Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stand-Up Comedy Review: “Patton Oswalt: My Weakness is Strong”

In many ways I fit into the classic definition as a geek, but not all of my geekly obsessions are the usual suspects. Yes, there’s Star Trek and comic books and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and fan fiction and all of the other things that make you picture me pushing up my taped up horn rimmed glasses whenever I talk about them (for the record, my glasses are neither taped nor horn rimmed, they are quite stylish). But among my chief obsessions in life is something that few people think of when they think of geeks, and that’s stand-up comedy. It started early, when I was a kid, ironically enough in the 80’s, when stand-up comedy wasn’t very good. I watched MTV’s Half-Hour Comedy Hour, VH1’s Stand-Up Spotlight, A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, and I rented every stand-up concert that I could find at the video store. I will admit, my early tastes weren’t very sophisticated. It’s true, I used to like Gallagher. There, I said it, I feel better now. And then one day I rented “Carlin at Carnegie”, and my world changed forever. George Carlin continued to be a hero of mine up into adulthood and still is today, influencing my current tastes in comedy still. Thankfully the 80’s ended, and stand-up comedy got a lot better and continues to do so. Smarter, darker, more edgy, more relevant. So for this feature, I’ll be reviewing some of my favorite stand-up concerts from today and yesterday. And for my first review, I’m going to start with the latest special from my favorite comedian working today, Patton Oswalt.

Oddly enough one of the main themes of this special is something that longtime fans of Patton never would have guessed he could ever touch on, impending fatherhood. Once the angry, nerdy bridge troll of comedy who once lamented on how it’s not okay for people to even be holding babies in his presence, because they are essentially tiny shirtless humans with bags of their own crap tied around their waists, this is major news. Patton informs the audience of the news in his own unique way (“I hate, I hate, it is all I am capable of, you knew that when you took my seed woman!”) and then laments on how much he’ll miss the drugs that he has to give up. Far from dulling his edge, Patton’s new found mature and responsible lifestyle only gives him a new perspective on the world, one that he can apply his ever sharp wit to. There are several more bits in the special that showcase the more domestic side of our favorite height challenged misanthrope. There’s one about trick-or-treaters coming to his house, and another about how in the process of house hunting, he and his wife came across the morning aftermath of an orgy. All of it is hilarious.

Patton tackles religion in this special as well, explaining it as a way for the weaker of primitive man to keep the strong from killing them, by promising sky cake in the afterlife. It’s a simple analogy that goes a long way toward explaining the way religion is used to control people, and also to point out the ridiculousness in killing each other over the details of whatever sky dessert happens to await us in the world beyond (It’s not sky cookies, it’s sky CAKE! I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you all!).

And of course, Patton touches on politics as well. His legendary vitriol against George W. Bush makes a brief appearance as he segues into talking about Obama/Biden, and how the White House has become the setting for an 80’s buddy cop movie. He also laments on the possibility of traveling back through time just a scant ten years so he can blow his own mind by telling himself that we in the future have elected a black man with the middle name of a dictator as president of the United States. Crazy.

But even with the old standbys of politics and religion, I think Patton truly shines when he’s relating more personal experiences from his life. His insights and his twist on things are always funny, and always thought provoking. The man’s edge remains fully intact.

My Netflix Rating: Four out of Five Stars

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Way Too Late Movie Review: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"

This one has to be a new record for me. According to Netflix, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was shipped to me on October 15. I just watched it this past weekend. What can I say, never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. I have to say that I liked it, it delivered what it promised, at least in my mind. Some kickass action sequences, Wolverine’s backstory, good character moments, lots of appearances by other mutants that we haven’t seen before.

