmore's rousing speech from the first movie is playing. We get a quick look at Dylan Hiller, who is all grown up and part of Earth's defense force. It looks like some alarms are going off.

There's a radio telescope or laser gun or some kind of installation on the Moon. It looks like an enormous alien snowplow is about to take it out.

Hermit Whitmore is decked out in a red tie and an American flag lapel pin, so I guess the post-invasion future still has Republican primaries. A young woman, presumably his grown-up daughter, bangs on a glass window before Whitmore is engulfed in steam. I just finished reading Hugh Howey's Shift series, so my mind is immediately going to nanobots.

A couple of quick shots of the futuristic fighters and their pilots and then...hey, it looks like they rebuilt D.C. after the attack! That's definitely the Mall over to the right. It's a shame that the Jerkhole Aliens are apparently just crashing a giant ship into Georgetown and ruining all that hard work.

Some projectiles rain down on the Moon, propelling an astronaut into the non-air, but his companion catches his foot before he can be launched into space. Some soldiers race down a hallway with atmospherically sparking lights. A group of bigwigs (including a woman who has an American flag lapel pin, and therefore must be the President) is hanging around a swanky Situation Room, which has apparently had its power cut. The door opens and a few guards immediately open fire with non-Combine weaponry.

Three old school helicopters take off from a rooftop; I guess we need those fossil fuels after all. One of them is labeled United States Army, so nationalism is alive and well, too. There's some smoke in the distance, as well as a colored smoke signal, and the woman waving at them (hey, it's Hiller's widow!) seems to be trying to convey some kind of warning.

The Moon building is a laser gun, though it doesn't seem to be doing any good. Perhaps this tiny complement of space fighters can help.

Dylan orders his fellow pilots to fall back during a fierce dogfight, which appears to be taking place over the alien ship as it heads toward Earth. One of the fighters certainly bears a resemblance to the original design from the first film, and it manages to take out a human jet.

The mob bank manager from The Dark Knight is a military officer. Some kind of Futurama-like drone takes off ahead of the destruction on the Moon as Thor's brother helps David aboard. Apparently there's a Hollywood rule now that all disaster movies need to have a scene where a school bus full of children is in peril.

Soldiers with Overwatch rifles fight back against a raid by alien fighters. It looks very similar to the attack on the El Toro base from the first movie, though one of the red beret dudes is there as well. Maybe he and all of these guys are mercenaries in the Congo war, with their fingers on their triggers, knee-deep in alien gore? Anyone? It's "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner," look it up.

Whitmore's speech is still going on, and he gets through "Today, we celebrate our In-" before the audio suddenly goes to static. Luckily the title is there to remind us what day we're celebrating.

The enormous alien spaceship enters Earth's atmosphere. David and Thor's brother watch from the Moon, and an unnerved David comments on how it's bigger than the last one. Indeed, it looks like the alien plan this time around is to just drop a new kind of mothership to the ground and swarm the planet from there. A few lighted areas are visible, including a large city.

Then we get the invitation to pay our respects for the War of 1996 by visiting the official website. David speaks at some kind of TED Talk about alien technology, which apparently gave us the iPhone. Also, Las Vegas is no more but Europe's major leaders managed to survive the first attack.

Looks interesting, and hopefully it won't suck! Right now, Independence Day: Resurgence is scheduled for release on June 24.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Whatever Happened To: The Cast of "Family Matters"

Family Matters may be one of the stranger sitcoms members of my generation encountered while growing up. I only recently found out that it was a spinoff of Perfect Strangers, an ABC sitcom which ran from 1986 to 1993 and focused on a Chicago man's relationship with an eccentric cousin from the Mediterranean. Harriette Winslow and her husband Carl were introduced as recurring characters in the third season, then spun off into their own show soon after.

For a time, Family Matters seemed to be focused on the trials and travails of a middle-class family in the Windy City. Carl's mother moves in, Harriet loses her job (a convenient way of getting her off Perfect Strangers), Carl alienates the family by arresting an obnoxious actor the rest of the family likes, Harriet worries that Carl is having an affair, and so on.

Then a nerdy next-door neighbor named Steve Urkel was introduced midway through the first season and everything changed. To see how quickly Urkel became a focal point of the show, you need only check out the cover for the DVD release or look back and remember how you referred to this as The Urkel Show instead of Family Matters.