Liev Schreiber has to be one of my all time favorite actors, and he does a great job in this as Victor Creed (aka Sabertooth). In the comics Wolverine and Sabertooth’s pasts were always mysteriously linked, and in some continuities Sabertooth is actually Wolverine’s father. But making them brothers I thought was a nice touch. It added pathos to the relationship and made their turn to enemies that much more tragic. In Victor we see what Logan could be if he truly did let the animal in him take full control. But despite his brother’s savagery, Logan defends him, even killing to protect him. In the war montage at the beginning of the film, we see that these two violent and savage men never have a shortage of military conflicts to keep their skills busy, proving that no matter how vicious they are, the world is always more so. And the only thing that these two brothers have is each other. But when they join Stryker’s Team X, Logan finally finds the limit to the brutality that he will endure, and he leaves the team and his brother behind. Victor sees this as a betrayal, and Stryker manipulates him and his anger to bring Wolverine back to him, so that he can experiment on him to create his ultimate mutant weapon. Wolverine escapes, and unleashes his animal on Victor and Stryker both.

In Wolverine’s scenes with Silverfox, we see the kind of man that he wants to be, and we see the life that he could have had. That’s what makes her “murder” so devastating. Silverfox, the couple that take him in after he escapes from Weapon X, every glimpse at normalcy that he gets is violently ripped away. Silverfox’s betrayal at the end literally brings him to his knees. He finds out that not only was his chance at a normal life taken from him, he never had it in the first place. His reality is crumbling around him. But in the end, his love for her wins out, and he goes back to save her, to save all of the mutants. This is the conflict that has always been central to the character, what he is versus who he is. The violent animal versus the hero. I think the movie did a good job in portraying this.

The Rest:

Ryan Reynolds did a great job as Deadpool. He struck just the right balance of humor and action that the character demands. My only complaint would be that he wasn’t in the movie long enough. But of course, Deadpool will be getting his own movie soon enough. It just makes me wish that we could have gotten that Flash movie with Ryan Reynolds that we were promised, it would have been killer. The Weapon XI fight at the end was cool, and I loved the way that his eyes darkened to resemble Deadpool’s mask from the comics when he used Cyclops’ power, and the way his severed head kept firing optic blasts all the way down the tower as it fell. One logistical question though: Those retractable swords would make it impossible for him to bend his elbows when they’re retracted, seems kind of inconvenient. How does he wipe his ass? But then, with no mouth, he can’t eat, which means he wouldn’t need to go to the bathroom. So if he doesn’t need to eat, how does he get nutrients? I’m not trying to be a dick or anything, I’m not saying that these questions ruined the movie for me. I’m just curious.

The Blob even got a fair shake, I thought. Sure, he might have been played for laughs during his fight with Wolverine, but they still showed him as a powerful mutant and not a complete moron. And the fat suit didn’t look nearly as ridiculous as I thought it would. In fact, I’d say they did a better job with Blob than X3 did with Juggernaut.

Gambit I was a little disappointed with. Maybe it’s because he’s always been one of my favorite characters, but I just felt like they could have done it so much better. First of all, they didn’t get his eyes right. Gambit is supposed to have black eyes with red pupils. I know it’s a small detail, but I think it would have gone a long way toward making us feel like this was really gambit if they would have done that, especially since they didn’t keep anything from his costume, or even his personality really (apart from him and Wolverine not getting along too well). And I didn’t like they way they casually threw in that origin for his name, the guards on the island called him Gambit because he used to beat them at cards. Really? Does that sound like something a bunch of prison guards would come up with? If that’s really where his name came from, wouldn’t it be ‘That Fucker Who Keeps Beating us at Cards’? His powers were done well, and the fight scene with him and Wolverine was done well, but that then leads to another major problem I have. At the end of that scene, Wolverine has Sabertooth dead to rights, and Gambit stops him from killing him. Why? It was well established that Gambit had no love for Sabertooth, if he really thought that they were there to take him back to the island why wouldn’t he have just escaped when he had the chance? It doesn’t make sense.

In the end, Weapon XI is dead but Stryker manages to erase Wolverine’s memories with an adamantium bullet to the brain, leaving him in the state we find him in the first X-Men movie. The mutants on Stryker’s island are rescued by Professor Xavier, and Wolverine sets out on his own. All in all, it was a good movie. And it leaves me excited for the Deadpool and Magneto movies that have been promised to come.

My Netflix Rating: Four out of Five Stars

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top 7 Ways to Get F-ed up in the Future

One interesting thing that I’ve observed from my years of watching Star Trek is that despite the utopian nature of the future depicted, humans (and aliens alike) still haven’t lost the need to dull their senses and escape into the loving embrace of booze once in a while. I mean, practically every starship or space station we’ve seen has a bar in it. That should tell you something.

Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced us to the idea of synthahol, a synthetic alcohol substitute which tastes and smells just like the real thing, but doesn’t really get you drunk. Talk about missing the point entirely. Why would you want to drink something that tastes like gasoline if you’re not at least going to get buzzed on the stuff? For the purposes of this list, I’m sticking to the real thing.

Bajoran Springwine

Religion and wine go together like, well, religion and fanaticism. And since the Bajorans are Star Trek’s go to race for religion allegories, it makes sense that they be given their own wine. The Bajorans have been making it for centuries from fermented kava fruit, so there is a sense of tradition that goes with it. And like seemingly all space-faring races in Star Trek, the first and best reminder of the comforts of home that you bring into space with you is something that can fuck you up.

Saurian Brandy

Always shown in a very phallic looking bottle, that can mean only one thing. It will fuck you up. Of all of the alcoholic beverages on Star Trek, this is probably mentioned the most, going all the way back to the original series. It’s usually referred to as being strong, and seems to have a reputation as a classy drink, enjoyed by civilized peoples. It’s mentioned with reverence, and bottles of it may be saved for years for a particularly special occasion. Basically, if rappers exist in the 24th Century, this is what they will be passing instead of the Courvoisier.

Tulaberry Wine

Remember how prohibition in the United States gave organized crime a foothold, what with their illegal bootlegging and such. And then after prohibition was repealed, they moved on to drugs, prostitution, extortion, murder, and all that fun stuff. Well, think of the Dominion as Al Capone and Tulaberry wine as his hooch, it’s how they got their foot in the door so to speak. Grand Nagus Zek sent Quark to the Gamma Quadrant for the purpose of acquiring a large amount of Tulaberry wine, more than the local producers could handle, for the express purpose of getting the attention of the Dominion. Anyone who remembers the last two seasons of DS9 knows how well that worked out*.

*not well.


From my vast stores of Star Trek knowledge, I surmise that the perfect evening for a Cardassian, after a hard day of oppressing the indigenous population of whatever planet whose resources you’re stealing, would be to curl up on a nice hot rock and drink a glass of motor oil. Kanar may not be motor oil exactly, but it’s black and viscous (at least most of the time) and it’s good for getting well lubricated. Garak drank Kanar when the pleasure chip in his head stopped working. Damar drank Kanar when he was head of the Cardassian Union and the Dominion had him under their thumb. So I guess it’s good for making your forget your troubles.

Considering that in the mornings Cardassians like to drink a beverage that has been described as cold fish juice, what exactly Kanar tastes like is anyone’s guess. Since Cardassia has no agriculture to speak of, I like to think that it’s made of fermented rocks, or maybe ground up puppy dogs.

Aldebaran Whiskey

“It is…it is…it is green.”

What more is there to say about a beverage so nondescript that its chief feature seems to be its neon green color? That, and getting you promptly trashed. So when Scotty wanted to drink away his sorrows after finding himself aboard the Enterprise D, most of his friends dead, his once prominent engineering skills now 80 years out of date, Data reaches behind the counter and pulls out something that will get right on top of his boo-boo. It’s from Guinan’s private stash, so you know it’s good.