Urkel became a regular character pretty quickly, and plenty of episodes focused on something related to him instead of the Winslow family. As the show neared its final episode in 1998, the plots based around Urkel's genius became increasingly outlandish and bizarre. These included Urkel turning his dorky BMW Isetta into a drag racer, accidentally shrinking himself and Carl down to insect size, developing a serum to turn himself into a suave alter-ego known as Stefan Urquelle, and going into outer space in the series finale. Urkel even crossed over into other sitcoms, making an appearance on Full House and crashing a jet pack in the Lambert's backyard on Step by Step.

On one hand, it's kind of fun to see a sitcom so completely untethered from the rigid mold set for 90s era show. On the other hand...well, Key and Peele say it a lot better and funnier than I can.

So whatever happened to the Winslow family and their wacky neighbor?

Reginald VelJohnson (Carl Winslow)

Carl was a fairly typical sitcom dad, strict and overprotective toward his children and a bit of a male chauvinist in his marriage. Of course, he also loves his family dearly and does whatever he can to protect and care for them. Carl was particularly irritated by Urkel's often destructive visits to his home, though he often shows sympathy for his neighbor as well. Despite embodying the "fat cop" stereotype and getting ribbed about his weight on numerous occasions, Carl is also shown to be a very capable officer in the Chicago Police Department and receives two promotions over the course of the series.

Reginald VelJohnson has been somewhat typecast in the police officer role. Aside from Carl Winslow, he is best known for a brief appearance as a jail guard in Ghostbusters and the role of Sergeant Al Powell in Die Hard. He also played Gus in Crocodile Dundee. VelJohnson, now 63, has had small roles on a number of TV series since Family Matters, including That's So RavenMonkBones, and Mike and Molly. Recently, he has had a long-running role as Dash Dewitt on the series Hart of Dixie.

Jaleel White (Steve Urkel)

The breakout character from the show, Steve Urkel was the Winslow family's next door neighbor. Urkel was an extremely smart but socially inept nerd. He sported suspenders and thick-rimmed glasses, had a deep love for the accordion and polka music, and spoke with a nasally voice. Urkel was quite clumsy, using the catchphrase "Did I do that?" after a mishap, but was coordinated enough to do the moves to the "Urkel Dance" on a few social occasions. Though he was often shunned by others, Urkel never bore a grudge against anyone; on one occasion, he even led a bone marrow drive to support a bully who frequently tormented him. Urkel was constantly trying to woo Laura, but at first was only successful when he transformed into Stefan Urquelle; she later began to love him for who he was, and the two got engaged at the end of the series.

Aside from Family Matters, Jaleel White might be best known for providing the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in the animated show The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog as well as Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Underground. His first acting role was on The Jeffersons, and he has stayed active ever since. His acting credits after Family Matters include a role in Dreamgirls as well as guest appearances on several TV shows including HouseNCISBoston Legal, and Hawaii Five-0. Most recently, he and James Franco have appeared in separate commercials for the Scion iM. White, now 39, keeps an official site at

Jo Marie Payton and Judyann Elder (Harriette Winslow)

Harriette was the character who sparked Family Matters in the first place. She appeared on Perfect Strangers as an elevator operator for the Chicago Chronicle. She loses her job early in the series, only to be rehired as director of security before getting fired from this job in the fifth season. After that point, she is employed in a department store. Harriette isn't afraid to speak her mind, mostly to tell Carl when he's being pigheaded. She also balances her career and family life, taking a no-nonsense approach to raising her children and a similarly tough-but-fair stance at her work.

Jo Marie Payton was the first actress to portray Harriette, appearing on both Perfect Strangers and Family Matters. She was in the show for the bulk of the episodes, though she left the show midway through the final season. Payton, now 65, had a recurring role on Will & Grace, voiced Suga Momma in The Proud Family, and continues to appear in TV and movie roles. She is currently filming The Heart of a Champion and finishing up work on 54:17 and Jerico. Payton has also dabbled in music, releasing a jazz album entitled "Southern Shadows" in 1999.

Judyann Elder took over the role of Harriette for the few remaining episodes of Family Matters. Elder got her start as a Broadway actress and later moved into a number of TV guest spots and voice work for animated series. Now 67, she is still active and scheduled to appear in the upcoming film Viral. Elder has also directed a number of theatrical productions and appeared as a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, as she survived a bout with breast cancer.