For those of you who recognize the color, the answer is yes, it’s Ecto-Cooler. There’s just something about Scotty and Picard sitting on the bridge of the original Enterprise, passing a bottle of Ecto-Cooler between them, it makes me smile.

PS: I miss Ecto-Cooler.

Romulan Ale

The Cuban cigars of alcoholic beverages in the future, in that it is illegal and yet seemingly not that hard to obtain (note: I have never actually attempted to obtain either Cuban cigars or Romulan Ale, so I have no idea exactly how difficult it would be. I’m just having a guess). The drink is highly intoxicating, even for Klingons (who have a notoriously strong constitutions), and resembles the blue stuff that barbershops use to soak combs in. This also appears to be the one drink from the series that is most replicated in the real world. There’s a beer, an energy drink, and several make at home recipes including everything from Bacardi rum to Blue Curacao liqueur. Or if you’re cheap, vodka and blue raspberry kool-aid works nicely.

Klingon Bloodwine

So if Bajoran Springwine is light and fruity and reminds you of springtime, Klingon Blood wine is dark and heavy and reminds you of war and murder. It’s made of blood after all (whose blood, we’re not sure). And is it any wonder that no Klingon vessel leaves port without a healthy supply of the stuff. Life aboard a Klingon ship is hard. You sleep on a shelf, your clothing is covered in spikes so every time you bump into a wall you hurt yourself, dental hygiene isn’t exactly the greatest, and the threat of death is constantly hanging over your head. So it’s no surprise that your average Klingon might like to get a buzz on every once in a while? Remember that notoriously strong constitution I mentioned earlier? This is where they get it from.

"Drink up, pussy."

Interesting note: the first human to drink bloodwine in the Star Trek universe was Jonathan Archer. Knowing his reputation as a human punching bag, it probably beat up his internal organs and stole their lunch money.

So what are your favorite fictional alcoholic beverages? Come on now, don't be shy, share with the class.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Way Too Late Movie Review: Star Trek (Includes Spoilers)

As anyone who knows me longer than 30 seconds can attest, I am a huge Star Trek fan. So I’m afraid that I am cheating a bit here with the format that I’ve established for my ‘Way Too Late’ movie reviews in that I saw this one in the theater when it first came out. But I didn’t have a blog back then, so cut me some slack. With the movie’s release on DVD however, I did recently get to experience the next best thing to seeing it for the first time. Showing it to my father, and fellow Star Trek fan, and my brother-in-law last weekend. You see, my father loved the original series and he always hated William Shatner, so this movie was a win/win for him. Competing with the movie for attention was my two-month-old nephew Jackson. His cuteness made for a close battle, but I’m proud to say that the movie held it’s own. Also in attendance for this viewing: My sister, who hates Star Trek and took the opportunity to tease me about my obsession as well as my nerdly observations (Look, Kirk’s motorcycle doesn’t have an axle!) and my five-year-old daughter, who sat with rapt attention throughout most of the movie. Never have I been more proud of her. Seriously, it almost brought a tear to my eye. *sniff*

Anyway, on with the show. The movie largely centers on Kirk and Spock, on their lives, on their extremely contentious relationship and their burgeoning friendship. Spock is born into conflict, the child of the Vulcan Ambassador to Earth and his human wife. He doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere, certainly not on Vulcan where his mixed heritage is treated like a handicap. But his mother encourages him and supports him. One of the best things about Zachary Quinto’s performance as a young Spock is the vulnerability he shows, the subtle just-under-the-surface conflict between his Vulcan and human halves. Speaking of, Kirk is born into conflict as well, literally. Aboard his father’s ship as it’s being attacked by the crazed Romulan commander Nero. George Kirk sacrifices his life for his wife and his child, for his crew. We’re shown little of Kirk’s childhood, but enough to tell us that it wasn’t an easy one. He’s gifted, but rebellious. Talented, but reckless. And when we see him as a young man it’s clear that growing up without his father has made him very different from the Kirk that we’re all used to, but at the same time we can still see confident swagger that Shatner originally brought to the role so many years ago. He carries with him a lot of pain and anger, but he’s still our Kirk.

Once aboard ship the movie really gets moving. The look of the Enterprise is just modernized enough so as not to look silly, but enough of the original style is kept to remind us where we are. Our heroes finally come face to face (or ship to ship) with our antagonist Nero and Pike is taken prisoner. We get a great action scene on the drill, complete with a redshirt death. It’s around this time that the average viewer may be thinking ‘This is fun and all, but there’s no real sense of danger. We know how it all turns out, everybody lives, etc.’ And then Vulcan is destroyed. Spock spells it out for the slow kids in the class. Whatever happened in the original history, it doesn’t apply now. Nero changed all that, it’s a whole new ballgame. This is a brilliant move on the part of the filmmakers I think. Every huge movie like this, whether it’s a remake or an adaptation, always has to face the challenge of making changes to the source to suit the movie or to appeal to non-fans, and yet somehow still try to please the hardcores. Very few are able to accomplish it. But by starting the story over again, and by giving the big fans a legitimate reason for doing so (with references to the original timeline to tie it all together), everybody wins.

So Spock loses his mother and decides to tuck tail and run. Back to Starfleet to regroup what’s left of the fleet. Kirk thinks this is a horrible idea, he thinks that they should go after Nero. The disagreement ends with Spock putting Kirk in an escape pod and leaving him behind on some ice planet. An extreme reaction perhaps, he could have just put him in the brig, but Spock’s not having a good day, he just watched his entire planet get sucked into a black hole. Kirk wakes up, runs from some CGI monsters, and ends up in a cave where he runs into…Spock. Leonard Nimoy, that is. And that’s when he fills us in on the rest of the back story. Future Spock, on a mission to prevent a star from going nova, fails and Romulus is destroyed. Nero blames Spock and attacks him, both get sucked into a black hole and appear at different points in the past. Nero waits 25 years to get his revenge (Romulans age pretty well apparently). And now Vulcan is destroyed and he’s going after Earth next.

Kirk and Future Spock hike to the nearest Starfleet outpost where they meet Scotty, played by Simon Pegg. Kirk and Scotty transwarp-beam back to the Enterprise, Spock beats up Kirk, Kirk takes command, they track down Nero, Kirk and Spock beam over to his ship, Kirk gets beat up again, they rescue Captain Pike, Spock flies Future Spock’s ship into Nero’s ship, blowing up all the red matter and creating a black hole in the middle of the ship, and the Enterprise escapes. Back on Earth Kirk, and the rest of the cadets presumably, graduate and Kirk is promoted directly to Captain and given command of the Enterprise, where he chooses Spock as his First Officer. Pretty cool, huh?

In short, this movie is awesome. From the performances to the special effects, and the rebooting of a classic story and classic characters making them new and fresh to a whole new audience while still keeping their core audience on board. I can’t wait to see what the next movie brings.

My Netflix Rating: Five out of Five Stars

Random Observations:

-Kirk gets beat up a lot in this movie. I think he might have broken Captain Archer’s record for sheer number of ass-kickings in a two hour time period.

-Speaking of Archer, I loved the shout out Scotty gives. Poor Porthos.

-Karl Urban is awesome as Bones. From his first scene on the shuttle to his scene with Spock (Are you out of your Vulcan mind!), he hit it perfectly.

-Simon Pegg is awesome as Scotty. Everything he said made me laugh.

-Was that…Tyler Perry? …the hell?

Possible Sequel Ideas:

“Sulu and Chekov go to White Castle”
Along the way they run into Neil Patrick Harris who’s trying to get to Risa for some alien poon.

“Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Starfleet Academy”
A Tyler Perry Production, directed by and starring Tyler Perry.

“Shaun of the Enterprise”
Klingons invade, boarding the Enterprise where Scotty fights them off with a cricket bat.