Kellie Shanygne Williams (Laura Winslow)

Laura was ambitious, popular, and intelligent, earning good grades in school and enjoying an active social life. Urkel pined for her throughout the series, and she was constantly rebuffing his advances; however, she generally had bad taste in the guys she did want to date, choosing handsome but arrogant boyfriends. Laura does develop some affection for Urkel, as he proved to be loyal to the Winslows and respectful to her, and eventually fell in love with him (even choosing the nerdy version over a cloned Steve who had been transformed into Stefan Urquelle). She and Urkel became a couple in the last season and were engaged soon after.

Kellie Shanygne Williams, now 39, appeared in several episodes of the series What About Joan after Family Matters ended, but largely fell out of acting after the show. She got married in 2009, has had two children, and has been active in several charitable organizations. One such initiative, the Kellie Williams Program, was founded in 2006 to give children in the Washington, D.C. area a chance to produce their own TV show. Her official website hasn't been updated in a couple of years, but she is active on Twitter with updates on her family as well as some charitable causes.

Darius McCrary (Eddie Winslow)

Eddie was your typical high school sitcom son: a bit rebellious against his father and not the brightest student in his class. He's good friends with Waldo Faldo and a more reluctant friend of Urkel's, although the two get along reasonably well. Eddie got into a few serious scrapes throughout the series, often due to gambling but also more violent, such as his confrontation with a gang that trashed his aunt's restaurant. Eddie is also the unwilling recipient of affections by Urkel's cousin, Myrtle. Late in the season, he follows in Carl's footsteps by becoming a police officer.

Darius McCrary, now 39, has continued acting to some degree. After a stint of brief roles on short-lived shows and TV movies, he started appearing in more prominent appearances. He played Malcolm Winters on 86 episodes of The Young and the Restless, voiced Jazz the Autobot in the 2007 movie Transformers, and played Dave in Saw VI. He was arrested for failing to pay child support earlier this year but released after agreeing to make up all back payments; his Twitter account has focused quite a bit on reforming child support laws ever since.

Rosetta LeNoire (Estelle Winslow)

I remember being quite surprised to see that Estelle, or "Mother Winslow," was a bit nasty in her first appearance. In fact, the plot of the first episode is all about how she moves in with the family and annoys everyone with her bossy attitude. But the pilot is only the testing ground for a show, and Estelle soon became known more for her wisdom and kind encouragement. In fact, she was one of the only members of the family who enjoyed getting a visit from Urkel. She remarries later in the series, much to Carl's consternation. Estelle abruptly vanished midway through the final season, with the 1997 Christmas episode as her last episode.

Before she was on Family Matters, Rosette LeNoire played a groundbreaking role in show business. She got her start in the New York theater scene, including a role in an all-black production of Macbeth directed by Orson Welles. She founded a nonprofit theater organization called Ammas in 1968 to promote interracial casting, and was a spirited advocate for racial equality in the arts. President Bill Clinton presented LeNoire with the National Medal of the Arts in 1999, and an Actors' Equity Association award for expanding participation in theater is now named for her. LeNoire died on March 17, 2002, at the age of 90.

Jaimee Foxworth and Valerie Jones (Judy Winslow)

At one point in the Key and Peele sketch, Reginald VelJohnson lists the entire Winslow family but only refers to Judy as "the other little kid." Indeed, Judy wasn't that memorable for the simple reason that she was erased from the show entirely. Harriet and Carl's youngest daughter was never really a focal point and she disappeared in 1995, reportedly as a cost-saving measure for the show. After that, the Winslow family pretended that she had never existed.

Jaimee Foxworth, now 35, graduated from high school in 1998. She reportedly had a sizable trust fund from her time on the show, but it was used by her family to resolve substantial debts before she ever saw a cent. She appeared in a number of pornographic films between 2000 and 2002 under the screen name Crave. Foxworth also battled substance abuse for awhile, a struggle televised in 2008 on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. She got a credit for one more adult film, a pornographic parody of The Jeffersons, in 2009. She now reportedly works at her mother's talent agency and is raising a son.

Judy was also played by a young girl named Valerie Jones, but she only appeared in the pilot episode. Her only other credited roles were two appearances on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, once as a character named Lisa in 1990 and as a young Hilary Banks two years later.

Telma Hopkins (Rachel Baines-Crawford)

Rachel Baines-Crawford was better known as Aunt Rachel, or Harriet's younger sister. She is a widow and the mother of Richie, and dabbles in writing and singing at a few points in the show. At the start of the second season, Rachel opens up a teen hangout called Rachel's Place after Urkel accidentally burns down the restaurant that preceded it. Though she was a regular throughout the series, excepting a brief disappearance to star in a sitcom called Getting By that only lasted two seasons, Rachel took her final bow after the ninth season Christmas episode.

Telma Hopkins played Addie Williams in the show Gimme a Break! shortly before coming to Family Matters. Now 67, she has remained an active actor, most notably as Phyllis Thorne on Half & Half. Her more recent roles have included Ruth Jackson on the FX series Partners and Grandma Rose on the Disney show Lab Rats.

Bryton James, and also Joseph Julius Wright (Richie Crawford)

Richie is Carl and Harriet's nephew, the only child of Rachel and her late husband. He is an infant when the show starts but ramped up to toddler age soon after. Richie is one of the few members of the Winslow family who likes Urkel, even referring to him as "Uncle Steve." Like several other characters, Richie's last appearance was in the ninth season Christmas episode.

Bryton James, who played the older version of Richie and is now 29, returned to acting after a hiatus of a few years. In 2004, he began playing Devon Hamilton Winters on the soap opera The Young and the Restless. He has stayed on the show ever since, being credited in more than 700 episodes. On five occasions, he's been nominated for the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actor in a Drama Series; he won in 2007.

The infant version of Reggie was played by the twins Joseph and Julius Wright, who were credited under the single name of Joseph Julius Wright. It's not clear what they've been up to as of late.

Shawn Harrison (Waldo Faldo)

A good friend of Eddie's, Waldo Faldo started out as more of a villain by being a sidekick to a school bully. Retconned as a good guy, he was characterized primarily by how literal minded and slow witted he was. However, he was also shown to be a talented cook with a strong moral core, and he became the boyfriend of Laura's best friend Maxine in later seasons.

Shawn Harrison, now 41, had a limited acting career after Family Matters. He played the character Peaches on the show Girlfriends and voiced a few different roles on the animated series Legion of Super Heroes. His last credited role was in the 2012 movie Silent But Deadly. He's active on Twitter, but it's unclear what he's up to these days.

Cherie Johnson (Maxine Johnson)

Maxine is Laura's best friend and, as per sitcom rules, the two help each other through plenty of troubles while occasionally getting into situations where their own friendship is put to the test. Some episodes delve into the fact that Maxine's parents are somewhat neglectful of her, meaning she is somewhat sympathetic toward Urkel's own detached home life and a bit envious of Laura's parents. She dates Waldo for awhile, though they break up before the end of the series.

Before Family Matters, Cherie Johnson was best known as Punky Brewster's best friend (conveniently named Cherie Johnson as well). Now 40, Johnson has since dabbled in a number of different creative areas, including publishing a few novels, contributing articles and columns to magazines, producing a few films, and continuing to act in the occasional TV show or movie. She is currently filming The Execution of Nigel Harris and in post-production on Behind De Pole.

Michelle Thomas (Myra Monkhouse)

Myra was introduced as something of a one-off character to get Urkel a date, but she later began making more regular appearances. She became Urkel's steady girlfriend, although there was some ongoing tension between her and Laura as Myra suspected that Laura had a thing for a Urkel. Though this animosity eventually faded, it came back with a vengeance after Myra and Urkel broke up and Urkel and Laura began dating. Then she pretty much became a full-blown stalker, it seems.

Michelle Thomas played Theo Huxtable's girlfriend Justine Phillips on The Cosby Show and later Callie Rogers Stark on the soap opera The Young and the Restless. She was diagnosed with intra-abdominal desmoplastic small round cell tumor in August of 1997, which she had surgically removed. After a second cancerous growth ruptured about a year later, she died on December 22, 1998, at the age of 30.

Jerry Jamal "3J" Jameson (Orlando Brown)

I had stopped watching Family Matters by the time 3J was introduced, so I don't personally remember anything about him. Wikipedia's fairly robust Family Matters characters page says he was introduced as a street-smart orphan who was partnered with Urkel in the Big Brothers program. He was adopted by the Winslow family soon after.

Orlando Brown, who turns 28 in two days, has had a few movie and TV roles since Family Matters, including 100 episodes of That's So Raven and a small role in Straight Outta Compton. He has also worked on a musical career, releasing an album entitled Trade It All in 2006. Brown has had some run-ins with the law, getting arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2007, drunk driving in 2011, probation violation in 2012, and disturbing the peace and public intoxication in 2014.